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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

Kathy Smart-Mason's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach first grade and have found planning extra movement activities while keeping a structured routine has helped my class remain on task. As a school we hold our school carnival, funded by P.T.O., during the school day which allows all of our students participate and it is free. We ask for volunteers to help work the games and we also have a company bring in blow up obstacle courses for the students. Last week my class spent the day learning about ice cream so we made ice cream in a bag. We were able to talk about change and solids and liquids. It also allowed us to continue to write and do math while having fun. Thanks for the wonderful ideas for the end of the school year.

Jennifer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I see similar difficulties with that problem child pushing your button, followed by getting praise from another parent. Even down to Pre-Kindergarten, you will have struggles in education. Your tips are very helpful because it always relieves stress when you take your mind off the everyday things. Plus when the kids are having fun, they are often too busy to have behavior issues and/or push your buttons.

Kathy Smart-Mason's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for the great ideas for the end of the year. My first grade class made memory books which allowed them to reflect about the year. We also made ice cream in a bag which was a favorite. We were able to connect that activity to writing, reading, science, and math. Our school also holds a school carnival during school time. We are the only building in our district that does this but it has worked out great. Our P.T.O provides games, prizes and also inflatable for the students. Classes are assigned a time to play games, use the inflatable and have a special treat. It has allowed all of our students to participate and it funded by P.T.O therefore parents are not asked to spend any money.

Veronica's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you so much Elena and everyone who has commented. You have all provided me with so many ideas and most importantly you gave given me the motivation I need to get stronger instead of weaker in these next 20 something days.We have to keep in mind that the first and last impressions are always the most important in every situation. As teachers we tend to feel "done" by this time but we have to make the end of the curriculumn the time to REMEMBER! My favorite tip Elena provdided was the one about recognizing and acknowledging what we as teachers and students have learned + how we have grown throughout the year. Reflection is so key! If we reflect we will remember. In addition maybe we can have a community class reflection - for instance, the students can reflect on one another and notice changes from each other as well...Perhaps next year I will begin the year with reflections so that at the end of the year we can notice the difference in growth!

Amy S. Wells's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You are so right about what to do at the end of the year...I find myself torn between getting paperwok done and having fun with the children. It is good to give your class a little free time to play and write stories so you can get a few things done yourself. We try to support the children by doing "fun" units, like a camping unit or beach day. With those in mind, you can bring in a tent, talk about what fun activities to do while camping; make a pretend fire, sing camp songs, write a recipe for smores...endless ideas of fun for all. With our "beach day", all the kindergarten classes meet outdoors in shorts & sandals, water guns, sand gear, like buckets, shovels, and frisbees, and we are off. We play beach music, dance, rest on towels (usually not for long), take turns and play in the sand tub ( a large pool filled with sand that PTO has donated). We eat lunch oudoors on towels and if your are exceptionally motivated, cook hodogs on a grill. Also, PTO offers us ice cream at the end of one of our fun days.
Hopefully this helps and I will keep on reading more ideas from this great site. Thank you for your help.

Amy Wells
KIndergarten Teacher

Crystal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for the great tips! This was my first year teaching and the tips you gave about the final weeks of school were very helpful! Staying "charged" is extrememly important!!

Whitney's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Nicole,

This blog caught my attention because as the end of the year is winding down both my students and I are losing steam! I teach middle school and I have been trying to come up with different ideas for structured yet interesting activities for my students. I LOVE your idea of having students fill out a "report card" on your. I think that sometimes, especially with middle schoolers, they are your biggest critics! I am curious though, what types of questions do you put on it? Do you provide more of a rating system, or do you ask them to make comments, or both? I would love to hear more about your idea, I think my kid's would really enjoy giving me a "report card" and I would really value their feedback!

Thanks!
Whitney
Johnson City Middle School
Binghamton, NY

Shannon Hoover's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is so nice to know that I am not the only one thinking, "What am I going to do for the next week and a half!" My kids are definitely in shut-down mode and keeping them motivated and on-task is going to be quite the task! I do like the idea of having hands-on activities to do, and I also think it is important to give them time to reflect and "soak up" the year and really enjoy this time with their teacher and friends! Thanks so much for the great ideas!

Andrea 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the idea of spending some time with students who could be in my class next year. What a great way to get to know them before the first day of school! This sounds like a wonderful experience for everyone involved. Parents would be relieved and at ease knowing the teacher of their child for the next school year. Students would begin to feel comfortable and start to learn the expectations of their future teacher. Finally, as a teacher, getting to know some future students would help me to plan for them, as well as alleviate any worries I might have about the students for next year.
Has anyone had any experience with looping? I am a third grade teacher, and I have taught fourth grade for five years before switching to third grade this year. I have had a very difficult class this year, and have witnessed them grow and change so much both academically and socially. I would really like to have them again for fourth grade. Some of my colleagues are confused as to why I would want to continue with such a challenging class, but I feel I have already established such a rapport with them and their parents, and that it could be very beneficial to them to have me as their teacher for another year.

Nicole's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Whitney,

I agree with you that everyone is "losing steam" as the end of the year approaches. At the end of the year I believe it is important to come up with as many interesting activities as possible to students. To finish my genetics unit my students are going to build marshmallow organisms according to the genes they receive and make a DNA keychain. Both of these activities came from other teachers I love them.

As for my "report card", I generally ask questions that require comments. I ask them what their favorite unit was in the class and why. I ask for their favorite thing about the class and why. I ask for their least favorite things and why. I ask what they liked about me as a teacher and why. Also, what they did not like about me and why. I change my questions every year but I always ask them to explain why. To me, the evaluation means for if they can explain their reasoning for their answers. It also allows me to differentiate between the students who filled it out thoughtfully and those who just did it because I asked them to.

I hope this helps. If you would like more information, please ask. I have not yet written my questions for this year, but I will be happy to give you specific questions I ask after I write it.

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