Because summer vacation should actually feel like a vacation, add these six items to your end-of-the-year to-do list and check them off before students leave. Getting them done will make your summer more enjoyable, and they’ll make the transition to a new year in the fall less stressful.
Get Rid of Stuff
Things accumulate. My stuff tends to pile up in three places: my teacher cabinet, my closet, and my filing cabinets. The hustle and bustle of our busy days means things don’t always get put where they belong. After a materials-intensive project, we might shove things into the closet just to get them out of sight. Worthless worksheets get dropped back into a file folder instead of in the trash where they belong. Dried out highlighters take up residence in our cabinets.
There are three reasons to get rid of stuff while students are still around. First, it cuts down on waste. Students will take just about anything home. A teacher’s detritus in the hands of a student can become a creative craft project. Let them have the empty stapler boxes and orphaned marker caps. Second, students are a source of free labor. Give them the tub of markers and have them test and throw out the duds. You’ll save time and they’ll enjoy doing it. Third, they’re done listening to you anyway. This will give them something productive to do.
Organize Your Files
I have Google Classroom and most of the documents I create throughout the year end up in a big mess. I make sure to find time during the last two weeks to open unnamed files and see if they’re worth keeping (and naming). I put every worthy file into a relevantly-named folder. This helps me find things much quicker next year when the search function fails because I named the file something stupid.
Go through the filing cabinets, too. My rule is simple. If I haven’t used it in two years, it goes in the trash. I’ve gotten rid of entire cabinets with this rule. Again, have students assist. I have file folders with multiple copies of worksheets. The extras are taking up space. Have students pull the extra papers and put them in a box. That becomes scratch paper for next year, while your files stay nice and slim and easy to flip through.
Organize the Classroom Library
I used to come in a week before school started to organize my classroom library. Now I have my students do it before they leave. Assign five or six responsible students to return books to their proper baskets. Have them put books they’re not sure about on a back table. Those will be the only ones you have to organize. If labels have torn, students can make new ones. In fact, your classroom library might be ready for a total makeover. Pass out blank index cards, a tub of markers, some glitter glue, stickers, and whatever else you have around and let students design and affix the new labels.
Make Copies for Next Year
When’s the worst time to use the copy machine? When everyone else is using it. Most teachers don’t get organized for the start of next year until just before the start of next year. By getting a jump on the competition, you’ll save yourself the frustration of waiting for Joyce to figure out how to run a collated set of “Getting to Know You” worksheets. Since copy machines are often in less demand at the end of the year due to less student work and more teachers getting the hell of there because it’s gorgeous outside, it’s the perfect time to make copies for the beginning of next year.
I try to get two sets of copies done before I leave for the summer. I always want my open house packet finished. My district is notorious for running computer updates and having technical problems the week before school starts and that usually messes with the printing and copying capabilities. Having my open house handouts done and in a filing cabinet eases my peace of mind. I also copy anything I’ll need during the first week of school. That way, while other teachers are swearing at a paper jam and wasting their planning time waiting for their colleagues, I can focus on other things (and during the first week, there are a lot of other things).
Survey your students
Before students leave, you should survey them and get their honest opinions about your class. Information from surveys almost always makes me question my practice. For example, I learned that this year’s students really liked being able to work with partners. I also learned they liked reading or listening to e-books much more than traditional books. Their favorite activities were ones where they got to create something, even something as simple as a slideshow for their vocabulary words. As a result, I’m thinking of ways to incorporate more partner work next year and brainstorming procedures to teach to make that work productive. I’m also curious to see what research says about the effectiveness of listening to e-books. I’ll also want to find more ways for students to make things.
Do a Procedures Audit
Procedures will make or break you. They’re what separates a well-run classroom from a zoo. List every procedure that happens in your class, whether you wanted it to or not. This can be hard to do because it makes you take an honest look about what really goes on in your classroom. If students leave their seats when they finish their work, write that down. If some students continually come up to you or blurt your name across the room when they need your help, record that. Those are procedures, whether you wanted them to be or not.
Once you have your list, assess each procedure. I type mine up and then color code them. Procedures that worked the way I wanted them to are turned blue. I’ll be teaching them just like I did this year. Procedures that are in place but could be better I turn yellow. That’s usually an indication that the procedure wasn’t modeled, practiced, or enforced well enough. Procedures that drive me nuts become red. These are usually the result of not teaching the procedure in the first place. For next year, I’ll find time during the first two weeks to model how I want it done.
