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As a teacher, it’s hard not to get excited about the summer break. Thoughts of staying up later, sleeping in longer, and planning a family trip are enough to make even the most dedicated educator dreamy-eyed for the last day of school. Couple that with the draining experience of end-of-year testing and little Johnny who has challenged our resolve for quite long enough, and summer can’t come soon enough. So how can we make the final days more enjoyable for both us and our students? Before you start pulling down those posters and packing away those books, here are a few things to consider.
Avoid the Early Pack Trap
Don’t let your eagerness to start your vacation backfire on you. Although it may be tempting, packing up your room early can seriously impact your ability to effectively manage your classroom. As soon as you start boxing things up, you are sending a clear message to your students that you are finished. And if your students see that you’re finished, so are they. Managing student behavior in the final days is challenging enough. Don’t make it worse for yourself by letting them think you don’t want to be there.
There’s also another reason for not closing up shop early that I don’t see talked about very often. Although most students are excited about the end of the year, there are always some who are not. The end of the school year means change, and for certain students, change is hard. Some students will even experience depression at the end of the year, especially if your classroom has been a safe and inviting place for them. It’s important to keep in mind that not all students go home to a loving and nurturing environment. Changing the classroom and the routine a week or two before school lets out can trigger, prolong, and even amplify the stress that these children are already feeling.
Make it Fun (and Productive)
Something fun to do with your students is let them help you prepare for next year’s group. You can have them write letters to your future students in which they share their experiences, lessons learned, and tips for success. This could even be done in video format so you can show it to your students on the first day of school. Your current students will have a great time playing the role of the experienced veteran, and you will have something engaging to share with your new recruits in the fall.
As a math and science teacher, my students and I would create songs and chants that helped us remember different concepts and procedures. At the end of each school year, I would video tape the students singing and reciting the various compositions. These videos would then be used to teach these masterpieces the following year. Students couldn’t wait for their turn to make these videos at the end of the year so they could show off their vocal abilities.
A Warm Weather Project
The end of the year is also a great time to do a project that you may not have had time to do earlier. One project in particular that my students loved was making soda bottle rockets. They would work on them at home and bring them to school a week or two before the end of the year. I would put them on display in the classroom for everyone to see. The students would vote on their favorite designs and make predictions about which ones would go the highest and stay in the air the longest. On the last day of school, we would have our rocket launch. I would work the launcher while several students clocked and logged the hang time of each rocket. I also tried to make sure everybody got at least a little wet during the process. After it was over we would discuss the results and hand out awards for best design, longest air time, etc. It was always a great deal of fun, and not surprisingly, most all my students would be present on the last day of school.
So, as we start to get excited about the upcoming vacation, make sure you have some ideas in mind to keep your classroom engaging and inspiring right up to the end. And, if you still need help packing up your things on the last day of school, there will be plenty of helpers around to assist you after the rocket launch.
How do you make your final school days fun and engaging for your students?
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