During my first year teaching, I thought that October was rough because I was still going through the growing pains of being a brand new teacher. But then my mom told me that October is always the roughest month for my dad, a newly-retired teacher of 30 years. That first year, I didn’t fully understand why October of all months was the worst, but every year since, I’ve gathered more evidence. And today – the last Friday of October, I can say this was a TOUGH month!
What I attribute as the main reason October is the longest month for teachers is the fact that there are no long school breaks during October or even adjacent to it. Whether school starts in August or September, it’s a long stretch until your first week-long break. I’m lucky now that my school gives a whole week for Thanksgiving, but every other school I’ve been at just gives you that Thursday and Friday. So the first substantial break is in the end of December. Then, usually depending on what region of the US you’re in, you have a week-long break every other month until the end of the school year. January = none, February = break, March = none, April = break, May = none, June = end of the year!
The second reason why October is so long is because the “honeymoon” period from the beginning of the school year is over. The first few weeks of the year, the students are excited to see each other, excited to start their classes, and excited to see what this year will hold for them! As a teacher, you’re excited about what new tools and techniques you’re going to try and how much you can accomplish with your students this year. In August and September, the students are generally well-behaved because of the mutual excitement.
When October rolls around, the new-school-year-smell has worn off. Students are starting to see the trends in their grades, which can be discouraging, and there’s usually not any excitement about new students and new friendships. As a teacher, you’re slogging through lesson planning. If you got a good jump-start on planning during the summer, there’s a chance you ran out of fresh summer lessons by now. Additionally, because behavior was so good in August and September, you may have not adequately prepped for misbehaviors which are rearing their ugly heads now. Also, the days are getting shorter. Sunshine is good for your mood, so this doesn’t help.
Whenever I share my October theory with non-teachers, they always wonder why March or May aren’t the longest.
Well, in March you’ve had a week-long break the month before and a week-long break coming up. Also, the spring equinox is upon us and daylight savings time has started. While I admit this doesn’t affect me as much now in California, I can promise you this was a big deal for me when in NYC! Also, you and the students are fully into the swing of things – summer break is a distant memory. School is the norm.
In May, you’re really cruising and things are good. It basically feels like the end of the year, especially if the kids have AP or State Exams during this month. Also, there are usually a bunch of fun events around this time, like prom, for the kids to be excited about. In terms of teaching, your students are much more advanced with the material compared to the beginning of the year, so you can do fun projects during this time.
This year, October was particularly long because of distance learning. I will say, compared to last spring, it is much much harder to build class camaraderie when starting the year via Zoom. Plus, the COVID stress is different now. Last spring, the world was still figuring out how COVID spread, what its symptoms looked like, and how much it really affected kids. For schools, we kind-of took the attitude “well, we’ll be all remote through the end of June and possibly through summer school.” There was a definite timeline. Now many schools, including mine, are urging teachers and students to wait in the wings. It almost feels like “at any moment we could all go back!” While this may be comforting to some people, it’s terrifying for me. I like certainty. My school started out fully remote this fall, and now we’re slowly doing a mini-hybrid model. From what I’ve heard from other teacher friends, there is a great variety in how schools are currently operating. No one knows what’s best, so we’re all just trying to figure out what works for our students. It really comes down to weighing these two facts: education works better in-person but COVID spreads in-person. How much of one are you willing to compromise for the other?
Looking forward to November,
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