Only educators truly know that the last week before Spring Break is torture for teachers. Some of it has to do with the nicer weather and the kids’ energy levels, but it’s the teachers that desperately need the break. I firmly believe that the break isn’t for the benefit of the kids, other than to keep them safe. Normally sane and rational teachers turn into monsters that live in the shadows and feast upon the souls and dreams of middle school children. Perhaps that is a little melodramatic…perhaps not.
But it is really the post-Spring Break run that can make or break you as a teacher. Veteran teachers will tell you that there is no harder stretch in education than the April/May run to the end of the year. Gone are the monthly holidays and three-day weekends to break up the stressful schedule. No more “just x more days until y”. There is only one countdown left: how many more “get-ups” before summer vacation.
It’s time to buckle up and ride this roller coaster to the end of the line. Here are five tips to help you avoid derailing:
Reset Your Expectations— A colleague of mine used to give teachers some great advice: “If it wasn’t a big deal in October, don’t make it one in April.” Coming back from Spring Break is a great opportunity to remind students of your expectations. And yes, to explicitly do so. Middle school kids are great at pushing the limits. Your sixth grader aren’t sixth graders anymore. They are seventh graders in training. Spend 20-30 minutes of instructional time covering your expectations and routines and you will see it pay off in the end run.
Look for the Positive— At this point of the year it is easy to focus on Sally’s inability to bring a pencil to class EVERY period. Or the fact that Johnny still loses his binder three times a day. Look past them and you will find joy in everyday life.
This is a great chance for you to connect with some of the students that haven’t gotten your attention for the first three-quarters of the year. Make an effort to talk to the students that are there every single day and always do what you’ve asked. There is a distinct possibility that you are their favorite teacher and you don’t even know it. Let them fill your bucket and remind you that you do make a difference.
Don’t Forget the Parents— Just like spring can make kids and teachers twitchy, parents often suffer from the same symptoms. And if they go untreated, their anxiety grows until they lash out. Be proactive in communicating with parents. Yes, they should know how to check grades on the student portal. Yes, they should know where to find information about your homework on your classroom website. But some still don’t.
Worse, are the ones that have just woken up from a six month coma to see that their beautiful, perfect, innocent angel has a D or F in every class. All of a sudden their child is on fire and screaming at you is the only way to douse the flames. Send parents a quick update email about how to help their child through the last quarter of school. Assure them that you do actually care about their child. Ten minutes of preventive work is better than ten nasty emails and an ugly meeting that turns into a lose/lose situation for the student.
Family First— As educators we are notorious for sacrificing for our students. By the time you come home from work and remember that you have children of your own that you have neglected in preparing for the week’s lessons enough to fix them a meal that consists of something more than mac n’ cheese and hotdogs, you then remember you have a spouse that you haven’t seen awake since Spring Break. Stack in the laundry, yard work, the class you needed to take for recertification, etc. it is easy to put your family relationships at the bottom of a long list.
Find ways to balance family time:
- Dedicate one night a week for date-night with your spouse. It is important that you have that time to stay grounded in your relationship.
- Spend time with your kids during the daylight hours. Even if it is taking them to their spring sports practices, being present matters. Grading papers can wait until they’re in bed.
- Don’t stay at work past 5pm. Regardless, if you cook dinner or not, it is important to eat as a family. Talk with your kids and spouse about their day.
Find Time for Sunshine— The simple cure for being stuck in a classroom all day throughout the winter? SUNSHINE!! Forget the recent studies on Vitamin D deficiency. We all know that sunshine and fresh air can do wonders to keep us healthy and positive. Spring in Idaho can be a challenge—wind, rain, snow, sun, etc. Take advantage of the sunshine to relax in your own way: training for your next 5k, watching your kids’ baseball games, reading a book on the deck with your beverage of choice, etc.
Soak up the sunshine and before you know it summer will be upon you. And then “vacation” can start. But that’s another article.