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NYC Helpline: How To: Get Started
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NYC Helpline: Manage Your Classroom
NYC Helpline: How To Get Started

How to Survive the Last Two Months of the School Year -- And Come Back Again Next Year
Judi Fenton

Okay, so the tests are all taken (except for those poor people in high school), the weather is warm, and we are all exhausted. Your principal has just given the pep speech “We still have two more months of school; let’s make them productive.” Certainly this school year isn’t over, but we are all thinking about next year.

All teachers begin to put pressure on themselves about the subsequent school year. Our thoughts turn to how we’ll be completely organized next year, have those management techniques in place from the beginning, write all our lesson plans over the summer, and really keep our students’ portfolios up to date. New teachers especially look toward the future at this time of year. You can never be quite sure whether or not you’ll have a job next year, or, if you will, if it will be the same grade or subject.

These worries about planning, about the future, and about what to do now with kids already dreaming of the beach, combine to create a bunch of stressed-out teachers.

It can be comforting looking to next year when you’ll “get it all right;” this is particularly calming if your first year of teaching has been difficult. However, I have a small piece of advice; at the risk of sounding like a self-help book, you must celebrate what you’ve accomplished this year.

Here are some ways you can survive the last months:

Take care of yourself.
As impossible as this sounds to you and me: get some sleep!

Granted, we all have many deadlines at this time of year (like this article for me) and staying up all night to get it done seems like the only thing to do. However, the law of diminishing returns tells us that this might not be the most productive use of our time.

Reflect on all you’ve done this year.
All good work should have a beginning, middle, and end. The end should not be a wild release, but should be a fulfilling summary and reflection that will lead to greater learning. This reflection should be done with your students, with your colleagues, and privately.

Reflect with students: Have your students think about what they learned this year and write about it. They can write to you about their favorite unit and how it had an impact on them, they can write a letter to your next year’s class and tell them what they should expect in your class. Having students revisit their learning gives them crucial processing time, which reinforces what they’ve learned. You can have the students share and talk about their written reflections in small groups or in the whole group, which gives more students the benefit of each student’s thinking.

Reflect with colleagues: Take multiple opportunities to talk with your peers about what you’ve learned about teaching this year. It helps to see how much we’ve grown through the eyes of our colleagues.

Reflect privately: Look over your plan book, student work, journals, and your notes about your students. Think about how you and your class have matured—how you worked together at the beginning of the year, and how you work together now. Notice especially the things that gave you the most trouble at the beginning of the year and realize how your thinking has changed about these things.

Do something fun with your students.
Just because it’s fun, doesn’t mean that it’s not educational. Take a trip to the park to study local species of birds or rodents or examine the parts of different types of flowers, trees, or plants. Plant a school garden. Go to the museum to trace, through art, the history you’ve been studying. Apply what your students have learned all year: interdisciplinary projects, trips, and outdoor activities are perfect opportunities to bring it all together at this time of year.

Do something fun with your colleagues.
Plan an evening out doing something totally unrelated to teaching. Go bowling, do karaoke, see a movie, go out for dinner and try to make talk about school and teaching off limits!

If at all possible, do not work summer school.
I know you need the money, but for heaven’s sake, we have summers off for a reason! Especially if this was your first year, you need to take some time off to relax and recuperate. Teaching is exciting, rewarding, and fun, but it is also hard and draining. Acknowledge that and give yourself a break.

We have a tendency to work on something until we get it right and then move on to something else. In teaching, we “can get it right” with one group and the next year we have to figure it out all over again with a completely different group of students. Though we get better with experience, it’s always a new adventure with the next group. But the fact is, right now, we pretty much have it right, the children know the structure and we know them. So while you are looking forward, please take the time to take advantage of all you’ve done for your students this year. More can be accomplished now than any other time of the year and we should use the opportunity well… at least until the last week—there’s the real challenge!


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