TCHERS' VOICE / Class Culture

Confessions of a Halloween Grinch

There are many things I miss about being a classroom teacher — reading my favorite picture books, teaching students to love math, getting endless hugs. But at the top of my "not-missed" list: Halloween. Here's why:

Witch

It's Pure Chaos

Even I can admit that Halloween parades are cute, but for a teacher, the effort put into making these parades a success is enough to make heads explode. At my school we had three rules for costumes: no masks, no fake blood, no weapons. I can't tell you how many times I've argued with a five-year-old about whether or not lightsabers are weapons. No matter how much I went over the rules, someone would inevitably come to school with a mask or sword. Nothing sets a positive tone for Halloween like confiscating a part of a child's much-loved costume.

We also had a rule about changing out of costumes after the parade so that pristine ghost costumes wouldn't turn brown before Halloween night, but you can imagine the insanity of a classroom of students simultaneously changing into street clothes. When I taught K/1, this meant 22 witches hats, fairy wings, and cattails flying around my classroom. Two identical Cat in the Hat costumes? I could guarantee at least one fight about whose gigantic hat was whose. Missing bunny ears? Automatic tears. Trampled Harry Potter wand? Bring on the tantrums.

Teachers Need to Dress Up... No Excuses

I'm not a fan of dressing up. I can appreciate a fun costume, as long as I don't have to be the one to think it up and put it together. Even more, I hate walking around in crazy makeup and ridiculous outfits, unable to go out in public after school without changing my clothes. Just because I prefer to spend my days singing silly songs and reading magical stories to little kids doesn't mean I like dressing up in wacky outfits. I don't think lawyers and doctors are showing up to their jobs in full costumes on Halloween, but for teachers dressing up isn't an option. If I didn't come to school in an elaborate get-up, I'd have some very disappointed little humans on my hands.

Halloween Makes Me Take Candy Away From Children

As if the actual insanity of Halloween at school isn't enough, the craziness continues the day after. The costumes are gone, but now overtired kids run around on sugar highs trying to sneak even more candy into their mouths. Though my school had a clear "no candy" policy, without fail some kids would be sent to school with leftover Halloween candy in their lunches. And when I would take the candy away... major meltdown tears, the kind that only come when kids are already exhausted. Lovely.

I hope you're not as bah humbug about Halloween as I am, that you're the type of teacher who enjoys glue gunning impressive costumes and getting theatrical. If not, just throw on a witch's hat and do what you can. I'll be thinking about you. Whether you enjoy the fright or not, hope you have a happy (or at least not horrible) Halloween!

For a different perspective, Gretchen Vierstra absolutely loves Halloween. Her blog has great ideas for a learning filled Halloween.

Lily Jones taught K/1 for seven years in Northern California. She has experience as a curriculum developer, instructional coach, teacher trainer, and is also a contributing writer for Teaching Channel.

Credit: Illustration by Bill Robinson

14 Comments
I'm not a big fan of dressing up either, but that's not the big problem I have with celebrating Halloween in school. Aside from the classroom management issues you cite, a variety of families observe religions that have Halloween issues. From fundamentalist Christians to Jehovah's Witnesses to Wiccans/pagans (for whom it's a major spiritual event they don't like to see trivialized), the possibility for stepping on someone's spiritual toes is just too great. We've been getting around the Christmas/Hannukah issue by just celebrating winter/snow/sleighbells for some years now, and I think that works pretty well. Probably we should just fold Halloween and Thanksgiving into a generic Fall day - pumpkins and pretty leaves and harvest - and call it good.
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I have been a classroom teacher since 1975 - that's more Halloween's than I'd like to count! (Mostly in grades 4 and 5) I don't like dressing up either, but I love to see the children in their costumes. I have had all the drama that you describe, and more -- trying to come up with costumes for kids whose parents counldn't afford them -- face paint, extra jeans, etc. that the nurse has in reserve. There is utter delight and joy as a child transforms into another character. I have seen many emotionally disturbed students smile for the first time as they model their costume. (forget the myth about teachers not smiling; as every teacher knows, we need to smile every day for our students). I admit, I am exhausted after the last child dismisses on Halloween. However in this age of standardized tests, an afternoon of childhood fun is priceless. Kathy L.
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I taught for 19 years in a district that did not "ban" Halloween. 3 years ago, I took a 1st grade position at an American International School in Cairo, yes that Cairo. A teacher friend and I were discussing the fact that there would be no Halloween and I went Yay!!! Uh, no! There is Halloween in Cairo and it is "celebrated" at my school along with Santa and Valentine's Day. I just grin and bear it and roll with it and try to toss a few academics in the day. The one good thing, there is no trick or treating to deal with so no candy confiscation.
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Let the Halloween celebrations begin! I taught elementary for 15 years in public schools the U.S., and was always disappointed when what should have been one of the most colorful and exciting holiday celebrations at school was impacted by fringe religious groups (always with incorrect and silly reasons, like "It's the devil's birthday!"). I have amazing Halloween memories from my years in school, including winning the school costume contest dressed as a can of Campbell's soup--thanks to my dad's amazing spray painting skills. Kids today deserve to participate in this traditional American holiday. I now teach at the American International School of Bamako in Mali, West Africa where Halloween is a big deal, with a full-on Saturday carnival, trick-or-treating, games, haunted house, and mad scientists''s lab. During the week I teach Halloween history (it goes waaaay back), have the students write scary stories and poems, teach them the Time Warp dance from Rocky Horror Picture Show, and have them analyze clips from famous, classic horror movies of the 1930s - 1950s to determine plot elements. (If you want more details I write a humorous blog about living and teaching in Mali at www.2seetheglobe.com). My students talk about this week for the rest of the year. If I dreaded coming up with a creative costume or dealing with all the chaos surrounding holiday celebrations, I would have definitely stayed far, far away from elementary teaching!
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You are a Grinch! Try thinking less about how YOU feel and more about the kids. It is not all about you!
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