Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Happy" Holidays

Ah, the holidays. Last night it snowed here in the city and it's very white outside. It reminds me of the years my parents would pile all six of us kids into an ugly Buick station wagon (the kind with the fake wood paneling) and make the trek from Kansas to Minneapolis to visit the rest of my relatives. We'd be jammed in so tight that we couldn't move for the eight hours we were in the car (it was probably planned that way by my parents), and to get out to go to the bathroom took agility and skill in order to keep tons of suitcases and presents from crushing you, your baby brother or any innocent bystanders outside of the car.

Once up in the Twin Cities, we'd go to a Christmas dinner at one grandparent's house on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas Day. Both were pretty fantastic in their own right. My mom's family kept kids in ties and dresses and we sat around a single table with cloth napkins eating Norwegian meatballs. After dinner I'd run around in a pair of wooden clogs brought from the old country. My dad's family was quite the opposite. Their were thirty plus grandchildren, eight sets of aunts and uncles and other family friends (topping twenty five adults sometimes) all crammed into a single-story rambler surrounded by a hundred feet of snow. Everyone always had plenty to eat, plenty of toys by the end of the day and plenty of cousins to goof around with. While the journey up and down the middle of the U.S. wasn't our favorite, my brothers and sisters and I always loved the holidays and getting to see our whole family.

I'm not too sure, but before those breaks our behavior in school probably changed. Knowing full and well that all you have to do is "survive" another couple days doesn't always motivate you to do astounding things academically. We acted the way we did because we were excited that we were going to get a break. We acted that way because school was going to be out and, while we might complain about being bored once or twice before the New Year, winter break was something to be appreciated.

Something I found out last year is that this is not the story for many of our students. While I knew that none of them would be driving to Minneapolis and many wouldn't be getting a lot of presents, what I didn't know is that some of the the students hate the holidays- especially the ones causing all of the trouble in your classes just before the break. How they feel about the holidays is usually reflected in their behavior. The continuum of student behavior ranges from those who do far better than normal to increase their present potential to those who know the holidays are not going to be a celebration at all. Most students are somewhere in between, but the ones at the extreme ends are the ones who are, as usual, the most interesting/back-breaking.

The behavior of the students on the worrisome side of the spectrum starts going downhill a couple weeks before the holidays. The stories range from students who will not have enough to eat for a week and a half to children waiting for an estranged parent to bring them a promised present, which simply won't happen. Unfortunately many of the students who have a parent absent in his or her life don't give up hope they'll come back for holidays until he or she is in high school. Many of the students are also anticipating a lack of structure for a week and a half that is difficult to deal with. There are a hundred reasons why they may not like the holidays, the point is that they rough if you're not used to spending quality, healthy time with your family.

As for the students who acquired the abilities to smile, listen to you and complete an assignment for the first time in anticipation of their respective gift-receiving holiday, enjoy it while it lasts, call their parents to let them know they're working hard and hope for some residual effect come January.

Keep in mind that as you're struggling to keep your classroom in order before the break, your students may be struggling with the thought of a rough couple weeks ahead of them. Many of the ones you've been battling all year are the ones who are actually going to miss your classroom the most. For the past four months you've been showing up every day (or very nearly every day) to do what you can for them. Whether or not they're responding, listening, working or otherwise, you've done that for them- and you'll be back for them after the holidays.

Today's Wine: Mulled Wine/Gluehwein/Gloegg. This is, of course, spiced, fortified wine. There are a lot of recipes out there for it, but I use the toss-it-together method, which works out just fine. For each bottle of not expensive red wine, put in a splash of vanilla, an orange cut in half with some cloves stuck in it, a cinnamon stick, a healthy splash of Grand Marnier if you have it and some sugar (start with a quarter cup and add more if you want). Heat and drink.

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