It is that time of year again. The weather is turning nicer. The days are longer. There's the smell of young children still not yet understanding the need and value of deodorant and personal hygiene in the halls. Yes, I'm referring to the end of the year in schools across the country. It is often the time that teachers try their best to keep a lid on things. For some it's survival mode as they get to the end of the year. For students, as I remember very well, it is filled with excitement about a summer full of fun and adventures. However, for some reason there are things about the end of the school year that I've never quite understood and never quite agreed with. Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy having my summers off to travel and spend time with my family. Yet, I think we need to look at how we end our school years.
For starters there is nothing worse than walking down the halls of a school and seeing movies being played in every classroom. While I love a good Disney flick as much as the next teacher, there might be better ways to keep kids attention in those final days. Along those same lines, I wonder about why we hold all of the fun and cool projects and activities for the end of the year. I myself have been very guilty of this every single year I have taught. I think about all the really cool things we do with the students at the end of the year. We build catapults. We make movies. We have the annual “Dead Man’s Bracket Challenge” in my class which is always a hit. We do all these great projects and cool activities that all of the kids enjoy. Why can't we do these things all year or at least spread them out throughout the entire school year?
Another concern I have about the end of the school year is when we start closing up shop early. We have libraries and tech centers close well before the end of the school year. We have specials that shut down and turn kids away before the end of the school year. We have equipment being collected and resources turned in well before the end of the school year. We even have teachers who take down their rooms and remove content and decorations and resources well before the end of the school year. Why not have a teacher institute on the last day so that people have time to do all of those things? Would it not be best to have instruction and learning activities right up through the last day of school? While I understand logistics of many of these things, what message do we send when things “finish up” before the end of the school year?
Another thing that I've always been bothered by the countdowns that you see on bulletin boards and in classrooms. Why should we be celebrating and counting down to time off? Are schools that painful and horrible that we should be counting down until we get out? That sounds like something an inmate in prison would be doing. Why not have a countdown to the first day of school for the next year. If you're in 3rd grade why not countdown until the first day of your 4th grade year? Would that shift the focus on moving forward rather than ending? On top of that I think we fail to realize for some kids summer is not a good time. For some kids summer is when they don't have a safety net. They don't have a school to go to for safety and love or even food. For them that countdown is not at all a positive. When we do countdowns we send the message that we can't wait for the end of school year. Is that what we want?
Like I said, I look forward to the summer’s off as much as the next teacher as it means a time of recharging, reflecting and adventures with my family. Yet, as we wind down the school year, we need to think about what we do and how we do it. More importantly we need to think about the message it sends to our students.