Lately, a recurring question has shown up in my email: how do I survive the end of the school year?
I’ll be super honest and tell my readers that on the first day of summer break, I come home and sleep. I collapse a bit. I can’t avoid the end of the school year exhaustion because as a secondary teacher, I am pulled many ways: honors night, book collection, finals, graduation, graduation parties, cleaning my room, next year placements, and on.
I do survive the end of the school year, but some years I have fared better than others. As a secondary ELA teacher, I have a few tricks to survive the end of the school year.
Maintain consistency and routines.
I establish routines the very first day of school. If students fall away from these routines, we review them. Eventually, students realize routines help us and that I will hold them accountable.
Well, in honest reflection, I have found myself straying from the routines. For example, one of my routines is for students to enter the room and begin working. As summer approaches, I will start class without writing the first assignment on the board. It confuses students and ruins all of the work I did in August and September.
Students thrive on consistency and even if we teachers find it difficult to maintain routines, we owe it to students to do so.
Show students where the class is headed.
I stumbled upon this by accident. Students were asking questions about due dates and final quizzes, and I pulled up my lesson plans. They loved it… why, I have no idea. Maybe they thought these were secretive documents? insider secrets? Nope, just a word document. (Insert shrugging emoji.)
I always try to alert students to upcoming assignments, but this act of complete transparency calmed my class. Now, I regularly show my students my lesson plans (with no revealing information!) especially at the end of the school year. When I return from spring break, I will show students the plan for the final four to five weeks.
Students feel some control, and I hear less grumbling. Clarity with students really helps me survive the end of the school year.
I pull out crayons and colored pencils to survive the end of the school year. Students might be riled, and coloring can calm people! I review grammar with Color by Grammar and literature with literary device sheets. I was incredibly skeptical to ask older students to color, but they loved it.
The end of the school year can present interesting behavior. Allowing students to color has shown benefits.
Take care of yourself.
Eat lunch. Bring fruit or veggies. Take the stairs. Drink water (and put down the coffee). Sleep at night.
The end of the school year is a whirlwind. Your health matters. You will be a better teacher if you are healthy.
Grading? Be smart.
Think of ways to maximize your efforts. If you have a pile to grade, could you turn some activities into completion points? Does everything need a grade?
Here’s a trick I use specifically with student writing: pile all papers by student name. I will then ask Student #1 to come to my desk. I will conference over the papers and give feedback. Then, I will explain that I want one of the papers returned. My expectation is that this will be a very polished piece of writing since I’ve given feedback and the student had extra time to make corrections.
I’ll continue with each student. Now, students might turn in different papers! However, I have conferenced with students, provided feedback, and given the opportunity to make corrections. Now, the final paper that I do grade is stronger and therefore, I take less time grading it than I would have previously.
Step in the hall and read.
What do you want your students to do over summer break? I want mine to read. I drive home this message one more time through my actions. I want to put up my feet and relax, but I know that students need that modeling a few more times.
Plus, we know that reading relaxes people. Reading benefits both you and your students.
Review with movement.
Stations are the easiest way (for me, at least) to get students up and moving. I fill stations with a variety of tools, especially as we review for finals. For instance, I might have one station with writing errors. Another could have a grammar sort. (Ask students to take pictures of their finished product!) For literature, add analytical questions from a unit, and let students choose which question to answer.
Get creative with station assignments, and the class period will move quickly.
Read-alouds and summer reading.
Increasingly, I am exposing students to more literature through read-alouds. If I have time at the end of the hour, I will read a few poems or part of a short story. (Here are a few other ideas.) I even read children’s books.
Last year was my first year trying this, and my goal is to increase the number of books students borrow over the summer. My classroom library will NOT help anyone boxed up over the summer. I send as many books home with students. This past year, most of my books made it back! My overall goal with a classroom library is that I average $1 per book, so if I don’t have a returned book, I don’t stress.
Study in unique ways.
GimKit and Kahoot are interactive digital review forums. If you have never used one of these review sites, give them a chance! I know the end of the year can be overwhelming, but once you have the account set up, students will be learning the entire class period.
Address media literacy.
The content for an ELA class is endless, and that content includes media literacy. Students respond well to media lessons because they realize that marketing strategies and the media are stacked against them. Students naturally have an interest in studying this. If you’ve taught The Hunger Games (or students have access to the books), you can examine how reality television plays a role in manipulating the audience.
Another opportunity for media literacy involves marketing tools and branding material from everyday packaging. Water bottles, fast food containers, candy bar wrappers… all of those items include marketing. Teach students the hidden secrets of marketing for an engaging end of the year activity.
The end of the school year is exhausting. August seems so, so long ago. We all need to survive the end of the school year. Take care of yourself and implement engaging activities so that you and students end the year in a positive way.