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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?

Comments (192)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Genilla Windham's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you, for the suggestions. This was my first year teaching and I did not know what to do after MCT2. These are some wonderful ideas that I plan on using in my classroom. Once again, Thank you!

Karen 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This was very informative and helpful. I never thought some students would have anxiety because they are losing their daily routine and friends. I will be a little more sensitive to the closing of the school year. Thank you for your insight.

Nicole 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for all the advice. I am a first year teacher and this will help keep me motivated. I did a big review game today with my class where throughout the year I added random questions on sticks and put it in a tin and we played a big game like family feud. I have second graders and my kids loved it. We also made a memory book to help wrap up the school year.

Kristen Colasanto's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for sharing your helpful tips for the end of the school year. I agree with the need to maintain routines and make time to reflect. I am making a strong effort to consistently enforce class rules the same way I have throughout the year or perhaps slightly more harshly. I find that the students typically tend to behave more casually toward the end of the year as we are taking the students outside on a more regular basis during physical education class. I have to uphold the same expectations for rules, behavior, and safety to ensure a safe learning environment for all. In terms of reflection, I think I often do take the time to think about my own teaching experiences, but I would like to provide that same opportunity for reflection for my students. I do make a point of asking my students to reflect on their field day experiences following the event in order to get their opinions about it. I think it would also be beneficial to get the students' feedback on their overall physical education experiences throughout the year. This could be done through a cooperative activity we play where the students move around and form groups based on similar responses with classmates.
Kristen Colasanto
K-5 Physical Education
Connecticut

Jill Klimaski's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for these very helpful insights! I was just feeling very unmotivated today, my last Monday of the school year, when I read your blog. I have been teaching for a few years and I have not really thought of the negative parts of summer. For me, I feel like the beginning of summer is fabulous, but it does get old. I do look forward to the beginning of the school year. It's easy during this time of year to forget what is most important: the kids!

Jill Klimaski's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I also am feeling tired and burnt out (and maybe a little slap happy:). I know it has been a successful year, but I have to remember what is most imporant, the kids! I also found myself doing different activities and experiments with the kids. I know we are all looking to the summer, but I liked the tips about having a ceremony of sorts to recognize the kids. I love to do awards on the last day of school. I remember getting those awards in grade school and cherishing them. It is something that I do every year!

Angela H's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would like to Thank you for the great advice for the ending of the school year. My school has 4 1/2 days left and the kids are absolutely crazy. I have really been trying to figure out what to do with them with so many other school activities going on at the same time. A lot of my colleagues result to watching movies by this time, but I myself cannot do that. I have started a read aloud with them just to get another book in, and hope I finish it. I did not think about them reflecting on the school year, and I think as 6th graders at a new middle school that would be good for them. Thanks so much for all the great ideas.

Mark Schmoll's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I also change things I do in my high school Biology classes for the last month of school. The kids spend about 2 weeks doing labs and research on the human body. During this time they create powerpoint presentations and present them to the class during the third week. The last week we dissect fetal pigs to review what we have learned about the human body.

Sara French's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree about doing projects! I teach first grade and all my students want to do is do "projects" now about animals, space, plants, countries... it's so amazing, I can just stand back and watch!

Kelly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Shaina, I love your idea of the ABC book. I have a memory book that I copy and my second graders fill in the different pages...favorites, friends, school stories, etc. I think with the ABC book they can be so much more imaginative and creative. I hate to say it, but today I REALLY needed to get started on report cards so I put in a movie for the students. They were actually pretty upset with me, so tomorrow I'll stick to my Investigations math lesson and throw in the ABC book between field day activities. Thanks again!

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