Martin Luther King, Jr. with Middle School Students

Can you believe it’s 2022?! Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is next week! Where does the time go?

I am currently sitting at my computer, wrapped in 5-6 thick layers under a heated blanket and I’m still shivering! I hope, wherever you’re reading this, you’re feeling much warmer!

Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Assignment.
Actual footage of Brenna in Michigan – 1/11/2022.

Commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr.

By the time our students come to us in middle school, they have probably learned about Dr. King every year since they were in kindergarten. Personally, I think this is great! It is so important for students to be aware of so many of the diverse individuals who have worked and sacrificed to help improve our country! This does, however, pose a challenge for us as secondary teachers to focus on Martin Luther King, Jr. in a way students haven’t already done before to avoid it feeling repetitive!

Martin Luther King Lesson Plans for Middle School.

This time of year, I like to increase the amount of informational texts that I am introducing to my students. We all know that testing season is looming in the distance. Increasing nonfiction readings is one way I like to prepare my students for those upcoming exams without “teaching to the test.” This year, I put together an informational text about Dr. King! It is a two-page mini-biography highlighting some of the main events of King’s life. As we read texts like this, I like to review strategies for reading informational text with my students (like finding the main idea), along with informational text features, how to use context clues to figure out unknown words, etc. Doing so helps this time be productive learning time for students in addition to discussing Martin Luther King, Jr.

Reflective Writing Assignment

After reading the mini-biography with students, I love to 1) ask students to reflect and think critically about some of Dr. King’s famous quotes; and 2) ask them to write about their own thoughts and feelings about these very real issues. Middle school students are very aware of the current issues facing the world. I have found that they generally LOVE to express their own thoughts and ideas about difficult subjects and ideas-especially if they feel like the adults in their lives are listening! This is why I put together this reflective writing assignment for students! This is one writing assignment that students won’t mind completing!

The Best Part!

In the attempt to help teachers both commemorate Dr. King’s accomplishments and help students develop reading and writing skills, I’ve decided to make this resource completely FREE! This Free Martin Luther King, Jr. Resource comes with a lesson plan, a two-page Informational Text about the life of Dr. King, and the Dr. King quote reflective writing assignment!

Think of it as my “Happy-New-Year-I-Hope-You’re-Somewhere-Warm” Gift! That’s a thing, right?

Martin Luther King Learning Resources for Middle School Students!

Anyway, click on the link below to grab your free Martin Luther King, Jr. materials! If you have any questions, drop a comment or email and I will get back with you!

Stay safe! Stay warm! Stay healthy!


Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

Claim Your FREE Martin Luther King, Jr. Materials HERE!

Holiday Activities for Middle School Students

Happy Holidays! Can you believe the holiday season has already begun? As I’m writing this, Hanukkah is underway and Christmas and Kwanza and New Year’s Day will be here before we know it!

Somehow, I always feel like the last few weeks of the calendar year are SO crazy! With the holiday shopping, parties, family traditions and all the rest, it is hard to stay on top of the teacher game as well! That’s why I love using holiday activities in my classroom! I traditionally incorporate several holiday-themed activities in my classroom, including a study of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, reading informational texts about diverse holidays and learning to write business letters!

Holiday Activity FREEBIE!

I wanted to share some FREE Holiday Activities with you to help make your planning and preparation go a little smoother this December! I’ve included 10 Holiday-themed Journal Writing Prompts. These prompts cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from writing fictional stories to personal narratives to more serious and reflective responses! You can easily pick and choose the activities that will work for your classroom.

Additionally, I’ve included writing paper for each prompt as well as a Slides presentation with a slide for each prompt! No-prep is required! This is simply an easy, low stress holiday activity that also helps students improve their writing! Everybody wins!

Family Holiday Traditions

One of the writing prompts asks students to discuss some of their holiday traditions. My all-time favorite holiday tradition is the Sibling Gift Exchange! This is something both my family and my husband’s family did when we were growing up and we’ve continued it with our own children! Watching my children pick out small gifts for each other is simply magical! My kids are always thrilled to choose something they think the others will love! Ironically, these small gifts often become the favorite gift–even when larger or more expensive gifts are received! I just love it!

I LOVE hearing about traditions from other families and cultures–what do you do to celebrate these winter months?

All the Best,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

Gratitude: The Virtue the Changed My Life

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” – Cicero

[FREEBIE ALERT! Keep Scrolling!]

