The lockers are all cleaned out. The certificates of achievement have all been printed and the yearbooks are stacked up and ready for distribution. Lesson plans have been replaced with Minute to Win It games. And candy. Oh boy, is there candy. Everywhere.
The last day of school is nothing if not festive. The tension that has been building up the past few weeks is finally released. The students worried about summer school have now pulled out passing grades. Teachers stressing over how to keep students engaged as the weather warms up now begin planning their own time basking in the sun. It's all sandals and sunglasses and smiles.
School's out for summer. Let the celebration begin! Amirite?
I can't speak for every teacher, but for me, the end of the school year brings very mixed feelings. Yes, a part of me is happy, but most of me is experiencing a complex combination of feelings and emotions. What follows are four things I feel when the final school bell rings:
I feel melancholy.Yes, I'm happy to see the kids celebrate successfully advancing another grade. And yes, I'm excited about my personal plans for the summer. However, I teach because I want to change lives. Because I know there are kids for whom an education will make all the difference. As a teacher, I know that school is the only safe and stable environment some kids have, and those kids fear summer because it means disconnection from that sense of safety and stability. In short, I teach so I can impact kids, and when summer rolls around I lose the ability to impact them on a daily basis.
I feel a sense of urgency.Teaching is built on relationships. Teachers care about their students. They take pride in them. And they have fun with them. But teachers also have to lead their students. They have to teach them to take responsibility, and sometimes that means they have to teach them through consequences. In other words, over the course of a year a teacher-student relationship has many ups and downs. And so, when the end of the year rolls around, I've got a lot of things I want to say. Some students need an extra dose of encouragement before summer. Others have had a rough go of things lately and need one last check-in. Some (all, actually) just need a reminder that they are important–that they matter. On the last day of school, I have a mental list of kids I want to say things to. And each time I heck a kid off the list, another five kids pop into my head and get added to that list.
I feel reflective.Teaching is all about the long game. Every day has its particular objectives and its own challenges. And yet, everything teachers do is part of a bigger plan, both in terms of the curriculum and in terms of the lives of students. And for all of the exit tickets and assessments students complete, the truth is, teachers can't know if they have succeeded in a "big picture" sense until years later; until they see their students grow up and hopefully become independent adults making positive contributions to society. That's why reflection is so important. Teachers need to think through what worked and what didn't. Teachers need to be willing to ask themselves hard questions and then put in the hard work to improve their weak areas. They also need to reflect on the positive moments; these moments provide the fuel that allows teachers to keep going when the days begin to feel grueling. I reflect every day in small ways, but the end of the year is when I finally get the time and space to reflect in a wide-open, comprehensive way.
I feel creative.This coming school year will mark the first time that every course I teach will be a course I've taught before. I used to look forward to this point in my career as a moment when my summer planning and daily prep time would plummet. To be sure, I have some great lessons and great activities from previous years that I can't wait to reprise. However, I also have a million new ideas I want to try. I have activities I thought of too late, or new primary sources I want students to explore. I have things that didn't work that I'd like to improve. And, most importantly, I have new students with needs that are different from my previous students. So there is plenty of prep work to do. But it's fun work. Best of all, in the summer I am free to be creative without worrying about deadlines or grading.
So. Summer's here and the time is right to slow down and reflect and flex my creativity. Yes, I'm looking to summer, but I'm also looking back. Fondly.