October Slump in Action
After the start of the school year magic, teaching and learning about your new students, mid-fall can feel less exciting and more like drudgery. August comes with excitement, September comes with solidification of routines and October often comes with a slump. After a sprinting start to the school year, mid-fall/end of first quarter is often when teachers need to reset on their basic practices, procedures and self-care.
It happens to all teachers. One specific moment for me was mid-October 2014. As our team trickled into our team meeting with our yogurt cups, leftovers and not-enough water, we plopped ourselves on our cracked dark brown “leather” hand-me-down sleeper sofa, and collectively sighed.
The sigh was not birthed from any one situation or crisis, but from the ‘blah’ level energy that October tends to bring. We have acclimated 70 sixth graders and 80 8th graders to the new school year. We have helped them navigate their developmental stage of establishing their autonomy (read: testing boundaries). All while creating safe equitable structure by holding high expectations (read: we’re tired). We all had been working hard to stay regulated with regularly dis-regulated pre-teens/teens (read: we were doing our best to keep a lid on it).
The Temporary Nature of the October Slump
Our meeting began, discussing end of quarter requirements. We discussed adjustments to make next quarter, and identified students who needed support. As the meeting continued, we got side tracked and delved into the land of ‘complaints’ that this time of year sometimes brings out.
My Australian classroom “roomie” and our team-lead, Mark, would listen for a bit, allowing everyone some space to ‘vent’ and process, but eventually would say in his Aussie accent, “Well Mates, what do ya expect? It’s October.”
I heard this for the 3 years of teaching and would again be reminded of this every October that followed; And it’s still profound. Things weren’t really ‘this bad’… it was just October. I really do love my students and job… It’s just October. This reminder wasn’t meant to be dismissive of the experience, but instead Mark reminded us this is very literally just a season.
Why the Slump in October?
October is hard. When the rigor of curriculum moves from foundational to challenging, students and teachers feel the cognitive tension. We still need to re-establish our routines and procedures daily, making more reactive than proactive management moments. Both October and February can feel very long because it is many many days or weeks until the next significant break. At this point in the year, we are feeling that the daily stressors are cumulative in their effect. What felt manageable in early September, has now snowballed.
With all of these October factors in play, I found myself get lazy in meeting my basic needs. I felt I didn’t have time for these basic needs; However, time spent meeting these needs was time well spent because they were the things that make me feel good and keep me well. So, I reset with little convos with myself.
Resetting to the Basics
- Prioritize sleep: You had the 9:00 screens-off rule for a reason. That reason is called sleep. Sleep is essential for recovering from the constant cognitive pivoting, emotional regulating, and cohesive planning that is required in this field.
- Drink Water: 16 ounces of water is actually not even close to enough. And a mid-day coffee or Coke, doesn’t help hydration. Dehydration = tiredness and mood dips. And yes, I realize I can only use the restroom 2 very strictly scheduled times a day. I still need water. Go to Amazon and type’ 60 oz water jug’; 2 day delivery. Chug in the morning as I sit down to check email, chug the hour before plan, and at the end of the day. Keep the coffee, but up the water.
- Eat meals, not just snacks: By this time, meal prepping is likely a relic of August. Do my body a favor and buy the pre-packed salad, buddha bowl, or whatever else gives nourishment and sounds good. Reset the meal prep when I can, but Cliff bars aren’t a lunch, friend.
- Implement Gratitude: It’s time to implement the Shout Out. A shout out is recognizing someone for pursuing a class goal, exemplifying school values, or your class mission. Not only does it reground us in our collective work together, but it helps everyone mine for the good. I can even take “shout outs” a step further by posting them up on post-its each week as a visual reminder that there is good stuff happening.
This is not rocket science, but it is hard at this time of year; re-grounding and getting back to your basic human needs is a great antidote to “Well Mates, what do ya expect? It’s October.”