The other day I was asked, “What is the one thing you would tell teachers to stop doing as the end of the year nears?” I needed no time to think because my answer is simple; the countdown.
I used to do the countdown with my students. 20, 19, 18 days left of school. Each day the kids would get more excited. “We are almost out of here, Mrs. Ripp!” They got crazier as the countdown neared the end, energy barely contained, and I loosened the reins, had fun, did less curriculum and more community building. Except the days dragged on. The kids grew restless, and I even started looking at the clock, wishing the day to be over. Was this what teaching the last few weeks of school would always be like?
Six years ago, after a particularly trying week, I had an epiphany – one that many have had before me. I was creating the excited mess unfolding every day in my classroom. My choices in doing a countdown and stepping away from our routines were signaling to the kids that school no longer mattered. That what we were doing no longer mattered. That all they had to do was wait it out and then this, too, would finally be over. As if our students needed any more reminders that school is not a great place to be.
So I stopped the countdown, I went back to teaching and have not looked back since. Because while the countdown may be fun on the surface; another way to show off student accomplishment – you made it through 7th grade -it also sends a much deeper message; we are done with the year. I am done with you. I cannot wait to be done and finally get a break. Is that really what we want to tell our students?
Yet, this is not the only reason I hate the countdown. One year, a child cried under his desk on the last day of school. Inconsolable, I asked him what had happened. Had someone said something to him that I had not caught? Instead, he looked up at me, tears running down his face and said, “Don’t make me leave…I don’t want to go on vacation, I want to stay here.” I cried with him and did the only thing I could, hug him and tell him I would always be here for him if he needed me. Yet, his words have stayed with me all of these years. This child did not look forward to summer. This child faced a summer of unknowns, of food shortage, of not knowing who he would live with, of who would care for him. Summer did not represent a break, but a punishment. Our classroom was his safe space. In our classroom, he felt loved. By counting down the days, I was reminding him every day of what was ahead after that last day of school; uncertainty, fear, hunger. None of those messages were what I hoped to convey to my students.
So It is not that we don’t know how many days are left. I have 38 days left to be exact and so much still to teach. It is just that we don’t advertise it. We don’t actively remind children how much better summer will be than what we are doing. It undermines the entire mission we have had all year of instilling the importance of the work we do. It undermines every single time we have said that school is important. So now, when a child tells me that they are excited about summer, I tell them I am too, but also that I will miss them, that I will miss our learning, that I will miss our classroom. That we have so much learning still to do. That we will work to the very last day because our time is valuable. Because we need every minute we can get.
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9 thoughts on “On Counting Down the Days”
I didn’t have any idea how many days we have left. We are on Easter break, so I looked at the calendar and counted. 28 days! Yikes! That’s not many. I’ve never done the countdown, but I’ve watched it happen all down the hall. I didn’t think about how it was contributing to the madness, but now it makes sense. I’ve had that student who cried on the last day of school. I think I’ll be the one crying this year. 28 days makes me so sad.
Thank you so much for your post – I shared it with my entire staff today. What you wrote is exactly what I’ve thought for many years, but I just haven’t had the exquisite words (that you used here) to convey my feelings. Bravo!!!
I am so thankful for your words Pernille, truly, they force me to look hard in the mirror. I admit that I have been counting down this year, I would be lying if I said it didn’t want it to be over. This year almost made me quit. I do love and care about my students, but I am ready for a fresh start next year.
I totally agree. I’ve never done a countdown and always feel there is so much left to teach after Easter break. I do my best to keep their little brains open to learning with some engaging tricks I save just for this time of year. Thank you for this post.
So true! It is hard enough keeping students on track…especially after State Testing . I never really thought of it this way before. We’re actually throwing gasoline on the “School’s almost out so I’m checking out” fire. Thank you.
I totally agree! My teammate and I think of teaching as May to May. The work we do now is setting the stage for next year. My advice to others..Don’t stop teaching! Enjoy this time with your kids. Watch them reflect and grow even more in these final days. Kids deserve our best even as the school year winds down.
There is so much truth wrapped in this blog post. Summer is not always a break for students as their everyday normalcy screeches to a halt. School means safety. Comfort. Success. Love. It’s a tough transition to be reminded daily that all you’ve known for nearly a year is coming to an end. Celebrate the good and keep learning right to the end!