Spring break is behind you. One morning, some wisenheimer shouts “Only 25 days of school left!” Even though you have been secretly counting down, you know this is it: the beginning of the crazy year end behavior. The students’ attention begins to diminish, and noise and classroom chaos climb frantically.
Here are four steps to understand the mayhem and help control the nuttiness. I taught second grade but these strategies will work for any grade.
1. Plan a big project. Pick a topic that you have not been able to get around to teaching or revisit something you into which you wanted to delve deeper. My classroom was not air conditioned. It was hot and miserable so I pulled the shades, turned off the lights, blasted the fans, and studied space. The trick was to first give the required work that I wanted for grade. Before we began the work, however, I gave tantalizing ideas of what could be done when the assigned work was turned in. Cool projects using fun materials that rarely came out during the year were planned. We drew planets with colored sharpies on edges of laminating film that I saved throughout the year. We created our own constellations with black paper covered cereal boxes with holes punched through to show the stars. We wrote myths to explain the constellation. Students picked books to teach a lesson about a space fact. We created posters and games. We were busy and spacey. Time flew quickly and the children were too busy and engaged to act out.
2. Revisit class rules. Rules have become old stuff by the end of the year. It is time to take them off the walls and discuss why we picked those specific rules to back in August or September. Holding a class conversation about which rules are easy to follow and which rules we need to pay more attention will help the majority of students wrestle their self-control back in place. Don’t forget to review playground rules. The energy at recess is frantic and accidents abound. I rarely had a day without children returning from recess with ice packs or skinned knees. Hold them to the rules and don’t let consequences change. It is easy at this time of year to give up on consequences, or go the other way, and make them become huge for minor infractions. Neither change helps the class as the kids need continuity even more as the year winds down.
3. Take time to listen and reassure. There is a lot of security in a well-run classroom and the end of the school year means the end of that security. To some children, it is simply the concern of the unknown of what will come next year. The wonder if the new teacher will be mean, will they have any friends in their class, or will the work be too hard. Usually, we talked about this in a whole class meeting. I reminded the students how much they learned this year and it came a little at a time. I reassure them that next year will be no different. I arranged to have a visit to the classrooms of third-grade teachers or invited my former students who are now third graders to visit my room to answer questions.
The other part of the worry of what the future will bring is deeper. Often your troubled kids act out tremendously in the last few weeks of school. I believe these children fall apart because of losing the safety net of the room to an unknown summer. This is especially true when the family is in turmoil. While I have no control over these situations, I often tell them that I will think of them every day, all summer long. It is all I can offer. I take extra time in my day during the last few weeks to smile and reassure these children. I am trying to let them know I am not deserting them.
4. Take a walk down memory lane. Build time each day to reminisce about the year. Remember the funny things. Look back at everything you learned. Look at photos or videos. Pick favorite books in the classroom library and let groups discuss their favorites. Go outside and play a class game, one that is a favorite but in a new setting. Take time to be together and savor being a cohesive unit.
Many years ago, my mentor teacher told me that one of the joys of being a teacher was that you only had a child for one year. I find, however, that is one of the sorrows, too. Enjoy them. It is almost over!