When I started writing this post it was my intention to tell you to take no part in holiday parties for students. This was because the thought of mine last year makes my stomach churn a bit. I was very, very frustrated after a day we tried to give the students who came to school a bit of a break but during which we were handed loads of discipline problems and headaches. What changed was my giving a draft of the post to a fellow teacher in my school who told me how her holiday party went last year.
These are some of the things she said:
In order to have a successful party, or even easy day, you have to have the time be particularly structured. If the students have a positive community and respect for their teacher, celebrations can worthwhile and fun.
We fell down right there last year. We didn't have a structure to the activities we did, only the day itself. Just like the classroom has to be structured, celebration time needs to be as well. My classroom (and two of my teammates') were also not as a rule positive communities where respect for the teacher was to be found.
Students have to see the value in what they're doing. Watching a movie for the sake of watching a movie is transparent, while watching a movie after you've read a book is desirable. The kids know what to expect and have been likely looking forward to watching the movie ever since the reading of the book began.
We showed a movie last year, but we showed it just to show it. That meant "do whatever we please time" to most of the students, which ended in half the students present being kicked out of a movie room for the rest of the day into a detention room that was monitored in shifts, which was less than entertaining for the teachers doing the monitoring.
Holidays are a little different, but I even had a nice holiday party last year. I sugar-coated it as a "Publishing Party" and it seemed scholastically oriented and viable. Since there was a structure to the day, there was a structure to the party and things went off without a hitch.
We tried to teach some small lessons in the morning and show a movie in the afternoon, but even the class schedule was completely different than what the students were used to. By the time the movie rolled around in the afternoon they would have been a little nuts on a regular day, to say nothing of the day before winter break.
You have to have student buy-in. You have to put them in charge sometimes so that they feel what they are doing is meaningful. Have a plate passer-outer and juice-pourer and a napkin-giver. All of a sudden you have an entire classroom working for the party! And THAT is what having a successful party is all about.
Last year I ran around like the waiter I used to be brewing hot chocolate for students, popping popcorn and handing both to the students in the movie room. At this point in the year my trust in the students had been so shattered by their lack of participation and terrible behavior in class that I flat rejected offers to help with handing these things out- probably not smart.
This year I am planning no holiday party. The teachers on my team (two of four of which are new to the school/team) and I are all having some kind of culminating project in each of our classes (mine was today- a rally for modern progressive issues topped off with a few bags of chips), but we aren't going to try to have a grade-wide celebration.
If you're still struggling with management and getting a handle on your class, plan something that's educational, but not incredibly difficult. Stick to all daily routines you have in place. Last year two days before the botched holiday bash I brought in for each of my students two of my favorite cookie and one of those small candy canes wrapped in a gift bag with ribbon. Unlike most of the other things I'd handed out last fall, these were not based on merit or performance or behavior, which meant everyone got one. I can't tell for sure, but the gesture may have been something of a turning point in the relationship I had with those kids. Whatever did it, things started to get better after break.
Today's Wine: Misterio Malbec 2006. This made for smooth drinking and, as is usual with Malbecs (for me), a nice bottle for the table.