The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

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The holiday break wraps up here after an extension for cold weather, and for the nineteenth straight year I’m saying “It’s time.”  The holiday break is like a summer vacation packed into sixteen days.  Just like summer vacation, you spend those first few days languishing, reveling in the glory that you don’t have to be at work until Next Year!  And when you say it like that, it makes those sixteen days seem longer.   But also like summer vacation, you reach the point where the languishing becomes an almost terminal condition.  That’s when you know that it’s time to get back to work.  Personally, I reached the tipping point Thursday afternoon when I fell into a cocktail-induced nap that lasted until 7PM.  I awoke asking myself what happened to the day, despite having cleaned up around the house and having worked out for the fourteenth day in a row.

Getting to the holiday break has never been easy, and this year was no exception.  When you work at a school where more than half the students live in poverty, it can be hard to find the joy in the season.  There are several factors that contribute to this.  One is timing.  The holiday break comes with less than two weeks left in the semester.  Students who haven’t gotten their act together all semester now know that they are going to fail and there is nothing that can be done about it.  It’s not uncommon for them to act out.  Take a class full of low-level or struggling learners, and as many as half the students might have checked out some time between the Thanksgiving turkey coming out of the oven and the Christmas turkey going in.  The resulting amount of classroom distractions crests for the semester, and rampant discipline problems follow.

You can pretty much forget about meeting with a counselor this time of year if you’re trying to help a student or bring a situation to their attention before it runs off the rails.  They’re too busy dealing with kids who are melting down at the prospect of spending sixteen days away from school.  I recently mentioned this to a well-educated woman who lives in an affluent community south of where I teach.  I might as well have been telling her that Martians have landed.  Our students aren’t deliberating about whether to visit Telluride or Jackson Hole–they’re preparing to deal with a bare floor under the Christmas tree (if there is a Christmas tree), the heat not working, not enough food for Christmas dinner, or an out-of-control parent that they don’t have to be around when they are at school but now have to be around for sixteen straight days.  What’s more, we seem inundated each year by students being pressed to donate every last cent in their pockets to the local food bank or Toys for ______, or whatever other charitable cause someone has managed to wheedle into the school.  I’m all for giving and considering those who have too little during this season of abundance, but I think some people should think twice about badgering a student population in which 1 out of every 2 students is in poverty–especially when you hear kids mumble, “Who the hell is watching out for me?”

There are other things happening, too.  Our fights spike to their highest point before the end of winter.  One dean explains this as a weather phenomenon:  The kids aren’t getting outside to burn off energy or frustrations like they do in the fall and spring.  I think there’s more to it than that, and it goes back to my previous point of kids feeling like they’re trapped without school as an outlet.  They are quicker to anger, and too many of them already have little or nothing to lose, so why not pop someone who has been aggravating you?  And then there are the thefts.  Things disappear.  IPods, cellphones, nice sets of headphones, entire book bags.  Even hats, gloves, and winter coats can walk away if left unattended.  One of my Creative Writing students wrote a story about an encounter with a girl in a locker room who stole a scarf from her.  She ended up “gifting” it to the young lady, who appeared to be in more desperate need of it.  At least someone was feeling the spirit of the season.

More often than not, we limp across the finish line as we head into the holiday vacation.  It takes some time to rebound from that before you can feel the spirit of the season–and sometimes it takes more than a few days.  I think my first encounter with the holiday season at my current school left me jaded for a few years.  I couldn’t quite capture that Christmas feeling after witnessing first-hand how difficult it is for people in different circumstances.  None of that changes the fact, though, that we ethically have to push on.  We can’t stop teaching and let things slide that week before the holiday.  As tempting as that sounds, it would actually make things worse.  All we’re left with is to keep with the classroom routines we’ve been following, despite coming across as The Grinch.

Pushing on has a lot to do with why it’s time to get back, too.  Pushing on and returning to “normalcy” will help deaden the foul taste left from the weeks before Christmas.  A new semester will start soon enough, and that nominal rebirth will help even more.


Written by seeker70

January 5, 2014 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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