You already know this, but I’m going to say it anyway. You can’t do it all in these last days of school. Go ahead. Admit it. You have too much planned, and you know no one’s going to come along and give you more days. There’s a good chance you’ll lose some though: assemblies, guest speakers, end-of-year celebrations, field trips. These events seem to appear every other day or so in these final days when we’re already trying to do too much.
To add to the stress, your class’s wheels are coming off the wagon. Normally motivated and in-control students are losing their mojo, and students who grew so much socially and emotionally seem to be right back to where they were in September.
To make matters worse, you’re exhausted. It’s the final mile of the marathon, and you’re not sure if you can make it. So what’s a well-intentioned but completely overwhelmed teacher to do? How can you not just survive these last days, but succeed—making the end of the year positive and productive for you and your students? Here are a few ideas to consider.
Prioritize. If you can’t do it all, make decisions about what’s most important and what’s realistic. Also decide what not to do. Take a deep breath and don’t feel guilty.
Reinforce routines. Even the most even-keeled students feel squirrely as the end of the year approaches. For students who often struggle to stay in control—especially ones who count on school as their safe place—the last few weeks can be really hard to handle. Familiar routines will help students feel safe.
Be consistent with discipline. It can be tempting to let small things slide as the end of the year approaches, but this can spell disaster in a classroom. Small misbehaviors, if not handled swiftly and respectfully, can quickly lead to larger ones as students feel the safety of the room slipping. Be strong and firm—clear and kind.
Tackle fun academic challenges. The best way to keep students engaged at the end of the year is to take on some fun and challenging academic work. Try student-led research projects or create a class movie. Analyze a fun movie for character development or put on a learning celebration for families. Give students more choices about what and how they learn, and keep these choices directly aligned with the content you’re teaching.
Take care of yourself. Eat well. Sleep. Hydrate. Exercise. These practices will boost your energy levels and help you handle this naturally stressful time of year more positively and professionally.
Focus more on how school feels and less on cramming in the last few bits of content. The way your year ends can make a lasting impression on your students and can help set them up for a positive outlook on next year. Make a list of the ways you want your students to feel as the year ends. I want students to feel confident, relaxed, connected with others, nostalgic, proud, and excited for next year. What does your list include? Take it from stand-up comic Father Guido Sarducci (see video below)—students will quickly forget facts anyway, so cramming content (just so we can say we “covered” it?) is a waste of time.
So, in these final days, be realistic about what you can accomplish and make sure to stay joyfully engaged yourself. Your students will take their cues from you, so make sure to set yourself and them up for a fantastic finish!
Mike Anderson is an education consultant, award-winning teacher, and author of many books including What We Say and How We Say It Matter, The Well-Balanced Teacher, The First Six Weeks of School, The Research-Ready Classroom, and Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn. Learn more about Mike and his work or invite him to work with your school or district through his website: www.leadinggreatlearning.com. Connect with Mike on Twitter: @balancedteacher.