Don't 'Veer Off-Course': Roxanna Elden on Finishing the School Year Strong
Editor's Note: This is the fourth post in a series called "A Look Back." In it, I'll be highlighting a particularly insightful response an educator has provided in a past column.
Past posts in this series have included:
Today's "A Look Back" features a response contributed by educator Roxanna Elden about finishing the school year strong.
It comes from a post titled Ways to Use Class Time During the Last Two Weeks Of School, which also includes a commentary by Donalyn Miller.
You can might want to look at other posts on the same topic at Best Ways to End the School Year.
Roxanna Elden is a National Board Certified Teacher, a speaker, and author. Her book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, is a widely-used tool for teacher training and retention:
For teachers, summer's gentle breeze can feel more like a strong headwind. After all, test-pressure season and other stressful parts of the year are over. Now you've got materials to pack, grades to finish, and the occasional bird flying into your classroom window and knocking itself unconscious. You're also starting to suspect that your school's breakfast program has started serving energy drinks and candy.
The temptation to go on autopilot is strong during the final stretch of the school year, but that doesn't mean veering off course. It just means that in addition to steering your class toward its destination you also need to prepare for a smooth landing. Here are a few tips:
Plan around grading: Anything you plan to grade in detail should be due at least two weeks before school ends. By the last Monday of the school year, your grades should be all but finalized. The activities you plan for the last two weeks should be productive for students, but not grading-intensive for you. This is a perfect time for activities that involve group work, art projects, informal presentations, or opportunities for students to share their writing. If your students are busy and self-directed enough, you might even be able to work on some of your own end-of-year tasks as they work on theirs.
Enlist helpers: You've got a lot to do. If only you had 20-30 energetic people eager to help you. Oh wait... you do. Students love helping their teachers at the end of the year, and one hour of well-managed help from them can save you twenty hours of rolling up posters, cleaning desks, and packing your classroom library books into boxes. Obviously, the type of help students can provide will depend on their ages, but even kindergarteners can do things like sort and sharpen crayons for next year.
Have students review their work. If students have been keeping their work in classroom folders all year, give them some time to reflect on their progress. Let them read, revise, or share favorite assignments. Then ask them to pick a specific number of papers to keep long term - you can have them decorate a folder for this purpose. Have a recycling bin on hand for everything else.
Give anonymous surveys. Your administrators visited your classroom a few times. Your kids were in there every day. After thirty six weeks of school, no one can tell you what kind of teacher you were better than they can. Have a student collect the surveys and seal them in a folder. Promise that the folder will remain sealed until report cards are printed and kids are on break.
Start thinking about next year. Right now you may not have the energy or the fresh batch of hope you'll have when you're planning in August, but you do have perspective. Start a computer file with ideas for making next year better. You may even want to start a "good teaching ideas" email account for insights you have on the go. Your regrets from this year can make you a better teacher next year.
Make your parting message a positive one. If you're hoping for a teacher-movie-style grand finale at the end of the year, the last few days can feel like a bit of a letdown. The classroom walls are bare. Students are hyperactive or absent or hoping you'll just let them play with their phones. Even if you are tired and can't wait for the kids to leave for summer break, find ways to show them that you are proud of their progress and will miss them. Students want to know that you will remember them in a positive way. The last few things you say and do will them remember you in a positive way as well.