Even with that positive intention, students can come to school dealing with the effects of trauma, anxiety and more. The thought of extended time at home away from the stability of school can be really hard for some students. I think I have understood this much more deeply in the last few years as I have gotten more involved in Restorative Practices and Trauma Informed Teaching and Learning. We really would like to think we know so much about what our students bring to school with them, but I think the reality is that we really only know a tiny amount in the grand scheme of things.
As such, I try really hard to keep things as normal as possible the last couple of weeks of school before we go on winter break. I want my students to feel stable and secure in my presence. I think that has paid off this year.
On Friday, December 21st, we had a half day of school. I planned to finish up all of our testing and things on Thursday so that we could just have fun together on that last day. We finished the ornaments they made for their families and then we had our party. I chose not to include food this year - the students just had to bring themselves. The students exchanged their gifts from each other (we do a Secret Santa Workshop each year and they get to select a gift for a classmate to exchange) and they got their gift bags from myself and my intern. Then it was fun time.
We played Candy Cane Fishing and Snowman Bowling! So adorable.
After this we had a "snowball fight" with marshmallows since there isn't any snow in our area of Michigan right now. Students had a partner and sat across from each other. Each had a small bag of marshmallow minis. They had one minute to try to get as many minis in their partner's mouth as possible. Then we cleaned up (because for real, the marshmallows went EVERYWHERE even though they were being careful) and then we repeated with the second partner. It was so much fun. I have an adorable video of it but can't show it due to it showing student faces. So cute though!
Then we had lunch and I sent the kids on their merry way until 2019. Generally at Christmas I have one or two students who bring a small gift. A few rare times I have had 5-6 kids do this. Friends of mine who teach in more wealthy areas are shocked by this because they get overloaded with gift cards and other expensive items. I do not teach in an area where this is ever going to happen and that is 100% acceptable to me. I do not want my families worrying about buying me a present - I want them to worry about buying their own family/children/spouse presents. (Come Valentine's Day - they more than make up for the gifts, believe me!)
This year, I did have a couple of friends bring me a gift. Some were just little handmade cards (my favorite gifts, honestly). One gift I received included a super nice card. I'm so glad that I didn't open it in front of my students because I would have probably started crying. It was so sweet and heartfelt.
But this mom, having never met me, was kind of taken aback at Open House when I fully said "He's going to tell you that I'm weird...and I am." She has come to appreciate that so much over this last couple of months. She has already asked me if I will teach 4th grade again next year so that I can keep him (truth be told, I was asked that last year too).
As difficult as these last few weeks have been for me personally with my depression and anxiety, all of the meditation I have focused myself in has really allowed me to be present in each moment and that helps so much. I enjoyed that party so much more because I was not thinking about when it was done or what else I needed to do. I was just enjoying their laughter and their joy at the fun we had together. There is power in that.
Of course, I look forward time off as much as the next teacher, but I also hope that I sent my students away to finish up 2018 with gratitude in their hearts and love on their minds. We will meet again in 2019 and I think we will all be better people when we come back together.