We’re in the home stretch of the school year. And no matter what grade you teach, that means lots of excitement and probably a good bit of distraction. It can also be a time of fatigue, as our minds start to drift toward summer break—toward refreshment and recharge—and toward what we’ll do differently next year.
Yes, dream about next school year, but let me encourage you to stay present in this one. It may be true that the novelty of 2016-17 wore off long ago—and that everyone is getting a little tired (of the routine, the work….even each other). Fine.
But we’re not finished yet. There’s more to do—not just because the calendar tells us this, but because our care for students demands it.
“Wait,” you might say, “How does the way we use these last weeks have anything to do with our care for students?”
It Honors Their Time
They know they technically have to be there, but not much of value happens when people just check boxes of compliance. Asking students to show up to classrooms where their teachers are not truly showing up is not fair. It cultivates the very lack of motivation we should be battling. Worse, it may also cultivate bitterness and resentment. Think of how you feel when you’re forced to show up to something that’s poorly planned or generally unhelpful; consider, too, how deeply we treasure our own time. Extend this same consideration to our students; make their time count.
It Models Strong Character
We’ve been entrusted with developing and encouraging our students for the full school year. Their parents—and our community at large—expect that we will honor our commitments. Just as we would struggle to admire a marathoner who taps out at mile 25 or a baseball player who doesn’t race down to first, our students will struggle to respect our decision to quit before the job is done. Or really, not even to quit….but to ease up before the goal is reached.
Model for them the tenacity and follow through that they will need for the rest of their lives. Help them realize that persistence is a matter of character. Show them what it means to finish well.
It Helps them See Learning as Valuable
Is it too pie in the sky to say that learning for its own sake has tremendous value? That even if it won’t result in a concrete reward (a test grade, a final average, or meeting a benchmark) the opportunity to learn is a privilege all its own?
Some might protest: “Oh, come on. They don’t care. They’re checked out. They’re finished. They’ve fulfilled all the course’s objectives. Isn’t this enough? Isn’t it okay to take it easy for awhile?”
Well…maybe. But only if we settle for the belief that the ultimate purpose of schooling is to achieve a grade, or advance to the next level, or complete graduation requirements.
If this is true, I should tell my Seniors just to do enough to pass—or not annihilate their grades—because they’ve essentially done their jobs. They’ve been accepted into college and, for all intents and purposes, have earned their diplomas.
But I can’t get out of bed for the next six weeks and just go through the motions. I can’t let myself say to these young people, “You’ve met the standard. You’re going off to college. And, even though we’ll be here together until June 6, I have nothing left to offer you. Nothing left to help prepare or inspire you.”
Come on. No student truly wants that teacher. Sure, there’s a part of them that may be okay with less homework, or more movies, or just a bit more ease, rather than challenge. But it’s not for their good. It’s the path of least resistance but not the one of greatest joy. It is not the one that shows you care about them.
Just like they seem to want complete freedom yet thrive most with structure, students need you to push…to challenge them…to inspire them. To dare them to become more. They might not like it in the moment, but it’s not just this moment the caring teacher (or coach, or parent) focuses on.
Listen, I fully acknowledge that it’s hard to push all the way to the finish line. But if we know that students are going to struggle to stay focused, our response shouldn’t be to let them ease up.
Rather, it should be to encourage them to finish well. It should be to give them a compelling reason to come to school, not one based in duty, but in desire. It should be to help them seize each moment, assured of our care for them and our commitment to creating lessons that are engaging, experimental, student-centered, and yes, even life changing. That’s not too high a calling for these last few weeks.
And when you’re tempted to believe it is too much to ask, imagine calling up your students’ parents to tell them that. Or more personally, imagine receiving that phone call from your child’s teacher.
Here’s to a great end to your school year!