Lessons That Work - Blog

When I was a student teacher, my mentor Sherry said something to me that has stuck with me through the years. I was lucky enough to be in a program that required future teachers to start the school year with the students, and it didn’t end until May. She suggested that I stay on until the end of the school year because you aren’t really prepared to teach school until you’ve done a tour of duty through the many distractions that are a part of the school year—senior skip day, the prom, holiday break, etc

Teachers need to know how to plan for these occasions, as well as how to adjust their classroom management strategies accordingly. The last thing a teacher, particularly a newbie, should do is underestimate what I dub the “call to chaos” that abounds around the holidays. Not only are students distracted, but so are teachers. For instance, next Wednesday I have to have mashed potatoes for my daughter’s feast, a gift that costs no more than $4 for my son’s class, my own white elephant present, and a dessert for both my son and me!

It is hard to address “student engagement” when you are competing with a 10-day vacation or milestone activities. The best way to keep the peace this season is to find what works for you as a teacher. Do you embrace the pandemonium and plan hands-on, collaborative activities so all students can be social while learning? Or, do you plan for quiet activities that will make your classroom the one place that isn’t overwhelming? This is one time, for sure, that teachers need to “know thyself.”

If your electrical skills are more like Clark Griswold’s in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, perhaps sticking to something a little more “tried and true” is best. Share My Lesson’s Math Team has outdone itself with Christmas Resource. The reviews alone should convince you: “TOTALLY amazing! I am so very grateful for the opportunity to use these. Great for any level. Merry Christmas!!” and “A great mixture. Thank you very much for putting these up—a great choice—some for whole class use, some individual or partner work. Great resource.”

Interested in raising awareness of our “first-world problems” as students are making their list of must-have presents? Send a Cow Gifts will intrigue your students, while also broaching complex cultural and economic topics. As teachers, we have the opportunity to engage students in meaningful conversations about complex social issues; our classrooms may be the only place where this type of dialog takes place. The Christmas Wordsearch and Quiz is appropriate to use with individuals, small groups, or even the whole group.

Though the titles of these activities suggest they are all related to Christmas, they are better described as “holiday activities.” The only agenda in these lessons is to help teachers keep students engaged when their attention is being drawn away by the magnetic pull of consumerism, family dynamics and the stir-crazy feeling that students can get during this time of year.

Around the holidays, I remind myself that I must educate the “whole child,” which would certainly suggest that I should honor students’ most important moments. Sharing their traditions, customs and celebrations is a great way to practice culturally responsive teaching. These activities are successful because they engage children; and Common Core State Standards are addressed in all three as well. It can be fun to goof off with our students, but the best way to stop the holiday hiatus from learning is to not engage in it by ignoring the valuable lessons of the season. I am not doing anyone a favor by throwing in a movie students already have watched three times. Instead, when you insist on quality for your students, they will leave your class knowing they are worth celebrating.