Three Mistakes to Avoid As the School Year Ends

May always sneaks up on me. April goes on and on.  And on.  But May is a lightning bolt - suddenly it's there illuminating everything I haven't done all year, everything the kids have not learned yet.  It can induce panic, fear, and anxiety.  It is also often a month of exhaustion. There are so many extra activities that it feels like a marathon run, and you count down the miles until you stagger across that sweet finish line.

For my school district, May is the end of the year.  In our rush to get everything done and to get out of school, we often send messages that I don't think we really believe.  Unfortunately, our kids might.

What do we usually do in May?

1.  Tell everyone what we have not accomplished.  I don't think any of us value teaching a mile-wide and an inch deep.  "Man, I cover everything in my curriculum" is not exactly an ideal standard.  Yet May comes, and I hear a litany of things teachers didn't get done. To our students, this must sound like we all failed, even when they might have felt successful.

2.  Start cleaning up and throwing the year away in a great purge.  In our attempt to clean out the old and get ready for summer, we start dismantling our rooms.  Garbage cans and recycling bins overflow with all the work we've valued all year. Some rooms are bare long before the year ends (and I don't just mean the posters we had to cover for testing.)  I wonder if that feels like the maid cleaning your hotel room before the vacation ends?  Sadly, I don't think the kids feel this - they too want to clean up and get out.

3.  Tell ourselves all the things we'll do better next year.  It's easy right now to jump in and start planning for next year - all the things we'll do better.  I'll be more patient next year.  I'll update my grades more frequently.  I'll contact parents sooner.    We have everything that could have been better fresh in our minds.  Eternally optimistic, we promise that next year will be our year to do everything right.

I would like to suggest a different approach as the year winds down this year.  Instead of being part of the count-down crew, here are three ways to make the last days of the school year feel amazing:

1.  Celebrate your students:  Right now my students are doing a final book project. They've all chosen what they feel is a just-right book, and they're reading, writing, drawing, and talking about their books.  I can choose to lament the fact that Matthew is still struggling to be 100% engaged for our whole 30 minutes of reading, or that Fiona continues to read the same genre she first chose in August. Or I can choose to celebrate that Matthew can read for at least 15 minutes before he takes a break (way up from the four minutes he might have sustained in August); and Fiona has found true love in her genre (and does not stare out the window as if trapped during reading time).  They both have grown in their own ways.

My students will have lots of ways to celebrate their growth this year.  They will pull all the books they've read off the shelves and take pictures of their book stacks (see Penny Kittle's Booklove for more); they'll create advertisements for their favorite books to hang up around the school to encourage others to read; and they'll tweet books on our @BHSReaders Twitter page all month.  This is the time to celebrate all the things they have done this year instead of lamenting what didn't accomplish yet.

2.  Create a Lasting Memory: Each year my classes contribute something to my classroom that will stay.  My first year it was a photograph following a Civil Rights Unit where students captured how far our country has come since Brown vs. the Board of Education. One section of  the wall is covered with images of families and friendships across the color spectrum.  This year the students wrote beautiful identity poems and those are going up in another section.  I get a lot of visitors who come back to my classroom to say hi, get a book recommendation or to check out a book, and they love to see their work still up on their wall.  This small gesture of creating a legacy shows my current students that they are valued beyond their time in my class and shows the students who've moved on that they matter, their work was important, and will not be forgotten.

Working together to create a memory wall also tells my students that the work we've done all year was important enough to keep.  We're not just filling the trashcan like none of it mattered at all.  We selecting a piece that represents our class.  I want them to know that while vacations are lovely and needed, the real joy in life is working hard on projects we're passionate about.

3.  Celebrate you:  I can hear your words right now.  "I will celebrate when the school year is done!  I have no time for myself right now!"  Sometimes the best celebrations are tiny, quiet and all on your own.  It's a celebration to stop for a minute when your students are deeply engaged in reading or working and just scan the room, admiring how hard they're working, how engaged they are right in this moment.  This takes just a few seconds, but is so worth it.

It's also a celebration when you're grading your papers, to stop and linger over a line that was especially well-written, a vivid word, or that one special piece that makes you close your eyes and smile.

And, it's a celebration to stop and savor the moment when that arms-crossed, challenge-you-daily boy read a whole chapter of a book you recommended and told you it was OK, when every other book he's tried has failed to engage him beyond the first page.  These celebrations you have time for.

As teachers, we must make the time to stop and acknowledge that growth happened in our classes this year.  We have to see that our hard work paid off in small coins of gold everywhere we look.  It's too easy to focus on what we didn't get done this year, to plan what we'll do different next year.  But the small moments in our day deserve our attention.   It's OK to savor these little, glittery successes.

As you end your school year in the coming weeks, take time this year to focus on all the joy and success around you.  Many of our kids go out into world where summer doesn't mean glorious days of sunshine and freedom stretching ahead of them.  It might mean a lot of time alone inside their homes.  It might mean that lunch doesn't happen very often.  Education is a gift to all of us.  Let's end this year in a way that our kids come rushing back in next fall, eager to learn and grow, knowing that school is a wonderful place to be.

Comments

  1. Terrific advice. I think I am going to try to get pictures of kids with their stacks of read books, or possibly have them create a digital collage of covers. And one thing I started this spring was to daily jot down an accomplishment from my day. Some are personal, some are classroom related, some are serious and some are silly. But it is a really rejuvenating way to frame each day.

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  2. I love the idea of a cover collage! I have been worried that some of my books might not be available, but that is is way around it. Thanks, Wendy!

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