Happy [Early] Thanksgiving Teacher Friends!

While I understand that Thanksgiving can be a complicated holiday for many reasons–which I don’t at all want to discount–I do absolutely love celebrating the Spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday.

And…I will be totally transparent here: I also really like Thanksgiving food! I love the challenge of planning and preparing an amazing Thanksgiving feast with everything hot (or cold) and ready all at the same time!

I view it as my own personal Great British Baking Challenge.

(And yes, I do recognize the irony in that comparison!)

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Anyway, I wanted to share a little bit about how the virtue of gratitude has played an immense role in my life in recent years.

I’m sharing this story in the hope that in some small, tiny way it might help someone else.

The Slump

Several years ago when my third child was just a few months old and I was juggling post-partum hormones and three young children under the age of four…

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I found myself in a slump! I couldn’t see the positive side of anything. Literally everything–from getting out of bed in the mornings to brushing my teeth to taking care of the little humans in my charge–felt just so incredibly hard. Looking back now, it’s very clear that I had some undiagnosed post-partum depression going on; but for whatever reason, I couldn’t see it back then.

After speaking to a close friend who was struggling in a similar way, I started to recognize how unhappy I was feeling. But, I thought, how could I be unhappy? I have everything I have ever wanted: I’m married to my best friend; I have three [now four] awesome kids; I work at my dream job; I am blessed with a lovely home in a lovely neighborhood.

With so much privilege and so many blessings, what right did I have to be unhappy? What in the world was wrong with me?

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As I was contemplating these questions, inspiration happen to strike at the most unlikely of places: at the movie theater in the middle of a show while on a date with my husband! I don’t remember the movie we had gone to see, but I will always remember the moment when I realized exactly what I needed to do!


The Solution

The answer? Gratitude!

Somehow, I intuitively knew that I needed to practice being more grateful for what I had. I actually ran out of the movie theater and called my friend and together we made a plan.

We decided that, each night, we would text each other and mention just one thing about our day for which we were grateful.

Truthfully, this was super hard at first! We had been steeped in negativity for so long that we just didn’t have many positive things to say! But, as we practiced looking for the good and retrained our minds to see the good, we experienced a complete shift in our daily experience.

After a few weeks of these nightly texts, we started sending not just one thing, but whole lists of good things about our days. It’s important to note that, fundamentally, nothing had changed. Our lives were still the same. The challenges we faced at home, at work, with our friends and family–they were all still there. What had changed? Our thinking! With this subtle shift in our mindset, we were better equipped to handle those challenges and still find joy!

The Science

It years later that I learned from a different friend about the scientific and medical research that has been done on gratitude. Apparently, numerous studies [I’ve linked a few here & here] have been done on how a regular gratitude regimen improves a person’s physical AND mental health!

When she told me about this, it blew my mind! I had experienced this firsthand and had no idea it was actually “a real thing” that was true beyond my own experience. This knowledge made me want to shout my story from the rooftops!

Important Note on Gratitude

Please understand, that I am not suggesting that making a list of good things will cure any kind of illness. I am not a health professional of any kind. If you have questions or concerns about your physical and mental health, please reach out to your medical provider. It’s okay to need help!

I am simply sharing my story about the incredible impact of gratitude.

Additionally, with my current (albeit limited) knowledge and understanding, if I was ever feeling similarly to the way I was in this story, I would think about increasing my gratitude practice, but I would also definitely talk to my doctor!

FREE Student Article on Gratitude

In my small effort to share this information, I have put together a student-friendly informational article on Gratitude (link below). With this FREE resource, you can help students begin a practice that can improve their own mental health and overall well-being! Please feel free to copy and share this article with all your teacher friends!

If we help one student improve their mental health, then we will have made a huge difference in the world!

All the Best,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

Thanksgiving Activity – How to Write Thank You Notes – Middle School ELA

The week of Thanksgiving has always felt strange in my classroom. Of course, every school’s calendar is different, but during the week of Thanksgiving, we often seem to be left with those two awkward days before the long, five-day Thanksgiving weekend. For the students, it’s fantastic; however, for teachers, the two-day school week just feels awkward!

Additionally, I know my mind is already thinking about one of two things: 1) All the delicious food I am going to eat; 2) All the work I still have to do in order to make the delicious food I am going to eat!

Bottom Line: It’s hard to have a great “school week” with the time constraints and all of the outside distractions! What’s a teacher to do?

