The month or so between Halloween and the Winter holidays is, for many teachers, a time of chaos and unpredictability. Schedules are awry. Noses are sniffling and everyone seems to be under the weather, and the actual weather is a rollercoaster of warm days and cold, sprinkled with seasonal allergies. All the normality and calm that you'd been so relieved to have finally observed in early October is hiding, swamped under piles of special winter projects, mittens and party days.
It's easy for us, as adults, to feel overwhelmed by this time of year, pulled in multiple directions, having to check the calendar every morning to figure out what's different today, eager to go to the parties and open houses, and simultaneously feeling like there aren't enough hours in any day to get it all done. Imagine what it's like, then, for the children, who want predictability even more than we do, excited by the holidays but overwhelmed by the lights and smells and sounds, sharing their homes with family members who may not usually be there and sharing their classroom routines with holiday visits and special performances, feast days and classroom parties.
Remember: the children need predictability, but they also need to know that, even when things are not predictable, they are nonetheless safe and loved. Remember: you are part of the prepared environment, and you, too, need to know that, even when things are not predictable, you are nonetheless safe and loved. Take just a little bit of action to assure yourself some peace and persistence in this most wonderful time of the year:
- Talk with your colleagues about the emotional demands of the schedule for the rest of the season, considering both what may be different in your classroom alone and what may be different across your campus. Look for ways in which you might lend a hand in someone else's preparation, or someone else might lend a hand in yours. Think together about the potential trouble spots (parking, grandparents, siblings in the classroom) that may make special events at school more stressful and make a plan for how you'll handle them, from the specific logistics responding to the concern (Will we have enough adult sized chairs for grandparents?) to the ways you'll help to calm any anxiety during the actual event (What language might be best to calm a parent who's frustrated by our scarcity of parking spaces?) Talking through the logistics will help you to be prepared for them, but more importantly, it will help you to be connected to the rest of your community to identify the ways in which you can support each other.
- When your classroom schedule may be less predictable, you will need to be more predictable. In chaotic times, the children need your reliable responsiveness more than ever. Before each day begins, make time for yourself to think through the parts that may be less routine for the children and to prepare yourself and other adults in the classroom to remain calm and peaceful when those happen.
- Keep your classroom rules in place. Speak softly, and avoid yelling across the room, even when visitors to your classroom may be. Move slowly, especially when the room is busy with new bodies. Remember: shorten the distance and lower your voice, particularly when the classroom is more kinetic than usual.
- Schedule regular self-care, and make sure you do it! It's not enough to plan to take a morning walk to clear your head if you end up skipping it because you think you're too busy. This is a time when most teachers are overextended by caring for other people. Schedule time every day to do something for your own spirit. Take a bath. Meditate for a few minutes. Have a walk with your dog. Put away your technology and spend some time with your family photo albums. Call a friend you've only emailed or facebooked with in a while and have a real conversation.
Do something every day to slow your mind, feed your spirit, and connect to what it is all this celebrating is supposed to be about.
You're not alone in feeling the stress of teaching. If you'd like more ideas, look here for self-care ideas or check out the folks at Happy Teacher Revolution and the Garrison Institute's CARE for Teachers program.