Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Teacher Down Time and Christmas Break

At the start of every December, I start looking forward to Christmas break.

I make a list.

I check it more than twice.

Two whole weeks of freedom? I can do so much with that! I can reorganize my art supplies, file papers, change the seating arrangement, make new name tags because the others are grimy and gross. I can plan, organize my library, laminate, copy for the weeks ahead, get caught up on any correcting, change my classroom decorations. The list goes on and on.

The reality of the matter is that maybe one or two of those get done because Christmas break is a BREAK. A time to breathe, relax, and recover.

My first three years teaching, I would spend every Saturday in the classroom. I would spend days off in the classroom. I would spend Christmas break in the classroom. But the funny thing was, the more time I spent in the classroom, I still never felt like I had it all down pat and running smoothly.

Ironically enough, it was when I started spending less time in the classroom, and more time on "life" that I really felt that I was being most effective and efficient.  Don't get me wrong, there are still times in the year ( usually right before report cards) when I turn into a stress monster that wants to "Scarlet O'Hara" it all into tomorrow ( or oblivion), but I try to maintain a balance.

I always tell my students, you have two hours of homework, and I work after school for two hours. Same rule applies to breaks. Did I give you homework over Christmas break? No? So... Guess what

So on Saturday, the first official day of break, when I saw I had three emails from students asking why I haven't posted their summative assessments in PowerSchool yet. I lovingly wished them all a very Merry Christmas, and told them grades would be posted when we return...and then I turned off email notifications. And I don't feel [overly] guilty about it. During the school day we answer hundreds of demands on our time, patience, and thinking from students, parents, and coworkers. It's OKAY to use our break/vacation time to recharge. Mental well being is just as important as physical well being.

Here's wishing all teachers a marvelous winter/Christmas break and a healthy happy 2016!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Middle School Students and Anxiety

Teachers have a lot of demands placed on them in the United States today. Meeting benchmarks, planning, differentiation, parent concerns, dealing with administration, professional development, it goes on and on. 

What we sometimes forget however, is that our students are also under an increased demand to perform both in and out of school. This has caused an increase in both diagnosed and undiagnosed anxiety disorders, particularly for students in grades 5-8.  Anxiety is a huge category of specific disorders. Some examples include general anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, separation anxiety, post traumatic stress or selective mutism. 

At the beginning of the year, and periodically throughout, I sit with my homeroom and we do a check in to see what anxieties and pressures they are feeling. We generate an anchor chart of strategies to deal with anxiety at school and at home. This chart is displayed in the classroom throughout the year and added to as we go. Building a strong and supportive classroom community, where mistakes are okay, goes a long way in helping students who feel anxious. 

Anxiety often has a physical impact on a student. This can range from headaches or stomachaches, bloody noses, tingling, heavy breathing,  fainting, nausea, crying, or hives. If a student is experiencing any of these things, it's important not to dismiss them.

A copy of these teaching strategies as well as the free graphic organizer I use to help students NOTE their thinking can be found here: Teaching Strategies for Anxious Students

8 Teaching Strategies for Dealing with Anxious Students
Teach deep breathing techniques. This is particularly helpful before a test or presentation.

Teach students to NOTE their thoughts. Notice what they are thinking, Observe how they are feeling, Think about a solution, Enact a plan. I keep a stack of graphic organizers in the corner of my classroom. Students can grab one to help if they want to. I always let students who use the organizer give it to me to be shredded if they wish. 

Giving a prearranged signal when a child is about to be called on.  

Presenting oral reports in front of the teacher alone. Alternately, letting a student with selective mutism record their presentation at home for submission. 

Giving a signal before going over instructions. Students who are anxious about missing information will find this particularly helpful.   

Working with the student to determine a "safe person". This is an adult OR peer that can help the student refocus or put a situation into perspective. 

Explain any changes in schedule or procedure. This will often require repetition

Make sure that students with anxiety are not seated next to the "chatty ones". Students who fear getting in trouble will be more focused on disassociating themselves from their neighbors than on class content.