Teaching Mixtape: Six tips for surviving and thriving in the chaos of your classroom before a holiday break

Teaching during the weeks before a holiday is like opening a long-forgotten closet. You watch as, in slow motion, all of the coats, Christmas decorations, and brooms tumble out the closet door while feeling powerless to stop it. 

What does this analogy look, feel, and sound like in a pre-holiday classroom? Students are slumped over their desks,  tired from entertaining visiting relatives, and can barely finish simple classwork. Suddenly it feels like you’ve stepped onto the set of “The Honeymooners” where all of the bickering students are emulating Alice and Frank Kramden. And it’s loud. So loud!

You don’t have to sit back and watch the chaos unfold in your classroom. The remedy is smart planning! Here are six ways you can maintain your own sanity while continuing to teach and learn with your students. 

Stay calm. Every morning before the students come barreling through your classroom door, take a few minutes to drink some tea, take some mindful breaths, or do some office yoga. Remind yourself that your attitude sets the tone. If you pick up the kids’ energy as soon as they walk through the door, you will turn into a manic pixie version of yourself and will be burnt out by noon. 

The magic threshold. My first and third grade teacher is still one of my main teaching mentors, though she undoubtedly has long since passed away. She was a master of classroom management and creating a safe learning environment. As we would line up outside of her room after PE or recess, she would remind us of the magic threshold. When you were outside, you were unruly beasts. As you passed over the magic threshold into her classroom, you would transform into well-behaved students. I love using this oldie (but goodie!) with my students. If we didn’t enter quietly, we’d have to go back out and try again. This brings me to my next suggestion…

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? That’s right: Practice, practice, practice. On days when students have the volume turned up to an eleven, it is important to reinforce stronger boundaries than normal. As you notice the energy increasing to an uncomfortable level during independent work, stop class, have the students get out of their seats, and ask them to line up in the hall. Practice entering the room more calmly as a gentle reset. This practice can be applied to any of your normal classroom routines. While you may be frustrated by lost instructional time, remember that no one learns well in a loud, disorganized environment.

Plan ahead. Start breaking up the blocks of your schedule into smaller parts. In my middle school classroom, I have 50-minute classes. Before the holidays, I might break up this block into the same, predictable schedule every day until we reach the holiday break. I’ve been inspired to break up my schedule in more unique ways after reading The Five-Minute Teacher: How do I maximize time for learning in my classroom, and here’s an example of how I might structure my schedule before the holidays:

To download a force copy of this schedule to your drive, click HERE!

The reliability of your schedule will make students feel safe and secure, and the small blocks will keep students too busy and engaged to be off task. 

Get cozy. Plan family-style activities such as reading books, putting a fireplace video on your interactive whiteboard, or making a curriculum-themed craft. Have some free time? Bust out some board games. 

Take a break. Turn up the music and have an impromptu dance party. Get outside for a quick breath of fresh air. Taking a break can reset everyone’s attitudes and can help your students get back on track with learning.

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