October Is the Most Difficult Month…
Are things getting a little “intense” in your classroom? Are your kids stressed out at home?
Several years ago, my daughter’s 1st grade teacher, Robert, sent an email update:
This week was something of a challenge. Tears and arguments cropped up on several occasions. By Thursday, I was fairly exhausted.
Then I suddenly remembered – it’s October! Holly and Jean (who taught at the school for 25+ years) always told us that October is the most difficult month. Children are testing boundaries both with their teachers and with each other – Jean always called it ‘shakedown’ month.
With that in mind, I entered Friday with a clear plan of action to make sure we finished the week on a really good note…
I never thought to name it. But, Holly and Jean are right… October is the most difficult month.
Reading Robert’s email, I felt a visceral reaction; I had experienced what he described. I could deeply relate to it. “Imagine if I was more aware of this ‘shakedown’ when I was in the classroom?” I thought. “I would have handled it better… for my students and myself.”
The Shakedown is not just a “first grade” thing. I taught ages 4-14 and always experienced The Shakedown. Both of my children experience it. I remember feeling it as a student.
The stretch between the beginning of the school year and Thanksgiving is the looooooongest of the year. From there, the rest of the year is broken up with: holidays, winter breaks, spring breaks, and finally, the coveted summer vacation.
But, it’s difficult to return from summer and slide right into that long stretch to Thanksgiving. As Robert said, children (of all ages) are testing their boundaries. There’s more to it, too…
They are growing. They had a nice break over summer. And now, they’re being stretched. They are often in a new environment. Sometimes with new teachers and peers. They are facing new expectations. Learning new things.
In September (and perhaps some of August), they primarily observed all of this “newness.” In October, that “newness” starts to settle into their brain. Into their life.
Figuring out how all of this “new stuff” fits together is a lot of work! And they’ve been at it, non-stop, for several weeks. When school started, they went from 0-60! They’ve had no time to slow down.
It’s no wonder October is “shakedown” month!
How Do You Deal with The Shakedown?
There are several things you can do… each only takes a few minutes:
Recognize it. As Robert stated in his email, becoming aware of The Shakedown totally changed his perspective. He went from feeling fatigued to feeling energized. He created a plan of action and turned things around. Pretty cool!
Tell your students (or kids) about it. In July, we attended our cousin’s gorgeous southern wedding in North Carolina. It was outdoors. Ceremony was at 3pm… with no shade. The temp was at least 100 degrees (F), with 100% humidity. I don’t ever recall feeling so hot.
Two hours into the festivities, there was a moment when I suddenly realized, “Oh, wow… in a few hours, I will actually be able to shower at the hotel.” That sounds so obvious… now. But, in the (literal) heat of the moment, I had tunnel vision. All I could think about was the oppressive heat. As soon as I realized the heat wasn’t going to last forever, I literally felt better.
When you help your students (or children) recognize The Shakedown, they can reframe it. Like me at the wedding, they need help recognizing that it won’t last. And they can evaluate how they might handle it better.
Get your students in the Green Zone! This strategy is important throughout the year. But, it’s critical during The Shakedown.
Take a few minutes at the start of each class to help students settle in, relax, and feel comfortable. Perhaps you share a riddle, a funny joke, or a silly video (think “Sneezing Panda” or “Charlie Bit My Finger”). See our previous article about the Green Zone for more ideas. Anything you can do to help students lighten up a bit pays big dividends.
Move! Aerobic movement is the only natural way we can manufacture new brain chemicals. New brain chemicals reduce stress, give us more energy, and make us happier. Take a few minutes to do some jumping jacks in class. Take your class on a walk. Do something to generate a few new brain chemicals.
Take a meditation break. Students love having an opportunity to close their eyes for a few minutes. Play a guided meditation or talk them through some deep breathing exercises. A short break with eyes closed does for the brain what “restarting” does for a computer. A short reset can do wonders for settling effects of The Shakedown.
Emphasize the positive. October is the time when many students are deciding, “Should I keep trying? Or, is it time to give up?” This is the perfect time to introduce (or remind) students about their strengths!
I love teaching students about the Multiple Intelligences. Have your students take our Multiple Intelligences Quiz and discuss the results in class. What does this knowledge about themselves tell them about their abilities? About their future?
How can you, as their teacher, support and encourage their strengths? You have at least one student whose life will forever be changed by a conversation about the Multiple Intelligences. Yeah, I know you are buried in a mile of content standards. But this conversation is a major motivation boost; it will be worth the time you invest.
Hang in there. Finally, remember… this won’t last forever. Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner! 😉
To our students’ success,
Susan Kruger, M.Ed.