I am a big believer of using the holidays to our advantage in the classroom. A holiday-related activity almost instantly engages students-even in middle school! One of my favorite ways to engage students the week of Thanksgiving is to teach them about gratitude and writing thank you notes.


Gratitude Beyond Thanksgiving

Over the past few years, I have learned about the importance of instilling a daily gratitude practice into one’s life. Surprisingly, there are an incredible amount of benefits associated with being grateful! These benefits include improvements in mental, emotional and even physical health! In this day and age where mental health is such a huge concern, I think it is so important to equip our students with skills that promote good mental health habits! Being grateful is a great place to start!

Thankfulness Informational Article

In this product, I’ve included an article that argues that the practice of writing thank you notes should still be commonplace. In addition, the article discusses the health benefits of gratitude. It’s the perfect informational text to ask students to read for a Thanksgiving activity!

Thank You Notes

Following the students’ reading of the article, they can put into practice what they’ve learned by writing thank you cards of their own. I’ve also included in this product some printable thank you cards. Colored versions are included as well as black and white. Alternatively, students can design their own cards as a fun creative project!

Students may choose someone to whom they can send a thank you card. Another idea would be to find a group or organization that might be appreciative of some thank you cards. For example, hospital staff, the local police force or the local fire department. You could also encourage students to write thank you notes to their favorite teachers! 😉

This is perfect activity to fill those two odd days just before Thanksgiving! It’s quick; it’s easy; and it’s curriculum-related!

How do you like to use two-day school weeks?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

P.S. Check out the Thanksgiving Bundle for more Thanksgiving-themed Middle School ELA lesson ideas!

My Favorite Thanksgiving Activities for Middle School

Happy November!

I cannot believe that it is already November 2021! Thanksgiving (and the end of the year) will be here before we know it!

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I love all the things about the autumn season and November is no exception! Even in the classroom, there are so many seasonal lessons and activities that coincide with this month! I’ve linked up a few of my favorite resources that are great ways to engage middle school students in learning ELA curriculum while connecting with what’s happening in the outside world!

The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Complete Novel Study Unit

Elizabeth George Speare’s classic tale, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, is a great story to read with middle school students. Although the story takes place in the 1600s, many of the conflicts and themes are still relevant today! My students have always loved delving into the world of Puritan New England and experiencing it through the eyes of the protagonist, Kit Tyler, who was born and raised on the island of Barbados. My complete unit includes resources for building students’ background knowledge, supplemental readings, creative activities, and more!


The History of Thanksgiving – Informational Article

This History of Thanksgiving PDF is the perfect reading to help your Language Arts students understand the facts of the complicated history of the Thanksgiving Holiday. The best part? There is NO-PREP required for teachers! Included in this resource is a four-page informational article, “A Brief History of Thanksgiving,” that is based on facts from primary sources. Students will learn the full picture of historical events surrounding the famous feast of 1621. This resource also includes multiple student assignments with answer keys! Comprehension questions as well as a crossword puzzle that can be completed with details from the article.


Thanksgiving Writing Assignment: Gratitude Personal Essay

I love finding authentic writing assignments for my students to complete, and this one is definitely among my favorites! This resource asks students to write an essay that discusses one person in their life for whom they are grateful. As you can imagine, these are really fun to read! I love hearing from my students about an individual who has impacted their lives. They are often very sweet and touching essays! Student instructions, a pre-writing graphic organizer, writing paper, an example/model essay, and a grading rubric are all included!


Procedural Writing – Thanksgiving Style!

In some of the states where I have taught, procedural texts or instructional texts have been a significant part of the state learning standards for ELA. It makes sense–it’s helpful to know how to read step-by-step instructions when you’re learning how to do something new! This festive take on procedural texts is both informative and fun! This mini unit begins with a fun (for you) hook activity where students are asked to fold an origami turkey. The catch? The first set of instructions are terribly written! I love using this activity to show students the importance of writing clear and detailed instructions when teaching someone how to do something. This resource includes an Instructional Slides Presentation, multiple fun student activities, student writing assignment, grading rubrics and more–all with a Thanksgiving theme!


How to Write a Thank You Note

Around Thanksgiving is the perfect time to revive the lost art of writing thank-you notes with your students! This resource includes an informational article on how to write a thank you note and some templates for students to write their own notes! Bonus points for them if they actually deliver them! This is a great activity for those awkward two-day school weeks!


