An Educator’s Guide To The Holidays

The holidays can be a magical time filled with traditions and happiness, but they can also be one of the most challenging times of the year for many. You may find it no surprise that the death rate during the holidays rises.

The holidays bring joy, nostalgia, and traditions passed from generation to generation. All this joy often comes with a price. The stress of getting it all done, the painful longing for a missing loved one, the anger, the arguments, the angst.

The experience of the holidays with their heightened emotions is different for different people.

  • The child who feels the anticipation of Christmas Eve that makes time come to a crawl. Then, finally, when it seems they can’t take it anymore they have fallen asleep; it’s morning and they experience the wonder of walking down the stairs on Christmas morning.
  • The young parent is reliving the magic through their child’s eyes, hoping to hold on to past family traditions while creating new ones for their own family.
  • The Grandparents trying to squeeze every ounce of the time with theirs, drinking in the experience, savoring the time where the entire family is under the same roof for a brief, but a magical day.

As much as we want it to be, the holiday season is not all candy canes, presents, dreidels, and love. This time of year can also be painful, stressful, and bring out emotions that many of us wish would stay buried deep in our consciousness.

The child who has no present, no tree, no hope of a fat jolly man coming down the chimney just for them. Constantly being reminded of the fact they have “less” than others.

The family is experiencing the holidays without a loved one for the first time.  Every ornament, every tradition, every song, every memory serving as a reminder of what has been lost and what will never return.

Those who are having a hard time enjoying all the holidays offer because of the constant reminder of the battle they are facing: against cancer, depression, loneliness, or fear.

That feeling guilt, feeling stress, feeling the burden of spending time with family members that have caused them pain. The tug to return home despite the unhealthy relationships, despite the disruption to equilibrium these encounters led to, often taking weeks to recover from.

Those who are heartbroken because they do not have the money to buy presents, a tree, a delicious meal for the young people they are responsible for raising.

The holidays are complex times; they can bring out the best and worst in us, in our students, in our colleagues.

I have experienced both sides of the holiday conundrum. I’ve experienced the pain, the joy; I’ve experienced the feelings of magic, but I’ve also experienced the stress. I wonder if the holidays become more difficult in this age of technology, in this age of instant gratification, in this age of constantly connected reality that is leading to a disconnected world?

I long for a simpler time, a time with the Toys “R” Us catalog, a time where commercials highlight Rock’ ’em Sock’em Robots and Evil Keevil.

In a lot of ways, my Christmases in the 80s and 90s were a panacea for me.

I loved my advent calendar, a tradition in which my mother would wrap presents every day in December. Some days it was a pack of gum, other days a mini football helmet or some tchotchke she thought I would like. It wasn’t so much what she was giving; it was that she put love and care and attention into buying me special little presents, wrapping them, and opening them together every single day from the time I was three years old well into my 20s.

I loved the white elephant game, the presents, the stuffed mushrooms, and the time off from school.

I didn’t love the year my mother and I were forced to abandon our home, my presents, and the Christmas tree to hide out in a motorhome in an effort to put distance between us and the agitated and violent patriarch whose contact with his first family always brought out the worst in him.

The holidays bring out the best and worst in us.

But despite the challenges, the holidays, for most, are a time when a mother’s love shines through, it doesn’t matter if you are five or fifty. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, your mother always has a way of making you feel safe.

I wonder if young moms from today will still be setting their alarms at 5:00 am to hide that creepy little elf as their teenager’s transition into adulthood?  I suspect many will or at least fondly reminisce about a time when the ritual was a necessity.

We all love presents, but that’s not what it is really about. Holidays are about love, kindness, giving, and trying to make someone else’s life a little brighter.

As educators, it is important for us to realize that it can also be a time where a  student’s disadvantages become even more apparent. Kids do their very best every day to fit in, to be the same to hide their differences, their poverty, and their perceived weaknesses. But, the reality is many students are facing challenges and fears that are accentuated during this holiday season.

We should consider the most love, the most holiday joy, and the only presents some students will receive are what we give them in school, often by their teachers.

This a huge burden, a burden that can be a minefield for teachers. Students often act out because they are reminded how much less they have than others, or the anxiety knowing they will not see the person who loves them the most for two weeks. We must remember teachers are often that person for many students and school is the place they feel most safe.

Then there is that one teacher, the one who ends up in the news for inadvertently or advertently revealing her belief that Santa may or may not be a myth. The story is usually followed by outrage and a debate about how we have become soft as a society.

Tip for any teacher “ Never ever claim Santa Claus is not real!!!” 

I want to try to beat the holiday blues with my fellow educators this year.  I want to be joyful and spread joy. Will you join me?

