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.
If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released. I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.