Bundle and Save 20%

Can’t decide? I never can either! That’s why I’ve bundled all the Thanksgiving-themed resources together and set them at a discount. Get all four Thanksgiving Units at 20% off!


Whether you like to include Thanksgiving-related activities in your lesson planning or not, I hope you have a lovely November with your students! It can be such a fun time of year!

All the Best!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

Halloween Activities for Middle School Language Arts

I LOVE Autumn! It’s my favorite time of the year! Football, Halloween, cooler weather, fall family activities, beautiful trees changing colors–I am here for all of it!

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I love to incorporate holiday-themed lessons that both teach ELA content and bring in a bit of festive fun! Halloween is no different!

This year, I’ve put together a series of Scary Short Story lessons that engage students in standards-based activities, and are also a way of enjoying the seasons! I chose three short stories to incorporate into my curriculum:

  1. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving
  2. “A Ghost Story” by Mark Twain
  3. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

All three of the short story lessons are jam-packed with ELA content instruction and review. Text annotation, characterization, reading informational texts, satire, suspense, and so much are presented in engaging ways to students! Slides Presentations and multiple student assignments accompany each–and, answer keys are, of course, included!

In my TpT Store, these resources are all available separately OR buy the Bundle and save 20%!

Happy Haunting–err, I mean, Teaching!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

P.S. If you haven’t already, be sure to snag your FREE Halloween Vocabulary Activities HERE!

Six Picture Books to Read to Middle School Students

Whenever I tell people that I am a middle school teacher, they almost always respond with some version of “Bless your heart!” or “I could never teach middle school!” People always seem shocked that anyone would enjoy working with that age group! I usually just smile and say, “It’s not for everyone, but middle school students are special, and I love them.”

I really do love them! Middle School is a unique time—they aren’t really young children anymore, but they are also don’t have the maturity level of high schoolers.

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!
Live Footage of High School Maturity Captured on Video.

While middle school students are beginning to feel the freedom of independence, they are still just babies at heart and I believe that some small part of them longs to hang on to their childhood just a little bit longer.

This is why I never shy away from using children’s books in my classroom! Despite the fact that many middle school students look like grown up men and women, they love a good picture book!

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!

I Nearly Chickened Out…

One of my favorite teaching memories is when I had planned to use a picture book to illustrate a concept to my 8th graders. I had it displayed in the front of the classroom and had written it on our daily class schedule on the board. But, to be completely honest, I chickened out. I thought that there was no way these half-adults would be interested in this book. I thought that they would think it was so childish and lame!

So, I skipped reading the story without saying anything.

Towards the end of class, one of the boys (I say, “boy,” but he looked like a NCAA linebacker) raised his hand and asked why I didn’t read the story! I sputtered for a minute and finally said, “Honestly, I just thought you guys might be too old for picture books!” The entire class erupted in protest claiming that they were the perfect age for picture books!

[I’m not a complete half-wit. I realize they were stalling because they didn’t want to do their assignment.]

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!

Nevertheless, I read them the story that day and they all listened respectfully and seemed genuinely interested and engaged.

[I can’t claim they were thrilled later when they had to finish their assignment as homework! 😊]

After that, I wasn’t afraid to read a picture book to my students when it made sense. Even if students grumbled a bit under their breathe, they always seemed to enjoy it!

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!

Six Great Picture Books for Middle School Read Alouds

I’ve made a list of some of my favorite picture books to read to middle school students.

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!

Henry & the Buccaneer BunniesCarolyn Crimi and John Manders
I love reading this book with my reluctant or remedial readers! Henry is that tale of a bunny who is a pirate, but doesn’t want to be a pirate. All he wants to do is read his beloved books! While the other pirates make fun of his reading, in the end, they learn to appreciate all the things reading can do for them.

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!

All the Ways to Be Smart – Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys
This picture book is also a favorite of mine to remind my lower-leveled readers that there are many ways that intelligence presents itself. Just because students may not excel in English literature or Geometry doesn’t mean they aren’t smart! I love reminding students that they have value and worth and something to contribute!

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!

My Monster and Me – Nadiya Hussain and Ella Bailey
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I love The Great British Baking Show! (PSA: The new season will be available in the U.S. soon!) I discovered this show while I was pregnant with my fourth child. I give it full credit for helping me survive what felt like the gestation period of an elephant! My favorite series was filmed in 2015 (Collection 3 on Netflix in the States) when [SPOILER ALERT] Nadiya Hussain won! I loved watching her grow and overcome adversity throughout the season. I’ve watched that series at least four times and I cry at the finale every time.

