The Art of Teaching — Surviving the Holiday Season

by Lizabeth A. Fogel

After the first of the year I will continue my discussion on communication. However, this time of year is a challenging one for teachers whether you are teaching in a private, public, or Hebrew school setting. The kids seem a little bit crazier and the teachers just want a break. Everyone is excited about the holidays and vacation. I thought I would take this opportunity to share some ideas about getting through the next week and a half.

There are two important points to help make these next few weeks’ fun, exciting, educational, and keep your sanity. Your first priority is keeping the class structure the same as always. The minute the students sense that you are “done”, they will take over and chaotic will ensue. If you have a schedule, stick to it. Make whatever you are doing relevant. Don’t do a project for the sake of using up time. You may want to add in a few more art projects or do a play, but remind the students they are still in school and all the rules for appropriate behavior apply.

This is when you need to get creative. How can you teach the topics at hand and make it fun? A book by Diane Bonica called Writing & Art Go Hand in Hand has many suggestions for wring ideas and art projects. Perhaps you could have the students writing in English or Hebrew alliterations or haikus using the words like Hanukkah, Maccabee, shamus, or menorah and then create background art that their writing could be placed upon. One suggestion for a background is to take colored tissue paper and have the students cut out shapes and glue them down. They can either paste them down to form a frame or cover the whole page and past their poem or writing on top of it (this can even make a nice gift). You might have the students perform a play about the story of Hanukkah or at any point in the year, take the stories from the bible or Talmud and let them act them out. It does not have to elaborate, no major performance, no sets or fancy costumes. It can just be an exercise in public speaking. Make sure you watch carefully who you assign what roles to. Don’t put the shy student on the spot but make sure everyone has a part. Torah Aura produces excellent instant lessons and art projects available for order.

My next suggestion has to with parents and parties. Invite (send a note or make a phone call) parents in to help with a project, whether their children are making menorahs or latkes. They will appreciate being involved and the kids will love having them there, even the older ones. Make sure you have set up the schedule and can tell the parents what time you need them, exactly were to set up and/or what to do. I used to write out instruction cards for the parents, so there was no confusion on my expectations for the project and specifically what they need to do. I also asked them to come in the day before or a little bit earlier so I could go over what would be happening. Parties… make sure you have them at the end of the day. I would also try to balance out the junk food with something decent. Have parent helpers to pass things out, run rotation groups and help the students clean up at the end. One year we had a latke making party. I set up stations and had parents running each one. We rotated every ten to fifteen minutes. One rotation peeled potatoes, another chopped the onions, a third put the ingredients together and watched them being cooked and ate the, a fourth rotation played dreidel, and a fifth rotation read Hanukkah books. It was a very fun, successful, and educational experience for all.

Enjoy these last weeks or days with your students. Keep the structure and your sanity. Happy Hanukkah.