The first semester always starts off exciting – everything is new! New year, new students, new classroom set up – everything gets a fresh start. By December, that newness has worn off, and everyone is ready for a well-deserved winter break.

On the flip side, January can feel like a slog. Although you are glad to be back and see everyone, winter break was nice. January can be a hot mess – indoor recess and makeup days can make for a long semester. The winter blues lead into spring fever, and the end of the year can seem far, far away.

However, teaching after winter break doesn’t have to be hard. Here are ten ideas to survive and thrive in the second semester.

1. Review all routines and expectations with students as often as needed.

Students need a reminder of the classroom routines and expectations. Everyone feels out of sync after winter break. Be sure to build in practice all of them again in January.

You may also need to review them throughout the semester. As spring fever hits, you may find yourself doing expectations frequently.

2. Change routines that aren’t working.

Sometimes you start the year with a routine, but find it just doesn’t work. January is a perfect time to update and reset. Explain to students the new routine, then practice it just as you would at the beginning of the year.

3. Reflect on your weekly lesson routine.

Having a work routine can help you find a rhythm to your week. For example, perhaps every Friday you spend an hour prepping for the next week. On Mondays, get both you and your students into a routine so that you both know what to expect. For example, perhaps every Monday you introduce new vocabulary, do a first read of a text, and write to a prompt. 

Creating a routine to start and end your week prevents the Sunday scaries because you won’t have to worry about what you are teaching.

4. Purposefully teach good work habits and study skills.

This one really depends on the grade you teach, but I found that teachers, myself included, often assumed students had skills that really had never been taught. (And remember this happened to me in middle school. One teacher assigned us independent research projects,  but I had never been taught how to do one. I had no idea what to do.)

Never assume students just know how to study, work together, etc. If you want students to develop these “soft skills”, you need to model and teach them. 

5. If you don’t have a sub binder, make one.

A sub tub or sub binder is a godspeed when you or your family gets sick. No more running to school to write plans or begging teammates to prep something for you.

Include any information a sub would need to successfully manage your class for a day – class lists, schedules, duties, school map, etc. Check and update this information once a month.

Prep and copy lessons that can be taught independently – review skills, etc. You would have to reteach most of what the sub would teach (for various reasons), so don’t bother trying to continue what you are currently doing. 

Also, when you think you have enough to cover a class, add two more things to be sure. Better to have more than you can do than not enough.

Prep enough lessons for 3 days. That way, even if you don’t need all three days at once, you still have some things left. 

For more information on this topic read the blog post from September: My Favorite Ways To Prep For A Substitute


6. Plan your personal days now.

Don’t wait for spring fever to hit. Check your calendar now. Is there a long stretch where you might want a break? Put in for the day now and secure a sub. If you decide later to not take the day, you can just cancel it the week before.

7. Mix up your student groups.

If you have assigned student groups, it’s a good time to shuffle them and create new groups. By mid-year, you know your students pretty well, and you know who should or shouldn’t be together.

8. Create a calendar of events.

Mark all known school events on a calendar, then mark any known personal events. Use this calendar to determine how many actual weeks of teaching time you have left, as well as which weekends you will be busy at home. As you plan out your units, schedule assessments so they do not coincide with when you have a lot going on.

9. Map out your curriculum.

January is a great time to reflect on what you already taught and what still needs to be taught. Highlight your core standards and determine which standards support them. Use the calendar from #8 to roughly map out how long each unit will take. If you run out of time, you can adjust your units now to make sure you get everything in.

Remember that you will always have things pop up that will take class time, so be sure to give yourself a cushion.

10. Build in novelty.

The human brain thrives on novelty. Once in a while, plan a “fun” day – a book tasting, a new activity, or even just a reward day for working hard (which could also be a makeup work day for students who have missing work.)

These special days can take some extra planning, depending on what you decide to do, but they can also re-energize both you and your students. 

A little planning now will help you have a great semester!