Surviving the Holidays as a Teacher (With Your Sanity Intact)

Use these tips and tricks to keep your classroom (and your mind) organized and structured throughout the holiday season! Do you struggle to keep your students engaged as Winter Break and the Holidays loom in the near future? You're not alone! Keeping the learning going and maintaining students' focus during the holiday season is a difficult task even for veteran teachers! But it doesn't mean we have descend into chaos! Check out how I keep my students learning all month long!

Please don’t throw rocks at me. I know it’s September. You’ve just barely finished setting up your classroom and teaching is just underway. You’re still getting to know your students and set up routines and procedures for the year. The last thing on your mind is the Holiday Season which is still months away.

I am a huge believer of celebrating each season as it comes and not letting certain holidays dwarf others. Autumn is actually my favorite time of the year! Watching a football game on a Saturday afternoon is a highlight of the fall! Picking apples and pumpkins with my family is pure joy! I adore apple cider donuts! I tolerate Halloween. 🙂 Thanksgiving is especially one of my favorite parts of the season-any excuse to make a chocolate pecan pie!

But, let’s face it, Christmas tends to get the spotlight when it comes to the last quarter of the year. Despite the holiday ads beginning in October, it somehow often manages to sneak up on us and the month is so full of shopping and baking and wrapping and holiday parties that Christmas comes and goes in a hectic rush and we’ve barely managed to enjoy any of it!

Managing the chaos is even more challenging for teachers! On top of our aforementioned congested personal lives, we are still tasked with teaching our excited and sometimes unruly students! The tinsel and twinkly lights mesmerize the young ones and you can nearly feel the anticipation in the air. Classroom management is a struggle and attention spans are shorter than normal.

It’s enough to drive anyone mad. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have fond memories of the holiday season instead of a blur of stress and anxiety.

Over the years I have learned a few tricks and practices that help make the holiday season more enjoyable.

Mrs. Nelson’s Top Tips for Maintaining Your Sanity through the Holiday Season

  1. Maintain Your Regular Schedule: Do you begin class with a journal writing! Keep starting class the same way! Do you usually have vocabulary tests on Fridays? Keep having vocabulary tests on Fridays! Do you have a handstand competition every Wednesday? Keep doing it! Maintaining your classroom schedule will help create a sense of normalcy for your students and reduce some of the anxiety that arises when things feel out of the ordinary.
  2. Continue to Keep Students Accountable: Don’t let your kids slack off just because a holiday is around the corner! Continue to ask them to turn in assignments (even if some of them go straight into the recycling bin the minute students leave the room). For graded assignments, find a way to quickly provide feedback so they know you’re still engaged and expect them to be as well. Maintain those high expectations for their work AND their behavior.
  3. Focus on Curriculum: Keep the learning going! Maybe this feels like a no-brainer, but don’t be afraid to keep teaching and introducing new content to students. Sure, they may forget some things over the long winter break, but you can always review with them later! At the very least, they will have something on which you can build when you reteach in the new year.
  4. Plan Ahead and Be Organized: Being prepared and organized for the month of December is vital to maintaining your sanity! Know ahead of time (like WAY ahead of time) what you plan to teach in December. Map out your daily lessons and then prep! Anything that you can do ahead of time, do ahead of time! Make copies; gather resources; schedule the library; schedule the computer lab; check out materials; etc. Bottom line: be ready. This way, you can stay up way to late at your partner’s company holiday party on a Wednesday night and still roll into class Thursday morning with everything ready to go smoothly!
  5. Be Flexible: Even after spending large amounts of time preparing your lessons, be prepared to change things up when circumstances change (as they invariable will). Maybe your principal schedules a last-minute assembly (okay-probably not in 2020, but maybe in another year?). Maybe there’s a blizzard and your district calls several snow days in a row. Maybe the district asks you to administer a test on which you hadn’t planned. Whatever happens, know that your schedule will be disrupted. Understanding this beforehand will help you handle the changes when they arise.
  6. Have Fun! Embrace the chaos! Managing your own expectations will help you find joy in this festive season. It won’t be perfect; it may be messy; you will make mistakes. That’s okay! Take time to enjoy the busy, crazy holidays
  7. Leverage the Holidays to Your Advantage: One thing I love about Language Arts is that we can teach skills applied to such a wide-range of content. This allows us to tailor our curriculum to our students’ interests. If the students are focused on the Holidays, let’s let use that to teach required skills! Below are a few of my favorite ways to teach ELA with a holiday twist.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – Guided Reading Activities
What better way to keep students focused that with a quick novel study? Many students will be familiar with the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, but few have actually read the short novel. Many middle school literature books even have a dramatized version of the story which is fun to read aloud as a class. I have use this unit with both the novel and the drama–both worked very well! This unit requires very little prep; simply print, copy and go! As a bonus, after reading the story with your class, you can pop some popcorn, make some hot cocoa and end the calendar year watching a film adaptation-which is still part of the curriculum!

How to Write a Business Letter (to Santa)
Writing a proper letter is a skill that students will want to have when they enter the real world! The number of circumstances in which a person may want to write a business letter are endless: as a cover letter for a resume, a scholarship application, a business proposal, to request assistance, contacting government representatives, etc. Arm your students with these skills AND have fun at the same time! Teach students the format of a block business letter and then ask them to write a proper business letter to Santa Claus telling him what they’d like for holiday gifts.

Celebrating Diversity: Comparing Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas
Create an inclusive classroom by exploring diverse winter holidays with your students. Practice reading informational texts with students with articles on Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas and then ask them to compare / contrast the holidays. Students can also practice their writing skills by writing and reflecting upon what they’ve learned. It’s great to help broaden students’ awareness and understanding of people different from themselves!

