Teaching in May and June is no joke, people.
When teachers can actually be spotted in their habitats, they look somewhat manic and crazy-eyed. Sightings are rare, as without exception teachers are buried under mounds and mounds of paper: report cards, awards, field trip forms, records, grading, next-year’s class lists. The endlessness of a teacher’s to-do list in at the end of a school year is matched by only one other contender, and it’s a fierce one: the boundlessness of student energy that grows exponentially with each passing day until June.
Now picture that mass of energy, and then remove common sense, well-established classroom habits, and any generally any form of motivation to learn. Then throw in some hormones, a considerable measure of girl drama, and selective hearing, mix them up in a hot and clammy classroom…and voila! Absolute freakin’ madness.
Let me repeat: teaching in May and June is no joke, people.
And let’s be honest–parenting isn’t either. The family schedule jumps into warp speed, and it’s not like kids go home and dial it down to be calm and studious. Nope. Parents have a tough go of it, too—they have to rally their limited energy and patience to get their kids to every event, pack for every trip, and find non-grass-stained pants for every concert. Then they have to at least make a passable effort to enjoy the innumerable year-end concerts and picnics and field trips, and video such events accordingly. And let’s not forget the Herculean chore of trying to get the kiddoes through their end-of-the year book reports, standardized tests, or research essays…and when you’re faced with the aforementioned hormone-drama-selective hearing cocktail, some serious parenting mojo is required.
Both teachers and parents deserve a medal for making it through the last few weeks of school. A big, adult-beverage-shaped medal.
Teachers, my words won’t help much—I realize that. A few suggestions about making it through year-end is like acknowledging that you have the chicken pox and trying to make it better by handing you a lollipop. But, here you go anyways. The work won’t lessen, and the kids won’t miraculously calm down. But here’s what I have discovered has helped slightly.
- Have a “4-walls” mentality. When you are in your classroom, think only about what is going on inside it, and don’t think about all of the other things going on “out there.” Contain your focus. Be completely in the moment while you’re teaching. The students—who are seeking pretty much any way to get attention at this point—will realize your “presence.” If they are getting your attention, they may be less tempted to seek it out in more ridiculous forms. Plus, your stress level will abate if you keep the “outside the 4 walls” pressures out of your mind until after the bell rings. Give those worries their own time and place.
- If you get encouragement from students and parents in the form of notes and pictures, post them. When you are at the end of your rope, or about to put your head down on your desk to indulge in a little exhausted cry, look up and read their words. Remind yourself that there is a reason you do one of the most important job on earth—you impact children.
- Don’t come home and vent to your spouse about all of the stress and naughtiness and work and drama. Share some positives too. If your spouse internalizes that and ends up having a negative impression of your workplace, that’s hard to erase. Come home, put your feet up, and enjoy some pleasant conversation…about nothing. It’s much more fun.
- I’ve said this in other posts on this blog, so this may not be new advice, but this is a biggie: when interacting with kids, especially at the end of the year, come alongside them to talk about their behavior, rather than come at them. There is a big difference. If we’re talking literally, here, think about a come-alongside posture—a calm conversation where you are both sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at a desk or on a couch. Then really talk—and listen! In my experience, the “squaring off” posture, when a teacher and student are facing each other in power-struggle posture, won’t get you the result you want, especially in May/June. Metaphorically, the “come alongside” is just as potent. Have open discussions with students about behavior using unemotional, conversational language that indicates to them that you are teammates who need to figure out the next steps for that student. Don’t absolve them from naughty behavior—you’re not their friend– but calmly deal with disrespect or defiance (which is inevitable in May/June) as a co-planner about how the rest of the day will go. You’ll get farther than you will in a face-off. At this point in the year, relationships with students govern—not rules.
- Be extra sweet to custodial staff and front office staff. They are working their tails off with all of the extra stuff going on around the school, too.
- If a colleague or administrator is dancing on your last nerve, don’t have a confrontation during the last few weeks of school. It’s too emotional, and it has the potential to ruin your peaceful summer. Quietly document your woes, and if you can’t use the summer to forgive and forget, and least use the summer to simmer down and plan for a rational conversation in September…if you still find it necessary then.
- Do random acts of encouragement. Your colleagues are as stressed as you are.
- Have oodles of grace for people. Apologize often. Summon up all of the tact you possess and use it…even it it’s hard. Like we ask our students to put on their “thinking caps” before a tough lesson, come to school and remind yourself to put on your “self-control body suit.”
- In those moments where you feel done with your students, don’t blow your stack–take a break. Go outside, or let them have a few minutes of “sanctioned” talking. I know you have learning to do…but not losing your cool will be better in the long run for that learning.
- Go out of your way to say hello and goodbye to your teammates. Unity is good.
- Before you leave your classroom each day, list 10 things that you are grateful for. Then go home. The power of this act can change your whole day.
Parents, you are hanging on by a thread, too. And if we think back to the chicken-pox-lollipop metaphor, the same holds true for you; a few little bullet point platitudes aren’t going to help much when it comes to the tough days of scheduling/chauffeuring/forcing children to bathe/concert attending/sports practices/projects/finding ways to pay for trips/dealing with school drama/making snacks for the school parties. But I’ll still give you the lollipop anyway.
- If you aren’t happy with your child’s final grade, or test score that’s based on the year’s learning…that’s okay. That’s normal. But it is really hard to fix that problem during the last two weeks of school. Remember that your child’s teacher has been tremendously committed to helping your child grow, and has given many, many hours to your child’s learning all year long, and would have been open to meeting with you at any point up until now. But June is a bit late to start course-correction. If you’d like to meet with the teacher—great! But creating an action plan for the next year is a more feasible plan than fixing the final grade.
- Like I said before, have oodles and oodles of grace for people. Stress is so thick in a school environment in May/June that you almost have to wade through it. Be mindful of that when you enter the doors.
- The “come alongside” metaphor applies to parenting too.
- Notice and comment on the things your child is doing right. If he or she realizes that you notice almost everything, not just the bad, then often the desire to engage in attention-seeking behavior will abate. The truth that relationships with kids govern—not rules holds true in parenting too—maybe even moreso.
- Give your child time to play and be silly. They need it.
- If you are frustrated with your child’s teacher, please don’t let your child hear about it.
- Schedule well, communicate the schedule well, and hang on for dear life.
Trust me, this isn’t coming from expertise…I am a fellow educator/parent trying to keep my head above water here. I treading with you. Good luck to all of you as you attempt to survive these next few weeks.
In the famous words of Dory: “just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”