Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stressful Times


Things are going pretty smoothly in the classroom and then suddenly it's like a tornado blew through and has wreaked total havoc. Your once calm classroom is non-existent. Children are bickering, touching each other non-stop, quick to tears, misusing materials, and tattling has dramatically increased. Sound familiar? Any of these things can be common around holidays, vacations, and state testing times.

We have children in our classrooms from a variety of backgrounds. Some are poor and worry about their next meal or whether they will be able to stay in their home. Some are abused. Some have anxiety. These are all things that are well beyond our control, but we can keep our classrooms a safe place for our children to be every day. A place where they know what to expect and what is expected of them. When it gets close to holidays, vacations, and state testing there are a few things that we, the adults, can do proactively to maintain a safe environment.

One thing that I find helpful is to review classroom routines. Taking the time to review the quiet signal, lining up, putting materials away, and transitions all help maintain a sense of calm in the classroom. Depending on what I notice happening in my classroom will determine which are reviewed. It will also determine whether I will use Interactive Modeling or Peer Modeling. Bringing children back to the common language of the community decreases misbehavior.

Another thing I find helpful is to stay as close to the schedule as possible. There is nothing more disruptive to a sense of routine than the months of December and March. December is a challenge because of all the assemblies that occur ~ winter choral concerts, band concerts, holiday store, and more. These types of disruptions create a heightened excitement, and the children struggle to maintain their self-control. March is difficult because of the state testing (CMT: CT Mastery Test) that occurs. You can feel the stress, of adults and children, as you walk down the 3rd and 4th grade hallway. Compounded with the stress is the rearrangement of schedules that occur to accommodate the testing to occur over a 3 week period. Even if I have to eliminate one part of the schedule I attempt to keep the rest of the day as usual, and ensure that the routines for those parts of the day are honored.

One last thing I do is plan an engaging multi-disciplinary project. I strive to do this all of the time, but the reality is that sometimes, I am required to teach really unexciting things. Because of the multi-disciplinary nature I am able to maintain routines by teaching content specifics during specified workshop times. The days move seamlessly from one workshop to the next because of the integration. I also tie the project to an authentic audience. The end goal is typically to host an event for the children's friends and family. In the past we have hosted a play, poetry slam, movie night, wax museum, virtual field trip, and electronic museum.  These types of long-term, in-class, projects  provide a focus for the children.  It is quite something to watch my students during these projects.  It's as if they don't have a worry in the world.  

There are many facets of teaching that can make it stressful.  And let's face it; it is during these stressful times that many of us reconsider our chosen profession.  One way to maintain a love of your job and instill a love of learning in your students is to decrease the stress.  Being proactive around these times of year is one of the best things we can do for our students.