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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

Lucy Malm(Bradley)'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You're lucky it's two days, we DO have 2 weeks. I teach an alternative program and this time of year it's hard to get kids to even show up. These are high school students, the seniors have already graduated and are gone, so we do a final project where the tables are turned. The students are responsible to teach me and their classmates something. It can be anything of their choice as long as it's legal for their age and school appropriate. They need to break it down into steps and present in a poster, powerpoint and handout. I seen sandwiches made, shoes tied (low achiever), yoga poses, and skateboards assembled. What ever they want. We also use this time to raise grades and do makeup work when nothing additional is being assigned. But even at this age it's good to have some cake and milk time.

Hillary's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think the tips in this article were great. I am finishing up my first year of teaching and I feel like I don't know what to do with the kids all day. I have taught through the curriculum and it seems no matter what I do for lessons I can't keep the class focused. Hopefully some of these tips will help.

Kara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think we can all agree that the end of the year can be very tiring. We have completed all of our favorite lessons and projects and need something to fill the extra time. My colleagues and I have a "First Grade Memories" booklet for the students to fill out. They can write about their favorite and not so favorite parts of first grade. There is a place for pictures, teachers names and friends autographs. This gives everyone a chance to reflect on the year and talk about what they expect in second grade.

Kristi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This article is inspiring and gave me that motivation and strength to continue for these last few weeks. I agree that it is not only the students who want summer, but the teachers are "burned out" as well. I appreciate the suggestion about trying something new that I haven't done yet this year, but wanted to. I was going to do the usual end of the novel review with a circled group discussion, but this article made me think about doing something more creative and using the magazines, markers, construction paper, etc. to do so. I also liked the reminder for teachers to take the time to reflect. A lot of times, we see the light at the end of the tunnel and just want to make it through, but it is important that we take the time to reflect on our year while it is fresh in our minds, and think about what we will do differently next year. This article was inspiring and just enough to get me through these next few weeks!

John Kuszynski's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Usually at this time of year I am working on thank you books created by the students for their teachers. I have them think about something memorable that they learned or a fun activity their teacher came up with this year. It gives us all a chance to reflect on what we've accomplished. Instead this year I'm recovering from an accident in February and missing all that end of the year buzz. I did visit the school today to see a musical performance as I didn't have rehab therapy . It was nice to see everyone doing those end of the year projects and it made me want September to get here soon, because that's when I get back to my computer lab.

John Kuszynski
Primary Computer Lab
Falconer School
Chicago, IL

John Kuszynski's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Usually at this time of year I am working on thank you books created by the students for their teachers. I have them think about something memorable that they learned or a fun activity their teacher came up with this year. It gives us all a chance to reflect on what we've accomplished. Instead this year I'm recovering from an accident in February and missing all that end of the year buzz. I did visit the school today to see a musical performance as I didn't have rehab therapy . It was nice to see everyone doing those end of the year projects and it made me want September to get here soon, because that's when I get back to my computer lab.

John Kuszynski
Primary Computer Lab
Falconer School
Chicago, IL

Veronica's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am in complete concurrence with this article. In the school where I am employed, this year, I served in the administrative capacity and I taught. This was my first year being an administrator, and I noticed that the teachers were more anxious than the students. They made decisions in haste, and some erroneously took on the role of baby-sitter. Ultimately, some students were sent to the office for minor infractions, such as, throwing paper on the floor. I will definitely pass on this blog. It was beneficial to me, and I am sure it will benefit my colleagues.

Kim's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree about how hard it is to stay energized these last few weeks. This time can be such a mix of emotions. One day you are excited about all that you have accomplished and the next day you are lamenting what you could have done better with this student or that student. It is truly a roller coaster. I love the idea of taking time to reflect. So many of us get caught up in our "end of the year" to-do lists that we don't take time to reflect on what went well, what we want to accomplish next and what we can improve upon. It is valuable to take this time to celebrate and reflect. It is helpful to us and our students.

Dawn Dupree's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am sorry that you still have two weeks. Hang in there. I like your idea of going more presentation type projects in the end. I like reading a play towards the end, but I would like to make projects the very end because then they will be forced to get up and move around. I like your ideas. Thanks.

K's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks to all for sharing great ideas! I teach 6th grade on a team of 3 other teachers. We all work together that last week to make sure that it goes smoothly. We keep the kids busy, busy, busy with no down time for monkey business. In addition to the "normal" school work, we also did some fun things. One day we had a kick ball tournament/popsicles with the four classes. One day we watched the movie "Zachary Beaver Came to Town." (The students read this book the last three weeks of school.) We also had a yearbook signing/locker clean out afternoon.

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