How to Stay Charged During the Final Weeks of School | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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?

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Michelle M.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I could not agree more with this article. Surviving the final weeks of school is tough and it is so crucial for us as educators to be on our toes and give the kids that ecstatic energy that they thrive for during these last days of school. I carpool with a coworker of mine and there are days that we both say, "Is it over yet, I don't know if I can do one more week." The kids change their emotions and their behaviors right now that it is hard to keep up with them. I just finished my second year of teaching and I did couple of the tips suggested on how to survive the final weeks of school. During the last week I did get out of our regular routine and had the kids spend time reflecting on their school year. They wrote letters to incoming fourth graders about what to expect, how to be prepared for class, and what to look forward to. When they were done writing them, I split my class up into three groups and each group went and read their letters to a third grade class. I could not have been more proud of them. They were so excited that younger kids were asking them questions and trusted their advice. I also had the kids write a letter to me about what they liked about fourth grade and what they would change. This gave me recommendations on what I could change for the upcoming year. I rarely get out my art supplies especially during the final weeks of school, but I liked the suggestion of having the kids do a project. This would give them something to look forward to and maybe even add onto over summer vacation. Great Tips!

Shana Gunn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The last day of school is rapidly approaching and I found this blog to be quite interesting. I like the idea of having my students reflect on what they learned this year and I will incorporate some of the ideas I read into my classrooms. As a first year teacher I must say that this time of the school year is actually the most hectic part of the school year. I will keep in mind some of the great ideas from this blog for next year.

Gayle Fuller's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I appreciate the tips that Elena provided in the article. I just finished up my first year of teaching and I must say that the last week of school was crazy. I knew the kids were tired of school and anxious to get out. Part of the day we spent practicing for our 6th grade graduation. When we finished practicing every day the kids were all worked up and just wanted to be loose. I did give them some work to do to keep them busy and calm, but that did not last. Next year I will try to apply some of the tips that were shared and hopefully it won't be as stressful as it was this year.

Shawna Moore 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Okay I tried responding once already...but I'm new to this and i don't see my I'll try again. It was nice to see that i am not the only one out there collecting ideas for when the day comes that I have my own classroom. I loved this article and all the ideas of staying fresh and supportive for the students. I can remember being on of those students who actually liked school and new that the coming summer months would mean "not a whole lot" in my boring and often lonely life as a child. We need to keep in mind that their are some students who may not greatly benefit from the life experiences of the coming summer months. I would also like to share with those interested...another end of year idea. My daughter who is currently ending her year in sixth grade, has only a few weeks left, but finished all of her finals at the start of this week. For the remaining weeks she and the entire sixth grade will participate in a program that will move the students out of the school building and into the local community. The students are required to keep a journal of tracking what they have learned: reflecting, drawing, note taking, mapping, ect. They focus on plants, animals, and even tour local businesses. I have yet to see the results of this project, but i love the idea of it, and the children are all excited as well. Its hard to keep your mind in the classroom with the start of summer lingering out the window. This seems like a great way to bring learning into the climate we are longing for at this time of the year!

Carla Smith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for the great tips on staying motivated the last few days of school! I am a first year teacher and I am feeling many of same feelings you mentioned. I am wondering if anything I'm doing is making a difference. I'm wondering if this is woth all the work. Then a parent calls to invite me to her son's graduation because "Without you he never would have made it!" and it all becomes clear that I DO make a difference! I am hoping to utilize some of your suggestions for end of year activities with my classes and prevent them from becoming too crazy these last few days.

K's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel like you really hit the nail on the head with this post. Everyone's patience has run out, and with the end in sight motivation from both teachers and students has dried up. The big test is done and like you suggested, I have strayed a bit from the curriculum and addressed topics we never had time for earlier in the year. I am using a lot more construction paper and crayons and the kids enjoy collaborating with partners on more expressive, artistic approaches to learning. The pace has slowed, but it doesn't mean learning isn't taking place. Instruction is less direct now, and more student guided. Isn't that how it' supposed to be!? If only their attention spans lasted long enough to do this for the remaining weeks!

I also agree with the importance of self-reflection: asking yourself what worked, what didn't work, how/what to modify for next year, and what ideas need refreshing. It also provides a sense of closure for the current school year.

Thanks for the great suggestions!

-4th grade teacher
Irvington, NJ

Dawn Dupree's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you the end of the year is getting harder and harder. We have two days left of school. In reality, it feels like we still have two weeks. We are in the middle of completing finals, but some kids have already checked out for the year. I am still maintaining the same curriculum as always, but I am allowing the students to work in pairs. The use of collaborative learning is great, but I have to monitor what is going on more often because they are socializing and getting off task. I teach 8th grade so they are basically done. They already have their schedules for next year, so they think why should I have to work? It is hard to convince them otherwise, but at this time of year educational games like Scrabble can be a great way to keep the students going. Good luck.

Kristie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoied reding this blog. I agree that it is difficult during the last days of school. the part I found most useful was taking time to reflect. Toward the end of the year we often forget that our reflections are still useful to us and our students.

Another idea I can contribute is to keep a list of activities to be sure to remember at the end of the year. I know that I oftten get caught up in the business and exciting-ness of everything, that I forget the simple stuff, like checking the lost and found with my students.

Emily Collett's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for the post!!!! I have exactly 2 days left of school and I am feeling the burn!!! Students are going haywire, the staff members are grumbling about end of the year duties, and it stays a constant 92 degrees farenheit in my room at all times! So....I am quite ready and willing to throw in the towel for this year. But, alas I have discovered your refreshing suggestions and the calm that you have mentioned that will soon come presents a reason to hope. Over the next 2 days I am planning to have my 140 4th graders reflect upon their year and work on a scrapbooking project complete with an autograph page. I hope that this will keep them from doing bodily harm to each other or me as we try to wrap up a successful year. This is only my second year teaching and yes it is easier however, I am looking foward to that ever short but sweet 1st day of summer vacation.

4th Grade Teacher

T's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I wish I had read this before the week began. It has been an incredibly long week for me, considering the last day is tomorrow! I think we can all use more motivation at the end of the year, but I hadn't thought of finding that motivation from putting myself in my students' shoes. I hate to think what is going to happen to some of them throughout the summer!

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