End of the Year Survival - Choose Your Battles

discipline, end-of-year

As the school year comes closer to an end, teachers and students are tired. The end of the year is in sight but there are still things to accomplish- a unit, a test, a graduation ceremony…and on and on. Unfortunately, when people are tired, they may not be on their best behavior. If we acknowledge this fact, it makes getting through the last months and weeks a little easier.

When I was a younger teacher, I wish I had considered this reality more. I was idealistic, enthusiastic, and wanted perfection. Well-meaning family, friends, and colleagues suggested to me that not all battles were worth fighting (or at least, not all battles were worth fighting all of the time). Although they shared their wisdom with me, I didn’t hear it until I became a more experienced teacher. I’m passing this advice along to others in case they can do a better job at listening than me.

Don’t argue about a missing pencil or pen.

Yes, it’s annoying that one of the only tasks your students may have is to bring their supplies to class. You may think: Why can’t they just do this one little thing? It may make you feel offended, even, that they don’t care enough to come to your class prepared.

But it’s not worth the battle. Too many of the students are going to forget pencils and pens, and most of the time they haven’t done it on purpose. Maybe they left them in their last class, or maybe they couldn’t afford to buy new ones…who knows? Save your energy for more important problems and give them a pencil or pen.

At the end of most classes, I usually have a couple of pens and pencils that have been left behind. Often, I pick them up and put them in a cup, and students can grab one when they need one. Not only does it help students, but it also helps the environment by reusing them.

Sometimes, I ask my stepfather to bring me pencils from the

golf-pencils
golf course where he works. It’s funny how students will suddenly remember their pencils when they have to use mini-golf pencils in class. Ultimately, it’s better that they can get their work and learning accomplished (and they’re less of a disruption in my class).

Let them make up their missing assignments.

If students haven’t completed assignments but demonstrate a willingness to get them completed, I let them do the work and just don’t give them full credit. The point is that they will hopefully learn the concepts and pass my class, moving on to the next grade level.

There may be reasons that I’m unaware of which are impacting the student. I try to find out why they lack motivation.

  • Is there something going on at home? 
  • Do they need to work at night to help support the family?  
Frequently, I seek out the guidance counselor or other staff to provide assistance if a student is overwhelmed.

And if it’s just a matter of laziness, it’s probably better for them to pass my class. Frankly, if a student receives the lowest passing grade, how much better is that than a failing grade? Colleges know the difference between a well-earned “A” or a low “D”. By requiring lethargic students to continually retake classes, they take up the time and resources that I could use to help other students who may need my time more.

Don’t punish every tardy.

Have you ever been late to a meeting or appointment? Is it always because you’re a rude and selfish person? Most likely not, and that’s the same for many of our students.

Lateness to class is a battle that I fight diligently earlier in the

choose-your-battles
school year because I don’t want to send the message that it’s okay for them to be tardy to class. If a student has more than two tardies, I expect them to make up the missed time after school with me. That’s a logical consequence, and I can help them with material they missed when they were tardy.

However, by the end of the school year, I often allow a student a couple more tardies before I ask them for detention. Truthfully, I’ve talked with former students and found out that sometimes it’s their parents’ fault for bringing their them late to school anyway. Is that really the student’s fault?

Give them a couple of minutes on their cell phones at the end of class.

I hate cell phones in class. Now that our students have computers, I don’t see any reason for them to be on cell phones. They’re a major distraction and often lead to cyber bullying. Consequently, I have a hanging shoe organizer in my classroom, and I ask students to put their phones in an assigned pocket at the beginning of every class.

To make my policy less confrontational, I tell them that if they

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agree to do this and don’t argue with me about putting their phones away, I’ll give them two – three minutes at the end of class to check their phones.

Do I lose instructional time? Yes, but to me it’s worth minimizing the battles with cell phones, which also end up disrupting instruction. By creating this policy, students are more engaged throughout most of class when they could have been sneaking looks on their phones instead.

Let them go to the bathroom.

No matter how much time students have in between classes, there are always students who tell me that they can’t get to the bathroom in the minutes between our class bells. Do I believe them? Sometimes, but most often not. They’re likely chatting with friends instead of using that time for the restroom.

But if a student really can’t get to the bathroom, I’d hate to be the one teacher to prevent them from using it. It’s the truth that sometimes there are long lines to the bathroom in between classes. And sometimes students have personal health reasons to use the bathroom frequently.

I know that I would be frustrated if I was told that I couldn’t’ use the restroom during a professional meeting. This being said, I do try to limit students’ use of the bathroom.

