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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

Emily Crisp's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We just finished our last week of school and you have some great ideas. I agree that it is important to not abandon all routines. Our school has field day during the last week of school and I had more than one student ask me during the activities when we would be going back to our room. It just reminded me how much children really do appreciate schedules and routines. I also enjoy reflecting on the year with my students. We do second grade memory books. Students are able to write about their favorite things at this point in their lives and share their favorite memories. Thanks for all the ideas to help get through this difficult time of year!

Adam's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Reflection is great. It can be amazing to see the depth of the connections you've built over a semester.

Julie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I use June to do hands on activities and science experiments because it holds their attention better than anything. It is more work for me and very loud, but worth what they get out of these activities.

Emi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

These are great ideas. I especially like the writing activities that you have your students participate in at the end of the year. The main thing that seems to be on the students' minds are summer, summer, summer (I can't blame them)! So it seems that you took their interests to heart and planned writing activities around them which always seems to work best. Tomorrow is our last day of school and I think I may have the students write to students that I will have next year to help introduce them to my classroom. If we have time, I may also use your idea about writing why one student in the classroom should receive an award. This is great--especially for those students who do no receive any awards on award day. Thanks for sharing!

Amanda J's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really can relate to this right now because my head is spinning with all the changes taking place in my school and it was nice to read some encouragement. I needed it. It was also almost like reinforcement for me because I have been doing little projects here and there and have kept to the schedule as much as possible. I need the structure just as much as the students do! Teaching 5th grade can be tiring at this stage in the year for everyone.

Jane's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

During the last few days of school, I enjoy having the children participate in fun projects, hands on activities, and creative projects we don't have time for during the year. I also like to use this time for nature walks. The kids really enjoy getting out in the fresh air and it helps them calm down.

Jessie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I heard my guidance counselor say we had 87 student hours left of school this year. Talk about a count down, I hadn't even begun to figure out how many days we had left. I've chosen to take the remainder of the school year and complete a novel that I thought my middle school special ed. students would relate to, The Outsiders. There are so many tie-ins that can be done with this book, activities I wouldn't have been able to do before "testing" was completed.

Thanks for all of the great ideas and suggestions!

Kim Balko's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I, too, do science experiments. I teach 1st grade and we made sidewalk chalk and we revisited solids, liquids and gasses. We also voted and graphed our favorite things in science this year and then we did them again...like alka seltzer rockets. By questioning what they liked the most also gave me feedback for next year.

Shaina T.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really think these ideas about keeping keeps active and engaged this last week of school is great! This was my first year of teaching and my students were really checked out the last couple weeks, a lot of attitude and eye rolling. The last few days of school I had them make an "ABC" book all about themeselves and sixth grade, this was a really fun acitivity, and it is amazing some of the things the student learned about themselves thru doing a hands-on fun project like this.

Alison Boone's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree. Just as reflection is critical for teachers, it is equally as important for students. At the end of the year, I ask students to write to me about their favorite part of the year, their achievements as students and friends, what they would change, etc. In addition, they each take time to write appreciations to one another. I compile the appreciations for every child and combine it with their photographs. These serve as meaningful momentos of our school year together.

Alison Boone
Third Grade
Missoula, MT

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