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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

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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Kathleen Lind's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi I'm a Walden student who is trying not to give in to the end of the year pressure with my own classroom.
We had a new principal this year and so all the old routines to help teachers through the end of the year was gone. Routines of having check lists to check out for the summer or having reading scores in to reading specialist or return teacher book to the library. The common sense things that when you take a step back and look at the chaos, it is "a flashing neon sign" obvious, but when you are in the thick of it you can't see. That is how I feel about this "staying charged" blog. You are working hard to get everything finished and don't understand why the kids are bouncing out of their chairs.

LeAnne Heintz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow! I can relate to so much of this end of the year "phenomenon". I m a first year teacher for BOCES in New York. I teach a 12:1:1 mixed-ability class of second-fifth graders. I am looking back on the year and reflecting about what I can differently and better next year. I am so excited for September to begin. I am also looking forward to summer. It was exhausting this year. I worked very hard and was dedicated. There were days that I would fall asleep right when I got home from school and sleep til the next morning. I have since adjusted and look forward to a new year and more experience to gain.

Marie Olsen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Marie Olsen and I teach 8th grade science at Lincoln Park Middle School in Lincoln Park, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. I have been feeling the burnt out frustrations of the end of year and so, I have visited this blog several times in the last 2 weeks to continue to get insight and refreshers on what to do in the last few days of school. I have enjoyed reading all the helpful hints from actual teachers in real classrooms! I will finish my eleventh year of teaching in 4 1/2 days! Some tidbits I use, and find fit right into the original post from Elena, are to keep them interested in working right through the end.
This year I will finish the year with a compilation unit. Teaching earth science, I have covered the complete spectrum of water, rocks, cycles, & climate. I am now using the final week to wind-up and wind-down the entire year. Without my students' knowledge, I have been leading them to research questions that will be answered using a famous movie, complete with THEIR question guides. Since it is a work of science fiction, I was able to tie into their literature classes and use this as a springboard.
I would like to offer a couple pieces of "advice," if you will:
First, if you work within a team or cluster as I do, make sure ALL of the team teachers are on the same page when offering final grading days to students. Two of my teammates have stopped grading, a week earlier than myself, and told the students they had finished with work. Perhaps mentioning "done in only this class" could have been better. It is a choice when to finish grading for the year. I choose to go the whole time, leaving the last partial school day to unwind from the experience and reflect as a group.
Secondly, if you have a tough day or cannot seem to keep it together from your own burnout, remember they feel the same way. We, however, as the teacher, must remain in the game until the end; there is no relief pitcher to finish a school year. If you find you can only survive by showing a movie, at least make it relevant to their learning experience and have them give a reflection based on the movie itself. It is easy to pop in a Pixar flick and let it run, but to have them utilize the information, process it back to their lives, and apply it to topic can keep them focused, rather than behaving poorly.
Finally, it is almost over. Let us remember we are still the leaders and role models for these kids! Keep your head up and they will try to keep theirs up as well!
Happy June, all!!

Elena's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you so much for contributing this advice! It sounds like you have a tremendous amount of energy left for the end of the year -- I love the earth science connection with science fiction. Congratulations also on ELEVEN years! Enjoy the summer,

Lisa Williams's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Today was my last day of school. I can finally say "aaahhhhh". Looking back, I realize what a maniac I have been this past week. We had our end-of-the-year party, awards day, and Field day on the SAME DAY. We had no planning period the last week of school because Specials teachers were helping with field day, and we had to eat with the students during lunch - so no breaks. Add to that all of the "checklist" paperwork we had to do, and no wonder I was so stressed! You would think after 11 years of teaching the end-of-the-year would get easier, but it hasn't. Thank you for the tips about dealing with the burn out. It's too late for this year, but I will try to remember these next year. :)

Melissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Happy June to you as well. We have a tradition at the technical school I teach at in Long Island, New York. The very last day of school we sing our own version of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" as we wave good bye to the students on the departing buses. Many of the students are 2 year students and it leaves them with a good memory of school. I'm guessing it helps them keep an optimistic attitude. Love your strategies. I hope to have that much experience some day.

Melissa Moreno
22 years old
Eastern Suffolk BOCES- Milliken Technical Center
Student at
Stony Brook University

Melissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello! My name is Melissa Moreno. I'm doing my 2nd year at Milliken Technical Center in Oakdale. It's nice to find a colleague on here. Have a great Summer.

chi hair straightener's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I always enjoy your insight on the subjects you discuss. It is much appreciated! I hope you are moving to a place with a little more sunshine!

Tricia Davis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my first blogging experience! It was a requirement for my distance masters program. I loved reading about the "special days." I currently teach 2nd grade and they would really "eat this up!" Thanks so much for sharing. The last few weeks are crazy and I feel like a crazed woman running here, there and everywhere. It sure would be great to put these days out there, set limits, model to, and guide the kids and let them take the reigns! How fun also, to have them recognize and reflect on their year's growth.

Tara Rushmeyer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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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