When I heard that she wrote a children’s book, I bought it without even knowing what it was about! I couldn’t have been more pleased with this lovely book! My Monster and Me tells the story of a young boy who is plagued by a monster that follows him every where he goes. The adorable story is the perfect allegory for teaching children about dealing with anxiety or other mental health issues! It helps them see that talking to someone about our giant problems somehow makes them grow smaller. I think that it is a big part of our jobs to help students learn skills to manage their mental health!

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!

Be Kind – Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill
Be Kind is the perfect story to illustrate how one person’s small actions can make a big difference in the world! One small kind act can lead to another and another! If everyone makes a small effort to spread kindness, the world would be a much kinder place to live.

Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) – Keith Negley
Tough Guys is a quick read that I originally bought to help my four-year-old little tough guy deal with his big feelings. This little story helps break down stereotypes that boys and men shouldn’t show emotion. Similar to My Monster, Tough Guys helps promote social-emotional healthiness in our students!

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates – Ryan T. Higgins
I adore this story! I laugh out loud nearly every time I read this book! It’s the adorable story about a dinosaur attending school for the first time—with humans as classmates! This story helps promote kindness and learning empathy for others!

Well, there you have it! My favorite picture books to read to middle school students!

Have you tried sharing picture books with your students? What has your experience been? I’d love to hear from you!

All the Best,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

The Elements of Fiction Unit

The Elements of Fiction Unit for Middle School Students

My Favorite Fiction Unit to Begin the School Year

Grammar? Vocabulary? Fiction? Nonfiction? Reading Strategies? Poetry? Social-Emotional Learning? Writing? Argumentative Writing? Informational Writing? Narrative Writing?

With so many topics to cover in a typical middle school Language Arts curriculum, it can be difficult to decide what to teach your students first! I realize that some schools and districts have required curriculum maps, etc. that don’t leave a lot of leeway, but in every school in which I have taught it has always been left up to the teachers.

As a first year teacher, this freedom felt so overwhelming with the vast amount of curriculum students were expected to master and I had no idea where to start! Even for veteran teachers, there are so many things to worry about during the first few weeks of school that it can easily feel very heavy.

The Wisdom of Elders

When I first began teaching, my supervisor (who I’m teasing here–she is really only a few years older than me and not quite my “elder”) advised me to begin the year with a fiction unit. I am SO glad I listened to her wisdom!

While my Elements of Fiction Unit has evolved and improved greatly since that first year, the basics of the unit have remained the same and have provided a great foundation for my students as we progress from short stories to full novel units. The way that this unit is organized ensures that students remember all the elements as each lesson builds upon the previous.

As an added bonus, studying the Elements of Fiction can be so fun and engaging! The students can recognize the elements in stories and books and even films with which they are already familiar. Not only is this fun for them, but it helps them remember the content so much better!

The Elements of Fiction Topics

We dissect the various elements down and examine each of them in great detail. I typically assign multiple assignments or activities for each element—many of which involve creativity and fun for the students! Students get ample practice reading various short stories as well!

  • Character Types (major/minor; antagonist/protagonist; static/dynamic; flat/round)
  • Characterization (direct/indirect; STEAL)
  • Setting
  • Mood
  • Point of View (1st Person; 3rd-Person Omniscient; 3rd-Person Limited; 3rd Person Objective)
  • Tone
  • Conflict (internal/external; character vs. character, technology, nature, self, society)
  • Foreshadowing
  • Plot Structure (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution)
  • Summary
  • Topic
  • Theme

Once students have a firm grasp on all these elements, they are prepared to tackle any work of fiction that we could throw at them throughout the rest of the year!

The Elements of Fiction Unit Helps Students Tackle any Work of Fiction!

Resources for many of the individual elements along with the full Elements of Fiction Unit are available in my Teachers Pay Teacher store! Check it out today!

What do YOU like to begin the school year with?

Until Next Time,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

Unforgettable Back to School Memories

Back to School English Language Arts Middle School Activities

I love beginning a new school year! Coming back into the classroom feels like a new beginning for everyone–students AND teachers! And after the year that we have just had, we could all really use a fresh start!

FREE Back to School ELA Activities

Irrational Fears?

At this time of the year, I always remember my very first first day of school as a brand new teacher.

I was terrified.

