It is the rare individual who happily goes back to the life of early wakeups and daily activities after a long weekend, not to mention a long break. But it feels much worse in education. On January 2nd, when teachers, feeling this way, are faced with students, feeling this way, the results are not pretty. Teachers try to fake enthusiasm, of course, because that’s our job – and students don’t, usually, because that’s their job. The first couple of classes of the day offer up students who appear catatonic, though they usually stay awake. their bodies shocked into submission; as the day goes on, while the energy level ratchets up for most, the wave of exhaustion that hits some finds glazed eyes and – occasionally – heads down for a quick nap, in hopes the teacher just won’t notice. I sometimes left students alone at first, taking a walk after a bit to quietly tap someone on the arm. It usually worked.
A 10- to 12-day vacation, depending on the year, means kids up very late, sometimes involved with family activities but also on their own, with the light from screens keeping them going longer than they should. Long mornings spent sleeping in – especially for teens – continue the cycle. Parents might try to intervene, but most are happy just to be off the cycle of buses and activities as well. As for teachers, the supposed adults, we often get right back into our regularly scheduled programming – which for night owls, means turning in hours later than usual. Of course, we all know that we should start to break the cycle before getting back to school – but with New Year’s two nights earlier, it doesn’t really happen. And even those who are natural early birds don’t mind not commuting to school at that early hour.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve had the best of schedules: coming back to school on a Wednesday or, this year, a Thursday, with only a couple of days to get through on the return. Over my last few years of teaching, I tried my best to have students complete a first draft of an essay – argumentative was usually up in my grade at that time – before the break, or at least by the time they got back, so they could read it with fresh eyes and go about determining how it might be fixed. Sometimes, I would have the students read and comment on each others’ pieces, as well. These activities had the benefit of being quiet and easy to plan for, as I was facing January sticker shock along with everybody else. The actual formal lessons of revising and editing would have to wait a few days, until I could gather the strength to attempt them.
By today, January 8th, I know that most of my educator friends are back in it for good. January looms large, filled with end-of-marking-period essays – such as that great big argumentative one that is, in my book, the one that takes the most out of most teachers, as it certainly did me, as well as parent-teacher conferences (yes, that has been happening in January for a number of years, though they are going back to conferences earlier in the year, I hear), and a large project of some sort that needs to be introduced, taught, and completed in a few short weeks, and new book clubs, etc., etc.
And adding to all that, it’s January, with the days still short and much of winter in front of us. Supposedly, it’s getting a little lighter at the end of each day – it says that on the weather app that I track daily – but it’s incremental, at this point. And although there can be snow days in January, they tend to hold for February or March, at least in New Jersey, even though we start to feel ready for one. There is one long weekend, thanks to Martin Luther King, Jr., and then we’re back in the trenches.
I’m hoping, for your sake, that the students have begun to wake up by now (though not too much), and that you’re hitting the snooze button just a little less. I never wanted to wish my life away by counting down the days, but January is the exception. Once the end of this semester happens, we are past the halfway point, and January is over. Good riddance.