Tips for Finishing the School Year Mindfully

A MiddleWeb Blog

Every year I feel like the last few weeks of school become more and more stressful. The pressure of getting grades right, helping students who are on the verge of failing, putting in place close-out procedures, and getting my classroom ready for summer make it an exhausting and stressful time.

I’m typically so busy and forgetful that I don’t do anything to make things go more smoothly when school starts next year.

Even during the busy last few weeks of school, there have been some down times that I could have used to prepare for next year but I’ve never very productive. I have a hard time thinking about what needs to be done.

As a result, I still feel stressed out the first week of summer, and I have the nagging feeling that I forgot something. This year I tried to be more mindful and think about what I could do to lessen my stress and make things easier for “future me.”

Things to do now to make the next school year easier

► I have found that “out of sight, out of mind” definitely applies to me. At the beginning of every school year I spend too much time trying to remember where I put things because we get our floors waxed so everything has to be stored away. This year to keep track of where I put things, I stored all I could fit in my filing cabinets arranged by category and I wrote the contents on the outside of the filing cabinet with dry erase markers.

Now I won’t have to waste time figuring out where I put the cords for my printer or my pencil sharpener, etc. And if I was storing items in a place I couldn’t use a dry erase marker, like my wooden supply cabinet, I took a picture with my phone of where I was storing the items and the items themselves and saved the photo in a folder on my phone.

► I made an Amazon wish list for the things I will need next year. This wasn’t my idea but an idea of my teaching buddy, and it I think it’s a really good one. I always think I will remember what I am out of or need, but going by past experience, I won’t. So when my fee money becomes available next year, I will already have my list started.

► Every year I take Polaroids of my students on the first day of school (it’s optional; but most students like the novelty of having their picture made with an instant camera) to give them when they graduate. I put the photo in a graduation card and write a short note. (If you teach elementary or middle school, you could do the same thing. Just give them to the students when they “graduate elementary school” or “graduate middle school” or at the end of any school year).

Typically, I take the pictures the first day of school. I then throw them in a drawer, and when their graduation rolls around deal with them the last week of school. This involves sorting about 100 Polaroids , writing a short note,  putting them in cards and addressing them to the correct student. I don’t have to mail them because our school counselors have a folder for each graduate and I put their card in the correct folder.

It takes hours and hours to sort the photos, put them in the cards, and try to remember something specific so I could write something for each student. I knew I needed to streamline my system. So this year over two afternoons I took the time to put a sticky note with each photo, jotting down a few characteristics or a favorite memory of the student so would I have an easier time writing their card when the time comes.

What I did to lower stress

► In the middle of the last week of school I took two evenings and did something totally relaxing. For me it was working on my bullet journal for the books I plan to read. I love to read in the summer! This “mini-vacation” helped me be ready to attack my to-do list at school the next day. It also reminded me of one of the things I love about summer!

► This probably sounds obvious, but I tried to be present and remember I was seeing some of my students for the last time. I can get so caught up with grades and paper work, that I forget that students should be the real focus. I made a point to spend some quality time with my students toward the end.

All teachers know that the last few weeks of school there will be days when you only have a handful of students, and I made it point to spend time with them, even it meant staying after work a little bit longer after the students went home.

We reminisced and talked about the future, one day we played UNO (it was a short game). Most days were very full with putting grades in, helping students get make-up work turned in, etc. but when possible I tried spend time with my students – something I’ll never regret.

► I tried to be reasonable with myself. I realized I could not get everything done without having to stay late several nights the last few weeks of school. In the past, I felt guilty about having to stay so late, but I gave myself permission to do what I needed to do, realizing that it was temporary and it would help me start my summer with less stress.

I say this as a mom to grown children. I know everyone has different circumstances, and I wouldn’t presume to say that this would work for everyone. It would not have worked for me when my children were younger. But at this time, it was what I needed to lower my stress.

Looking ahead

I am one week into the summer, and I have adjusted better than I usually do. I feel calmer and more optimistic about the beginning of the next school year. If you have tips or suggestions for closing out the school year, I would love to hear them.

List image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell (@michel1erussel1) is a math teacher at Florence (AL) High School. She began her career as a student teacher in middle school and has taught students from 7th to 12th grade. She currently teaches high school math, including Algebra, Pre-Calculus, AP Statistics, and Algebra 2 with Trigonometry. In her free time, she enjoys reading books about math education and following other math teachers on social media.

2 Responses

  1. Mary Ann Johnson says:

    This is a gift to us who get overwhelmed with the busy paperwork: a reminder to enjoy the people-part of teaching. Sometimes the kids can even help get the room ready for summer, and love helping and giving us a gift of their help as well. It is good for both us and our students when we are relaxed and show them they are enjoyable and will be missed.

  2. Michelle Russell says:

    That is a great idea, my students are always glad to help! I like what you said about being relaxed, a relaxed teacher makes for a pleasant classroom.
    Thanks for your comment!

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