  • Let’s be optimistic!
  • Let’s develop our own traditions.
  • Let’s celebrate diversity in the how and what our school community celebrates during this season.
  •  Let’s celebrate kindness.
  • Let’s celebrate family.
  • Let’s bring the joys of the holiday season to our students and do our best to leave all that’s wrong with them behind!

Some ideas for educators this holiday season:

Take care of yourself 

You will not be able to support your students if you do not take care of yourself. Try to keep things in perspective. It really doesn’t matter all that much if the present you gave is perfect or cost a lot of money. No one will remember.  Do you know what they will remember? How you treat them, the love you shared, the quick smile you offered.

Remind your students of the true spirit

Ask students to brainstorm “gifts” the class can give to others. Gifts that do not cost money, but are worth much more than that.

Consider a student gift exchange.  Those of us who celebrate Christmas call it Secret Santa. This version of Secret Santa involves students giving gifts of kindness (rather than traditional gifts) to their unsuspecting partners for the week leading up to the holiday break.

Celebrate Diversity 

Most teachers and schools have some sort of holiday celebration.  It seems most teachers celebrate Christmas in America. So many celebrations are geared towards this holiday with a Menorah thrown next to the tree and daily reading of the seven principles of Kwanzaa over the PA.

Recently a team of first-grade teachers in my District spent two days celebrating holidays around the world, having students research how other cultures, other countries, other religions celebrate during this time of year. What a valuable experience for the students!

The research process, which can include interviews with family members,  helps to make kids whose traditions are different than classmates have the opportunity to shine.

When in Rome

Even if you do not celebrate Christmas, even if you are the biggest Grinch it is hard to argue that Christmas decorations are pretty amazing. Take the time to observe all of the holiday cheer as you ride to and from work.  Playing games like ranking the top displays, seeing which style of decoration is most popular this year, or how many of those cheesy giant blow-ups are deflated on any given day.

Give your students a gift that matters

A teacher I know writes each of her students a letter to be opened on Christmas morning. The present is a letter, a letter from the heart that tells the student all the things that the teacher loves about them, highlighting all the things the child does well. I will never forget the time a student came back from a college sharing the dog eared noted he received in 5th grade with the teary-eyed teacher who, in his words, “gave me the best present I ever got at the time I needed it the most.”

Connect with your past

Take a minute to call an old friend, reach out to someone who made a difference for you, or better yet have your students write and mail a “friendly letter” to someone who had a positive effect on their life.

Understand

The holidays can be difficult, making kids and adults for that matter act out. Be aware of this fact; try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to open your heart because you don’t know what pain someone else may be experiencing.

Be a Holiday Star

Pick a day to be a holiday star.  Make your focus that day doing everything you can do to make everyone’s day a little better because they came in contact with you. It may be a smile, it may be giving up that parking spot, or it may be grabbing a cup of coffee for the school secretary. It may be leaving a note of encouragement. It may be leaving a secret present to a person who you think needs one. It doesn’t matter what it is you do, but make the entire day about everyone else’s comfort not yours.   

Be a family star

Many of us stress when we spend more time with family than we are used to spending.  This year instead of being annoyed, getting angry, getting offended, just observe. Appreciate your family for the good things and laugh at the bad. Try to make the day about bringing your family together, doing your best to keep the peace, and not taking offense when things inevitably go wrong college admission essay writing service.

Consider Mr. Rogers

Like many educators and Americans, I am all about Mr. Rogers right now.  His books, his movie, his story. I even bought a Mr. Rogers Pop figurine today.  It is almost surreal to look back at his program and see how far ahead of his time he was. How about showing a Mr. Rogers show in which he talks about kindness, inclusivity, character, and ethics rather than that silly Christmas movie with little educational value or the one that makes some students feel left out? In my mind, you can never go wrong with Mr. Rogers!

Community Service

Dr. James Doty and The Center for Compassion and Altruism and Education out of Stanford have conducted some groundbreaking studies on the health benefits of altruistic actions. What better time of year to give of yourself to others?

My Superintendent has had little sleep the past week because she has been busy staying up late shopping and wrapping presents for a heart-filling event her husband leads with our local police department. They raised money to make sure all kids in our local community have presented, meet Santa, and experience a holiday party.  Seeing the joy on the kids’ faces was incredible, and that joy was matched and in some cases exceeded by the volunteers who made the event possible.

The holidays are stressful and added stress to educators who already have one of the most important and draining jobs.  I hope that my suggestions help you to get the most out of the holiday season. I hope they help you to keep things in perspective, to keep your stress in check.

I, like you, will do my best this year and like you, I am not sure how successful I will be.  I will let you know in January. Until then best of luck, happy holidays, and thank you for the magic you bring to your students each and every day!