One of my favorite education blogs is Michael Linsin’s Smart Classroom Management. Yesterday, he published a post titled, “How to Avoid Losing Control the Final Days of the School Year.” Like always, he offers solid advice, but his tips are somewhat general (possibly because he does a better job of writing for the entire spectrum of K-12 teachers than I do). Michael’s post made me think about some of the specific things I do to keep a handle on student behavior during the last few weeks of the year.
Less Me. More Them.
For the most part, my students like me. They respect me. They say nice things, make an occasional card for my bulletin board, and tell me they’ll miss me next year. That doesn’t mean they want to listen to me anymore. It’s a long year, and my students are sick and tired of my voice. I don’t blame them. I’m tired of me, too. Since I know listening is a challenge for them this time of year, I talk a lot less. Instead of spoken directions, I write them on the board or in Google Classroom. Instead of delivering lectures, I assign text. Rather than teach a particular math strategy, I show a video of someone else teaching it. Mostly, I try to keep them busy with work instead of asking them to listen to me.
Talking tends to go off the charts this time of year. Instead of fighting it by making students listen to me or by asking students to work quietly at their desks, I allow them to work with partners or in small groups on nearly every assignment. Since they’re going to talk anyway, give them something academic to talk about. I also require a certain amount of the work to be finished before I give the class a break. As I wrote in this post, I give my students five-minute breaks throughout the day when they can pretty much do what they want. But at the end of the year, some kids don’t want to work. So I set a timer for all to see and tell them that if their group doesn’t have x amount of work done when the timer goes off, we’ll skip the break, and I’ll provide more time to get the work done instead.
Recommit to the Rules
The embarrassing truth is that student behavior slips at the end of the year because I have allowed it to. While the same rules are still hanging in the same spot as they have all year, I started to selectively enforce them. Whereas in September I would nail any kid who leaves her seat during instruction without getting permission, I now see that Kylie has gotten up to get a Kleenex during the math lesson and instead of moving her clip down, I justify her behavior (“Well, what’s wrong with getting a Kleenex when you need one?”) and allow it. I become permissive, and students take advantage of it.
A simple way to regain control then is to tell your students that you’ve screwed up. Don’t blame them for a problem you caused. Explain that you’ve not been holding them accountable for some of the rules and that from here on out, you’re committed to enforcing your rules. Pick a couple of the most frequently broken rules and explain that you’ll be nailing students for violating them every time. Then do it. Follow through with the predetermined consequence without fail. You’ll see a quick decrease in those behaviors as long you do what you say you’re going to do.
Familiarity breeds contempt. A lot of end-of-year behavior stems from students just plain being sick of each other. They’ve been together for many months and where they once showed patience and understanding and a desire to get along, they now quickly tattle or fire off a rude comment.
To regain the tolerance they showed each other earlier in the year, reward it. At the end of the day, have students share about tolerance they witnessed during the day. Reward the students who displayed the tolerance. Students may struggle with this at first, but when prizes are offered, they usually respond. They’ll be more tolerant in the hopes that someone notices. They’ll be more aware of their friends’ tolerance so they can earn them rewards. They’ll likely game the system — friends will report on friends’ incidents of tolerance so that both can get prizes, but that’s okay. Yes, it’s manipulative and Alfie Kohn would surely disapprove but 1. They’re not getting the reward themselves, which means their actions (even the scheming ones) benefit somebody else, which is a nice thing to encourage, and 2. You’re trying to get through to the end of the year. Pretty much anything goes at this point.
Head Down, Keep Going
This is a hard one, but it’s important. Don’t focus on the fact that the year is almost over. Don’t count the days. Don’t cross them off a calendar. Don’t pop balloons for each newly completed day until there’s just one hanging. Don’t discuss next year at all. Don’t remind students that they should be better at things because they’ve been in school for 165 days now. You may be excited about the impending summer vacation, but some of your students aren’t.
Some of your students will be going home to horrors you can’t imagine. They’re losing the one place in the world where they feel safe and accepted. Less dramatically, some are upset about not seeing their friends for three months. Some will miss you. Some are nervous about moving to middle school or high school or maybe a new town altogether.
Change can cause anxiety, and your constant reminders about this coming change can lead to student emotions which can lead to poor behavior. Keep teaching. Keep plugging away. Stick to your routines and schedules. Teach right up to the last day as if it’s the middle of October. Before you know it, the last day will be here and then you can celebrate.