Reminder: All Students Don’t Have the Same Holiday and Break Experience

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By Andrew Pillow

We are coming up on the holiday season. This is a favorite time for teachers and students. Students are excited to be away from school; teachers are excited to be away from students. Overall the holidays tend to be a rather joyful time in schools, and while this is definitely positive, it can also lead to assumptions and uncomfortable moments for kids.

The natural tendency of teachers before or shortly after a holiday break is to assign a bunch of “fluff assignments” about holidays and traditions.

“What are you getting for Christmas?”

“Where are you going over spring break?”

“What did you do over summer break?”

“What family member are you most excited to see over Thanksgiving?”

None of these questions are bad to ask in a vacuum, but in a school with underprivileged students, this can create an environment of haves and have-nots due to the fact the children have vastly different experiences over holidays and breaks.

1.       Every student does not celebrate the same holidays.

I think in 2017 most teachers are aware of this… however I still see drawings of Santa Claus and Rudolph every time I walk into a school during December. It’s important to be sensitive to your students who don’t celebrate popular holidays. Also be aware of the fact that even if students do celebrate a certain a holiday, that doesn’t mean they celebrate it the way you think they do. For example, many students and their families don’t subscribe to the secular version of Christmas. It’s okay to teach your students about holidays but don’t have activities that essentially mandate celebrating them.

2.       Not every student has a dream vacation over the break.

If you teach at a school similar to mine, then you know holidays and breaks may not be something your students want to write about. Not all of your students are going to be fortunate enough to take extravagant trips to Florida over spring break. And the last thing a poor student wants is to be regaled with tales of Disney World and Universal Studios because of your “Where did you go over spring break assignment?”

3.       All your students don’t get a ton of presents.

All three Abrahamic religions have some gift giving tradition. That doesn’t mean you should put students on the spot about what gifts they received when they come back from break. Some students are going to get a whole lot of presents over the holidays. Some will not. Don’t put your other students in a position where they fill like they have to lie about what they got in order to feel adequate around their classmates by assigning some stupid and unnecessary, “What did you get for Christmas writing prompt?”

Teachers often feel the overwhelming urge to deviate away from content during the days leading up to holidays and breaks. But if teachers can’t come up with something that allows everyone to be included without feeling inadequate, they are probably better off sticking to the standards.  

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.