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How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Days… June 7, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m really going to miss this year’s class of students, but I can’t miss them until they’re gone. The calendar screams June and even my students know that the little number at the top of the whiteboard is the number of school days remaining.  Yet there’s still a barrage of tests to administer, report cards to write, not to mention adding those comments to the cums i.e. “This will go down on your permenant record!”  How on earth will I get all this done?  The same way I get into my size 8 jeans.  I’ll just have to squeeze it all in.

The end of the school year is also riddled with assemblies, events, and even more importantly, non-events.  With all this work to do, teachers are looking for time fillers aka time killers.  

Someone wants to demo a sample lesson from the new music curriculum in my class? Come on down!  I know those books are behind my desk somewhere.  I was just too busy ferrying my students to chorus and practicing the recorder to crack them open.  Besides, I’m still suffering from flashbacks involving music lessons from my own childhood.  They include a teacher with tightly curled hair, who played a mean pitch pipe.

There’s a scientist who wants to make a presentation to students about sea otters?  Wait a minute, aren’t they those cute furry little guys who float on their backs and crack open mussels on their bellies?  They’re adorable AND they’re endangered?  Hey, endangered begins with an “e” and so does “educational.”  Pencil me in.

The key to surviving the final weeks of school is to keep students believing, until the last possible minute, that everything they do counts.  If they’re watching a video, you’ve got them convinced you’re grading them on their listening skills.  You can even up the ante, and fill/kill more time, by having them write a summary of the video.  But call it a critique because it sounds more important.  Better yet, have students storyboard the entire video and learn animation, which will especially be valuable if they ever move to Asia.   A really good teacher can shoot students a look that says, “Pay no attention to that man standing behind the curtain!”  while standing atop a student desk and prying staples out of the wall with ruler.

At our school, teachers are told everything must be taken off the walls or covered, so the custodians can “wash” the walls.  I’m sorry, but I haven’t washed the walls in my own house since the last century.  Besides, our classroom ceilings are 12 feet high and the periodic leaks in the plumbing wash away any pesky cobwebs.  The other thing I’m loath to hear is that my classroom will be used for summer school.  Everything must then be covered to minimize dust (as in dusting for fingerprints, because some of your stuff will mysteriously dissapear.)

Packing up the class for summer is akin to striking a movie set without the crew.  Some teachers pop in a video/DVD, dim the lights, and don’t look back unless they hear screams or gunfire.  Then there are those teachers who, usually out of sheer desperation, enlist the help of their students. WARNING! – This is a double-edged sword and someone WILL fall on it.  

Years back I volunteered to help out in a friend’s classroom.  It was the last day of school and the kids kept asking if they could help.  Finally, she acquiesced and what followed is still vividly etched on my mental hard drive. No sooner had she said yes then children swarmed like a plague of locusts and began ripping the butcher paper off the walls. They made soccer hooligans look like a bunch of rank amateurs.  Thank god there was no car in the classroom, or it would have been overturned and set ablaze.  At one point, I looked over and saw the the American flag falling.  I remember thinking that quite possibly, I was witnessing the fall of Western civilization. When all of the paper had been ripped from the walls, the children collapsed on the floor and rolled around in the scraps of paper like pigs in mud.  

There is also the, “Should we have an end-of-the-year party?”  dilemma.  My solution is to have a party on the second to last day of school.  I don’t want to be scraping turquoise cupcake frosting out of the carpet on that memorable last day.  By the end of the year, the cupboard is bare, so if students want a party, they better bring the food.  If they come bearing shrimp chips and Gummi worms, that’s what’s on the menu.  No plates or paper napkins?  Have a student bring back paper towels from the bathroom then show them how to fold and cut them into heart shapes.  It’s never too late to squeeze in a lesson on symmetry and for students to hone their cutting skills with dull, rusty scissors. 

Finally, there are always those kids who ask if you’re going to give them a present.  I blame this on those over-achieving kindergarten and first grade teachers, who are permanently stuck in precious mode.  You can count on them to send the kids off with some insufferably cute keepsake.  This ensures that later in life, their students will use the name of their first-grade teacher as the hint to recall a forgotten computer password.  

By the end of the year, if your students are still asking what you’re going to give them, you’ve failed at instilling the most important lesson of all.  That you’ve already given them the most valuable gift you have to give – your time.  

This said, I do stockpile blank journals from the 99 Cent Store and give them to students the last day of school.  I write my address on the inside cover and tell them if they write me a letter over the summer, I promise to write back.  And I do.  Now some teachers think this is sheer lunacy.  “What about those disgruntled parents?  They’ll know where you live!”  I choose to be an optimist.  I’m sure those shots fired on my street several years back were not intended for me.  A case of mistaken identity, no doubt.  Or teachers envision an even worse scenario.  “You don’t want to have to write letters to your students when you’re on vacation!”  I just smile.

The first year I gave out my address, I even enclosed a stamp in the journal, then waited for the letters to come streaming in.  I waited.  And waited.  The most letters I’ve ever received is three.  The first year I took it personally.  How could my students have forgotten me so quickly?  But now, I realize it’s nothing personal.  My students are just as eager to have a break from school as I am.  Knowing this, I remind myself to treasure my last eight days with them before I send them out the door that final time.


1. Rebecca House - June 11, 2008

You’re awesome Jan! I’m so grateful you shared that experiance of what NOT to do in terms of having your students help you “clean up” the classroom! I can completely picture in my mind what that might have been like by the way you describe it. Thanks for saving me!!


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