When I was a new teacher, I was stunned to discover that the last few weeks of school presented the biggest classroom management challenge of the year. It didn’t make sense to me–I’d already taught my procedures and routines. The kids knew exactly what to expect from me. We had a great rapport and classroom community.
So why did I have to repeat everything I said eighteen times before they listened? How come I had to crack the whip on behavioral infractions like it was suddenly the first day of school all over again?
I remember saying to my students, “Walk in the hallway. Raise your hand if you want to share something. You know this stuff, guys. The rules are the same as they’ve been since August.”
It wasn’t until after a few miserable springs that I finally realized the truth: the rules weren’t the same as they’d always been.
By early May, I was just as tired as the kids. I wanted to give them (and myself) a break. So I’d decide not to give our regular math morning work assignment and let the class do a word search page instead. The kids got all excited and forgot to follow the routines for staying on-task and completing their work independently. I’d quickly get irritated and blame the problem on ‘spring fever’.
After that, I’d figure there was no way the kids would be attentive during the regular vocabulary lesson, so I’d give a partner reading assignment instead. The kids became even more wound up and start chattering loudly. I assumed there wasn’t much I could do about it, and hey, the class had worked so hard all year, so I let them get noisier than I normally would. The students, of course, realized I was busy doing paperwork and wasn’t addressing the noise level, so they stopped pretending to read altogether. Instead, they began calling out to each other, walking around the room, and acting silly.
At that point, I’d get totally fed up, yell at the kids, and plan to take them outside for an early recess so I could get some fresh air. The kids realized that their poor behavior frustrated me, but it also resulted in extra time outside, so there was no incentive to follow directions when they re-entered the classroom.
Eventually I realized I had slacked off on academics way too early, and had started to project an energy that signaled to the kids: The teacher is DONE. She doesn’t care anymore and now you don’t have to, either.
It was through trial and error that I learned to avoid this downward spiral by following a simple principle: Keep the routines and procedures the same as much as possible until a week before school ends. Give the same type of tasks in the same order and use a predictable routine in your lessons. Stick to your regular schedule, and when it’s interrupted by assemblies and other activities beyond your control, keep the rest of the day as tightly structured as possible.
Many teachers (myself included) like to change instruction and assignments after standardized testing is over for the year and do more creative and hands-on activities. But that doesn’t have to mean you’ll have an erratic schedule. You can determine your new routines, teach those expectations to students, and hold kids to them.
Chance are, many of your co-workers won’t do this and you’ll be tempted to become lackadaisical. Just remember that kids thrive under predictability. You knew this fact and planned accordingly at the beginning of the year, so don’t be fooled into thinking that your kids will suddenly be angels without any structure for the entire months of May and June.
Above all, make sure you take time to enjoy your students during your last few weeks together. Schedule some fun quality time with your class. Be patient with their excess energy and their reluctance to buckle down and focus on school work. Support them the best you can through predictable routines and clear expectations, but do so with kindness.
And save a little bit of that patience and consideration for yourself. You’ve accomplished a lot throughout the year, and you’re in that final stretch. The end is in sight, my friends–make the most of every moment you have left.
Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and currently works as an instructional coach and educational consultant based in New York City. She conducts webinars and writes books centered on her passion for helping teachers build strong classroom management and a positive mindset so they can truly enjoy their work. Her website features hundreds of free articles, lesson ideas, classroom photos, printable forms/posters, and more. You can subscribe to the blog or newsletter, or connect on Facebook/Twitter.