I wish you all the luck in the world as you strive to maintain rigor and relevance (and maintain your sanity) throughout the Holiday Season!

Use these tips and tricks to keep your classroom (and your mind) organized and structured throughout December! Do you struggle to keep your students engaged as Winter Break and the Holidays loom in the near future? You're not alone! Keeping the learning going and maintaining students' focus during the holiday season is a difficult task even for veteran teachers! But it doesn't mean we have descend into chaos! Check out how I keep my students learning all month long!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

How to remember 100+ students’ names the first week!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The first day of school! Middle school students and teachers approach the first day of school with a lot of emotions: excitement, anticipation, even apprehension. The first day of school is so important for teachers in setting the tone for the school year. You’ve planned and prepped! You’ve spent countless hours thinking about how incredible the new year is going to be! You’ve agonized over bulletin boards and desk configurations! You’ve emailed parents and ordered supplies! Finally, school is back in session and throughout that first day, you have 100 or more students filing in and out of your classroom! How in the world are you going to remember all of them? Not to mention, assess their levels, differentiate teaching and assignments and help them learn and grow throughout the year??

What’s a teacher to do?

Photo by Stanley Morales from Pexels

Secondary teachers are faced with this unique challenge as we have SO MANY wonderful students each year! In one of the schools in which I taught I had six sections of 35 students each! That was 216 in one year! Believe it or not, by the end of the first day I knew most of my students’ names; by the end of the week, I had them all memorized.

Don’t panic! While generally in my everyday interactions with others I am definitely not the best at remembering names, I’ve used this trick for years and it has never failed me!

I typically begin by asking students to write down three unique things about themselves. When students have had time to finish, one-by-one, we go around the room and each student states their name and shares their three attributes. After each student shares, everyone in the room repeats that person’s name and then the names of the students that have gone before.

Still with me? Let me give you an example:

I would begin and model by sharing three attributes about myself. I might say:

“I am Mrs. Nelson. (1) I have two fake teeth. (2) I love The Great British Baking Show. (3) I love football and have been a San Francisco 49ers fan my entire life.”

After I share, the entire class would repeat in unison, “Mrs. Nelson.”

Next, we would go to the first student. Let’s say her name is Jill. Jill would stand, introduce herself to the class and share three unique things about herself. She might say:

“My name is Jill. (1) I am a professional tight-rope walker. (2) I have created and published six iPhone apps. (3) I have seventeen dogs, twelve cats, a pair of canaries and a boa
constrictor as pets.”

Following Jill’s introduction, the entire class would chorally repeat her name together and then my name, like so: “Jill, Mrs. Nelson.”

We would then proceed to the next student. Perhaps his name is Damian. Damian would stand, introduce himself to the class and share three unique things about himself. He
might say:

“Hi, my name is Damian. (1) I have read the entire Harry Potter series seventeen times. (2) I can do a 1080 on a snowboard. (3) I have traveled to every state in the United States.”

When Damian has finished, the entire class would repeat his name, then work backwards back to the teacher, like this: “Damian, Jill, Mrs. Nelson.”

The pattern continues until every student has had a chance to make their introductions and we have repeated everyone’s name. I can absolutely guarantee that everyone will be 100% certain who Jill is by the end of the activity! If you have a few minutes to spare, you might even challenge students to individually repeat everyone’s names. It’s actually quite fun to see who can remember everyone!

I won’t lie to you: this strategy does take a bit of time, but I promise the investment is worth it! I love making personal connections with students on the very first day of a new year so that they feel known and welcomed in my classroom. One on my favorite ways to begin building working relationships with my students is to learn their names as quickly as possible! In my opinion, it is worth every minute it takes to get to know your students’ names on the first day. You will be in a better position to teach your kids as individuals, they will feel recognized and accepted in your classroom, and, by beginning to get know one another, the students are on their way to creating a great learning community!

What do you do learn students’ names? Leave a comment below! I’d love to hear your own strategies and ideas!

Good luck! May you have a fantastic school year!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

Welcome to Mrs. Nelson Teaches!


This is my first EVER blog post! As such, I thought I would introduce myself…

My name is Brenna Nelson. I started teaching back in 2007 and LOVE being in the classroom with students! I have spent my career teaching middle school grades 6-9. I have taught regular and Honors English Language Arts, Remedial Reading courses and Journalism in three different schools across three different states!

I adore middle school students! I’m sure many of us “grown ups” remember how the tween/early teen years can be simultaneously wonderful and difficult, often full of self-discovery, new challenges, forging new friendships and, of course, plenty of awkwardness. I love helping these young teenagers navigate these formative years and I hope to be an influence for good in their lives.

Orlando, Florida

I married my best friend Matt eleven years ago and we have four lovely kids: Tristan (8), Rylee (6), Jax (4) and Elizabeth Mae (11 months). We currently live in beautiful Southwest Michigan and plan to stay here for the foreseeable future. If you have never travelled to Michigan, you’re missing out! It is a hidden gem and we are thrilled to have discovered it!

Silver Beach – St. Joseph, Michigan

When I’m not planning lessons and chasing after my own little friends, I also enjoy sports, both playing and watching; reading good books; baking yummy treats; watching movies and The Great British Baking Show; lifting heavy weights and buying Under Armour gear!

I’m so excited that you’re here with me as we share ways to improve our teaching and help our students! Much good luck to you all as we begin this unconventional year! I’m looking forward to learning and growing together!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)