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How to Stay Charged During the Final Weeks of School

| Elena Aguilar

The Big Test is over. The long weekend is over. You're way beyond burned out and thinking mostly about summer. You can't figure out how you're going to get through the next few weeks, or how you could keep doing this year after year.

You're probably also on a bit of an emotional roller coaster, an end-of-the-year teacher phenomenon. One minute, you connect with a kid, notice her progress, and feel proud of what you know you've accomplished. And then the student who drove you crazy all year pushes a button you didn't even know you had and you say to yourself something terrible about him, something no "good teacher" should ever say. And then Juanita's mother comes to pick her up and she takes your hands and thanks you for helping her daughter learn to read.

So, you'll come back next year, and you already have ideas of what you will do differently. And, if you're a first-year teacher, you've heard that year two is "so much easier." But the classroom is a mess, your desk has disappeared under piles of papers you'll never get to, and the kids will be back at 8:30 a.m. on Monday.

Here are some tips to help you survive these final weeks:

  • Get into a project you've wanted to do all year. Gently put aside pacing guides and textbooks, and take out the art supplies, construction materials, music, food, and novels. Do something hands on, project based, and fun. They'll get into anything you're passionate about. You'll have the energy to get through the days.
  • But don't abandon all the routines and structures you've used all year. Kids of all ages need those routines to continue. If you start showing movies all day, every day, or have a whole lot of parties, kids are likely to get a little wacky.
  • Give kids time and tools to reflect on their school year. They can write, make scrapbooks, record a video piece, or create drawings. Prompt them to think about what they learned, how they learned, what was challenging, how they dealt with those challenges, what they feel proud of, how they changed, what advice they have for kids entering that grade next year, and so on. You'll need to provide a lot of scaffolding for this activity, model the process, and have them share their pieces as they develop them.
  • Give yourself time to reflect. Read all their reflections, and talk to the kids about what they've learned and how they have changed. Answer the same questions you ask kids to reflect on. It's critical that you see how you changed, where you have grown, and what you learned. You did grow -- and you learned a whole lot. The biggest mistake we make is not taking the time to recognize and acknowledge that.
  • Celebrate with your students and their parents, with your colleagues, and with your loved ones. With students, you can have a kind of awards ceremony where every kid is honored for something positive. This approach provides an opportunity for kids to recognize each other and themselves. You need to help them wrap up their year, giving them closure and a sense of accomplishment.

Accepting the Situation

For many kids, summer is not a good time. It's a time when their structures and routines fall apart, the most predicable people in their lives -- their teachers and classmates -- are absent, and the boredom can be numbing. Most of the students I've taught, between second grade and eighth grades, confess that they don't really like summer.

Sure, they like being able to wake up late and watch TV all day, but that gets old after a while. For some students, summer can be even be a time of fear, hunger, and loneliness. For middle school students, it can be an unsupervised time when their growing bodies get into trouble.

And so, in the classroom, you might see the more challenging students get even more challenging. They regress and become more needy and clingy, or obnoxious, which leads you to putting up more boundaries, often making them even more challenging.

Rally your strength. Access all your empathetic powers. Sleep extra hours. Get exercise. They really need you now, so try to enjoy the time with them and have fun; the year will end.

I'll go into more detail on these tips in an upcoming post. But in the meantime, what are your plans for the next few weeks? What might you like to try, or do differently?

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Comments (197)

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Special Education Teacher

BD Teacher

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Thanks, a mini-scrap book is a project I just found to do with my BD students the last 2 weeks of school. We can do part or all, each student can personalize it and I will present it to them at our awards ceremony the day before school lets out. I have already finished most graded areas and have 2 tests to finish this week then grades. This activity will be fun adn less stress.

