I read with great interest a recent blog post by Josh Stumpenhorst (@stumpteacher) that spoke about the concerns for some of our students as they headed off for the Christmas break. He listed some of the challenges these students might face (http://tinyurl.com/6qp72w6) and reminded educators to “remember when those students start acting out there might be a reason behind it. They might be afraid of leaving the safe, calm, and loving environment that is school.” My experience tells me this is equally a challenge for students when they return to school. For all of the same reasons listed, some of our students return from a world that may function in direct opposition to many of our expectations in the classroom and they may have spent many days in a much more chaotic realm. Their return to school tends to be a bit uneven and fraught with frustration for the teacher who felt significant progress had been made prior to the break.
How best then, to make their return as positive as possible? The first few days should be devoted to reviewing routines and expectations. Not with an eye towards issuing consequences but to ensuring that all the gains realized before the break remains the focus and the foundation for future growth for all students. Teachers might want to think about planning a field trip or a classroom activity that involves a lot of visual or hands-on stimulation and student interaction during the first week after the break. This would engage all of the students in a positive and pro-social event that will allow a quick return to the old, familiar, and desirable routines. The more negative the experience the student might have had, the more effort required on the part of the educator to reconnect that student to some of the positive attributes. Many of you represent the sole positive role model your students might have in their lives, Never underestimate the difference you make. As I was watching my favorite holiday classic (“It’s a Wonderful Life”), I imagined George Bailey as a teacher. The significant and profound impact that educators have for all of their students becomes even more so for those students that teeter on the edge. Not to suggest to any readers of this post to be either macabre or egotistical, but take a moment and reflect on what might be if you were not a significant adult for so many of your charges.
The Christmas holiday and New Year’s celebrations produce a lot of emotion and do create many positive memories. I’m not suggesting that we avoid interacting with those students for whom this is a blessed time but merely suggesting that we recognize that some of our students come from the other extreme. Rather than getting frustrated or disappointed that there appears to be a loss of all that was gained pre-break, take a moment to realize what was achieved and recognize the path to achieving that might be a little easier to tread the second time around. The best gift we can ever give our students is the gift of ourselves. Perhaps we should all wear a bow on our first day back.
Merry Christmas and best wishes for a healthy and happy 2012.