FREE back to school ELA activities middle school

At my university, some students forego traditional “student teaching.” Instead, these students are dubbed “interns,” given their own classroom and students and teach a full year for half salary. We were provided with an on-site supervisor and a university faculty advisor to help.

It sounded like a great deal to me, but as the first day of school approached, I felt grossly underprepared. What’s more, I didn’t have a clue what to do to become prepared!

I remember sitting in a meeting with my supervisor and the other two ELA interns (the fabulous Angela and Laura, who became great friends). Our supervisor asked us if we had any questions. The other two ladies, I’m sure, were able to produce intelligent and helpful questions, but the only think I could think of to ask was, “What do we do if a student throws up?”

(I was not yet a mom and the thought of a tween losing his/her lunch in my classroom was abhorrent to me! Now, as a mom of four, I could probably handle… Nope. Still revolting!)

Back to School ELA Activities

Anyway, our supervisor kindly laughed and happily reported that in her thirteen years of teaching middle school she had never had a student throw up.

I felt very relieved.

Experience is the Best Teacher

The first day of school finally rolled around. My classroom was decorated. I had fun activities planned for the first week of school to get to know my students. Admittedly, I still didn’t know exactly what I was doing. But, I had found some confidence from somewhere and was excited to get started.

Before the first period of the day had even started, a cute boy in my first class approached me looking a little green. He told me that he thought he was going to be sick and asked where the nearest restroom was.

I honestly didn’t know and started to panic that my irrational fear would be realized on my first official day as a teacher!

I told him that we would find a restroom together. We started walking out towards the hall, when, sure enough, the poor boy was sick.

After a few seconds of panic and trying not to gag, I called the office. The wonderful custodial staff took care of everything. It was unpleasant, but I learned very quickly how to handle the situation!

Some things you can only learn by experience! However, I wanted to help any teacher who is wondering what to do with students the first few days of school! That’s why I put together 7 FREE Back to School ELA Activities that Language Arts teachers can use to get to know their students the first week of school! Simply click on the link and follow the instructions to receive your FREE .pdf download!

What are your memorable back to school moments? I can’t wait to hear!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

P.S. Don’t forget to download your 7 FREE Back to School ELA Resources!

Teachers and the Global Pandemic

Teachers & the Global Pandemic

Teachers and the Global Pandemic Four Steps Teachers Can Take to Find Peace following the 2020-21 School Year.

Four Steps Teachers Can Take to Find Peace Following the 2020-21 School Year

Congratulations Teachers! You did it! The 2020-21 school year is coming to an end. You survived! What a ride it has been!

The 2020-21 school year could be described by teachers in many ways. It has been a year filled with unprecedented changes, large amounts of uncertainty, a hefty dose of anxiety, numerous new procedures and safety measures, and for many of us digital learning!

I realize that none of us have had identical experiences. Some teachers have been teaching in person all year with safety precautions in place. Many teachers have utilized some version of a hybrid model to teach students, switching back and forth from virtual to digital. Some have spent the entirety of the school year teaching virtually, having never even met their students in person!  

Regardless of our experiences, as the curtains begin to close on this most unconventional year, how can we even begin to process what we and our students have just been through? Even more, how can we end this year feeling good about our experiences?

I’ve come up with four steps for teachers who want to feel at peace with teaching during a global pandemic!

Step 1: Acknowledge the Negative

This may feel counterintuitive but stay with me!  The challenges that teachers and students and parents have faced this year were unprecedented and they WERE challenges! It was a tough year! Covid-19 completely turned education on its head.

Many teachers were required to completely change the way they taught. Many had to learn new technology and new ways of doing things. Teachers were required to quickly learn how to host a Zoom meeting; how to present their information digitally; how to engage young people in effective learning over the internet; how to get teenagers to turn on their cameras and participate; how to teach in a classroom of socially distanced students AND Zoom students at the same time!

It. Was. Hard.  And pretending otherwise, doesn’t help us!

How Teachers Can Find Peace After Global Pandemic
Photo by on Unsplash.

Mental and emotional health experts will teach us that suppressing negative emotions is counterproductive! It often feels “right” to push those emotions away because we want to be positive and we want to feel happy! (It’s way more fun to feel happy, right?) In reality, when we push away or restrict ourselves from feeling anger, frustration, sadness, grief, irritation or any other of those “negative” emotions, we are actually just displacing them. Those feelings are still there inside of us, and they will manifest themselves again in stronger ways further on down the road! Think of it like a giant beach ball that you are trying to hold underwater in a swimming pool. The harder you try to push that ball down, the more forceful it is going to shoot back up when you eventually let it go! (I’m sure there is some scientific equation all our science teachers could put together for us to figure this out!)