The benefit of doing this audit while you still have this year’s students is you can ask them why a procedure didn’t work. I teach in a portable, so we don’t have lockers. We have hooks on one wall. My procedure for this year was that students who entered the classroom first had to put their backpacks on the back hooks, while later students would use the front hooks. But students wouldn’t do it no matter how many times I modeled and stressed its importance. Every day I ended up with backpacks on the front hooks and on the floor. Nobody used the back hooks. It wasn’t until I asked that I found out why. No one wanted the back hooks because they couldn’t access their backpacks during the day. If they needed gloves at recess, the front hook backpacks were in the way. If they forgot their library book and had to get it, they had to duck under other backpacks, wiggle their way behind them, and then try to get their backpack open. To them, it made more sense to leave their backpacks on the floor where they had easy access to them.
Doing the procedures audit at the end of the year also means you’ll be more likely to remember what happened in your room and assess the procedures honestly. Once summer starts we tend to forget how annoying it was that Jill walked across the room to personally tell us every time she needed a Kleenex.
Get it done now. Enlist students’ help. Then enjoy your summer and hit the ground running when you return in the fall.
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My next book is about how teachers can take home less student work to grade. Part of accomplishing this worthy goal is finding ways to grade papers during the school day. There are obvious times like planning periods, recess, or, if you’re really dedicated and/or desperate, lunch. But I like to use those times for other responsibilities (and in the case of lunch, to eat). That leaves grading while students are in the room.
A lot of teachers never grade papers when students are in the room. They feel like when students are in their presence they need to be actively engaged with them. They must be instructing, or working with small groups, monitoring, or assessing. After all, they reason, so many kids need so much, how can they ever justify grading papers?
They also worry about what others will think. What if the principal walks in and finds them at their desks checking math tests? What if the reading specialist comes in to work with at-risk readers? Would she look down her nose or think the teacher is lazy or lacking in dedication?
And there’s the guilt many teachers seem to carry around like a free tote bag at a reading conference. Guilt comes from violating our own beliefs. Since most teachers believe they should do everything they can to help students, taking time out of the day to score student work doesn’t feel right.
But if you want to reclaim your personal life and stop taking so much work home, you’ll need to carve out time while students are in the room to grade papers. There are many ways to do this that are educationally sound and good for kids. One simple way is to give your students breaks.
I started giving five-minute breaks because I hate managing transitions. Conventional classroom management wisdom says that teachers should train students to execute transitions between subjects with crisp, quiet efficiency to maximize every minute of the day. Teachers are warned that sloppy transitions lead to misbehavior and wasted time.
But I always hated demanding these kinds of transitions. They made me feel like a drill sergeant. I couldn’t help notice that with the exception of the military, adults rarely transitioned seamlessly from one activity to another.
So instead of quickly switching from one subject to the next, I give my students breaks. Now, after students have sat through a 20-minute lesson and worked for another twenty minutes on their math, I announce a five-minute break. Students can play games on their Chromebooks, read, draw, or just hang out and talk. I let them know when time is running out and count down so they’re back at their seats and ready when the five minutes are up.
Breaks are good for everybody. They allow us to recharge, change our mood, engage with others, laugh, stretch, and refocus. Science backs it up. A 2011 University of Illinois study showed that participants who experienced diversions once per hour did better at a task than those who plowed ahead with no breaks.
Breaks also help with student behavior. Because my students know I’m going to give them choice time on their Chromebooks a few times each day, they’re less likely to sneak on to a game site during work time. Breaks can also help students get over frustration. This morning I was picking jobs for our class lemonade stand. One student was upset because he wasn’t selected. If we would have moved into more academic work, his negative attitude would have led to a lack of attention and a poor effort on the assignment. Instead, we took a five-minute break. I could almost see his thinking: He could sit there and stew and lose the five minutes of free time, or he could do something fun. He chose to play a game. By the time we resumed work, he had forgotten all about his disappointment over the lemonade stand.
Breaks also help me. They free me up to do some of the work I used to take home. While I sometimes use the time to get ready for the next subject, I’ve also used student break time to work on my newsletter to parents, write sub plans, and check student papers. Throughout the course of the day, my students usually get three or four breaks, which means I get 15-20 minutes of work time. And it’s not as if I’m checking Facebook. Writing newsletters, making sub plans, and checking papers are part of my job. I should do them while I’m being paid.
