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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

Ruth Manna's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

One thing I do with my second graders is put up a piece of chart paper that says "We will remember..." at the top. Students add memories to the list for two or three weeks. As we read over the list and discuss it, we laugh and appreciate all we have shared. Then I type up our list send a copy home with every child.

Sue B. 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mondays, after a vacation, any time the kids need to we play the 'highlight/lowlight' game. We learned it the first day of school. You simple ask "What was the highlight of...lowlight of...". Kids love to share.

We had Weekend Journals that we shared with parents about the high and low lights of our week. These past two weeks we've talked about how the game helps to draw out others and how our kids who are leaving for middle school might use it next year or this summer. This week we looked forward, "What do you think will be the highlight of...". That revealed a lot and we really bonded again as they were getting more and more antsy after Spring Break.

They added a "highlight of the year" as their last entry to the weekend journal.

Today, we wrote 'highlights' about one another. Everyone added something for each kid and tonight I've been typing them up so that each student can take home a page for themselves with the kind words of their classmates.

They surprised me. I hadn't included my name on that list and most everyone did. It was even affirming to me, too. What a nice unexpected surprise. This was the toughest class I've ever had and last month I couldn't wait for school to end. These past two weeks we all sort of meshed again as a family. I'm going to miss them a great deal after all. I'm glad we ended this way.

By the way, I totally stole all those ideas from all over the place over the years.

Katey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It was refreshing to read this article and be reminded that I am not the only teacher feeling this way at the end of the year. I have been overwhelmed by a mix of emotions. I love the idea of having the kids start a fun, hands-on project to get them up and moving. When April hits, my students want to be anywhere other than sitting in their desks.

Katey Klein
Walden University
1st Grade Teacher

Heather Tack's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you. The end of the year is so busy and tiring. I love your idea of having a memory book. This is great for the kids to have for years to come. My second graders are doing Reader's Theater. They are having so much for with it. They have been rehearsing for a couple of days and today they were able to start making props. I am looking forward to watching next week.

Lauren J's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have never participated in blogging before but I have learned a lot through reading several of the blogs you have posted. I am a first year teacher in Ohio and I am teaching kindergarten in a lower economic area. I have truly seen my fair share of challenges this past year! As the year is winding down I cannot believe how fast my first year has gone. At that same time, I feel myself getting more burned out each day, which I find sad since it is only my first year!

One of the biggest things I am taking away from this blog is to stick to your routines. I am learning this is a very difficult task the past few weeks. I didn't realize how often I have been veering from my normal classroom routines which maybe be causing the students to feel like they are in a less structured, routine environment. Also, I really enjoyed how this blog discusses how important it is to reflect upon the school year as well as providing time during class for the students to reflect upon their year. As a teacher reflection is something that happens on a daily basis: reflection of lesson plans, activities, behavior plans, etc.

I really think as teachers we need to take a step back when we have a very trying day and just remember what is truly important. In every job there will be rough days but what truly matters is how we handle these days. Always remember the saying; what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Many times when I have a tough day a simple smile from one of my little six year old students brightens my day up. We need to remember why we entered teaching in the first place and never forget it.

Lauren J's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have never participated in blogging before but I have learned a lot through reading several of the blogs you have posted. I am a first year teacher in Ohio and I am teaching kindergarten in a lower economic area. I have truly seen my fair share of challenges this past year! As the year is winding down I cannot believe how fast my first year has gone. At that same time, I feel myself getting more burned out each day, which I find sad since it is only my first year!

One of the biggest things I am taking away from this blog is to stick to your routines. I am learning this is a very difficult task the past few weeks. I didn't realize how often I have been veering from my normal classroom routines which maybe be causing the students to feel like they are in a less structured, routine environment. Also, I really enjoyed how this blog discusses how important it is to reflect upon the school year as well as providing time during class for the students to reflect upon their year. As a teacher reflection is something that happens on a daily basis: reflection of lesson plans, activities, behavior plans, etc.

I really think as teachers we need to take a step back when we have a very trying day and just remember what is truly important. In every job there will be rough days but what truly matters is how we handle these days. Always remember the saying; what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Many times when I have a tough day a simple smile from one of my little six year old students brightens my day up. We need to remember why we entered teaching in the first place and never forget it.

Denise's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is good to hear that I am doing some of the things that you suggested. I have kept the same routine but have plugged in many "fun" activities that are still educational. One lesson was for the students to water paint. This was a very calm activity and kept them very engaged. The next step was to write a story about their picture using the steps that we have learned through out the year for writing. Then they got to share their story.
I also agree with you that the students that are the most needy will become more needy as the school year comes to an end. It happens every year with at least one or two students. I truely feel that they are just so worried about summer and not having the structure and routine like they do in school.

Kelly Wiles's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I respect the idea of trying something new at the end of the school year. Like you said, it's not just the students who need a little excitement and motivation; it's the teachers as well. Allow me to share an experience I had that worked:
A few years ago, after my class and I had finished reading A River Runs Through It, I contacted one of our local assisted living homes for senior citizens. I made arrangements for my students, in groups of two, to interview local residents for a memoir unit. We were able to fundraise the cash for a couple of school buses to take my kids to the nursing home for an entire morning. The groups interviewed the residents, and we then spent a few days writing memoirs/biographies. I have never seen students so motivated to produce quality work because each student knew that a copy of his/her final product would be delivered to their interviewee. It was a fantastic, energizing, and extremely memorable way to end the year. I feel guilty this year because I ran out of time covering our required curriculum and I was unable to repeat the project. Hopefully I can find a way to frontload my curriculum during the first quarter of next year to get there again.
Thanks for the good post.

Kelly Wiles
Jr. English
Great Falls, Montana

Deondra's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am new to blogging. I just completed my first full year of teaching and I am enrolled at Walden U in their Masters program. I taught 3rd grade this yaer in Alpharetta,GA.

In Georgia 3rd grade is a criical testing year for high stakes testing. Students that do not pass the readign portion of hte CRCT do not graduate to the 4th grade. So... with the conclusion of CRCT testing i nthe spring the students are beyond done for the school year. However, there were 4 more weeks of school to complete. We had several unit test to complete. I tried to make things as exciting as possible. I began with having students make Lapbooks for their biography studies in Social Studies. This was a fun and entertaining activity for the students as well as a great way to allow students to show their individual talents with this activity. In grammar and math we played musical chairs, we played slap it with a review of the years spelling words, and in writing I had my students create a handbook/guide book for the next thrid grade class. Things that they thought would be helpful for them. We brainstormed different topics of discussion for cahpters in this book. Once we had a list we narrowed it down to 4-5 topics/chapters. The students then chose a chapter to write and illustrate one page for. I had one student create the front nad back cover, another student create the title page and table of contents, another student created an index and a glossary. The students had so much fun creating this book. I have sent it off to be published and when i returns I am sending a copy to all the students in my class. It is costing a small fortune, but nothing that a summer job won't pay for. I think they will be very surprised to get this book in the mail over the summer.

THese are just a few fun and educational activities to help keep the student's attention and to help keep my sanity as the school year came to a close.

Deondra Richey

Adam L's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I often think about and have noticed students' apprehension of winter break, but haven't thought about it as much before summer break. Maybe because I'm so burnt out at that point, but I think it is something important to be aware of when dealing with kids. I sometimes wonder why it is impossible to get many students to go home the last day, but will pay more attention this year. You are right, many students crave the discipline they receive at school and wish that had that kind of structure at home.

Also, thank you for the tips. All good advice.

Summer is right around the corner!

Adam

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