The End of the School Year Paradox

Picture this: there are five weeks left of school on the calendar. You’re scheduling things like field day, running records, end of the year spelling inventories, math fact fluency checks, and virtual field trips. Everyone is telling you to be discreet with your students. Don’t mention the end of the year- yet. However, when you look at their faces, you see a mix of panic and excitement setting in. Their tiny minds are on overload.

The End of the School Year Paradox

You’ve put in the time,

you’ve set your expectations,

you’ve practiced how things should be done,

and it feels like your students have gone backwards.

By no fault of their own, your students have hit a wall. Most days, it feels like there’s no bringing them back. There’s no reigning them in. You’ve put in the time, you’ve set your expectations, you’ve practiced how things should be done, and it feels like your students have gone backwards. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first or fifteenth year teacher- it’s simply the reality we face at the end of the year.

How it is…

We’re all burnt-out.

Let’s try to put aside the fact that this was a “pandemic school year” and simply look at what we’ve done the last.. 160 or so days. Think about the lessons you’ve taught, the conversations you’ve had, the connections you’ve made, and the bombs (metaphorical ones- hopefully!) you’ve defused. Every moment you’ve faced this year has required your energy and attention and we all know that teachers never do things half way. It’s 110% or bust.

Then, consider the changes your students have gone through- the growth they’ve shown over nine months. Remember how long nine months felt when you were younger. We’re talking an eternity here. We’ve all hit our burn-out point, teachers and students alike.

We’re all dealing with prospective change.

Our special educator was speaking to us about how a lot of students, with change on the horizon, will consciously or subconsciously destroy the relationships they’ve made this year in order to avoid painful, uncomfortable feelings.

Mind. Blown.

I also think that some teachers are doing the same, in a way. It’s easier to be happy to send your kids off at the end of the year than crying at your desk, knowing you’ll have new faces in front of you in two months time.

We’re all becoming stagnant.

Routine can be both a gift and a curse. At this point in the year, we know what to expect, which can make us (1) comfortable and (2) stagnant, if we let it. However, deviating too far from the norm will throw your kiddos off. It’s a fine line between keeping things interesting for both you and your students and having days that follow expectation.

We’re all looking ahead.

I always start planning for the following year around May. It’s like a switch flips in my brain and I want to escape the challenge of finishing out this year with dreams of chances to do it all again, to set things up the “right” way, etc.

On the other side of things, our students are already imagining their next year placement, wondering whether they’ll have friends in their classes. For our third graders, they’re switching schools which is a huge change. Many are turning to siblings, asking what to expect, and realizing they’re leaving the safe space they’ve come to know in the last three years.

What we can do about it…

Choose content over content.

Content /ken’tent/ adjective

In a state of peaceful happiness.

Content /käntent/ noun

The things that are held or included in something. Material dealt with.

This is the time of year when social emotional learning, transitional activities, and simple conversations make a big difference. It’s a time to read the room. Are you at the end of your rope? Chances are, your kiddos are too. Do you need a break? Poll the class- I bet they’ll ask to do something chill for a little over another round of math problems.

It’s okay to choose content over content. It’ okay to take a step back and choose the “easy way out” some days. The brain can’t properly function if it’s stressed or exhausted so chances are, your students aren’t benefitting from these extra lessons anyway. Use this time to make a few final connections that will remain in their memories for years to come.

Ask for grace from others.

For this one, I wanted to write “give yourself grace” but lately, that hasn’t been enough for me. I know how it goes while, many of those around me do not. Aside from my teacher friends, the loved ones in my life do not always see the hours of redirection, of engagement, of “show” that I put on everyday. They wonder why I can’t pull myself off the couch at 4pm. They wonder how I can fall asleep at 8pm with the lights.

So much of teaching is done behind the scenes, out of the spotlight. This shifted a little, due to distance learning. However, for all the recognition and appreciation we get, it doesn’t change the fact that we’re just plain tired. Us, and the kids. I’m not a parent but I can imagine they’re struggling right now with increased behaviors and increased sensitivity. We all just need a little grace during this time.

Sleep soundly and sleep in.

Forget exercise (although, a long walk does help) and diet. While they are certainly important, emotions may take them to the wayside this year. That being said, focus on a healthy habit with a little less motivation required: sleep.

I was trying for awhile to stick to my workout routine but I wasn’t feeling the same endorphin charged bliss afterwards. I was just feeling burnt out. Cue: an extra hour of sleep. I was amazed at how different I felt. It’s made the biggest difference for me.

Talk to those who really understand.

We all need our teams and our teacher friends to vent too. Most of the time, I prefer to vent with purpose (and end with solutions) but these days, sometimes we simply need to yell into the void (a bit) until we laugh. Talk about the things that you just can’t believe happened today. Acknowledge the what the heck moments that left you lost. Do it together and share the burden. Share empathy. Simply expressing “that sucks, I get it, I’m sorry you have to go through that” makes a world of difference.

Take deep breaths.

Does anyone else constantly get those Apple Watch reminders to breathe? Most of the time, it’s at the exact right moment and honestly, it’s a little scary. However, breath really is so important throughout the day in the case of regulating your emotions. I’ll typically try to set triggers for myself: when I pull into the school parking lot, when I sit down at my desk, and when I start a new lesson with my kiddos. Taking a moment to consciously breathe has helped.

We are almost there and we will make it through, we might just need to recognize that our needs will fluctuate and change in these weeks to come. Reach out to your teacher friends and as always, feel free to leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you if anything I said today hit home.

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