Towards the end of my last full school year in the classroom, I received a note in my mailbox from administration. The note was a reminder to teachers to staying on top of students; to finish the year strong. Of course, holding our students accountable to the rules and expectations of the building is something that we should do as educators. You want your students to finish the year strong and you yourself want to finish the year strong. A strong finish can lead to good momentum for your summer activities and for your next year beginning. That starts with remaining consistent; with yourself and your students. So when I saw the big print of “sweat everything,” I assumed the note would reference academic stuff. But that’s not what it said. What finishing the year strong meant according to this handout was making sure that the students didn’t get away with anything.
This specifically meant making sure that the students adhere to the uniform policy; making sure they had a belt on, making sure they had on the right kind of sneakers, making sure their shirts were tucked in and etc. it also meant making sure that we (teachers) ensured that students followed the discipline policy. Students were to be quiet in the hallway; they were to stay on their side of the hallway while walking to their destination and from their departure site. Following those points of emphasis, there was a word about keeping students on task; making sure that they paid attention in the classroom. I was a bit annoyed by the note. I understood why we all received it and since I agreed to carry out the mission of the school, it was not my place to openly defy what I was being reminded to do. However, I didn’t believe, and I still don’t believe, that the emphasis of finishing strong meant enforcing compliance first. Schools are institutions to reinforce self-discipline, not to teach compliance. The public school is an institution to teach independent critical thinking and promote academic exploration. This flyer did not remind us to do any of that. This flyer reminded us to ensure that students be under control and that they comply.
As the school year draws nigh, everybody is tired; students, teachers, administrators, support staff and parents. Everyone is ready for June to come quickly. Students get restless, teachers get restless and administrators’ maybe hiding… in their offices or in plain sight. However, there are better ways to advise faculty on ending the year strong. Here are some things that you should do to make sure that you and your students finish the year strong:
- Introduce students to topics they may see next year in your content area. Do your colleagues a favor and teach a few items that your students may see next year in your content area. Doing so also does you a favor, specifically when you run through the content early and you’re left with nothing to teach, or you have days between when the final was administered and the last day of school.
- Designed a capstone project that requires students to get out of their seats and use their hands in addition to their brains. A capstone project does a few things: you have work for students to do through the end of the year, provides an opportunity for poorly performing students to bring up their grade and turn you from lesson plan writing teacher to plan updating facilitator. You also get students away from textbooks, notebooks and paper and get them talking and moving in the name of a project. Between putting the project together and students presenting their work, you can easily eat up 2 weeks of class time.
- Schedule a class trip that is a combination of everything you’ve learned throughout the year. A class trip is always a good idea. But be sure to request this months in advanced with the proper rational. It may not get approved if you wait until the last minute.
- Create a class showcase of some sort that involves your students presenting or pitching an idea to the core leaders with the entire school present. A shark Tank of sorts in your classroom is a great way to break the monotony and give your kids a focus that will ease those final days in the classroom. Putting on the showcase will make it real to them and will serve as a reminder to take whatever they are doing seriously.
- Reward your students. I’m not against rewarding kids for doing good work and exhibiting good behavior. Have your classes outside, feed your kids before class with some fruits or donuts, or you could have a pizza party or potluck lunch with parents and students.
With children, and even young adults, you have to give them something to look forward to. They need an expected end expectation. If you think that a final test is a great motivator for kids to stay focused at the end of the year, you are kidding yourself and any administrator who expects you to live like that in the classroom has failed you. Give your students something to look forward to with the end of the year that doesn’t involve paperwork, mundane redundant activities, or more discipline. Give them a concluding activity in your room that they can be excited about.
Let us continue to press toward the mark!