Larry Efird: Christmas: The most wonderful time of the year?
By Larry Efird
Having been in a school setting during the Christmas holidays for most of the past four decades, I know there are some sights and sounds of the season that only a teacher could fully understand. We know how frustrating life can become in our educational fortresses because they will start to crumble like gingerbread houses if we’re not careful.
The last week before Christmas break can become an all out tug-of-war in the classroom trying to keep kids focused on exams and reviews rather than excitement and reindeer. It’s clearly us against them to see who can win the annual holiday battle for survival. And one person pitted against 20-30 isn’t exactly good odds, so it’s no surprise when we come close to crashing as a result of their sugar highs, not ours. For that reason, I sometimes do eat candy and keep teaching in self-defense.
Coupled with that is the challenge of a teacher staying focused himself or herself when one knows that most kids already have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads rather than math equations or poetry recitations. How is a teacher supposed to compete with visions of non-stop fun?
The best way I’ve found to “handle Christmas” is to enjoy it along with the kids, while in the process keeping to an established routine the best I can. I don’t know how many times students want to come in and play rather than work, citing their justification as, “because it’s almost Christmas.” That phrase seems to be a magic formula for dispensing with real life. For some reason, they think Christmas should be celebrated from the time we return from Thanksgiving until the time we dismiss for our much needed winter break(down).
I’ve always enjoyed the holidays — so much so that I like to decorate my classroom. I even decorated my bedroom at home when I was a kid. Yes, I will confess that. (And maybe that’s when I might have realized I was destined to be a teacher because I had bulletin board skills.) Elementary teachers do a much better job than high school teachers at making their rooms festive without a doubt. But I’ve learned that even high school kids are still “kids” when December rolls around. They still like a tree and they still like colored lights. Who doesn’t?
There are also times when I see kids displaying their best behavior, not their worst, as they exchange gifts with one another between classes. Genuine smiles from teenagers are priceless. They seem to be happier and more open to helping those who are less fortunate as well. My heart is full when I hear National Honor Society members planning how to feed the hungry and how to donate clothing to those who need it. Watching a Toys for Tots box fill up makes me happier too because it seems we all begin to focus on others and not just on ourselves.
In the past week, at least five students have asked me what my Christmas plans were. It always catches me off guard when a teenager cares about me and “my” plans. More often than not, students don’t consider that their teachers even have lives, let alone “plans.” Recently one student told me he had seen a school jacket where he worked that he knew I’d like. He told me that he wanted to buy it for me but it cost forty dollars. I told him I wasn’t worth that much, but he was very kind to even consider it. To be honest, just the simple thought he shared with me was as meaningful as the gift would have been.
Another student, who is extremely shy and never speaks above a faint whisper, courageously approached me in the hall with a giant smile on her face and said, “I wrote you a note to thank you for being my teacher, but I lost it somewhere.” I gave her a hug and thanked her for the note I never would receive, but was touched by her sudden burst of self-confidence and the way she communicated her thoughts.
Yes, Christmas can be the most trying time of the year, but it truly can be the most wonderful. Just ask a teacher.
Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.