There are teachers and administrators who will read the above and cringe at the “lost instructional time.” They’re hypocrites, and you can prove it to them.
The next time you attend a long professional development presentation with one of your critics and the presenter announces a break, interrupt her and ask if the break can be skipped. While everyone stares daggers at you, explain that you value your learning time too much to take a break. Tell her you don’t want to “waste” a single minute.
See how that goes over.
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About this time every year I open a file on my Chromebook called “Goals.” It’s a living document that changes every May. I decide which of the current year’s goals I want to keep, what to scrap, which ones to tweak, and I add new goals for the upcoming year. The last few years, many of my goals have centered around me doing less work. That’s not normally something people admit, but in the case of teachers, doing less can make you more effective.
“The reason teachers are so tired at the end of the school day is that they have been working. If I worked as hard as many teachers do, I’d be as tired too. But have you ever noticed what happens at 3 0‘clock when the students leave? “Yea, yea, yea!” Why are they so full of energy? Because they have been sitting in school all day doing nothing while the teacher does all the work. The person who does all the work is the only one doing any learning!”
Doing less benefits me. It also benefits my students.
Reduce Behavior Problems
Enlist Their Help
Teachers Should Be Recognized
We shouldn’t only appreciate teachers because they have hard jobs that require personal sacrifice in terms of time, energy, money, and sanity. We should also recognize them because doing so will make them better teachers.
Recognition and praise are two critical components for creating positive emotions in organizations. Gallup surveyed more than four million employees worldwide on this topic. Their analysis found that individuals who received regular recognition and praise:
- increased their productivity
- increased engagement with colleagues
- were more likely to stay with their organization
- received higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers.
A Lot of Teachers Aren’t Recognized
The majority of us don’t give or receive anywhere near the amount of recognition we should. Only 17 percent of employees who participated in a Bersin & Associates study indicated that their organizations’ cultures strongly supported recognition. As a result, we’re less productive, and in many cases, completely disengaged at work. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number one reason people leave their jobs is because they “do not feel appreciated.”
According to a recent OGO survey, 82 percent of employed Americans don’t feel that their supervisors recognize them enough for their contributions. Sometimes, it’s the result of laziness or thoughtless leadership. But I think for schools, a lack of funding is partly to blame. Some principals, knowing there’s no money in the budget, give up on recognition altogether, not realizing that many teachers would appreciate things that don’t cost a dime.
Maybe they need some ideas.
20 Ways to Recognize Teachers for Free
- Handwritten Thank You Cards—In today’s digital world, everyone appreciates the time and thought behind handwritten notes. One survey found that 76% of people save these kinds of cards.
- PA Announcement—“A big thank you to Mr. Murphy and Mrs. Peterson for staying after the concert last night and helping to put away chairs.” Not only would such an announcement make the teachers feel good, but it would show students what the school values.
- Public Praise—Schools communicate with parents and the community in all sorts of ways. Districts could recognize teachers by praising them in newsletters, on school Facebook pages, or in automated calls that go out every Sunday night.
- Solicit Former Students—A few years ago I received three letters from former students. For a writing project, they were to write to people that had influenced them. It didn’t matter to me that they were satisfying the requirements of an assignment, because their words were heartfelt. Schools could easily set up a program whereby former students, once a year, write a letter, email, or just fill out a simple card thanking a former teacher.
- Showcase—Most schools have showcases, often filled with student work, dusty trophies, or some school-wide project. Why not select one showcase that highlights the good work a teacher did the previous week? A photo of the teacher could be included with a brief write-up of her good deed.
- Decorate Their Door—One way to let the whole school know that a teacher has done something deserving of recognition is to have a small team of parents or other teachers decorate their door. Shooting stars, bright colors, fireworks, a big THANK YOU sign, and (for a nominal cost) some candy bars could be affixed to the door. Students would ask what the hubbub was all about, which would give adults the opportunity to praise the teacher.
- Wish Lists—My daughter’s school does something pretty cool. At parent-teacher conference time, each teacher fills out tear-away slips of paper on which they request personal and classroom items. Parents, who often want to show appreciation for teachers but aren’t sure what to buy, now know exactly what the teacher wants. They tear off the slips of paper, and over the week, send the items in with their children. I’ve bought my daughter’s former teachers chocolates, Coke, and Expo markers. I did not buy the motorcycle this year’s teacher jokingly included in his wish list.
