As a teacher, you may feel that getting to the holidays is like running a marathon. There’s a meme that you may have seen on social media that perfectly captures this experience — people running about frantically and tripping as they leave school to go on break.
Talk about relatable. Whether it’s Thanksgiving break, Christmas, spring break, or summer, we teachers always make it our mission to get to each one as soon as possible.
But returning to teaching after the holidays is crazy, too, especially if your vacation didn’t really feel like one! So after many years of working non-stop through breaks, I finally decided to take a well-deserved rest in my last years of teaching. And thanks to a lot of preparation ahead of time, I ended up doing very little (if any) work at all over the holidays — gasp!
Don’t believe it’s possible? It can be!
My mind took an academic siesta, and I deserved it (so do you!). But after watching Hallmark movies, wearing pajamas more than regular clothes, and reading listicles (as opposed to Shakespeare), my brain felt a little rusty when I inevitably had to return to school.
After a week or two of having some silence and not doing four tasks at a time, I needed to reignite my teaching juju.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned about how to return to teaching after a holiday. Hopefully, these will help your brain rest, too!
6 ways to get back into teaching mode after a break
1. Start with a reflection assignment
I quickly realized that when returning from a break, my students needed a way to ease back into academics just like I did.
That’s why I always tried to plan a simple, laid-back assignment when we returned. I discovered that it wasn’t the time to start cramming for an exam or begin reading a new book. So the first day back, we’d make a journal about our holiday and reflect on our experiences.
This fun assignment was beneficial not only to my students but also to me because I’d participate alongside them; this gave me a chance to gather my thoughts and appreciate the break I had. Then, we would share our experiences aloud in class, which often sparked lots of interesting discussions.
Even after this activity, I usually had a project scheduled that would take a couple of days. Note that these activities still catered to the benchmarks, so it’s not like we were wasting time. But these tasks weren’t weighted heavily because, just like me, the kids needed time to transition back to school. So regardless of your subject, you might want to consider planning some easy activities when you return.
2. Prepare clothes ahead of time
Having my outfits ready before returning to school really saved me.
This preparation was essential because my typical attire during vacations usually consisted of pajama pants. But I knew that when I returned to school, I’d obviously have to ditch the comfort and dress professionally again (bummer).
As you probably know, though, putting together a matching outfit at 6 in the morning is hard work! So towards the end of my break, I’d reorganize my wardrobe and set aside outfits that would get me through at least one week. And what a life-changer that turned out to be on the first day back to school!
Preparing clothes ahead of time could result in a few more minutes of shut-eye, so be sure to set aside some time for this if you can.
3. Revisit that to-do list
As a teacher, you have an endless to-do list that never seems to shrink. That’s why when I went on vacation, I tried my best to ignore it.
However, before I left for break, I still had some pending tasks. Of course, it’s not like I threw them out — I just left the list on my desk so it would be there when I returned. But I refused to take it home with me.
For some, this might seem daunting, but for me, it was really necessary — I simply couldn’t have that list within eyeshot during my break. Leaving it helped me avoid teacher burnout and focus on recovering from a long semester of hard work.
Plus, when I saw it sitting on my desk upon my return, I was energized and ready to tackle those tasks.
Over my break, I also remembered some more to-dos that I needed to add. And I happily tacked them on without a grimace on my first day back to school.
Revisiting your to-do list is a great way to remind yourself that vacation’s over and that it’s time to get cracking.
4. Have a welcome-back party
Nothing will cheer up your students more than welcoming them with a glass of hot cocoa and some snacks right after the holidays.
You could use this get-together to have a pep talk centered around academic reflections and goals for the current term. These tasks help students transition back to school and focus on academic success.
Kids can create these goals all while they’re drinking hot cocoa, which gives it a cozy atmosphere with an educational twist.
If your students are reluctant about the goal-setting part, be sure to remind them of the research — if you write down your goals, you’re 42 percent more likely to do them!
And as a teacher, you could use this opportunity to write down your goals for the next quarter, too — so it’s really a win-win.
The uplifting vibe of your classroom will resonate after vacation. Trust me: the kids will really appreciate the cheerful tone on the first day back to class.
5. Wake up early a day or two in advance
Before I had children, my teacher holidays were all about catching some extra Zs; I loved the fact that I could sleep in.
However, those first couple days back and waking up early really killed me! So towards the end of my break, I tried to wake up at my usual time when school’s in session to get used to the feeling.
You might be tilting your head and thinking this is crazy, but know that I did take a midday snooze — so sure, I cheated a little. But getting back into the routine of waking up early really helped me out once school resumed. (I would even try to change from my pajamas into some decent clothes now and then.)
Although I missed out on a day or two of sleeping in, I found that waking up early made returning to the teaching world a much smoother transition.
So if you’re worried that you’ll be nodding off on your first back to teaching, you may want to consider waking up early for a couple of days during your break. Or maybe you’re a morning person anyway, and this isn’t an issue — if so, more power to you!
6. Have a game plan for stress management
It was always on breaks when I realized how exhausted I truly was. It was also during breaks when I finally had an opportunity to notice how much I completed in one workday! After reflecting on the beautiful chaos, I tried to reevaluate my stress management plan so I’d be better equipped when I got back to teaching.
Upon returning, I had a new game plan for how I was going to handle the stress of teaching, and it made all the difference. You don’t have to dedicate a ton of time to this, but brainstorming a few new strategies over your break could help a lot in the long run.
And it’s okay to start small. One of my stress relief goals after vacation was fitting in 10 minutes a day to meditate. This small change ended up making a HUGE difference.
Worried that the stress of teaching will be too much to handle? Consider taking a few minutes to think up a few strategies that you can put into action after your vacation.
Don’t worry — you’ll recover
Whether you’re about to go on holiday or just returning, know that there are ways to recover from a break fresh, renewed, and free of burnout.
But also remember that you don’t need to hit the ground running as soon as your shoes land on those freshly mopped school floors — take some time to ease the students and yourself back into the routine of learning, and you’ll find that the transition is actually easier than you thought.
Save the testing and memorizing the periodic table for a different week. Instead, use your return from the holiday as an opportunity to set goals for the future and slowly ramp up to more serious work.
Oh yeah — and as hard as it might be, you might want to ditch those cozy pajama pants.