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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

Marthe's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

That's really early. Where are You? I have until the end of the month. These are really good ideas listed above. I especially the first doing pns that are fun for the children, hands-on and of interest. During the end like this I plan my lessons on going to the beach and change the environment as such. I brainstorm with the children on the idea then move the furniture and create the scene with them. I add and remove props to extend the plan. They love it, the time goes faster and they are learning.

Claudette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for the suggestions for staying charged for the rest of the term. It has quite frankly been a tough couple of days lately, keeping up with the demands of school closing activities, school leaving ceremonies etc. I think that these ideas will 'pep' things up a little, keep my students engaged and focussed while doing something they enjoy. I think reflections are great for both teachers and students after all our past shape our futures. It is especially prudent for me to reflect so I can see how best I can improve next year what I did this year.

Thanks again I really enjoyed this blog.

Amy M's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The end of the year is always very difficult for me. My pateience is gone and I have to find ways to get through the last weeks of school. Since all major testing is over I like to bring out art and craft projects that we did not have time for earlier on in the year. The students really enjoy this.

M.B.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I've seen a real downward spiral in many of my student's attitudes and behaviors these past few weeks. I know it will just increase as we get closer to the end of the school year. I'm definitely going to plan on doing something constructive with my time with them. It will keep us all sane. Thanks for the great ideas!

Michelle
Philadelphia, PA

mark hefel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my second year of teaching 4th grade in Dubuque, Iowa! Our last days have been pushed back due to inclement weather and the kids' patience is wearing thin! I take solice in knowing that there others out there, in different parts of the country going through the same things I am now! I love when people say the second year is easier. It was in some ways ie management of classroom and time and a better understanding of curriculum. However, in my second year I have learned about all the things I should be doing in my class, rather than just eking my way through like my first year. I am ready to wind down, I only have 5 days remaining, but unfortunately I am moving grade levels and classrooms next year! I am excited, but the piles are more like mountains of boxes and supplies!

Elizabeth Hyatt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I like what you had to say about having the students reflect on the year and that the teacher should answer the same questions. Even though we are feeling burned out and are just ready for the year to be done. Realize that as soon as it is over, you are going to miss those students. It is the last opportunity you have to provide them with guidance and hope for the future. My goal this year was to instill a love of learning in my students that would carry on past the year they spent with me.

Sheryl B.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Great ideas to coundown the final days. I teach grade 6 and have provincial achievement exams the last week of school so I always try to save a couple of fun, active hands on units for the end to help ease the test anxiety. Data management and probability in math is a great way to learn more about their classmates and apply the skills they have learned all year. I also find poetry is a fantastic way to end the year. Students always surprise themselves with how much they love to be creative.

Walden Education Student
Alberta

J Long's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can totally relate to the above mentioned. However, I enjoy the end of the year! For me, it is a time when we can finally enjoy the students and relax. Although the last two weeks were kind of hectic, we were able to take time to create and play. I begin to reflect and also make plans to enhance next years' lessons and activities. I have mixed emotions about summer and know I will miss the kids. I am already looking foward to August and meeting my new learners!

Melissa 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for the advice on how to keep my students engaged the last few weeks of school. As only a second year teacher, my educational "bag of tricks" is quite limited. I am looking to expand my curriculum beyond what the state standards require. After all, our "big test" is over at the end of May and it is nice to be able to expand and teach what I want to teach. I am having a hard time maintaining consistencies and routines with my classes. I have found that the other three teachers I work with on my 8th grade team, are already in "summer mode" and want to play games and have a more flexible schedule. I work in a low income district and I agree that students look to educators to provide the structure in their lives. Many of my students will spend their summers home alone using the TV as an electronic babysitter.

Thank you again for the advice.

Melissa
Walden Student

Jayme Jones's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I couldn't agree more about doing some creative projects at the end of the year! I end my year with an ocean theme and we make octopus, fish, sea turtles, jellyfish, sharks, etc. The students love it and it keeps them engaged. I also bring out papers that they did on the first day of school and compare it to the paper they do for me on the last day of school. It's always great for me to remember what they were like and for them to see how much they have learned!

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