UPDATE: This post was written in 2014. Since that time, there’s been quite a bit of “teacher-shaming” online in various places, where teachers are made to feel as if they’re not dedicated to kids if they look forward to their time off.

I wouldn’t write an article like this one today, because I don’t want to add any guilt to teachers’ plates. I’m leaving the original post up because this was in fact my experience–but please know, it does NOT have to be yours. 

I rarely have any idea how many days are left before a special event. I’m just not the kind of person who likes to countdown to anything, from days until a family vacation to days before a holiday. 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.

Though I don’t have a problem with other people counting down (hey, whatever brings you happiness and keeps you motivated!), I personally prefer to look forward without counting down. 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 enjoying my kids, 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?

Discussion

31 Comments

  1. Kerri

    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 !

  2. Nicole

    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.

  3. Kymberlee

    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!

  4. Jennell Peteranecz

    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.”

    • Angela Watson

      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.

  5. Eric

    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.

    • Angela Watson

      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.

      • Jose Rizalino

        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. 🙂

  6. Amy

    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…….

    • Charlene

      Wow just wow.

  7. Cheryl

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

  8. Mary

    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.

  9. Glenda White

    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.

  10. Beth Osborne

    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.

  11. Jen

    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.

  12. Jan

    So much to shout “YES” to here!

  13. Jen

    it’s easy to fall victim to that “counting down to summer” mentality. I do count down, but to remember that I have so few days left with my students. I love my kids and I always say, only a few months left with a frown. We joke about just continuing class through the summer. I love this time of the year and I look forward to the great things we can do without standards to get in the way of what we want to learn. Oh sure, certain things are unchangeable in the curriculum, but where I get leeway…I take it!

    • Angela Watson

      That’s a great perspective! Thanks so much for sharing.

  14. Denise Kegley

    I love to add the countdown to my math meeting. I have always talked it through as having just “this many” days to enjoy each other and get all of our first grade learning in! Each day is a gift in my classroom, for us to be this family unit, never again will it be the same as today, let us learn together up to the end. Plus we review each letter of the alphabet, the last 26 days of the year. Each letter is reviewed and lessons are built around that letter for that day. Each day is celebrated this time of year.

  15. Michele

    You need to lighten up. A countdown doesn’t mean you don’t value your students, your job, or your time you have left. It’s all about intention–everyone who works as hard as we do deserves to look forward to their summer and the opportunity to take a breath, rest, and reflect. Posts like yours come off as “I’m so above it…I’m a more serious, committed professional than you…” no matter how many “qualifiers” you add.

    • Angela Watson

      Sorry the post came off that way to you. If counting down is helpful for you, I think that’s great.

    • Sarah

      Exactly!!! And you forget that for many of us, counting down is a great way to be sure that we do cover that last half of the book before time runs out.

  16. Julie

    Thank you for sharing this article! I’ve also found counting down to be stressful! I take it as we have ___ days left and we haven’t done this, this, or this!

    • Anna

      I am a secondary teacher (6th-8th grades) and some of our teachers count down for different reasons. I have stopped recently doing this. I have a personal countdown so I can plan the rest of the curriculum effectively but in a high needs school like ours, and in any high needs school, and I’m sure other schools as well, there are many students who get more anxious as the summer approaches and they know they have to spend more time at home, where their lives are not ideal to say the least. Some of our kids are abused or neglected at home, and for many, school IS their home, their safe place, their happy place. The summer can bring many days of sadness and anxiety. I don’t mind counting down with my colleagues because we are all usually in the same boat, trying to finish up all our teachery stuff and it is a relief to finish up. I also agree with the post in which I don’t want to feel like everyone is checked out and I can’t try new things with my students and keep teaching quality lessons in these last weeks. I don’t know, I just try to mostly see it from a student’s point of view as well.

  17. Jessica

    I feel the same way. Right now I’m trying to convince my paras of this. They don’t like the fact that I don’t want to start a countdown to the end of the year immediately after we hit the 100th day mark. Also, I have a student who focuses on the countdown and then we can’t get anything done.

  18. The Countdown – Maci Budzik

    […] that the approaching summer days are more important than the education of our young people. This link will guide you to a page where a current educator debriefs why she stopped counting down to the end […]

  19. Lisa

    Countdown mentality completely undermines our purpose at school. I choose to “THRIVE, not just survive”!

    • ovie

      Lisa: Certainly. Me too. Sometimes the last day of school is here and until almost time to go home I haven’t even thought about it being Summer. I just luv the kids so much and want to be with them teaching them as much as possible. I think school should be year long because summer is such a horrible waste. It’s time they could be learning. I stay at school most of the summer getting ready for the next year. I like to thrive also. I don’t understand why anyone needs a break from school. LOl …I’m just kidding. I actually start the countdown the first day of school!

  20. Suzanne Rogers

    I am an HS ELA teacher and coach. I prefer to not count down. I try to remember that some of our students are safer, fed better, and have fewer responsibilities during the school year. Countdowns may ramp up their anxiety levels which can lead to more behavior issues. Thank you for your post. I’ve shared it with my teachers.

  21. LIz

    I think people read too much into everything. The students love and want to count down. We fill balloons with end of the year wishes and strive to make them come true each day. I continue teaching up until the last minute following the interests of the children and less of the “pacing guide”. For me, the countdown is freeing…I’m free to teach them how and what I’ve wanted to all year, but have been prevented or circumvented by the policies that be. And lastly, there is nothing wrong with a person who works their >>> off all year looking forward to R & R. Teachers work endless hours all year long. Those of us that have families know that our jobs cause us to sacrifice family time during the school year, so we look forward to recouping that in the summer. There’s nothing wrong with the “final countdown” and I for one will continue to do it…every year until I retire. Happy summer!

    • Angela Watson

      I think there’s a difference between “reading too much into everything” and personally reflecting on my teaching practice and considering the impact of my habits. The latter is an essential part of good teaching. When I reflected, it became apparent the countdown wasn’t useful. When you reflected, it became apparent the countdown IS useful. It is okay for us to have different approaches here. I was careful in the post not to imply that the countdown is inherently bad or wrong. I recognize that it is beneficial for some teachers (including yourself!) I appreciate you sharing your perspective.

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