Photo of Tara Stamps, CTU administrator of new teacher development.

Tara Stamps

Looking back (way back) to when I was an early career teacher, I should have listened to the advice that veteran teachers gave me coming into the holiday season. But I didn’t, until years later, and boy did I pay for it. 

Back then, I was a young single mom, filled to the brim with energy and ideas. I planned elaborate holiday assemblies, with sets, costumes and music (my first dream was to be an actress and director). I had the absolute best classroom Christmas parties — just ask Brandon Johnson, my colleague at the time. 

We always had plenty of food, drinks, a D.J. and a gift exchange. I sent the students home for the holidays with these ridiculous work packets, (the principal made me do it) that either didn’t come back or that I didn’t grade.

By the time the holiday break came I was a mess. I was tired, broke and had no idea how to revive myself or plan for the coming year, when all my students would return with no school supplies, having forgotten everything I taught them since September. 

So, here is what 25 years of experience in the classroom has taught me. I hope it helps you.

  • If your principal is expecting you to participate in the holiday assembly, start early. Get input from your students and make it a part of their grade. Do something simple, but do it with style. There is nothing worse than putting ill-prepared kids on a stage.
  • Have the students plan the classroom party. Ask them to create a budget (a math assignment), decorate (participation grade), make invitations (SEL), and establish classroom norms regarding participation and or attendance (citizenship). Build in time to set up and clean up the classroom. You don’t want to return to your room in January with half empty bottles of pop and opened bags of flamin’ hots.
  • If you are sending “work” home over the holiday, make it make sense, and be accountable for what you are asking the kids to do.
  • I suggest a STEM project, a high interest book, or practice and review of what you have taught since September. But keep it reasonable. Please consider the students. After all, it’s their break too.
  • Send a school supply list that can be filled over the holiday break. 
  • Finally, spend time in December planning and preparing for January. You need time to rest and replenish over the break and if you take home a long list of “To Do’s” not only will they not get done, it’s not the best use of your time.
  • Upon your return to school for those first couple weeks you will have to review EVERYTHING your class worked on since September — from classroom norms to actual content. Make it fun.
  • Do your bulletin board now. Save yourself some time and think MLK Day.

I taught Middle school so most of what I am saying applies to elementary school students, but there are things that high school teachers can do, too. For example:

  • CPS high schoolers are required to earn service learning hours so help them.
  • Suggest that your students volunteer at a shelter or nursing home. Since it’s too late to plan an outing, have them volunteer to help a teacher for a few periods.
  • Sponsor a school clean-up.
  • Host a voter registration drive. Students can register on a computer or using their phone.

The most important thing to remember is you are the gift. There is only one of you, so be gentle with yourself, value your time and practice radical self-care, which can look like good planning and proper preparation. Remember, coming back in January well rested and restored is one of the best things you can do for your students. 

Tara Stamps is the CTU Administrator of New Teacher Development and a former middle school teacher.