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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

Joy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We launched rockets yesterday, today we did Steve Spangler's Sharpie tie-dye tshirts (showing how molecules travel through a liquid), tomorrow we practice dancing, playing recorders, and a dramatic interpretation of the Lost Colony. All of this while we take our end of grade tests. The next week and a half will be filled with similar activities. Never a dull moment in my classroom. As I overheard a student tell his mom last year, "They don't call her 'Ms. Joy' for nothing!"

Lolita's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There was some good insight in this post. I never thought about students misbehaving at the end of the school year, because they are going to miss their routines and get bored. I will remember that in future end of the year routines. I only have six days of school left, and I actually get recharged at the end of the year. It is a time when I feel that I can be free because we have "finished" the district required materials and I can let my creative juices flow. I get so excited about creating fun themed units to review a lot of the skills we learned this year. Each year I try to create a new unit to do for each week that we have at the end of the year. Luckily, I have a great colleauge and we work so well together, that we come up with some pretty fantastic and fun units. This helps keep the students interested and wanting to come to school and finish their year. It also is a good memory for them to walk away with. Next year I will try to add to what I have allready completed and try to improve on it to make the units even more fun. I know that if I look forward to it, most likely my first graders will look forward to it!

Lolita's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Sorry i forgot to include my all the information that was requested above. My name is Lolita Costa and I teach in central california at Heritage Elementary. I teach first grade and the city I teach in is Tulare, California.

Elena's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Lolita,
Thanks so much for sharing your end-of-year activities! I'm so glad you mentioned wanting kids to walk away with good memories - that is so important! It's also so important for us as teachers to walk away feeling accomplished, feeling like we got to have some fun at the end, just feeling positive. So glad you're ending they year charged up. Enjoy the summer!
Elena

Elena's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a wonderful classroom you have! I'm curious where you teach and what grade? And what the rest of your year looks like? Thanks for sharing - this is so inspiring.

Elena

Elena's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks, Adam, for sharing your observations and insights. You're right I think, that at the end of the year our own exhaustion blinds us from what we notice and know at other times in the year. And yes - it's always on the last day (or even the day after school ends) that even the most challenging kids don't want to leave. Happy summer to you!
ELena

Elena's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Deondra,
Thank you for sharing all these inspiring ideas! It's so wonderful to hear that you're so full of energy at the end of the year- I love to idea of the book that your students are making and am moved that you're publishing it for them. And yes, in the end maintaining our own sanity is not to be undervalued!
Elena

Neclisha Davis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This was so insightful. I am actually participating in my first blogging activity, an assignment from my Masters program with Walden University and I really appreciated the comments and ideas that were shared. I teach high school and it is just as important to have the kids engaged since they too are looking forward to the summer.

Marti Schwartz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Great article, Elena!
One way I always kept my third graders focused (schools in RI don't get out till mid to late June) was to countdown...to Special Days. The last 5 days of school were "special" , and we worked pretty much as usual up until then (with some major projects), all the while planning for the days. With suggestions from prior years, kids would brainstorm what these days might look like, and we would vote, prioritize, and select 5 special days. So one year we had "Ice Cream Day", "Stuffed Animal Day", "Outside Day", "Kids as Teachers Day", etc. And we....read about ice cream, wrote about ice cream, solved recipe related math problems and, of course, made some (by rolling a coffee can back and forth, loaded with rock salt). On Stuffed Animal Day the kids read stories about stuffed animals (Velveteen Rabbit, etc.), wrote descriptive essays, personal narratives, or fantasies about their animal friends, measured and categorized them in many ways. All of which allowed them to have fun and demonstrate the skills they have been growing all year!
And then there's reflection: I used to....but now... OR What I Learned... and What I still Need to Learn.... OR How I've grown as a reader, writer, mathematician, and friend...any of these work well to help kids think back and measure their own growth.
and for teachers...don't forget to BREATHE!!!!

Greer Maher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The end of the year (after testing is over) is a time to review and give kids what they really need and not just for "the test".

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