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Now that Thanksgiving is in the rear-view mirror and the Christmas season is upon us, it isn’t too early to consider what presents we would like to request from our friends and family. My list is far from exhaustive and highly subjective, but as the New Year beckons, the average teacher is in desperate need of both inspiration and rest. To this end, I offer the following five suggestions for the holiday season:
#5: A Year’s Supply of Vitamin C: Here is something you never learn when obtaining a teaching credential: teachers get sick on their vacation. Not sometimes—a lot! Or, as a friend of mine humorously explained it: “Be a teacher, catch some germs. Turn the classroom heater on, spread the germs. Have a vacation? Be sick on the vacation. This is commonly known as the teacher's plight. A little-known fact about teachers is that their vacations are often spent recovering from one illness or another--especially elementary and junior high.”
Teaching veterans can testify that a teacher’s body seems just to know how long it needs to hold up. Non-teachers seems unsympathetic to this Newtonian law of the teaching universe, arguing that at least teachers have a vacation to recuperate.
While this is true, non-teachers would do well to remember that teaching is one of the absolute worst professions when you are sick. Teaching while sick is a necessity in an era in which the proverbial clock is constantly ticking away. The students who must pass an AP or state exam at the end of the year are aware that a teacher absence means more information must be crammed into a shorter amount of time. And they do not like it. Nor are they particularly sympathetic to our plight; after all, they are kids!
So get a lot of Vitamin C. Boost your immune system. Hopefully, you will get through your curriculum AND be healthy while on vacation
#4: A Classical Book on Education: As an unapologetic enthusiast and apologist of mastering canonical works, ask for a book from at least one classical writer on education. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s educational tome, Emile or On Education, would probably resonate with teachers who are frustrated with traditional classroom settings. Teachers who are looking for a spark of philosophical genius should explore the ruminations of Montaigne’s “Of The Education of Children,” John Locke’s “Some Thoughts Concerning Education,” or the most sublime essay ever written about education, David Hume’s magisterial, “Of the Delicacy of Taste and Passion.”
A teacher will be transported to another place and time, to a world where education was about more than testing and accountability, but about discovering the ingredients of “the good life.” Our students deserve a good life and these works help us get them there.
#3: A Modern Book on Teaching: In the midst of writing a book the last two years (still forthcoming), I encountered a small treasure trove of fascinating and insightful books about teaching and education, many of which are best-sellers. Some were analytical and research based. Others were wholly autobiographical. All of them are worthy of being read.
For a book about the personal odyssey of teaching try Mark Edmundson’s Teacher, Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupchynsky’s Strings Attached, or for a truly shameless plug, my own teaching memoir Full Classrooms, Empty Selves: Reflections on a Decade of Teaching in an American High School.
For those who want an accessible but robust discussion on different facets of the modern educational landscape check out Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World, Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed, and Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars.
#2: Your Favorite Teacher Movie on DVD: Most teachers can identify a cinematic teacher who made their hearts soar, a character who seemed to give voice to the endless possibilities we hope to cultivate in our own classrooms. I have always thought that the fastest and most expedient way to gauge how a teacher views (or hopes to view) him or herself is to ask his/her favorite teacher movie.
I love Dead Poet’s Society. A friend of mine is a fan of The Emperor’s Club and Stand and Deliver. English teachers seem to love Freedom Writers or Dangerous Minds. Science aficionados fall hard for October Sky, musicians for Mr. Holland’s Opus. And then there are the teacher movies that are under-appreciated. Gems such as The Man Without a Face and Finding Forrester are often omitted but would make great Christmas presents for purposeful teachers.
#1: A Gift Card to your Favorite Place in All The World: Maybe its’s Disneyland, maybe it’s Applebee’s. A gift card is more than a free pass to a place that normally costs money. It is something to look forward to in the year ahead. This is no small thing.
Teachers famously live by a different calendar than the rest of the world—our first day of the year is usually in August or September, not January. A gift card is a promise of a small pleasure in the future—a meal, a book, an article of clothing. It is important to hold on to this gift card as long as possible because for all the wonders of being a teacher, there will be days that the gift card will be more therapeutic than consumeristic.
A gift card is the closest thing we have to a “get out of jail free” card. Keep it in your pocket or purse so that when the bad day comes there is the mercy of a small reprieve.