Over the years I’ve noticed that things tend to fall apart, socially speaking, at the end of the school year. Maybe you’ve noticed this phenomenon, too. This social disintegration is marked by short tempers, unkind words, and increased sensitivity and rejection. Rejection is one way students separate from and prepare to leave their classmates. We’re all exhausted and ready for a break, but it’s up to us to ensure that all students feel safe and accepted through the last day of school.
Here are several suggestions for helping students transition peacefully to summer vacation and to their next grade.
Morning Meeting, when tension is low and no one is angry, is a good time to discuss negative behaviors you’ve observed. I tell students I’ve noticed a pattern of arguing and unkindness among class members. Then I explain that this kind of distancing sometimes happens when people are going to part. As the year winds down, it’s normal to have mixed feelings of relief, elation, and sadness, but it’s important not to act out our feelings on others. We spend time discussing our feelings and identifying similarities and differences. I remind students that as long as they are in my classroom, I expect them to follow class rules about respecting themselves and others. I also spell out the consequences for breaking the rules.
Keep lessons light and upbeat. If students haven’t acquired certain skills, it’s unlikely that more worksheets and drills in the last week of school will make a difference. Instead, plan activities like a reading day (similar to Read Across America Day), a board games day, a class play/readers theater, or a field trip or outdoor obstacle course. Nature and the outdoors help us all, teachers included. Spending a few extra minutes on a playground having read-alouds under a tree or painting a map or design on a playground blacktop keeps the focus light.
We want to end the year on a high note, sending students and their parents on to the next grade with positive memories.
Talking and writing about summer plans may help students. Some students may have to be coaxed to think of summer activities because they’re not sure what’s going to happen. Other students know they are going to day camp, taking a family vacation to Cape Cod, or swimming at the town pool. Talking about upcoming events takes the focus off parting.
Some of students' negative behavior may come from anxiety about next fall. Ask your students’ future teachers to visit during the last week to chat with your class. Have them share highlights of the coming school year. Save time for questions and answers. It’s also helpful for your students to visit the actual classroom they will be in next fall. Seeing the classroom and sitting in one of the desks helps students feel more confident on the first day of school. Again, allow time for students to ask questions about the classroom.
Students who are emotionally fragile or who have social skill deficits may find the end of the school year especially difficult. Students who have difficult home lives may not be looking forward to spending time with their families. Students who thrive in a structured school environment may be anxious about spending less structured time at home. Vulnerable students may have developed strong attachments to their classroom teacher, guidance counselor, or special educator and will miss these caring adults. Helping these students transition to summer will require patience, understanding, and time for them to process what they are experiencing.
Every summer for 12 years when my children were growing up, we welcomed a New York City child into our Massachusetts home through the Fresh Air Fund. Fresh Air is a nonprofit organization that provides two-week summer vacations for NYC children who might not have a summer vacation otherwise. Children are hosted by families from Maine to Virginia who volunteer to share part of their summer.
If you live in New England or the Mid-Atlantic states, find out if your community participates in the Fresh Air Fund. Consider sponsoring a child or making a donation to this worthy program.
Take time for yourself to read a book, join a yoga class, or have a massage. Have fun with your family! Along with my Top Teaching colleagues, I’ll be back when the next school year starts.