Exhausted at the end of the school term? Struggling to contain your excitement for presents under the tree? Here’s how to stay focused as we get close to the Christmas break…
Whilst all your students are bristling with excitement in December, for teachers, it can often be the most exhausting time of the year.
It’s the end of term, you barely get to see any daylight, the to-do list seems to be getting longer than your students’ letters to Santa… There may be Christmas decorations in classrooms, but the curriculum must march on. How is it possible for teachers to maintain focus at this time of the year?
We know from experience that it can be hard to maintain motivation in the run-up to Christmas. Especially when your students start to show a lack of focus. Here are some tips we’ve learnt over the years that can help us get us all through the most wonderful (ly tiring) time of the year…
1. Keep lessons simple
The more tired we get, the harder it is for us to focus. This is especially the case for developing brains, but also for you as a teacher. At Christmas all of us are at the point of mental hibernation. Whether you teach maths, chemistry or english, the best thing to do is to simplify.
Now this isn’t always easy. Some of the information you need to present in the next month will cause difficulty for your students. Even if you’re teaching the next group of Celebrity University Challenge winners, tired brains can struggle when it’s dark at 3 o’clock.
People absorb information best when it’s presented clearly and concisely. The Christmas run-up is the best time of the year to cut out the flab of lessons. Speak slowly when presenting information and make sure that every student understands a concept before continuing with the lesson.
Yes, you may get through less information at this time of the year, but at least the information you present will be absorbed and fully understood. You may even choose to continue teaching this way in the New Year if you find it successful!
2. Be strong in the face of disruption
Christmas is the time when students expect to walk into every lesson and watch a film, colour in Christmas cards, or do wild science experiments.
Though a cleverly chosen DVD isn’t always the worst option — and neither is a themed lesson — it isn’t something that can happen every day. For teachers, trying to stay strong in the face of unceasing student requests can deepen the end-of-term tiredness.
But as difficult as it is, you have to stay strong — even when the world around you is skittish about novelty baubles and Michael Buble covers. The trick here, and it isn’t simple, is to make sure you don’t react to irritable, hyperactive students with reciprocated irritability.
Keep perspective, and try to remember that the most important aspect of the lesson is for students to acquire the information they need to be successful in the New Year. Stay measured, and hopefully the manic Christmas period won’t take over lesson plans.
3. Optimise your out of classroom work
There are hundreds of books claiming to offer the secret to optimal productivity. Some of them may even be on your Christmas list. Whatever you think of these “gurus," this time of year is the perfect period to optimise the work you do outside of the classroom.
From marking books, to planning lessons, cutting the time it takes to complete these tasks will leave you more time for buying Christmas presents, looking at Nigella recipes and rewatching It’s A Wonderful Life.
The best way to do this is to structure your work. Coded feedback has been proven to be just as effective as uncoded marking, for example. Perhaps now is the time to embrace it if you don’t already? Whether you acquire your productivity knowledge from blogs, books or peers, Christmas is the best time of year for optimising tasks outside of the classroom.
4. Learn from the ghosts of Christmas past
Whilst taking new and inventive approaches can help you to keep focused at Christmas, the past can be just as informative. You already know what has previously worked well. It’s time to dish out those actions once again. But about what about if you’re a new teacher? For teachers new and old, Christmas should be the time for sharing. Specifically, sharing past experience.
A more experienced teacher in your department may have lessons that are proven to calm the Christmas craziness. Potentially, you could borrow some of their ideas to make your life easier? Perhaps you could collaborate and hold lessons on the same subject across a department, combining experience and fresh perspectives?
The ghosts of Christmas become anything but scary in this scenario. In most cases, they can help avoid a catastrophe-stuffed Christmas.
5. Take care of yourself
Staying focused in the run up to Christmas is not only about optimising lessons. It’s also about taking care of your mental and physical health — especially with so many colds on the loose.
Eat well, get plenty of sleep, drink enough water. How many times have we heard these nuggets of wisdom this year? How few of us actually make sure we get around to implementing them?
Now is the perfect time to get started. Not only will it help to avoid lethargy and lack of focus at the end of term, it will make it more likely that you’ll be able to really enjoy your Christmas dinner on the 25th!
Whether you’re at home with family, escaping to warmer climes, or searching for a new school role over Christmas, we hope you have a fantastically focused end of term, a Happy Christmas, and an even better 2019!