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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

Kim Fritzius's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed the thoughts on the last few weeks of school. I recall in my past years trying to stick to the curriculum and the paper work. What I noticed about these years is that the behavior issues also increased in my classroom. As i approach the last two weeks of this school year I am going to use some of your ideas and work on "special" projects that I have wanted to do all year long. I am hoping to see an improvement in behavior and interest.

I have realized that just as burnt out as i am, I am sure that the students feel just the same. The sun is shining and we are ALL ready to relax!

Trina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am beginning to think that the last two weeks of school might be well spent by enjoying connectivity activities with students who will be in our classes in the fall. I wouldn't want this to override celebrations with current students, but it does seem like some time spent this way could give a nice jump start to learning for next year.

Nicole's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed reading your blog. I know I am not the only teacher burnt out at the end of the year, but it is still nice to hear about others experiences as well.

Also, thank you for the ideas where students reflect on the things they have done this year. It would be very interesting for me to see what their thoughts are on how they did throughout the year.

I was going to (and still will) have the students fill out a "report card" on me as the end of the year approaches. Now I think they will have also have their own "report card" to complete. I might even have them write a letter to the seventh graders.

Thank you.

Lauren S's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

That is a really great idea. I feel if the students that you have next year have a chance to formally meet you and see the classroom, then some of the anxiety that occurs those first few weeks won't be as bad.

Karim 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I hadn't thought about the end of the year like this before, you present some wonderful points. Just today I was saying to a colleague how I was going to try and keep the routines, keep things going as they have been all year. But after reading this, I am thinking that although my structure needs to remain the same, I need to come up with some new ideas and activities to make it through the next two weeks.
Thanks!

Karim 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you.

Amy Jones's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Great suggestions! As a kindergarten teacher it seems the days get longer and longer. I find myself getting wrapped up in all of the end of the year assessments, report cards, cumulative folders. You find yourself getting more and more stressed. So, today we took out the parachute and had fun with music and movement. It was a blast for them and they couldn't stop talking about it all day!

J.P. 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you so much for the helpful tips. I am currenly a permanent substitute and I get to see a lot of different classrooms and grade levels, and I have seen first hand how difficult it can be to navigate the last few weeks of school. And, even more so at the elementary level because in my district, as in many others in my area (Long Island, N.Y.), the last week and a half are usually half days. This makes it extremely difficult to "get into" anything substantial. Usually, we have class parties or watch educational videos. However, I think culminating, reflective projects of a creative nature could be an excellent way to combat this. I am definitely going to give this a try next year.

susieshockley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

That is an awesome idea! It would work well for teachers and students.Think of the anxiety that could be allievitated if the children knew WHO their teacher was going to be, what she was like. It works for the teacher too...they get to meet future students without the pressure they might be feeling when returnin to school. As a teacher, I would have loved knowing who was going to be in my class before the 15th of August. I could've designed my curriculum and extension activties all summer long. As a parent, oh the relief my kids felt last summer when they did learn who their teacher was going to be in June. They transitioned back to school with much more ease than ever before. If only they had spent an afternoon with her...it could have been even better. Go for it teachers, find out who next year's students will be and send them home for the summer with warm wishes.

Tammy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree the last week is very difficult. Even though you think you are prepared you are not. The kids are wound up and are already on vacation and you have to try to keep them engaged. I teach middle school and we have to turn in books and other materials a week before the end of school. The kids come in and even though they were good kids that listened and behaved all year it seems that the last week all of that is gone.

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