It is the same with our emotions! The harder we try to suppress them, the stronger they will emerge when they eventually do come out!

We’ve all done this right? We’ve all had situations where we hold back a negative emotions and then it rears its ugly head later? Like when you had a legitimate reason to be upset and can hold it together for a while, but then completely lose your cool later over something relatively inconsequential? Yeah, I know I’ve definitely been there more often than I’d like to admit.

Let’s not do that! Instead, let’s “Name it to Tame it!” Label that feeling and then sit with it for a while. Are you sad about the way this school year played out? Be sad for a while. Are you angry about all the things you had to do? Be angry for a while! Sit with that anger. Let is rush over you. Are you feeling resentful about having to do a job you never signed up to do? Be resentful for a while! It’s okay to feel that way. In fact, it’s completely normal for us as human beings to have negative emotions.

As we allow ourselves to feel and experience those emotions, they will eventually pass through us. If we resist feeling those emotions, they will still be there and will eventually manifest themselves stronger later, often in unhealthy ways.

Step 2: Show Yourself Compassion

This year may not have looked perfect. For most of us, it was probably a far cry from perfect. Maybe your students didn’t demonstrate the growth you would have liked to see. Perhaps you feel like you didn’t show up as your best teaching self. Maybe you feel like you have underperformed in some areas.

How to feel peace teaching during a global pandemic.
Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay.

Friend, all of that is okay. Sometimes we show up as our best selves and it’s awesome and amazing and there are other times—lots of other times—where we are not our best selves. Sometimes, we are complete and utter messes! That’s okay.

We love ourselves anyway.

Don’t beat yourself up or allow your inner critic to say mean things to yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat a good teacher friend in the same situation. Be compassionate and encouraging and supportive to yourself! You just survived teaching school in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s a big deal! This will literally be in history books someday. Cut yourself some slack for the things that didn’t go so well. Despite all those things that weren’t perfect, everything is still going to work out just fine.

Step 3: Find the Positives

The next step is to find the positives! And I promise you there were some positives! Maybe the best positive outcome you can think of is that the year is over! That’s great! Let’s celebrate that we made it through! Maybe we are super impressed with the resiliency of our students. (It’s remarkable how they can adapt so quickly, isn’t it?) Maybe you celebrate the leaps and bounds you’ve made in your technological skills! Did you ever think you would be an online teacher? Now you know how! Add that baby to your resume! Maybe another positive is that you’ve learned that you can breathe wearing a mask all day! Maybe you’re thrilled about being vaccinated! I don’t know what your positives are, but I am certain they are there.

Finding the positives from teaching during a global pandemic.
Image by Jonny Belvedere from Pixabay.

Whatever they may be, make a list of the things that you are feeling happy about—literally write them down! Celebrate them! Share them with your teacher friends, family, partner/spouse! Share them with your students! List all the things for which we can be grateful about this year! Everyone’s situation has been different and therefore everyone’s lists will look different. I don’t mean to go all Pollyanna on everyone, but I promise you there were definitely some good things about the past year. Take the time to acknowledge them.

Step 4: Intentional Reflection

The last thing we want to do to find peace about the past year is to take some time for some meaningful reflection.

Questions to consider might include:

  • What from the past school year are you most proud of?
  • What lessons did you learn about yourself? About teaching?
  • What things from the past year do you want to continue doing?
  • What are some things from the past year you would like to stop doing?
  • What memories are you going to cherish?
  • What new skills did you acquire that may prove useful moving forward?

You could reflect about anything, but I think it’s helpful to take some time and answer some questions about your thoughts about the past year. Writing them down is even more helpful as it forces us to be more intentional and articulate with our thoughts and feelings.

Adversity & Growth

Teachers and the Global Pandemic
Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay.

I know the past year hasn’t been easy for so many reasons—professionally and personally. However, I believe adversity brings opportunity for growth! As we are intentional about our thoughts and feelings about the past year and intentional about our steps moving forward, we can simultaneously experience peace and progress. We can move forward as stronger and better teachers and human beings.

Talk Soon,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

How Teachers Can End the 2020 21 School Year on the Right Note