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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

Jalpa Patel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My posting on the blog:
There are some great ideas here. I am so ready for summer. I am glad to be done with all of our testing for the school year. Letting kids engage in more hands-on activities is a great way to end the school year. It keeps them engaged. I also ask the students to reflect on their journey through the year; it is interesting to know what they think. In our school, every year we celebrate international week, which happens to be a couple of weeks before summer vacation. Each grade level focuses on a specific country; this year we are learning about Jamaica. We incorporate a lot of art activities to make it more fun. My students love anything to do with art. I like Sheryl's idea about getting the kids to know more about their classmates with data management and probability in Math. Poetry sounds like a great idea too.

Jennifer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a substitute teacher at McCormick Elementary School in McCormick, SC. I have seen many teachers go about the end of the school year in different ways. I agree with the original post. Students and teachers need to continue with the normal routines they have been practicing throughout the school year to keep things as normal as possible. I never thought about summer being a "bad time" for students. Summer was always fun and exciting for me. However, I can see where some children may have a rough summer because they don't know where they are going to be or when they are going to be eating. With the economy the way it is, many of the parents in this area are losing their jobs. This takes away a sense of security from the students during the school year. I can imagine that the sense of security is diminished over the summer when they do not have the "security blanket" of their teacher and classmates. Thank you so much for opening my eyes to what some children must endure throughout the summer.

Stephanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Great points! We have two days of school left and I have tried to keep a routine. I also used your idea of having students reflect on things, both positive and negative that took place in the classroom this year. This helped to me see what I should continue doing and what I should change up. Thanks for the idea!

McCormick Elementary School
McCormick, South Carolina
Walden University Masters Student

Stephanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This blog is just what I needed to get through my last week of school! I am at the point of just trying to survive. I have tried many of the ideas shared in your blog and it really helps. I had an end of the year awards ceremony today where all of my students recieved 2 awards. I feel that I was just as rewarded as they were. It was great to see the smiles on their faces as they recieved awards.

Stephanie Stanley
McCormick Elementary School
McCormick, South Carolina
Walden University Masters Student

Kelly C.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for helping me to finish strong! I always go through a variety of emotions at the end of the year and sadness is one of them. While reading this post, I found tears forming at the thought of my students leaving my classroom. Tears because I'll miss them but also tears of pride for all that they have learned and accomplished. I can't wait to see what they will do next year!

For some reason, this year has seemed to wrap up much more nicely than my other years of teaching. I have kept routine, while also including some fun projects here and there. My students still seem to want to do well and are working hard. We have spent the last month and a half in writing creating a magazine with different types of writing. The cover story is about the student and the magazine includes book reviews, letters to the editor, persuasive pieces, a free choice article, stories about real people, and advertisements. Students are so excited to see what they have accomplished when their magazines are finished. Another idea for the end of the year in reading is online scavenger hunts. Our last theme in reading is about nature, so we have used some of the Online Scavenger hunts from educationworld.com to do additional research about different topics in nature.

Elizabeth's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with everything the article said about getting ready for the last days of school. After field day, my students are behaving like school is over. They are very talkative and lose self-control. Getting them to line up silently is becoming a challenge. What happened to my sweet kids from the start of the year? Some have started to talk back to me. I would never think about talking me to my teachers when I was a kid. But when I speak to the teachers about this they say the students have summer fever. I do not accept that. I will still set high expectations for my students, continue with the curriculum, and plan on incorporating fun end-of-the-year projects. I think I'm going to have a talent show during the last few half days of school and have students create awards for their classmates. In our school we give out awards for each subject and a principal's award for an all-around stellar student. I am looking forward to the summer so that I can reflect on my first year of teaching and make improvements for next year.

Michelle Vinton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The remaining days of the school year seem to happen so quickly, yet pass by so slow. I am new to blogging, but I just couldn't pass up this posting. I completely agree that the students not only need, but want the routines in the room to continue. I teach first grade, and on the last day of school the first grade classes have a camping themed party. A kind of welcome summer party. During these final days we have the kids write stories to read around the campfire, we study fish and have the students make their own, and we also study stars. I then hang the stars up in the classroom for us to "camp out" under, and we also use magnets attached to our fish and a yard stick to go fishing. The students absolutely love this and they know that what they are spending their time on in the last days of school is something that will be used as a part of a fun final day.

Jeanine Pearce's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I found the idea of allowing students to reflect on their year to be an exciting opportunity. I have already begun having my students create a book of the terms they learned this year in math. I think I will extend this to include writing a reflection about what students for next year can expect in this class. This has not been a separate project for me but an assignment to be completed when work is finished. As a first year teacher I have been wondering what activities to use to keep my students busy once the curriculum is finished. I also went to the teachers in the grade above me and asked what they know is a common weakness in their new students and determined that I will focus on those skills with the last few days of class. Hopefully I will keep my students engaged and behaved as this year ends!

Jenna Dean's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The last days of school are always interesting and hectic! I have found myself looking for meaningful things to do between practicing for our end of the year play and all of the different reward days that seem to come at the end of a grading period. Sure...all of these things are wonderful for the students to experience, but they can be difficult for teachers to work around. I guess that is just another part of my job description. :) This blog has really given me a refreshing feeling! While reading the initial post I found myself thinking of new things for my students to reflect on. I believe that our students need to reflect on their own progress just as we teachers need to reflect on ours. A reflective learner is always looking for ways to improve and enhance his/her own intellect. I also liked the comment posted about going to the grade level teachers one grade up and asking for suggestions. We are required to do this in my school. Our administration calls it "aligning the curriculum vertically." I just think it is a great idea. Thanks for all of the input and ideas.

Jodi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We also try to keep the end of the year as normal as possible. However, we do throw in some fun activities as well. It is time to celebrate, b/c they made it! Or should I say, I made it :-) This year we did a book of memoirs that took us to the end of the year, which really kept them on task. I also created a slideshow of the fun times we had. I think those songs will be in their heads over the summer!! Sometimes, I think you just have to go with the craziness (and try to have structured craziness) haha

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