My team’s lead teacher and I stand before the blank, stark white wall that stretches between our classrooms. A wall we were supposed to decorate for the holidays a week ago. A wall that is still completely bare. Simultaneously, we turn and gaze down that hall at the preschool hallway, where they have created an elaborate gingerbread house entryway, complete with faux icing trim and candy cane columns.
We turn back to our sad, white wall and sigh.
We both look dreadful today because we are both quite sick—the not-sick-enough-to-stay-home kind, but the feeling-awful-and-looking-worse kind. Rather than succumb to our maladies, we decide to keep pushing on through December, teaching our students and trying to survive the day. But this stark, white wall just seems to be mocking us now.
“Winter…a blinding snowstorm? Maybe this white, undecorated wall is a minimalist interpretation of a snowy day? Is that… anything?” My co-worker shrugs and tries to muster a chuckle, but it comes out as a deep, congested cough. Well, I tried.
Our December has been cold and rainy and filled with sweet little children who are sniffling and coughing and bouncing off the walls. Their distracted state isn’t their fault, of course. It’s a combination of viruses, frontal lobes still forming, Santa stories, and relatives visiting for the holidays. Oh, and those dreadful germs, swarming us to the point that we feel they are almost perceptible—like we could reach out and grab them if we tried. How are we all to survive? How can we do more than survive? How can we teach?
When faced with the unfathomable task of surviving December as an elementary school teacher, I offer the following suggestions:
Protect your body.
Neti-pots, Emergen-C, zinc tablets, whatever your favorites are—get them. Immediately. Let December know you will not be its wimp. Load up on the immune-system-boosting supplements of your choice to help you stay healthy, because being a teacher in December is not for the feeble.
Eat healthy and keep moving.
Cookies and pies and eggnog, oh my! Temptation is everywhere in December, especially if you’ve been invited to parties. Students also love to bake for their teachers, and some of those teacher mugs now come filled to the brim with candy. I’m not saying don’t eat the cookies, I’m just saying don’t eat all the cookies. Make sure you hit the gym in December, walk, or do whatever keeps you healthy and moving, and able to shirk the sluggishness of a sugar binge.
My teacher BFF, Lesa, has this fab recliner chair, and she loves to sit in it on Sundays and read, meditate, sleep, and recharge from the week. For me, December rest is defined by going to bed at 9 p.m. no matter what fantastic Netflix series or book is tempting me to stay awake. Make rest a priority at this time of year, and your body will thank you later.
In the classroom, follow the child.
Maria Montessori told us a century ago that following the child helps us know exactly what the child needs. This year, I adjusted my month’s plan to focus on whatever they were interested in at the moment, and it has greatly reduced some typical December struggles. Stop trying to control every little moment in your classroom. From the many no-prep December activities on Teachers Pay Teachers to letting children suggest their own projects, there are great learning opportunities just waiting for you in December.
Sing the songs, find the joy.
I’ve been playing a children’s holiday station (thanks, Pandora) in my classroom all month. Today, the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” came on, and I was swept back to a time when I was a child and my mother was singing this, her favorite holiday tune. My dear mother passed away nearly a decade ago, but today in my classroom she was there, and I was a happy five-year-old playing in the snow. If you ever loved the holidays, let yourself love them again and find that joy wherever you can. For me, it was in a teary moment when I heard my students softly singing the song my mother used to sing to me, and realizing that if I can’t be with her, at least I can be surrounded by little people who love me almost as much as she did.
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