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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Second Half Survival: 4 Tips to Get You from January to June

We have entered the second half of the school year, and many of you are probably surprised that you've made it this far without killing someone. Those are very natural feelings, but you might not be able to last the rest of the school year if that's where your mind is at the moment. After ten years in the classroom, I've put together what I think are some excellent tips for making it through the second half of the school year in one piece -- and not in jail. See which of these strategies can make the next six months a piece of cake in your classroom.

1. Create "Me Time"

This may one of the hardest things you can ask yourself to do. "Me Time" is not easy to find, but it is one of the most important things you can do during this second half of the school year. This time doesn't have to be long, and it doesn’t have to be every single day, but it needs to be your time. You can do almost whatever you want during this time -- as long as it is not school related. No checking papers, returning parent emails or lesson planning. Find something that's all about you, and do it. I love to play video games and make my "Me Time" about killing zombies. No matter how bad my day was, shooting a few zombies gets me in a great mood after an hour. In summer, I love to work on my pond or garden. These are things I can do when the world gets too loud, and they help me center. Find your "Me Time" activity and enjoy it.

2. Ask For Help

For some reason, asking for help is viewed as a sign of weakness or ineptitude. People are afraid to ask for help because they want everyone to believe that they're the best at their job all of the time. This is just a silly notion. Many newer teachers succumb to this idea, yet many veterans still hold onto it, too. In fact, asking for help is one of the smartest things you can do when your professional life gets crazy. If you have a mentor, go to him or her for help in dealing with a problem student or putting the finishing touches on a lesson. Asking for help is actually a sign of strength. Admitting that you cannot tackle something on your own is a brave thing to do. It shows that you have your priorities in order. It's not about your ego -- it's about solving a problem. Seek help when you need it, and January to June will pass in a blink of an eye.

3. Connect and Vent

Sometimes we keep frustrations and fears bottled up and then ruin an entire summer break trying to deal with them. Bottling up is the worst way to spend the next six months of the school year. It's important to have people in your teaching life that can understand the problems you're facing and can offer some insight. They can be mentors, administrators (unless they are the problem!) or other educators you've connected with on social media. These connections can offer a wonderful point of view that you hadn't considered when looking at your issue. Venting is nice because these feelings shouldn't be kept in. And it's worth a lot having a handful of people that can listen and give you a hug, even if it is a virtual one. The other side of the coin is making sure that you'll be there for others who need to vent as well. We're all in this together and need to be a shoulder for others who were there for us when we needed it. Connecting and venting add up to a great way for getting through winter in one piece.

4. Reflection

One of the best things I've ever done is reflect on my teaching on a regular basis. I make sure there's time in my day to take a look at what happened and what I can learn from it. These daily reflections prepare me for the next day, week and school year. My blog is a place where I can write about my ideas or frustrations. I need to get them out of my head so that I can see what I was actually thinking. You can choose to reflect in a personal journal or a blog. Wherever you decide to reflect, make sure you do it on a regular basis. If every day is too much, do it every other day or every Friday. Find the time to think about what you're doing and what you can learn from it. These reflections will pay off years down the road when you encounter similar situations -- you'll remember how not to handle things based on previous reflections. A reflection here and there will have you ready for the end of the school year with a smile instead of a grimace.

Are there any tips that you have about making it to the end of the school year in one piece? Share them in the comments sections below so that we can all be ready for beach towels and sun tan lotion this summer.

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Silvia's picture

I love that you added reflection to your list! After presenting a lesson in class, I often think about how it was received by students and what I could have done to make it better.

Ms.Garcia's picture
Ms.Garcia
High School English Teacher from Navajo Nation

For our school, the second half is stressful due to state testing and then we experience a week or two of complete burn-out before Spring Break.

In order to bring some energy back into class, I do a quick warmup during that time called highs and lows. The students make a t-chart with some of the highs and lows in their life (for the week, for the month, for the year...whatever time frame they choose). I ask students to put a star next to the ones they don't want me to share, and then I spend some time reading them out loud and joking with my students. They really look forward to this activity because it draws them closer, and it also lets me know if I need to adjust my plans according to their needs. (I once found out that an older student had died over the weekend. I didn't know him, but he was related to many of my students. The high/lows let me in on what they were feeling that week, and the students were grateful for my interest and flexibility with them).

