Sailors and explorers of years gone by spoke of “The Doldrums,” a zone in the low latitudes near the Equator in which winds can disappear for days or even weeks, leaving sailing ships becalmed and unable to move. For those of us who work in schools, the stretch between winter and spring break can seem like these doldrums (especially in northern climates like my beloved Minnesota). But we can change this: by taking steps like the six detailed below, we can successfully navigate the post-winter break “doldrums” that can becalm our teaching, and re-energize our classrooms—for us and our students.
1. Read a book about teaching. I know that this might sound a bit cliché or even trite, but I have found that doing a bit of professional reading can bring me new energy, ideas and insights. You could go “heavy” and read some educational theory, like Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire (seriously, if you haven’t read this yet, DO IT. DO IT NOW.). There are a ton of compelling memoirs about teachers and schools, as well–The Long Haul by Myles Horton or Teacher Man by Frank McCourt are two good ones. You could go more practical, and get insight into new pedagogy or content in your teaching area. Another good option is to dig into race and education–there are many compelling writers who focus on race, but for my money, any such reading must start with the classic The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois.
2. Start a new project in your class. I find new purpose even just coming up with and planning a new project. As an elementary school teacher, I realize that I may have a bit more latitude (see what I did there?) in this department than others. Over the years, for example, during these becalmed months, I’ve started a Flat Stanley Project, and a Genius Day project. Both have brought energy and (wait–dare I say it?) fun to my classroom.
3. Attend a meeting. You could attend something as local as a PTA or site council meeting to get a bit of a different view on the workings of your school. If you want to widen the net, you could turn up at a union meeting for your local, where you can participate in and even help initiate some very interesting conversations. A little different twist would be to seek out (with the help of Twitter and Facebook, for starters) other organizations that do work around education. Might I recommend MinnCAN? Or Educators 4 Excellence? Seeing your school, your union or education writ large from a new perspective can be very reinvigorating.
4. Apply for a travel program. One of the interesting, fun and educational things that I have done recently outside of the classroom was attend a summer institute for educators sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which runs a variety of summer workshops that vary in length from six days to a few weeks. I was able to go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for a week to learn about the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg from a host of nationally recognized scholars. The best part is that NEH provided a stipend that covered all of my expenses for the week, including travel, lodging and food. There are several organizations that offer such workshops, in most content areas – the good folks at Gilder Lehman are another quality resource in Social Studies. One word, though–if you do apply, please don’t apply to the same ones that I am this year–I don’t want any extra competition!
5. Apply to present at a professional conference. Another very cool opportunity is to seek out a professional organization in your field (NCTE for English folks, NCTM for math people, NCSS for Social Sciences, NSTA for Science or a host of others for multicultural studies, language teachers and specialists) and attend a conference, or, better yet, apply to present at one, especially if it is happening in your area. I recently did this with three colleagues, since NCTE was in Minneapolis this year. The experience of attending and presenting at the conference was amazing, but perhaps equally as valuable was the experience of sitting with a topic and some very smart collaborators and thinking deeply and purposefully about our practice. (I should note, as well, that our topic was not something new that we created – we presented on a classroom practice, Author Study, that we are were already doing.)
6. Take a virtual field trip. This tip is one of my favorites – it’s free, and very engaging for teachers and for students. Many sites around the country and around the world offer virtual field trips – what a better way to literally (well, literally, in a virtual sense) take your students to a site that will draw them into the content of your classroom. Many virtual field trips are to historic sites, such as Colonial Williamsburg, or museums, like the Louvre, but others are to sites a bit more esoteric, such as the solar system or something pretty sweet like tracking book characters’ movements at Google Lit Trips.
If it feels like your teaching is sailing through the educational doldrums, give one of these ideas a try. It just might be a way to sail on through the doldrums!
Jake Knaus is currently a second-grade bilingual teacher at Burroughs Community School in Minneapolis and a teacher policy fellow with MinnCAN. His passions in education are literacy and social justice, and he strives to bring those complementary perspectives to his classroom every day. He is adamant about the fact that every student deserves a great teacher, a wonderful school and the opportunity to fulfill their greatest potential.
The MinnCAN blog allows Minnesota students, teachers, administrators, parents and advocates to share their thoughts on key education issues. Blogging fellows' and guest bloggers' views and opinions are solely their own.