End of the Year Survival – Choose Your Battles

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discipline, end-of-year


As the school year comes closer to an end, teachers and students are tired. The end of the year is in sight but there are still things to accomplish- a unit, a test, a graduation ceremony…and on and on. Unfortunately, when people are tired, they may not be on their best behavior. If we acknowledge this fact, it makes getting through the last months and weeks a little easier.

When I was a younger teacher, I wish I had considered this reality more. I was idealistic, enthusiastic, and wanted perfection. Well-meaning family, friends, and colleagues suggested to me that not all battles were worth fighting (or at least, not all battles were worth fighting all of the time). Although they shared their wisdom with me, I didn’t hear it until I became a more experienced teacher. I’m passing this advice along to others in case they can do a better job at listening than me.

Don’t argue about a missing pencil or pen.

Yes, it’s annoying that one of the only tasks your students may have is to bring their supplies to class. You may think: Why can’t they just do this one little thing? It may make you feel offended, even, that they don’t care enough to come to your class prepared.

But it’s not worth the battle. Too many of the students are going to forget pencils and pens, and most of the time they haven’t done it on purpose. Maybe they left them in their last class, or maybe they couldn’t afford to buy new ones…who knows? Save your energy for more important problems and give them a pencil or pen.

At the end of most classes, I usually have a couple of pens and pencils that have been left behind. Often, I pick them up and put them in a cup, and students can grab one when they need one. Not only does it help students, but it also helps the environment by reusing them.

Sometimes, I ask my stepfather to bring me pencils from the

golf-pencils


golf course where he works. It’s funny how students will suddenly remember their pencils when they have to use mini-golf pencils in class. Ultimately, it’s better that they can get their work and learning accomplished (and they’re less of a disruption in my class).

Let them make up their missing assignments.

If students haven’t completed assignments but demonstrate a willingness to get them completed, I let them do the work and just don’t give them full credit. The point is that they will hopefully learn the concepts and pass my class, moving on to the next grade level.

There may be reasons that I’m unaware of which are impacting the student. I try to find out why they lack motivation.

  • Is there something going on at home? 
  • Do they need to work at night to help support the family?  

Frequently, I seek out the guidance counselor or other staff to provide assistance if a student is overwhelmed.


And if it’s just a matter of laziness, it’s probably better for them to pass my class. Frankly, if a student receives the lowest passing grade, how much better is that than a failing grade? Colleges know the difference between a well-earned “A” or a low “D”. By requiring lethargic students to continually retake classes, they take up the time and resources that I could use to help other students who may need my time more.

Don’t punish every tardy.

Have you ever been late to a meeting or appointment? Is it always because you’re a rude and selfish person? Most likely not, and that’s the same for many of our students.

Lateness to class is a battle that I fight diligently earlier in the

choose-your-battles


school year because I don’t want to send the message that it’s okay for them to be tardy to class. If a student has more than two tardies, I expect them to make up the missed time after school with me. That’s a logical consequence, and I can help them with material they missed when they were tardy.

However, by the end of the school year, I often allow a student a couple more tardies before I ask them for detention. Truthfully, I’ve talked with former students and found out that sometimes it’s their parents’ fault for bringing their them late to school anyway. Is that really the student’s fault?

Give them a couple of minutes on their cell phones at the end of class.

I hate cell phones in class. Now that our students have computers, I don’t see any reason for them to be on cell phones. They’re a major distraction and often lead to cyber bullying. Consequently, I have a hanging shoe organizer in my classroom, and I ask students to put their phones in an assigned pocket at the beginning of every class.

To make my policy less confrontational, I tell them that if they

cell-phones


agree to do this and don’t argue with me about putting their phones away, I’ll give them two – three minutes at the end of class to check their phones.

Do I lose instructional time? Yes, but to me it’s worth minimizing the battles with cell phones, which also end up disrupting instruction. By creating this policy, students are more engaged throughout most of class when they could have been sneaking looks on their phones instead.

Let them go to the bathroom.

No matter how much time students have in between classes, there are always students who tell me that they can’t get to the bathroom in the minutes between our class bells. Do I believe them? Sometimes, but most often not. They’re likely chatting with friends instead of using that time for the restroom.

But if a student really can’t get to the bathroom, I’d hate to be the one teacher to prevent them from using it. It’s the truth that sometimes there are long lines to the bathroom in between classes. And sometimes students have personal health reasons to use the bathroom frequently.

I know that I would be frustrated if I was told that I couldn’t’ use the restroom during a professional meeting. This being said, I do try to limit students’ use of the bathroom.

First, I ask if it’s it an emergency. Usually they will say “no.” Or, I might ask them to finish part of their classwork before they go to the restroom. I also require a signed pass so that I can keep track of their departures. If it’s continually an issue with a student, it may even be worth talking to a school nurse.

It’s not a free-for-all.

Of course, choosing your battles doesn’t mean letting your classroom become chaotic and unmanaged. It doesn’t mean lowering expectations. I still expect students to bring their silent sustained reading books every day, and they’re required to make up assignments when they’re absent. They are also expected to be attentive during class. Furthermore, I keep lessons academically focused through the last day of school.

I know some of you won’t agree with my advice. In fact, my younger self may not have agreed with my older self, but now I know better. I hope my wisdom helps you, too!

Of course, I’m always interested in new ideas and strategies. Feel free to add your tips in the comments below to help make the end of the school year go smoothly.

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I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher and curriculum designer. I like to make learning active, relevant, and fun while encouraging students to think critically about the world around them. With 24+ years of teaching experience, I also want to empower educators – in the classroom, online, and at home- so they can provide the best lessons to their students!

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