- Free Entry—Why not allow deserving teachers into this spring’s high school play for free? Heck, give them two tickets so they can bring their spouse. Same goes for athletic events. My district has an Aquatic Center and a performing arts center. Teachers who embody the values of the district and who regularly go the extra mile could be awarded with season passes to these types of venues.
- Jeans Day—I really look forward to Friday for many reasons, and wearing jeans is one of them. Principals could recognize teachers by letting them wear jeans on whatever day they choose.
- Clean and Organize—As the year goes on, the books in my classroom library find their way into all kinds of strange baskets. Somehow, Louis Sachar’s Holes ends up next to a Wimpy Kid book in the basket labeled “Junie B. Jones.” My cabinet ends up similarly disorganized, with staples, Post-It notes, and scissors all sharing the same tub. Also, and this isn’t a knock on the custodians, but the surfaces of my students’ desks could use a thorough scrubbing. One way to recognize teachers would be for a team of parent volunteers to come in before or after school for 45 minutes and spruce things up a bit.
- A Break From That Kid (You Know the One)—Truth: I usually have at least one student who, by May, is on my last nerve. He’s the kid who never misses a day. I would greatly appreciate a break from That Kid. To thank a teacher for extra work, another teacher could take That Kid for an hour. Or he could walk around with the principal for three hours. Or…I don’t care, just get him out of the room for awhile.
- Food–You can’t go wrong with food. Staff breakfasts, lunches, snacks, candy- it doesn’t matter. Teachers love food. It doesn’t have to cost anything either. This year, our local theater donated a trash bag full of popcorn. Most schools have students whose parents own or manage a local restaurant. They are often happy to donate food. They just have to be asked.
- Car Wash—Early in my teaching career, a group of parents set up a car wash in the school parking lot. They collected all the teachers’ keys first thing in the morning, and then took care of everything from there. Every teacher drove home with a shiny clean car at the end of the day.
- Chair Massage—Teachers are stressed and they have disposable incomes. Some insurance plans even cover massages. All of which is to say that if you’re a local masseuse, you’d be an idiot to not donate a day to give teachers a free chair massage during their planning periods. Even if you only converted two of them to paying customers, the goodwill alone would likely lead to more clients.
- Staff Meeting Exemption—Teachers universally hate staff meetings. (And those who don’t are afraid to admit it, so I’m safe with my blanket assumption.) We all have better, more pressing things to do. Principals could reward deserving teachers with a Get-Out-Of-Staff-Meeting-Free card. There’s nothing better than getting to skip something unpleasant that everyone else is required to attend.
- Duty-Free Day—Teachers hate duty about as much as staff meetings. Appreciative principals could relieve teachers from recess, bus, lunch or whatever other duties they perform for a day (or week).
- One Free Hour—At the busiest times of the year, like right before progress reports are due, principals could provide whole grade levels with a free hour to work. By taking students and showing a movie in the gym, or supervising an extra long recess, or giving students time to play games in the computer lab, principals could show teachers that they understand the pressures they’re under and give teachers what they want most of all–found time.
- An Hour Lunch—What’s commonplace almost everywhere in America is a luxury no teacher ever experiences at school–an hour lunch. Mine is 35 minutes. Some teachers don’t even receive a duty-free lunch; they supervise students while they eat. Principals can cover a teacher’s responsibilities so that the teacher can actually leave the building, go to a restaurant, and enjoy an unhurried sit-down meal. You know, like a real professional.
- Leave an Hour Early—There’s something wickedly delicious about leaving work early. I have few fonder childhood memories than when we were sent home early from school because of snow. On the few occasions I’ve been granted permission to leave work early for a meeting or a personal need, I almost couldn’t contain my giddiness as I rushed to my car. Principals who really want to show appreciation can cover or arrange for the last hour of a teacher’s responsibility to be covered so that the teacher can experience the joy of leaving work before anyone else. (I saw one teacher refer to these as “GOOSE” coupons, which stands for Get Out Of School Early. I like it.)
- Kind Words—Sometimes, the simplest way of recognizing someone’s efforts is all that’s needed. Most teachers don’t need much. Genuine thanks is a good place to start. And a good place to end this list.
*Parts of the above are excerpted from my book Happy Teacher, now available on Amazon.
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