5 reasons why I stopped the summer break countdown

April 22, 2014

in hot topics

In recent years, I’ve tried to stop counting down to anything, actually: days until a family vacation, days until a holiday, days until a special event. Though some people find it motivating to know how many days they have left, the countdown mentality just hasn’t served me well, especially when I’m anxious for summer break. Here’s why:

summer break countdown

1. Counting days turned the end of the school year into a “sentence” in which I was just biding my time.

Instead of getting up each day with the intention of fulfilling my calling, making a difference for kids, and actually enjoying something I had committed to spending 40+ hours a week doing, I was just going through the motions and waiting for time to pass.

2. Counting days drained my sense of purpose, which made the school year feel even longer.

Because I was overly focused on the countdown, time seemed to pass even more slowly. I wasn’t focused on helping my students learn anymore, and without that sense of purpose and corresponding accomplishment to motivate me, it felt like I spent all my time on tedious paperwork and assessment tasks. I also had more behavioral problems to deal with, since the kids picked up on my vibe and they, too, assumed no more learning was going to take place. No wonder it seemed like the year was never going to end!

3. Counting days tricked me into believing the time I had left with the kids was insignificant.

Eh, there’s only 24 days of school left, why bother trying something new and innovative with the kids? What’s the point of helping a student understand something I’ve already explained a hundred times—he hasn’t gotten it in the last 156 days, why would he get it now? If I’d dug a little deeper, I would have recalled the times I’d seen huge learning gains or socio-emotional breakthroughs in the course of a single lesson. But instead, I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything worthwhile in the dozens of hours I had left with my students. I let exhaustion shake my belief in my effectiveness as a teacher and my students’ ability to learn and simply gave up.

 4. Counting days caused me to miss some of the best opportunities to enjoy my kids.

The end of the school year can actually be a really special chance to connect with students since testing is done and some of the pressure is lessened. I always had a few fun activities planned, but often had a hard time being present with my students because I was so focused on the number of days I had left to get administrative things done. I was mentally checked out and so I missed out on making some awesome memories with my students.

 5. Counting days is based on the presumption that today cannot be as good as the future will be.

Because I “couldn’t wait” until the last day of school, I wasn’t focused on what I could have been enjoying or experiencing on the current day. And yet the truth is this: all we have is the present moment. The day we’re hoping for may not arrive, or we might find that our life circumstances are tremendously different when it does, and the carefree fun times we had envisioned never come to pass.  Who can afford to waste the time we have right now by wishing for an unpromised tomorrow? Every single day is a chance to do something meaningful and looks for ways to enjoy doing it.

What are your thoughts–does counting down until the last day of school give you more energy or drain it away? What do you do to stay motivated at this time of year?

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Subscribe via email for blog updates, exclusive tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kerri April 22, 2014 at 7:07 am

I feel the exact same way about countdowns! If you are always counting down to something it takes away the joy of the here and now! Great post !

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2 Nicole April 22, 2014 at 6:34 pm

I agree! Well said. The whole countdown attitude towards anything depresses me. If you’re always looking forward to “one day”, then you miss the potential that is right in front of you.

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3 Kymberlee April 22, 2014 at 8:21 pm

I absolutely love this! What a great perspective to have! Definitely what I needed to read as a first-year teacher heading into the last month of school – thanks!

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4 Jennell Peteranecz April 22, 2014 at 8:49 pm

With all due respect, and I RARELY respond to these kinds of things, my first thought was “When were you in a classroom last?” I teach IB English and AP English. My angst is directly proportional to spring tests…and then we start talking about senior year and college apps and, and, and, and…Is this perhaps a phenomenon unique to elementary schools? Even when I taught middle school, I never counted down. My husband also says that I will be the one woman who on her death bed says, “I could have worked harder.”

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5 Angela Watson April 22, 2014 at 9:15 pm

Interesting question, Jennell…IS this a phenomenon unique to elementary schools? I assumed the “only 36 days left!” comments that I hear a lot were common in all schools, but I’ve spent very little time in middle and high school classrooms and really don’t know if that’s typical for secondary teachers. Hopefully some other readers can chime in.

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6 Eric April 22, 2014 at 9:15 pm

I keep a countdown for two reasons. The first is my three year old son. I can not wait to be able to spend all the days of my summer with him. So, my count down is to keep me motivated to work hard in the days to come because time passes more quickly when you are fully engaged. The second reason I keep a countdown is to remind me that I have so few days left with my kids. I develope such a strong relationship with each of my classes that I dedicate myself to their success especially in the last few weeks after testing to prepare them for next year.

I will not, put a count on my board anywhere in my classroom. It is only in my personal calendar.

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7 Angela Watson April 22, 2014 at 9:18 pm

I love your reasoning, Eric, and the way you approach the countdown privately. I know that a lot of students keep their own countdown, but I imagine it would be hard for them to focus on learning when there’s a big sign at the front of the room saying “8 more days!!” LOL. Thank you for sharing.

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8 Jose Rizalino April 27, 2014 at 9:55 am

I like Eric’s reasoning as well. We kind of have the same reason why I can’t wait to go on summer break. I love spending it with baby. :)

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9 Amy April 22, 2014 at 10:56 pm

I feel that some of my best teaching and the students’ learning comes this time of year. Today someone asked me if I had started counting down the days until summer break. My response was, “No, I love teaching my kids.” They were a little surprised and asked if I ever counted down the days until being done with a group of kids. I told them I’d had challenging groups of kids before, but have always enjoyed each group I taught. I am one of those people that would continue to teach even if I didn’t get a paycheck. I go in a week after school is over to just set up for the next school year. My students are a huge part of my life and love every minute I get to spend with them (even on my frustration days). I am proud to have them in my life and couldn’t imagine the world without each and everyone of them, their quirks, and their inspirations…….

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10 Cheryl April 23, 2014 at 7:54 am

Thank you! I needed that, what a great way to look at the end of the year! :-)

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11 Mary April 26, 2014 at 11:09 pm

As an art teacher, I do a “professional” countdown in my plan book for the sole purpose of getting pottery fired in time, painting finished, dried and framed, and all artwork returned to the kids before they go. It helps me balance the lengthy projects with the time I have left. I also let the kids know, for example, when they only have two more art periods to complete something for grading. And, yes, I teach elementary art.

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12 Glenda White May 1, 2014 at 9:05 am

I do a count down every year with my 5th graders. It’s how many days until you will be a 6th grader. It’s also about how much we still have to do before the last day. The last six weeks of school are the most fun because of the in class projects we do. We do a state float parade for Open House and we need to know how many days before the parade.

Just because teachers have a count down doesn’t mean they want to be done with the class.

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13 Beth Osborne May 2, 2014 at 6:19 pm

I have mixed emotions about the count down. In the past, I counted down because “everyone” was doing it! I haven’t even thought that I don’t really have to do that. I also think when you count down on the board not only can I have “short-timers” attitude, but my students can too, which usually leads to more behavior problems for me. I personally like a schedule and even though I will plan some some fun engaging activities, I think my students appreciate knowing what the expectations are every day.

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14 Jen May 3, 2014 at 7:48 pm

I agree but for the reason that if I know the number of days, it stresses me to think that I “only have___ days” to accomplish what I want with the students and also that I have that many days to get my room in order to move across campus. I would rather not know and just continue on my merry way with them.

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