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This time of year, we know how you’re feeling. Burnt out. Exhausted. Hoping to survive the last weeks without the kids going crazy. It’s hard to find activities that still have meaning.
Especially if you have older kids … they know you’ve already inputted their grades and nothing they do really matters. How do you get those kids to care? And more importantly for our sanity, how do we keep our classroom management from flushing down the toilet?
LISA: My elementary school always had activities that made the end of the year seem fairly scheduled. Field day, awards assembly, no citation celebration activity, class party, etc. My classroom management in my first and second grade classroom definitely flowed from an understanding that we were all a team trying to help each other and build each other up. We worked as a team to get the classroom ready for the last day of school. I would write on the whiteboard the list of what needed to get done . . . things like collect reading books, clean out desks, wipe down desks, take down student work from walls and other such things. Kids would help get it all done. I’d have them write about something they hope to remember about the school year and kids could read them in front of the class. I made simple autograph books for my class since many kids didn’t get yearbooks at that age. They got to decorate the books to make it special to them. I taught them about signing their name (not cursive yet, just putting their name) and what type of words you could write in a person’s book next to your name. We brainstormed compliments and wrote them on the board so they knew how to spell them if they wanted to use some. The very last day we finished up cleaning the classroom. We pushed all the desks to the side and stacked our chairs. We might have a dance party, I’d read some favorite read alouds, have extra recess time, I think one year I had them write thank-you letters to school support staff and we’d deliver them, and just try to have a relaxing, fun day in general.
JONATHAN: I had a hard time for many years. I always felt like I was trying to find ways to hoodwink the kids into thinking activities actually mattered. I would even assign busywork and keep the kids guessing about whether I was going to miraculously get all this new stuff graded. Then I’d file it in the circular file (see Episode 8 for more on that or just search on YouTube for Circular File).
It wasn’t till three years ago or so that I finally landed on an activity I was satisfied with. I started by thinking, How can I utilize these last days of 7th and 8th graders’ school years to impact the rest of their lives, especially since I’m not gonna grade any of this. So I started doing this...
I hand out a simple 3x5 notecard to each student. On one side, I have them write the things they're afraid of about the future, about high school, college, and adulthood. Then on the other side, I have them write questions they’ve always wanted to ask an adult but never have. I advise them that I have the right to skip questions if I think they’re inappropriate and that I’m just one grownup dude in the world with my opinions, but I’ll share my thoughts on almost any question they really want to know the answer about the future and adulthood. >>> Download the free teaching resource here.
And the response and results have been unbelievable. Our middle schoolers are thinking deeply about life. They have seriously real fears and thoughts, and they really have never had anyone speak into those big questions. Questions about:
- how taxes work
- how to choose a good college
- how to stay out of debt
- how to not end up divorced
- how to make sure their kids aren’t screwed up
- how to not end up poor
- how to choose a career
- how to not be a bored and depressed adult
- how to travel and have fun as an adult
So I give what I can, and those 3 days of class are deeply meaningful. Sure, there are a couple of kids who are antagonistic toward the process, but the other kids literally tell them to shut up because they want to learn about the rest of their lives.
Then there are the yearbook days, which can feel like a waste of time, but I try to reframe the days. I call them “making memories days.” I remind them there is a reason they’re called “Mementos,” and they should respect and honor each other’s memory books. I buy a yearbook every year and ask my students to sign it, to leave a memory in my book of this year of my life.
And here’s the kicker, I sign every kid’s yearbook who asks me. And not just my name. I sign with a heartfelt blessing for them. This requires some work ahead of time. I have to spend days/weeks thinking about each kid and what makes them uniquely awesome, what they’ve achieved this year, how they’ve grown, what is their special mark I see them making on their world. And I give them that. That is my gift to them. Sure, I tell them throughout the year, but I also want to tell them in their Memento. It’s worth my time. They aren’t wasted days.
And the kids love it. You should see them go back to their desk and read their blessing. I know for sure many of them have never received a blessing like that, someone looking into their soul and trying to put that into words of identity for them. Sure, again, I’m just one dude, but I want them to know that I saw them.
So these are just a couple of ideas from a couple of fellow teachers, but we wanted to share them in case you’re still looking for that idea you can latch onto.
Conversation of the Day: What’s a meaningful way you try to end the school year without the kids going cray?
Hop on over to watch the video and share your thoughts in the conversation.