Keep Smiling: Three Ways to End the Year Strong
For many of us, the last days of school are approaching. We are preparing for finals, students are planning their summers, the days are longer and the weather warmer.
One could argue that I live in the land of perpetual summer, and our semester came to a close a few weeks ago. I've had some time to sit back and reflect a little bit over the school year. I'll be up front: this semester was a personally rough one for me. My students continued to stun and elate me, but it was occasionally difficult to feel like I was there giving them my best.
I don't think I'm alone in that sentiment, though. Many of us have school years where, come late spring, we worry about our ability to sustain this work with our students. The beauty of our jobs, however, is that we are not only gifted with multiple opportunities every day to affect students, but that students give us the space and strength to return to ourselves as well. Here are three ways to recenter your classroom and finish strong that I found to be helpful:
1. Try New Stuff.
The end of the school year is the perfect time to push your practice and try out something new. Last year, I took a leap and tried podcasting with my students, which led to some fantastic results. Whether you try that lesson you've had stuck in your head for years, you throw the question out to your PLC (personal learning community), or you check out awesome sights like Teaching Tolerance, Teaching for Change, Facing History and Ourselves, The EduColor Collective for fresh new takes, I encourage you to take advantage of the end of the school year to get a little experimental.
2. Give Ownership to the Students
By the end of the year, our students likely know how our classroom is run and what we expect of them. This is a great time to let loose a little control and give your students more ownership than you might. Ask students what they want to know more about, how to structure a lesson or final project, or even to teach the class! Not only is this a great practice to give kids a sense of ownership in their education, but is great practice for teachers to recenter the work on students (plus, it has the added benefit of delegating some of the workload to kids!).
3. Keep Smiling and Forgive Yourself
Like I said, this past semester was a tough one for me outside of the classroom. While my kids and I had a strong finish to the year, I couldn't help but beat myself up a little bit some days. I wanted to do more for my students, but trying to balance teaching with attempting to handle my outside life sometimes meant grades were later than I liked, or that I flew on autopilot instead of really diligently focused on my classroom.
At the end of the year during a debrief with my department chair, she mentioned that I seemed distracted in the past few months, and I confessed how horrible I felt that I had, in my eyes, let "life" get in the way of my work.
She shook her head. "It's going to happen some years," she reassured me. "You're human. Life happens."
I often pride myself on a willingness to be vulnerable and human with my students. If that's something I truly value, that means accepting the fact that I will not always be a "perfect" teacher. Who is? What does that even mean? Is anyone perfect 100% of the time?
The answer, of course, is no. Embracing my humanity means not spending too much time wallowing in the fact that I had a personal life this year. Of course, it doesn't excuse it-- debriefing with my department chair was a nice kick-in-the-pants that I need to get back on my A-game and lose some of the nonsense that distracted me.
Still, it also reminded me that while a commitment to improve is positive, wallowing in the reasons we need to improve isn't particularly helpful. We will all falter in our careers as educators. We will all feel as though we can do more. That's true-- we probably can.
But it's an important reminder that the concept of perfection is an imperfect one; in some ways, to be "perfect" is a little less human that admitting our flaws. The best teachers we can be comes from being true to the values we already hold and accepting the day-to-day struggles of existence that we all face. Forgiving our flaws is a healthy and necessary part of moving forward in our work.
So, as the days get longer and warmer, I hope you take a little time to go and be human. See the love and humanity in yourself, and understand that seeing that love and humanity in a student is even the more powerful.