I also create a list and put it on the board for my students to see. My students will tease me about some of my items (my love for my cat, for instance) but it reminds us all that even with the stress in our lives, there is a lot to look forward to as well. By focusing on some of the positive, I feel better about this second half of the school year.

Michaela's picture
Michaela
5th grade teacher from Anchorage, Alaska

Hey Nicholas,

Thank you for sharing your humor. I think it's helpful to find humor when dealing with challenges. I'm currently going back to school for my Master's degree, and lately we have been discussing topics such as "burnout," joining professional learning communities, reflection, and keeping informed on academic research/trends.

I liked your suggestions for "surviving" the spring semester, and I feel like I'm good at giving myself "me time." My advice to others would be to take care of yourself, physically and mentally. I feel best when I'm active. Running and yoga help to alleviate stress, which in turn helps me sleep me soundly at night. The other three areas you mentioned, I know I could use some work.

As an English teacher, it seems like writing is probably something that comes naturally to you. What would you suggest, in terms of reflection, for a less enthusiastic writer? Also, I'm a 3rd year teacher and I teach in a building behind my school. I've found it difficult to collaborate with my peers based on the scheduling at my school, the structure of an immersion program, and my physical location. I think returning to school has helped with the isolation, but what else would you suggest?

Lorrin G's picture
Lorrin G
Seventh grade Integrated English/Language Arts teacher from Lewis Center,OH

Thank you so much for this blog! As a first year teacher I am happily surprised that I have made it this far without crying in front of my students or panicking because I forgot to make copies the night before!

My favorite step is four, reflection. I have found that self reflection has been a powerful tool for me as a first year. I frequently take the time to reflect after an awesome or not so awesome lesson. I also find that writing my thoughts on student behavior in a journal has helped me to leave those issues at school and not take them home with me.

I have also spent time verbally reflecting with my colleagues. I spend a lot of my planning period with two other IELA teachers and my mentor. I have been able to bounce ideas off them, discuss frustrations, and come up with new ideas for my classroom.

Rachel Morgan's picture

Thank you so much for the tips. Im a preservice teacher Im currently attending Prairie View A&M and my teacher turned us on to this site. I see why I have already read a lot of very helpful blogs on here. But I do have a question, what tips would you give first years teachers to keeping their students focused after the christmas break in order to properly prepare them for the state tests?

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Community Manager at Edutopia
Facilitator 2014
Staff

Hi Michaela,

I'm a big believer in harnessing people's creative inclinations towards self-understanding. Music, painting, dance--they are all fabulous ways to get to know ourselves and explore what works/doesn't work in our lives. The ideas and thoughts may not be as explicit as with journal writing, but that doesn't make them any less powerful. The key is to set aside quiet time for the process and setting an intention for what you hope to get out of it.

As for connecting with other educators, I highly recommend the tips recommended in this blog post on a DIY approach:

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/4-components-diy-pd-toolkit-dave-guymon

the_OTHER_Tyra's picture

Hello, my name is Tyra Cannon and I am a pre-service teacher. I really love the humor in your blog. I can relate to your article now as a student, but I think these tips are very important to have. Not only can a new teacher take notes from this, but veteran teachers can as well. It is good to sometimes take a break and enjoy life/ yourself. Most people can get worked up and become their job, but you really helped me to realize that it is ok to just relax, and ask for help when it is most needed. I normally tend to shy away and let my pride take over, and this blog gave the inspiration/ motivation to approach things differently. Thank You, this is as excellent blog.

Marissa's picture

Hello my name is Marissa Berry and I am a pre service teacher. I liked your blog because I was able to relate to the blog. Even though it was geared towards teachers, I feel like I can use some of this now while I am in college to help me with my classes and observations. I know that when I graduate college I can refer back to the blog and use those tips later on.

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