being a teacher, classroom expectations, summer, teaching

Summer Is Not Here Yet – Tips To Stay Motivated and Energized

See that kid walking in; the one who smiles every day and then just kind of retracts into their own world.  yeah that child, well, it is not too late to make a connection.  In fact, now, as the end of the years nears is the perfect time to try again.  I know you are busy, I know summer looms large, but still, how about another try?

With less than 5 weeks to go, some are in summer mode, both teachers and students, and others continue to push on.  At the end of every day with my students I say, “There goes another day in 5th grade but boy we have a lot to do.”  In our room there is a sense of urgency; a need for efficiency, hard work and a little bit of pressure because the learning just does not have time to wait.  Students are busy with larger end of the year projects and I work more as consultant than direct instructor.  Sure side conversations slip in but overall there is a sense of mission.    A sense of using the year to the fullest degree, of finishing with a bang rather than a fizzle.

So what can we do to keep ourselves motivated?

  • Reach out and speak to someone new.  We tend to retract during this time, feeling that our schedules are overpacked and there is so much to do but there is something about reaching out and making a new connection.  Whether it is with a student, a colleague, or a parent even, now is the time to continue to build relationships.  It provides spark and energy and new ideas, what else could you want in May.
  • Get heavily invested.  I am very invested in these end of the year projects and I am in new territory with all of them. Students are acting as teachers in one with an assessment piece even tied in by them.  Another lets us use Adobe Elements which I have never attempted, you get the drift.  Instead of resting and trying something safe, I continue to push it and it keeps me revitalized, which directly translates to the energy level of the classroom.
  • Now is the time for conversation.  Although my mind is fully in this year, knowing I have a maternity leave coming up, I want to make sure I set my sub up with the best options, so my students and I speak a lot about what works and what doesn’t.  How would they tweak the classroom, how would they alter projects and so forth.  I, in turn, listen and take notes, changing as I go.
  • Trust them more.  I see some teachers pull in the reins and really try to control students more as the end of year nears.  And yes, energy levels are up across the board and yet, I give mine more leeway.  I trust them more to make the right decisions, to represent, and to push themselves.  They have grown so much over the year, now is the time to acknowledge that.
  • Crank the music.  And don’t take yourself so seriously.  Yes, you may be frazzled with so much to do, we all are, but is it fair to give that to the students?  I try to laugh more, smile more, and dance more as the year comes to a close.  We al need the body breaks and you an get a lot of classroom cleaning done with a great 80’s song blaring.
  • Stay with the kids.  And with that I mean, in your mind and in your heart.  I always have an awful time letting go of “my” kids even though I know they are ready, but it is something I pride myself on.  These kids know I am fully focused on them and on their academics.  They know that I want to hear their stories and I want to support them.  Even though our official year is almost over does not mean our relationship is.  So I continue to work on all of my relationships with them to ensure that they know that they belong, that they are accepted, and that room 310 will always be their home, no matter how old they get.

assumptions, no homework, summer, teachers

You Don’t Own Their Summer

Thea enjoying her vacation

Summer vacation is starting to sneak into our school minds as stealthily as the first signs of a cold.  A mention of a vacation planned here, some raised trepidation about next year, begging for me to transfer to 6th grade.  And so while we plow on through all of our projects, still staying focused, I think of the things the students could be doing during that break; math facts, reading, fixing mistakes in their brain so that they start fresh the following year, perhaps even a little bit ahead, ready to conquer the world of 6th grade.  And then I am reminded; I don’t own their summer.

Already we have been given gentle recommendations to assign math games over summer. Some students know they will be expected to finish a math book, others to read a classic book or two.  And my outrage starts to bubble.  We don’t own their summer, we don’t own their summer, we don’t own their summer.

Summer vacation in America may be too long for some kids.  It may lead to the infamous summer slide, loss of knowledge, skill setbacks that will lead to worse test results, but we don’t own their summer.  Their summer is for them to explore, to renew, to breathe, to invest in whatever catches their interest.  Perhaps their summer will have nothing to do with school and yet everything to do with learning.  Perhaps their summer will be spent reading book after book, perhaps just being at a pool.  Whatever they choose to do with their time is none of our business.

And sure, of course those that assign homework for a class that starts after summer, they have the best interest of their students in mind.  Yet the truth is, you have no right to that time.  You have no power over whether they do it or not.  You cannot expect them to come having read 2 books, or written a paper, or done a packet of math problems.  You can ask them to, but you cannot demand it.  You may say that the summer work is like preparing for a job, but guess what, even jobs give you time off.  You may say that summer work is in the best interest of the students, to keep them out of trouble, well, let them make that decision.  You may say that if they don’t work over the summer you will never get through everything you have to cover; that is a time management problem not something you can push onto the students.

You can hope that their summer is spent learning.  That their summer is spent finding new interests.  That their summer wasn’t just a big break from anything strenuous, but you cannot decide what they should do. You cannot decide what constitutes summer learning or not, because, yes, that’s right, you don’t own their summer.

summer, teachers

You Have the Summer Off, Really?

I know people mean well.  I know they think I am exhausted from dealing with students, demanding tests, and just the overall misery of being a teacher in America.  But they are wrong.  I am not exhausted, I have never just “dealt with” students or misery (dreadful tests – yes).  So when someone tells me that they survived the school year, I cringe, and when someone asks me how excited I am to have the summer “off” I stop and pause.  I am excited to spend more time with my family and do summer things, but excited about having off, no not really.

I don’t have the summer off.  I never have since deciding to be a teacher.  When I was going to college I would work extra hours and take summer classes.  Since getting my teaching job, I have taught summer school, taken classes and just kept my brain engaged.  And while many choices are voluntary, I do it with one big picture in mind; a better educational experience for my students.  This post is not to whine, I make the choices about my time, but it is meant to make people pause before they state that teachers have 3 months off and have it so easy.  So here is what I have been up to:

  • I blog almost daily to keep myself reflective and engaged.
  • I am getting ready to present twice at the Reform Symposium 3.  Once on student blogging and once with my great friend Matt on the connection and collaboration between our very different classrooms.
  • I have finished editing an upcoming article on the Global Read Aloud for ISTE’s magazine “Learning & Leading with Technology” to be published in November.
  • I have written a guest post for VolunteerSpot on what we wish we could tell parents but don’t.
  • I have finished doing a double blind review of a great book to be published by SolutionTree.
  • I have engaged in deep conversation about best practices and student blogging on an almost daily basis with individual educators looking to make a change.
  • I am preparing a weeklong professional development class I am teaching in my district in August on how to integrate technology into your classroom.
  • I have revamped my school’s old website and converted it to a blog.
  • I have changed my own classroom website from Tumblr to Blogger due to security issues.
  • I have worked on revamping the Global Read Aloud website to allow for author collaboration (email me to let me know if you want to be a collaborator).
  • I have cleaned my classroom and sorted all of my 4th grade curriculum to pass on to the new 4th grade teacher.
And that is all in the first week of vacation.  So while bettering myself is a choice and I may do more than other people I fit it into my daughter’s schedule and we make it work.  Next week when I leave for Denmark I have 3 books I am bringing with me all education related since I want to revamp my reading program.  So the next time someone feels the urge to tell teachers how lucky they are to have 3 months off, think about, maybe ask them instead what they plan on doing this summer.  The answer may surprise you.