In the final weeks of school, teachers can feel even more insane than usual. Paperwork and meetings pile up. As the weather warms, students itch to be outside and start to anticipate summer, for better or worse, leading to more frequent challenging behaviors. And just as we’re feeling the pressure to get as much done as we can, there are constant special events (field trips, assemblies, summer program presentations, etc.), which usurp much of our final few days and crush any chance for positive momentum around learning.

And then there’s the guilt.

If only I were a better teacher, we would have finished that final science unit.

If only I had tried a little harder, Jeremiah would understand fractions and Marie would be reading at grade level.

If only I had spent more time with Lisa she’d have some better skills for working with others and wouldn’t still be struggling with friends and John would be taking more responsibility for his learning.

There’s nothing wrong with using the end of the school year to reflect on successes and challenges and set goals for the coming year. In fact, this is what healthy and vibrant professionals do. There is something wrong, however, with needless and excessive self-flagellation, and too many teachers fall into this destructive and nonproductive pattern. Beating ourselves up doesn’t help our students or help us develop and improve our craft.

Here are a few tips for taking care of yourself emotionally as the year winds down:

  • Recognize that in every class, every year, we will have successes and failures. We should never give up on students, but we must also realize that there are limits to what we can do.
  • Acknowledge shortcomings while keeping them in perspective. We all have skills to nurture and room for growth. Any teacher who thinks they’ve got it all figured out and no longer needs to learn should go ahead and move on to another profession.
  • Celebrate successes. Spend more time reflecting on successes you had than on should-haves or wish-I-hads.
  • Set a couple of concrete goals for next year and make a plan for working on them. Avoid wishy-washy goals like “I’m going to work as hard as I can next year,” and try for more attainable ones like “I’m going to use choice as a learning vehicle to help better differentiate learning for students.”

Remember, your mood sets the tone for your students. Just as we must present a positive, warm, and professional tone in the first few weeks of school to help get students off to a good start, our students need us to be calm, consistent, and kind in the last few weeks. Besides, with just a few days or weeks left of school, it’s important to remember to have fun with our students and not get too wrapped up in ourselves.

So, take a deep breath, relax, and go enjoy your students—no guilt trips allowed!