An older post from 2017 that still rings true today. I will not do a countdown for many reasons, even if I know how many days I have left. While the belief started as an epiphany of the wildness it was creating, it now rests more solidly in the notion that not every child has a safe place to be during the summer. And while this year of teaching has been like no other and every single person involved with schools deserves a break, to step away from simply making it through the day, I still know that for some being out of school does not allow them to thrive in the ways I hope every child has the possibility to; with food, a bed, adults to supervise and care, learning opportunities, and true rest. We can still celebrate a conclusion of an extraordinarily hard year without counting down the days together. We can still be glad to have the chance to step away to recharge without notching days.
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. 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 an uncertain future where he had to carry the weight of a society who has very few safety nets for children in poverty and home adults who are trying to survive. Our classroom was his safe space. In our classroom, he felt cared for, knew he would eat, and knew he had people with him. Outside of school that wasn’t always the case. 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. None of those messages were what my silly countdown was meant to convey to him. And I am sure there have been others who silently dreaded the end of school, who didn’t show it through their tears but kept it inside or showed in other ways. Who didn’t excitedly tell their peers about all the things they couldn’t wait to do but instead hoped that they could stay together, sta where they were, instead of walking out on that last day of school. So while school certainly doesn’t represent safety for all children, for some it does.
So It is not that I don’t know how many days are left. That I pretend to be clueless as to the end of the year. It is just that I don’t advertise it. I don’t actively remind children how much better summer will be than what we are doing together, than what we have built together. 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, that our community is valuable. I have less than three weeks left and so much still to teach and learn, so many opportunities to keep connecting with kids, to continue to build community and provide resources that will hopefully make a difference in the days ahead. 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. Because what we have built matters and I am sad to see it go. I am sad to see them go. I don’t need a countdown to remind me of that.
I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.