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It's Quittin' Time!

Voice of ExperienceEach week, an educator takes a stand or shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in Education World's Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Brenda Dyck reflects on the misuse of the last days of the school year. In the classroom, wind-up programs or celebrations and filler movies start to appear weeks before school ends. Teachers seem to be giving up earlier and earlier. Included: Ideas for making the last few days of school more meaningful.

 

It's the end of the school year and a scene from the movie Gone With the Wind keeps playing over and over in my mind. The scene takes place at the end of a hard day of work in the cotton fields. One of the field hands shouts "Quittin' time!" only to be rebuked by his foreman, who says he'll decide "when it's quittin' time" and then immediately calls "Quittin' time!"

This disagreement over quittin' time is reminiscent of the last few weeks of school when each member of a learning community begins their own "quittin' time" process. Focused on the possibilities of next year, administrators and teachers cast their eyes to the fall. Influenced by their lead and the promises of summer, students begin to disengage from the learning tasks at hand.

It seems to me that "quittin' time" is starting earlier and earlier in the school year. In the interest of learning, I've been thinking about ways we might reclaim some of that lost time.

FOLLOWING THROUGH IS HARD WORK

It is no small task for educators to maintain the start-of-the-school-year enthusiasm to the end of June. The demands and disappointments of the year can't help but wear us down. The challenging work that accompanies unrealized learning goals or the disillusionment that settles in when teaching initiatives flounder can slow us.

As I approach the last quarter of the school year, I notice a familiar phenomena developing around me. Attention begins to shift towards the upcoming school year. Hiring needs, scheduling decisions, future room assignments, and think tanks about upcoming initiatives begin to absorb the attention of school administrators and teachers. Instead of continuing in our relentless pursuit of supporting students to meet success, "next year" peppers our plans and conversation. The principal's absence in the hallways is obvious; it even becomes difficult to find a time when the door to the principal's office is open. In the classroom, wind-up programs or celebrations and filler movies start to appear in greater frequency.

I watch this end-of-year cycle unfold each year and wonder what causes the prospects of the future to be more compelling than the challenges of the present. To an onlooker, it can often appear that educators are allowing the present year to play out on its' own.

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RECAPTURING THE LAST DAYS OF SCHOOL

In an online discussion, former middle school principal Michelle Pedigo expressed her belief that it is up to leadership to expect learning to continue -- even on the last day the buses run. She recommended educators consider ways to use the last days of school more productively. Following are a few of the points she made:

  • Do your teachers loop (move on to the next grade level with the same students)? Looping encourages teachers to continue teaching to the end of the year since they are really teaching for the next year.
     
  • If schools audited their time, are they really doing all they can do to meet students' needs within the school calendar? Teachers complain about how much the state-mandated tests take out of instructional time, but then show movies and assign no homework during the last week of school.
     
  • A school-wide interdisciplinary unit could be scheduled to fill the last two weeks of the school year. Pedigo told of a "Decades" unit her school presented one year. Each team studied a decade after World War II. They created a wide variety of presentations. Since the decade they chose was part of next years' curriculum, it allowed them to get a jumpstart on next year.

In order to make productive use of the last days of school, other teachers offered the following advice:

  • Encourage students to finish well. Allow students who needed to bring up their grades time to do make-up work.
     
  • Make memories. Organize a wide variety of activities (basketball and volleyball games in the gym, relay races on the field, a dunking booth, computer games, arts and crafts, chess tournaments, a movie, and anything else you might dream up!). Divide the day into segments. Let students decide which activities they will participate in or have them rotate among the activities.
     
  • Write and reflect. Have students write letters to the students who will be in their grade next year; in those letters they should give tidbits of insight, advice, and information.
     
  • Make a difference. Involve students in community service work. Make cards for people in local nursing homes; or have kids create games for younger students.
     
  • Keep learning. Hold contests that involve learning, such as an egg drop competition or a paper-airplane-flying contest.
     
  • Evaluate. Ask students for feedback about some of the projects and activities done in your class over the year.

One middle school teacher expressed her motivation for teaching until right until quittin' time this way: "All and all, I am glad I taught until the last dog died. That is what [the students'] parents are paying me to do, and that is what I always do."

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Brenda Dyck teaches at Master's Academy and College in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching sixth grade math, Brenda works with her staff in the area of technology integration. Her "Electronic Thread" column is a regular feature in the National Middle School Association's Journal, Middle Ground. Brenda is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.

Article by Brenda Dyck
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Updated 05/13/2013