The Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November
The struggle is real, y'all. I first heard of this term around my second year of teaching, and dang, does it ring true every single year 😅
If this time of year also gets you down, don't worry - you're not alone. And since joy is something I've learned I sometimes have to work for, I've compiled a list of five strategies that have worked for me during this time to keep the fire burning until Winter Break. I know some of these might be hot takes, but again, it's just what has worked for me. Take inspo from what you like, and leave the rest.
🔥 Days Off
I wholeheartedly believe in taking all your days each school year, and honestly, you can take them whenever you need, but I've found that intentionally scheduling a few during this season gives me something to look forward to and helps me feel a little refreshed.
Here's the thing though - DO 👏🏼 NOT 👏🏼 leave super-serious-needs-to-be-graded-with-a-finetooth-comb sub work 👏🏼. Otherwise, you're defeating the purpose of the day. I usually leave something that I know will mostly auto-grade, like a CommonLit text, a Quizziz/Kahoot/GimKit, or a NearPod; or, an interactive resource - like this - to give the kids (and myself) some breathing room.
Then, do your best to let go of the teacher guilt and schedule in at least 1 fun and/or refreshing activity for yourself that day - whatever that looks like for you.
🔥 Cards of Appreciation
I don't know if it's just me, but when I show someone else love/appreciation, I always feel a little more recharged and upbeat.
Around the end of October, when I feel I've gotten to know my students pretty well, I take some time each day for 2-3 weeks to write individual cards of appreciation for them. I task myself with completing at least 5 a day, and before right around Thanksgiving break, I have them all done. Sometimes I do them before winter break instead. They're not long or anything, but the fact that they are individualized means a lot to the kids. Trust me, especially if you're a high school teacher like me, the kids don't receive appreciation/praise enough.
It sounds counterintuitive because it's essentially giving yourself an extra task when you're already feeling burnt out, but give it a try one time just to see how you feel afterward. Here's a link to some I've bought in the past in case you want to try it out! Or these here. To save time, money, and hand cramps, you can also just type them up on quarter or half sheets (or jazz them up on Canva) and print on regular computer paper :)
🔥 Reflection + Vision Boarding
I'm a big believer in visualization and every year I make a personal vision board - non-teacher related (with cut up magazines and everything) for the upcoming year. I suggest this because not only is planning things to look forward to/work towards proven to be good for our mental health, but this in particular helps to remind me that I'm more than just my teaching career.
Sometimes, it's so easy to get caught up in our teacher lives that we forget who we are outside of them, and I've found this strategy to be grounding at an important time.
Now on the teacher side of things, I also like to start making a list of what's worked and what hasn't worked so far in the school year. Additionally, I survey my students to get their input as well. And occasionally, I'll make a virtual vision board for units/content/activities I want to implement the following semester based on everything together.
🔥 Backwards Planning
After the craziness of back-to-school has died down, I like to sit down around this time and kind of outline the rest of the semester. I count up how many days are left - actual instructional days (take out days where you know there's going to be things like a school-wide activity, testing, craziness/chaos, and sometimes half days depending on when they fall). And so I give myself an estimate of number of days to then break up my content into those weeks.
I first break down an overall calendar and then go in month by month with more detailed plans, starting with end-of-unit summatives, and going backwards from there. Many teachers like to complete this process the year before or over summer break, but sometimes plans change and I like to go in with a basic plan and then modify based on the students I have that particular year.
Though I love setting up virtual calendars through workspaces like Trello, for this process, I prefer busting out good old paper and pencil, and so I print them (for free) from this website. What I like about it is that I can customize how the months look, and print 4 months on a page and also individual months per page.
🔥 Content Breaks
There are a handful of days I don't teach content and I give the kids a break. Sometimes it's a movie day, or a game day, or a class potluck or mini-party. And sometimes, it's just a mental health day. The kids need it and you need it, and I promise the world keeps on spinning.
I do this second semester as well during the lull between Spring Break and the end-of-the-year. Here's a quick video of an example of a content break I hosted before Easter.
I know this is dependent on your school/admin expectations/approval, but there are ways to spin it (like on LPs) so you can make it happen. A day of fun or a reset day can do wonders for you classes, and if you want, you don't have to use the entire class period. For example, I'll still have my students do SSR sometimes before an activity day.
Whatever you do to keep going this season or any, please know that you are a GREAT teacher, you are MORE THAN a teacher, and you are GOOD ENOUGH in every capacity. You've survived 100% of your bad days up to this point and you can continue to do so.
Hang in there, friends!