The gap between Thanksgiving and winter break can be one of the most challenging stretches in time any teacher experiences. It’s like trekking the Sahara Desert with chapped lips, while only wearing a loose pair of Timberlands; you expose yourself to the same level of vulnerability and dryness and potential catastrophe. In my first year teaching, I barely survived December. I did more revisions to my resume than to my lesson plans. I hit a low point when I asked myself, “Does my bachelor’s degree in business marketing make me overqualified to be a sales floor associate at Toys "R" Us? Like, I could sell the hell out of some action figures. Kids
luhhh action figures.” Toys "R" Us didn’t hit me back. I was in a bad place that December, and my attitude toward teaching was uninspiring and embarrassing. I wish I knew then, what I know now. Getting to winter break is less about survival and more about culmination; it’s about reflection, celebration and gratitude. That’s how you reject the piercing urge to job search (or lay hands on someone’s child. Don’t act like you ain’t think that terrible thought before, but the way them bills are set up…). If I had a time and space defying
DeLorean with a flux capacitor and tints this is what I would’ve done differently:
Brought the joyous energy of the holiday season into my classroom without turning into a Hallmark Card. When I say this I don’t mean I would have set up a raggedy, artificial Christmas tree in my classroom. Or made kids watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" twice-a-day again (don’t judge me, son). What I mean is I would have consistently told kids that I appreciated them. I would’ve had kids say what they appreciated about each other. I wouldn’t have just had them show gratitude the day before we left for the break. Everyone is happy that day. It’s the last damn day of school before school is out for 17 days straight. I would have created a system for it. Set aside time to do it. Made it feel important. Showing gratitude isn’t busy work; it’s communicating genuine gratefulness towards your school community. I wouldn’t neglect that opportunity again.
Not procrastinated myself into a paralyzing state of do-nothingness. The week succeeding Thanksgiving break was an irrationally tempting moment for me to stumble into boycotting doing any work other than standing in front of kids and rambling because I was wingin’ lessons from the hip. Don’t buzz into that fly trap. Plan ahead. Be intentional. Completing work on the front end is the easiest way not to have anxiety during your actual winter break. Being plagued by the fear of your to-do list during your break is something that you can prevent. Time in between breaks isn’t when you should be coasting. It’s when you should be planning ahead and teaching like you’re in a street fight with White supremacy. I would have fleshed out some engaging plans for my first week in January. I would have printed out student materials, and cleaned up the hidden poo piles of ungraded papers tucked behind my desk. I would have had kids purge their desks or their seat sacks, and started funky fresh and focused in the New Year.
Stopped neglecting the people that weren’t right in front of me every day. I would’ve called my parents more than once a month. And not neglected friends I had known for years before I started teaching. This only works if you do step #2 from above. How you intentionally spend your time is important. It frees up other time that you can use to stay connected to other people that you care about. Teaching isn’t equivalent to ignoring everything and everyone that isn’t teaching. Manage your relationships. Put people on your calendar. Pick up the phone, slim.
Basically, don’t lumber into winter break like someone should feel bad for you. Go get it.
An original version of this post appeared on Those Who Don't.
Shamar Knight-Justice is an assistant dean at KIPP WAYS Primary. He spends his days teaching Black and Brown kids how to take over the world, trying not to get yelled at by his wife for leaving twice-worn socks on the living room floor, and jogging slowly through Atlanta (pronounced A-lan-nuuh), Georgia.
He blogs at EdLANTA.