Soul Searching at the close of November

Can you believe we flipped the calendar from November to December?  If you are feeling like me November is a difficult month in the life of a teacher.  How do I forget what darkness at 4:30 pm feels like every year?  The stretch from labor day weekend to Thanksgiving is long.  We only have 1 PD day break from students during that time.  Thanksgiving break was wonderful, but it felt a bit like a teaser.

My own children seem to need more and more attention as their energy level drops just like mine as the darkness outside prolongs a little bit each day.  And who wants to eat green vegetables when it is this cold outside?  My diet habits derailed in November.  On top of all of this personal stress we seem to be crawling toward the end of the semester at school.  Not close enough to reflect and begin a reboot for semester 2 but we are far enough along that some days I’m mentally exhausted and I simply don’t have a brain that is processing like I want so that I can create comprehensible input for students.

November is hard.  Please, say it to yourself.  November is hard on teachers, students and schools.  I don’t completely understand it but I know a lot of you feel the same way as I see posts about it.

So what do we do when we don’t have our best selves to put forward?

My first suggestion is to force yourself to pay more attention to little things around you.  There are still bright spots happening if you are willing to look for them.  2 happened to me this week.  The first happened in the hallway.  As I was walking back from the copier I saw a student and said “salve.”  This student was walking down the hall with head toward the floor.  There was something about the smile that accompanied the reply that told me that student was lifted up by me simply saying “salve.”  A 2nd situation started off as a bit of an annoyance.  The lock on my door has slowly become loose.  I put in a work order in our system and the maintenance crew was finally able to look at it.  But it was during my 8th hour which is a hard class on Wednesdays.  Students have had 8 longer block periods over 2 days and by the time we get to 8th hour on Wednesday a few things are happening.  Students are spent.  I’m spent.  And I haven’t taught my Latin 1 lesson since 1st hour on Tuesday.  2 block periods of Latin 2 and 1 each of Latin 3 and 4/AP fall in between.  I have a really hard time bringing the input level back down to level 1 at this point.

But I need a door lock that works so when they asked if they could work on it I quickly agreed.  We were working through a vocabulary sequence discussion as I introduced new words.  All of a sudden the students were really quiet and looking at me with a look I haven’t seen this year.  They politely gestured for me to check out the door and the gentlemen working on it were quietly waiting for me to try out my key.  It was an odd moment of calm and I simply just let myself be in that moment quietly observing as I tried out my key.  That moment turned out to reset my brain which allowed me to create much better input for 8th period today.  For whatever reason, I needed that moment of testing out my key and the dead space that happened around it.

But no matter how drained we are in November, students still come to our rooms everyday.  Here are some things I’ve tried in the past when I can tell that my own energy is down.  The idea is to give myself some space and breathing room while slowing down with students in the moment.

The first activity I used last week was White Board Double Stack from Justin Slocum Bailey at indwelling language.  I find myself grabbing from Justin’s creativity often when I know I need a reset.  His zero prep post offers even more options.  The idea behind White Board Double Stack is to create simple sentence starters for students to complete.  Then you make 2 separate stacks of the white boards and combine the sentences and see what happens.  In Latin 2 I used Credo…  (I believe…)  causa… (for the sake of…).  Students completed 1 starter phrase in Latin and placed their white board in the correct pile.  I grabbed 1 from each, read the new sentence (sometimes you may have to correct language on the fly.  I simply didn’t make a big deal out of it and said their sentences correctly), and waited for a moment for students to respond to the sentences.  Sometimes there was a groan, because it was a sentence that didn’t say much, but a couple times in each class there was clear energy around the sentence.  I took those moments and expanded the discussion in Latin.  The one I remember the most was I believe that Santa Claus is not real because I’m a kid.  Students were compelled to respond simply because they created the discussion.  I was simply the facilitator of the Latin input.  Many students asked to do more and I overheard many comments about how it was fun.  Even the sentences deserving of a groan created community and we were using Latin to do it.  I simply prepped 5 sets of sentence starters to combine and spent 20-40 minutes depending on the class discussing these ideas in Latin.  Need something because it is monday?  Try White Board Double Stack.

A second vocabulary type activity I used recently was Martina Bex’s Musical Flashcards.  I frequently go to Martina’s site as well as she has a ton of fantastic ideas.  Be careful as some of them require more prep.  I have high frequency vocabulary from my level 1 and 2 curriculum printed on card stock which I put on my white boards with magnets to use as a flexible word wall.  For musical flashcards I grabbed recent words and picked words from earlier in the year that I felt we needed to revisit.  I put at least 1 card on the floor in the middle of my room facing up for the number of students in my class.  I played some songs in Latin.  Students walked around and picked a word when the music stopped.  I then asked 5-6 students some kind of question about the word.  I started simple with yes/no either/or questions in Latin and English definitions.  When students seemed really comfortable I added asking for Latin synonyms and antonyms.  This intimidated students at first but they realized that they could do it with some processing time.  As we knew the words really well I started asking students to use the Latin word in a Latin sentence with a specific number of words.  This was better than saying “at least as many words…” as students really had to know how to construct sentences within a specific number of words.  Lastly, students gave definitions in Latin of the words.  They completed this task really well even though they were really intimidated.  A few even mentioned that they thought that was the most useful question to answer.  I may add this as a part of my introduction to vocabulary.  If you have a word wall, this is an easy way to pause and spend some significant time on task with words.  I did require students to fill out this sheet when they were out.  It may have taken a little bit of the fun out, but it gave some students and extra incentive to stay in the game.

Another vocabulary activity is salad bowl.  See my experience with using it at this post.  Salad Bowl: A mixer game turned into vocabulary review.

Find the sentence is an easy way to use a text that the class has recently been using for extra input with little prep.  See my earlier post for more.

Magister P has posted about daily routines.  His posts always have a way of reminding me to recenter myself.  Most of the time when I start to feel stressed 2 things are the cause.  I’m over planning or I’m over assessing.  If you are not at your best to give input because of fatigue and feelings of being overwhelmed, you are getting in the way of your students’ acquisition.  Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.

Overall daily routines are a great way to minimize fatigue throughout the low energy parts of the year.  That isn’t helpful now if you are trying to get out of a rut from November but stash this post for early January when you have a chance to implement a routine activity or 2 as 2nd semester starts.  Take a look at the following posts for some ideas of routine activities to help guide your planning and workload.

Mgister P’s above post.

John Piazza’s Monday routine.

Andrew Olimpi’s Year in F7.

Stepping into CI’s subscription page (a ton of material here to access)

Self Directed Reading (Free Volunteer Reading or Silent Sustained Reading)

Weekend Talk from palmyraspanish

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