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Teachers, Break Out Your Bag of Tricks

January! You all just got back from a nice, long vacation! Everyone wants to share stories of things they did, places they visited, people they saw, and presents they received. The adrenaline gets them through the first day or so back, and then the lull kicks in mid-week. Behaviors they learned to work on may have slipped over break, and some forget to raise their hands before speaking, stay in their seats, allow other students to listen to the teacher, manage their moods, and so on. Some may struggle with bodily functions or expression of emotions.

But most are ready to be back in school and see you again. Some may not show it, but boy are they excited!


Back into a routine

The first day consists of re-establishing the routine. Go over the rules and procedures of the class and focus on the positives. Students will get on board if they know they will be rewarded for meeting expectations. Have extra patience for students who struggle more than usual with managing moods or attending to the class activities.

Keep instruction time shorter. Break up your talking with interaction and participation. Allow for earned reward time if needed. Offer incentives if they give you extra attention and work output. This may spark some kids to bust out their learning and show off to peers. Some may feel extra competitive after having played video games over break.


Break out your bag of tricks

During the first week, productivity will ebb and flow. You might have to delay meeting curriculum goals due to some students’ behavioral difficulties. There may be times when students just cannot follow directions or work within the organized system that you had in place prior to winter break. This is a good week to break out your backup plan, or bag of tricks.

The bag of tricks should include at least two very different activities that are similar to some that have been strongly successful in the past. In addition, you could try a new activity that requires extra listening and direction following beyond what is required in class. This will stretch the students and get them settled back into class mode. Something like a game or a mystery hunt with a reward at the end would work well. The higher the challenge, the more likely that students will forget about their winter break and focus on the task.

Adding opportunities for movement is a plus. Kudos if the students must interact with each other to find answers. Chances are that they will have had isolated themselves over winter break and may choose to be alone or depend on an adult as a default. Doing an activity with a reward for social interaction is a very successful teaching choice.


Enlist families and stay positive!

Make sure you communicate with your supervisor about your plans. The goals may not be as quickly achieved in the weeks after break. Communication with parents is also especially important because they will help you keep their children in “school mode” when they are at home.

Keep everything positive and upbeat! A positive you is a happy you. This energy will spread to your students, coworkers, and parents, and help keep everything on track and running as smoothly as possible. Good luck!


Mary Janca works as an educator for individuals with autism and their families.  She is on the autism spectrum and uses her own insight to connect with others and guide them to understanding autism in ways that trainings and literature may not reach.

She has been teaching college, high school, and middle school for over 20 years to students of all types of learning styles. She holds a master’s degree in Special Education: Emotional and Behavioral Disorders and has state certifications in multiple high school and middle school subjects. She has also been involved in many agencies as either a helper or receiver, including: ASNC, TEACCH, Vocational Rehabilitation, and specialized school environments. Her goal is to be able to help in as many settings as possible, because there is such a high need for educators.

Mary enjoys the quirks of having autism but appreciates being able to connect with others. She goes through many of the trials that most individuals on the spectrum face, including trouble with taking the perspective of others, following expected behaviors, and managing emotions. She hopes to keep learning about the field of autism, so that she can continue to reach out and help others.

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