CO

It is so easy to give in to

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It is so easy to give in to the fatigue that comes with the end of the school year. But this is the time to push forward, finish well and finish strong. It's the attitude I try to give my students, and that's not easy with middle schoolers! If you shut down, they shut down. Build momentum to the last day if you can. Have a goal in mind that everyone is working toward together.Co-construct the last weeks with your kids. Just promise not to just do "fluff" or show movies! www.vickicaruana.blogspot.com

Beth Hackenberg (not verified)

Sounds Right

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I am a first grade teacher and I could not agree with you more about you comments. The end of the year is so exhausting and it is hard to pull yourself together to make it enjoyable for your students. I like your ideas of getting out the art supplies or making a classroom scrapbook. It is something that gets the students involved and keeps them busy. We as teachers look forward to the summer, but we always know we will be back in the classroom in about a month to get ready for the next year.

Maria Kontogiannis (not verified)

Your comments are so true! By

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Your comments are so true! By the end of the year we are all itching to get out of school and we have a hard time trying to come up with productive ways to end the year. Throughout the year, we are so focused on finishing up our curriculum goals that there isn't always enough time for the fun activities. I am a Kindergarten teacher and I like your ideas about getting out the art supplies and having the children do some reflection writing about their school year. Thanks for your posting!

Kelly Heald (not verified)

I think that basically sums

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I think that basically sums it up. You need to keep it fun. Children want to do something fun and different than anything they have done before during the last weeks of school. Most importantly, you are right, they do still need you and many of the behaviors that we see are due to students not wanting school to be out. Great advice!

Jazmin (not verified)

It is nice to hear that many

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It is nice to hear that many teachers experience this anxious feeling of leaving the classroom and beginning summer. I am a preschool teacher at The Friendship School in Waterford, CT and I don't know what to do with my eighteen little ones after awhile. The advice was great! Just keep it fun, hands on, and remember that the children still need you!

Kara Leicht (not verified)

It takes a village

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It is great to see that so many teachers here agree that the end of the year is no time to relax. I just finished my first year teaching 8th grade health in downtown Las Vegas. I too work with a team and departments and it is so important that all teachers are on the same note when it comes to instruction till the end. My last week of school was not one of stress for me.I used it as a chance for me and my students to refelct on what they learned during the semester during hands on projects. For each unit they had learned, I gave students a project where they needed to work together in small groups and use their notebooks (they have written in all semester) as references to help with finishing the project at hand. This not only made reviewing the semester more interesting, most students had such a good time working on the projects they didn't realize they were really reviewing information they will be using for their final. So in the end, students reviewed their notebooks, had a review project to prove learning for each unit, and all did excellent on their finals. I know that it was easier to keep my students motivated bacause it was a school wide effort from all the teachers.

Walden Student
Las Vegas, NV

Allison (not verified)

Wow, this was so me!! I get

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Wow, this was so me!! I get to where I am so anxious for summer to start that I forget the kids still need me:{ I love the ideas for winding down the year with a project! I always have projects that I want to do, but time does not permit it during the year! We do the movie, movie, movie thing at the end of the year and I admit sometimes it makes the kids wacky!!! They really don't even care to watch them. They do a lot of that at home.
I also like the reflection for the students. They should reflect on their school year and even write to students that will begin that grade level next year to tell them what to expect. I think they would like that.
Two more days and summer school will be over. I would like to try one of these activities. I can tell already that some kids are apprehensive about starting summer. Some are getting clingy, or challenging! What great ideas you have!! Thanks!

Andrea (not verified)

Special days

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As a first time blogger I am impressed with how much info can be found just by hearing what other teachers are doing. I teach kindergarten and I know I could incorporate many special days into the end of my school year! Very cool. I hate popping movies in and this solves so many of the what to do on the last few days issue.
On the last day of school the teachers in my school put on a carnival for the students. We make our own games, we donate snacks and we rent a snow cone machine and giant inflatables for the kids to play. It is our reward to them for good behavior. It is lots of fun and makes the last day go quickly.

Tara Rushmeyer (not verified)

Social Studies

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I teach 7th grade social studies. I also teach in a "team" environment and I completely agree with your advice about having the same deadlines. You always here students talk about what other teachers are doing and expect you to follow along. Being on the same page is definitely a good step. I also agree with doing something meaningful up until the last day. The students need structure up until the last day or their behavior will suffer and cause problems.

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Elena Aguilar Transformational Leadership Coach from Oakland, California