If you are a K-12 teacher or student, you know what time of year it is. Post-Memorial Day… beginning of June… the end of the school year quickly approaching. Education in the United States is one of the most bizarrely cyclical institutions. Ten months ago we were ending the summer and getting ready for our first days back at school. This cycle is nearly complete, and now many of us are getting ready for our last days of school. It is very easy to slowly march to the end of the school year, but I would like to suggest the last days of school are as important as the first. The last days say a lot about your character, and how you view your role in K-12 education. The last days of school present the last opportunities to leave an impression on students. If you sluff across the finish line, it sends a message. In my ten years of teaching, nothing bothers me more than teachers and students who end the school year with a whimper.
From my ten years of observation and practice, I’ve tried to live by the following simple guidelines for the end of the school year.
Never ignore what is most important. No matter what calendar day it is, teachers and administrators come to school, every day, to serve the students. The last days of school are just as important as the first days. Greet all students (not just the ones you know) with a smile and a hello. Spend all your extra time in the hallways between classes. Greet students with a personal welcome when they come into your class. Students are why our jobs exist. They are the most important, every day of the year.
Don’t quit. In many states, high schools now offer end of course assessments. In Pennsylvania we call these Keystone Exams, in New York, they are the Regents Exams. Add to these exams the Advanced Placement and the International Baccalaureate exams, much of our required coursework ends before the end of the school year. Do not quit! I have yet to meet a teacher who got his or her degree to help students simply master a test. Sprint through the finish line. Use the “extra” time you have after the state, national, or international requirements conclude to do something extraordinary. Consider changing how students look at school. Let them create. Last year, I invited Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers) to my school to inspire this student genius. We are challenging more students in varied and different ways with her return this year. I couldn’t be more excited. Simply because our content is done does not mean students should stop learning.
Reflect and share. Since teachers do not have a next unit to teach immediately, we must reflect on our school year. Because we will have a lengthy break before beginning our work again, we should record what worked and did not work this year. After you reflect, you must share. If you have the time, sit with a colleague who teaches the same subject to share your reflections. If you have more time, share with someone outside your discipline. Both experiences will enrich your practice. Determine how you can make your next school year better. If you feel comfortable, place your reflection online for others to read, critique, and praise. I will post mine this month.
Set goals- aim high. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Make plans for the summer months and the upcoming school year. Keep it simple; make sure you can do it. I suggest making three important goals for the summer. Use your time to refresh, recharge, and reinvent your practice. Again, I encourage you to share your reflections and goals. I am twenty calendar days away from the end of my school year, so I have plenty to do before I reflect.
Finally, when I graduated high school, my principal put these final words on our graduation video. I share them with you here, as they are a good reminder that what we do in school isn’t the most important lesson our students must learn. Happy summer!