By Brian P. Gatens
You survived Halloween but that was just a warm-up for the busy-ness of Thanksgiving and then the holidays.
A colleague of mine always likes to call this time of the year “Hurricane Season.” The combination of colder weather (for those in seasonal areas), shorter days, later nights and the (sometimes forced) frivolity of the holiday season increase the stress on staff members and students alike.
Let Children be Children
With all the clamor for higher standards and improved test scores, I think we run the risk of driving childhood out of our schools. Rather than fight the excitement and enthusiasm of this time of the year, I suggest you dive right into it with gusto. Don’t hesitate to decorate your classroom, complete holiday-related class projects and take part in activities that get your students into the spirit of the season. Thanksgiving, with its firm grounding in American history and culture, provides an excellent opportunity to do this.
Take Care of Yourself
I always consider the holiday season as running from Halloween to New Year’s Day. In between are late nights, colder weather and plain old-fashioned “busy-ness.” Take it easy on yourself: Be sure to get enough sleep, stay ahead of any colds and always, always, always wash your hands at school. Teachers have the immune systems of a superhero, but even we have to watch our health. On that same note, be sure to let parents know if their child isn’t feeling well.
Be Extra Patient
The holidays are a double-edged sword. On one side you have the expectation that this is a joyous and wonderful time of the year — and for many of our students it is. Opposite that feeling, though, is the possibility that some students (and colleagues) may be feeling acute loss. The holidays can awaken memories of who can’t be there this year, which is one of the reasons why some people might be a little on edge. As a result, be sure to be as patient as possible, and don’t be surprised if normally even-keeled people seem to struggle.
Be Respectful of All
This isn’t really a “survival guide” item, exactly, but it bears repeating: Be certain that you respect and acknowledge all relevant religions and cultural traditions during the holiday season. Many teachers mistakenly think the separation of church and state means that schools have to be “religion-free” zones.
Instead, schools can use this time of the year as an opportunity to teach all children about the wide variety of cultural religious observances. Due to the sometimes knee-jerk reaction to this topic, I suggest that you bounce the topics off your colleagues and administrators.
An educator for two decades, Brian P. Gatens is superintendent/principal at Norwood Public School in Norwood, N.J. Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal and now superintendent/principal.