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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

Megan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Reading the tips for staying charged for school was excellent! As a first year teacher I am having a difficult time trying to get the students to stay focused and motivated to do work. They are all ready for summer. However, I did start tip number one, which is starting a project. The students absolulty love it and I have seen huge creativity from them. I do want to try to reflect more on what they have learned by talking with them about the knowledge that they have gained, and how they have changed this year.Thirdly, celebrating the students achievment is a great way to end the year! By recognizing each student and their accomplishements is a big motivation and self esteem booster! My team and I are planning on throwing one the last week of school.

I teach in a rural area so I am aware that some of the students are not looking forward to summer. For the last few weeks of school I plan on implementing your tips of making sure the students are enjoying themselves and rallying my strength to be a supporter. Thank you for your wonderful tips!

Megan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed reading tips on how to stay motivated for the last few weeks of school. I am seeing how tired and burnt out my students are after an entire year of Fifth grade. I believe tip number one, on starting a project is a great way to end a successful school year. I have recently started one last week and have seen great creativity with my students and their projects. Also, I want to discuss with my students the knowledge they gained during the school year, and how they have changed. Thirdly, I think an awards ceremony is a great way to recognize each students amazing accomplishments. My team and I are giving one the last week of school.

Working in a rural district I see many students that are not looking forward to summer. I am going to take the advice and make sure that my students are enjoying themselves as much as they can in the last few weeks, as well as let them know I am there for support if needed. Thanks for the great tips!

Robbie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading the tips as well. I really find that during the last few weeks it is most helpful to keep your routine. I teach kindergarten and we all know how 5 & 6 year olds can be when it gets close to summertime. I do groups everyday no matter what and I continued this up until the last day of school. I planned fun activities and we went outside and had class alot. I try to have lots fun activities with the kids because, I know they are just as tired as I am. I also like to plan fun events for them. I often do this as a grade level. We had a luau with a cookout this year, popcorn and movie day, outside fun and games, etc. Keeping them busy is important.

Angela's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed reading your tips. I teach elmentary school and I find sticking to the routine and planning alot of movement activities really helps alot.
I'm definitely going to use the scrapbook idea, next year!
Thanks.

Jennifer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with all of you tips! The biggest one that is a HUGE "no-no" for me is showing movies every day for the last few weeks of school! I teach in a grade that is departmentalized and one of my coworkers has done just that for the past three weeks! We have the same students, but somehow they end up going crazy when they are in her class. Maybe they're tired of movies!?

I took the past few weeks to teach PowerPoint lessons and had the students create and present PowerPoint topics for skills that they will need next year in 7th grade.

Tomorrow is our last day of school and I'm so ready for the break! :)

Lauren S's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really like the tips for the last weeks of school. I have already started to focus more on Social Studies and Science, where they have a more hands on approach. They are able to work in collaborative groups and not have to remain in their seats for the whole day.

Eileen Tresansky's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Just like you, I keep the structure in my classroom. We continue to read aloud each day from our class book. We continue to practice keyboarding each day. Working with students who have learning disabilities, I cannot give free time without direction. We always spend the last few days of school reviewing if they reached the goals they set for themselves. My students help select papers for their portfolios to pass on to next year's teacher. Then after we finish, we enjoy down time together and watch a movie or have a picnic lunch celebrating our successes. Does anyone have any other suggestions for fun activities?

Diana's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree with you on not showing a movie during those last three weeks! I had my students reading the novel "Julie of the Wolves" and making a timeline of events in pictures and several sentences. They really enjoyed the artwork and told me they were "tired of watching movies in all their classes."

Camille Wright's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading your tips for survival. It is refreshing to see that there are other teachers that still need a little boost to get through the year. My curriculum is so structured that it is hard for me to add any extra elements into the last few weeks.

Bryan Bullock's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading the tips. I am going to try the reflection piece with my students. I was thinking that I would have them write a letter to a 4th grader about what it was like to be in 5th grade.

Its never to early to start getting ideas organized for next year!

Bryan

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