Do you ever have those school years where you legitimately consider not going back after winter break? Where surviving second semester seems utterly impossible?
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE my job and am so thankful I get to do something that I enjoy so much for a living, but some groups of students (or parents) can really take the wind out of your sails. It can be challenging to gear up for another 5 months in the trenches if you are returning to a difficult group – or as I like to refer to it, a group with a lot of “strong personalities.”
Or maybe you are at a school that starts new classes in January. This can be a boost for morale knowing you are getting to start fresh with a new group, or it can be mentally exhausting to think of having to start all over again with teaching classroom procedures and establishing classroom management.
You could also be having a year like I am currently having – I really enjoy my students but just have had so much going on in my personal life that I’ve just felt a lot less present in my classroom than normal. Wherever you are, you wouldn’t have clicked to this post unless you were feeling some sort of feelings about entering into a new semester, so I decided to compile some thoughts I have that will hopefully encourage you and refresh you as you survive (and hopefully THRIVE!) in this 2nd semester.
1. Hit “reset” on your classroom management techniques.
I think it is totally worth it to take one of the first few days back and have a “Come to Jesus” talk, as we say in the South, with my students. Have your students reflect on the first semester together with you and how it went – both academically and behaviorally. Have them set goals for how they want to improve this semester. Remind them how stressed they felt those last few weeks of 1st semester as they scrambled and crammed to try to get their grade up when really it was too late to do much to improve it. NOW is the time to make changes and set up good habits that will make them successful come final exams.
Additionally, you can model this process for them by reflecting on how YOU have done and how you hope to improve (maybe with more patience, less raising of your voice, etc.) My classroom is a team and each one of us contributes to the success of others. I have just as much room for improvement as they do!
Use this time to remind them and even re-teach, if necessary, all of the rules and procedures you established back in August or September when you started school. If you let too much slack in the reigns back in October, tighten up now. Our students are more malleable than we think. They will fight back at first (especially the more drastic your changes are) but they will eventually get into the new rhythms you establish. Don’t believe anyone who tells you your class is “too far gone” or you can’t change the poor habits established at the beginning of the year. It will be challenging, but it is possible. It just takes persistence but YOU CAN DO IT!
If you are starting fresh with a new group of students or returning to the same group and just need to try something new to change it up, one of my favorite classroom culture techniques is the use of bell ringers, which I call Prime Times (because I think the first five minutes of class are the most important time of the class period because they really set the tone for the whole day.) You can read more about how and why I use them here.
Side note: My favorite whole classroom management technique is using a strategy I call Board Points. I am plan on writing a blog post on it in the next few weeks, but if you can’t wait until then, sign up for my email newsletter because I explain it in one of the first few emails you receive from me.
2. Introduce more student-led projects.
Especially if you are surviving second semester with the same group of students from first semester you should be at a point with them that they can really start taking more ownership of their learning. Best of all, this means that less pressure is on YOU! I use a ton of student-led projects in my second semester of curriculum to allow students to develop more independence from me and to also get away from me being in front so much.
I think it is really important to take the time to earn rapport with your students so that you know they will actually work well with the independence you give them, so this is why I wait until the spring before I really implement more inquiry-based labs and student-led projects. A few of my favorites I use in the spring are my Genetic Disorder Research project, my Ecosystem in a Bottle long-term investigation, my Human Impact project, my Sweet Tea Reaction Rate inquiry-based lab, and my Teach the Class! review project. There are SO MANY other amazing resources like these in other TpT stores that are available! Speaking of TpT stores…
3. Give yourself a break and grab a resource from TpT.
I know teachers are on a budget (because I am one – haha!) so I know how hard it can be to spend money on a resource, or even to invest in an entire year’s worth of curriculum, so I am not going to try to convince you to do that here. But y’all – there are SO MANY amazing sellers on TpT that create high quality resources that are worth EVERY PENNY when you consider the time and mental energy they save you.
I am teaching AP biology for the first time this year that is requiring about 15-20 hours a week outside of school to prep for. Any resource I can find that allows me to spend less time prepping is such a game-changer to my morale. I spent 40 hours over winter break prepping my next unit for AP and still didn’t have it completed. Then I found an awesome biotechnology resource on TpT that covered all of the topics I had left to cover in the unit and required no equipment (because I barely have more than beakers in my school!) It was so refreshing to know that in minutes I was DONE with my lessons for the unit AND that the money I was spending was going towards supporting another teacher. Plus I can use this resource for years to come!
4. Grade less.
One of the biggest time-suckers can be grading for me. Then a few years ago I started grading more assignments for completion that I could spot check during my Prime Time bell ringers. It saved me so much time grading and it rewarded the students who were at least trying on their homework even if they weren’t getting it perfect. It freed up time to provide more meaningful feedback on the assignments I was collecting and grading for accuracy because the amount greatly diminished. It made it possible for me to immediately be able to go over homework the day after it was assigned and still fresh in students’ minds and gave students’ ownership as they self-corrected their work.
Now of course there will always be students who cheat and just copy another student’s work, but those that choose to do that will then struggle on my Prime Times (which I DO grade for accuracy) and my quizzes and tests, which are challenging and really require understanding and not just memorization to be successful. Likewise, when I go over homework I draw names (I have all students’ names on popsicle sticks in a plastic bag stuck to the side of my demo table) and I require students to explain the answer when they are called on. I often ask follow-up questions as well, which helps to identify the copiers from the ones that really tried.
One last tip: if I grade something for completion – I do NOT accept it late. No excuses. If you don’t have it, it is a permanent zero. You can read more about my thoughts on this here.
5. You need to expend the time and resources to maintain self care!!
So often as teachers we continuously put the needs of others before our own. While this is an admirable trait, it can often get to an unhealthy point that leads to teacher burnout. You can’t keep impacting students’ lives if you get so burned out from serving them that you end up leaving the education field, as so many do. This is why I really want to encourage teachers to care for themselves. Here are some of my favorite ways to recharge:
- Build margin in my day. If I schedule every minute of the day, I may be really productive, but I am also not leaving any room in my day to breathe or be spontaneous for how I care for others or myself.
- Take a bubble bath for 10-15 minutes before bed. If you can’t remember the last time you had a bath you need to close your laptop right now and go fill up your tub. It’s such a simple and highly underestimated tool for relaxation!
- Order yourself a Starbucks treat when you have a long evening of grading ahead. I have no shame in how motivating afternoon coffee is for me! (Morning coffee to me is a necessity for survival, but I always see afternoon coffee is a treat.) Put in a mobile order while you are packing up and then grab it on your way home.
- Get someone to clean your house. You don’t need to invest in a regular house cleaner, because I know how expensive that can be. But I’ve started asking for birthdays/Christmas for someone to come clean my house for a day. It is such a refreshing treat and a boost to my spirit to have one less chore on my plate and to be able to walk in to a clean house after a long day.
- Make freezer meals. Anytime I make any casserole or soup I double the recipe and freeze half so we always have a freezer stocked with good food that can be defrosted last minute when I need a break from cooking dinner.
I hope each and every person that comes across this leaves with some fresh ideas for the new semester and that you have the BEST one yet. Let’s not wish away these next few months and get by just surviving. Let’s really THRIVE and enjoy the few months we have left to make an impact on this group of students.
Do you have any other suggestions for how you stay motivated and recharged entering into second semester? I’d LOVE to hear them! Shoot me a DM on Instagram and let me know!