This eCard image rings a little too true for most of us, doesn’t it? The last week of school always makes me feel like the kids are in the way, and that’s an awful feeling. It’s even sadder that the kids know we feel this way: they sense that there’s no purpose in them being around except to scrub out the cabinets for you and run papers down to the office.
It’s the great irony of the last week of the school year: there’s way too much for the teacher to do and not nearly enough for the students. Every educator I know has a massive amount of paperwork to complete and multi-page checklists of miscellaneous time-consuming tasks that have to be done before summer. And yet students are left pretty much twiddling their thumbs, and therefore, exhibiting behavior problems.
A big part of the problem is that teachers are usually required to submit 4th quarter report card grades weeks before the quarter actually ends. It leaves them scrambling to produce grade mere weeks after the last report cards were issued. And it’s unfair to the kids because they only have 6 weeks to improve their grades instead of 9.
Everything students do in the last 3 weeks of school doesn’t truly count. Do the powers that be realize how hard it is to get kids to put forth their best effort on a beautiful 80 degree afternoon in June when they know their fate for the year has already been determined? Sigh.
Then there’s the practice of having teachers turn in textbooks a week or two in advance. I didn’t use them often, but the kids saw the empty shelves and somehow made a mental note that all the “real learning” for the year was done.
And of course, the clincher: that no-backpack rule during the final days of school. This is one that I never quite understood. My first year of teaching, I was told that kids at our school had a tradition of bringing rocks in their backpacks and smashing them through teachers’ windows on the last day, so I thought it was a unique situation. But the no-backpack rule was given in every school I taught at thereafter.
No backpacks means no homework and no sending notes home to parents. The home-school connection is completely cut off (or at least limited to phone and email). Even worse, it means that half the classroom has to be deconstructed so that students can take home their projects and assignments that are displayed around the room. I managed to get around that one for a couple years by sending the kids home with plastic grocery bags the last two days of school, but eventually that was outlawed, too.
I’ve written before about breaking the vicious cycle of teachers and students giving up at the end of the year: it’s really important to maintain routines and expectations as close to the end of the school year as possible. But how can that be done when the classroom’s been packed up and the materials are put away? This happened to one substitute teacher who realized there was truly nothing left to do 12 DAYS before the end of the school year. What a waste of time for everyone involved.
These things frustrate me so much because the last week of school is not inherently pointless. It has the potential to be a time of meaningful learning that’s free from the test-driven constraints that suck the fun out of the rest of the school year. The last week is the only time all year teachers can actually do something with their classes and not have to produce data proving the effectiveness of the lesson and the students’ level of mastery. It can be a wonderful chance to bond with your class, enjoy them as individual people, and create memories. But with all normal routines and procedures removed and teachers being driven to distraction with clerical tasks, it’s nearly impossible to really savor that last week of school.
I hope that things will be better for you this year. I hope you have a chance to do some really fun end-of-year activities with your class. I hope you can put away the to-do list for at least a short time each day and bond with your students for the last time. They won’t remember everything you taught them, or everything you said, or everything you did. But they will remember the way you made them feel. They will remember that you smiled at them and asked how they were doing, that you listened to their rambling stories, that you did something special with them on the last day of school to let them know you care and will never forget the year they were in your class.
What’s the last week like at your school? How do you make time to connect with your students when there’s so much for you to do?