First, I ask if it’s it an emergency. Usually they will say “no.” Or, I might ask them to finish part of their classwork before they go to the restroom. I also require a signed pass so that I can keep track of their departures. If it’s continually an issue with a student, it may even be worth talking to a school nurse.

It’s not a free-for-all.

Of course, choosing your battles doesn’t mean letting your classroom become chaotic and unmanaged. It doesn’t mean lowering expectations. I still expect students to bring their silent sustained reading books every day, and they’re required to make up assignments when they’re absent. They are also expected to be attentive during class. Furthermore, I keep lessons academically focused through the last day of school.

I know some of you won’t agree with my advice. In fact, my younger self may not have agreed with my older self, but now I know better. I hope my wisdom helps you, too!

Of course, I’m always interested in new ideas and strategies. Feel free to add your tips in the comments below to help make the end of the school year go smoothly.

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6 Ways to Keep Students Focused After the Test

after standardized assessment

Whether it’s a couple of days or a few weeks, many teachers dread the class time remaining “after the test.” They think there’s no reason to teach anymore, nor kids who care about learning. But I relish the opportunity to teach with freedom that may not have been available before the test. In fact, I think the topics that can be taught during this time can be even more important than those from earlier in the school year.

The students and I are also more relaxed as we don’t have pressure to learn specific skills that are just mandated for success on standardized assessments. So, what do I do? I’ve included ideas below:

1. Teach a short play.  

Plays are fun to read aloud and can be acted out, too. To make reading aloud more comfortable for students, ask them to first read scenes silently so they’re familiar with the text.

If you don’t have time to act out entire scenes, use the 2016 mannequin challenge to inspire a “tableau vivant” activity.  Assign students to groups and have them “freeze” in postures which depict scenes. Each group takes turns presenting while the rest of the class guesses which characters and events are being portrayed. Two of my favorite plays to use in American Literature are A Raisin in the Sun and Brighton Beach Memoirs.

2. Show TED Talks or other short videos.

Between TED talks, commencement addresses, and videos from authors such as John Green, the internet has an abundance of media to help students practice their listening skills. Use a quick and easy organizer or ask students to take informal notes. Afterwards, discuss their insights and reactions.

end-of-the-school year

3. Take students outside.

With warmer temperatures, students and teachers are often craving time outdoors. Look for a park, sports field, or other outdoor space (we have a courtyard) for a short “field trip.” Take students on sensory writing walks (here’s a freebie with instructions) or for reflective journaling. During our transcendentalism unit, my students write about how nature inspires them.

You can also work with another teacher to create interdisciplinary learning. For instance, when I taught middle school students, the science teacher and taught a unit about the food chain with a predator and prey game. After playing the tag game, students wrote from the perspectives of the animals they simulated.

4. Use real-world connections.

Engage students in a mini-unit in which they write letters to local officials about issues that are important to them and their communities. Or, instead of complaining about school rules and classes, have them write to advocate for policies that they think would improve their school.

Last year my students wrote letters asking for an accelerated English program since there are no honors English classes available to them. After researching the issue, they wrote letters to the superintendent, English supervisor, principal, guidance counselor, and other officials. To help your students write effective argumentative letters and editorials, you can find free resources and lessons from the College, Career, and Community Writers Program (C3WP), affiliated with the National Writing Project.

5. Collaborate with teachers from other schools.

Arrange a day for your students to read to elementary school students. They can either read books recommended by the elementary teacher or you can ask students to write their own fairy tales and other appropriate short stories to read to the younger students. This creates an authentic audience for your students and makes them role models for children.

Want to discuss a topic with students at another school?

reflection, set goals, games, active learning
Arrange a Twitter chat. My Advanced Placement English Literature students chatted about the novel The Awakening with a class from New York City. I recommend telling students to create specific accounts for this activity and only sharing first names or pseudonyms to protect their privacy.


6. Reflect and set goals.

The end of the year is a perfect time for students to reflect on their performance and experiences from the past school year. By recalling the year’s successes and challenges, they gain self-awareness and can set goals to help them succeed with next year.

There are many ways this can be accomplished. Go low prep and ask students to write letters to their future selves, which you can deliver the following school year. Or, if time permits, have students write formal goals with these tips in mind:

middle school ela, high school english
make goals specific and relevant, make them measurable, make them attainable, and set deadlines for achievement.
Lastly, use task cards or these free coloring bookmarks to make the activity fun!

Well, it's time for the test, but I hope you found something you can use afterwards. I’d love to hear what you do, too. Please share your favorite activities below.







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