It's the end of the year. Well almost...
Students are tired. They still have a lot of energy, maybe more than before, but they are the I'm done with school kind of tired. Less than 3 weeks left and many are checking out. The lawn mowing season is in full bloom. The air is getting warmer. Teens get heated up.
I was recently involved in breaking up a fight between two girls, a testament to the upswing in physical altercations brought about the dreams of summer. One only just asked me if she can get a drink from the fountain not 15 feet away and the next thing I know I'm out in the hallway trying to pull the tall one off of her and prevent the MMA style flying knees from reaching her face. Other students ran out and tried to assist there, but many times, lunchtime beefs end up relived as Snapchat stories, or romanticized and transformed in classroom word of mouth tales. Learning about who won outweighs learning Math, English, Science, and all that other jazz.
I'm tired too. The year was a blur, and maybe it's just me, but it feels like it's been a long school year. I keep seeing Twitter posts encouraging educators to make the last few weeks count and I want to finish strong, but I need to do it differently. Mindfully. First, I must validate the fact that this is the end of the school year and I need to make adjustments. Second, I need to use the lessons the past years have taught me.
The lessons are everywhere and unexpected...
I had to repair my lawn as it was in a pretty bad shape. It's beautiful now, but it took a lot of work. My wife and I bought our first house 2 years ago and the house ownership learning curve is proving pretty steep. We sprayed Round Up on the lawn weeds last spring. We only found out that it's meant for sidewalks and such after first yellow, then brown patches of dead grass started showing up all over our front yard. Oops...
But now... Now the lawn is green. I planted new seeds. I sprinkled new topsoil over them. I watered them every day. I fed them nutrients. I planted more seeds, which I protected and watered too. The ugly patches disappeared. There are a few dandelions here and there, but I'll let them be. It's all perfect in its imperfection. I finally learned that while I can relax and enjoy, I need to continue to nourish.
This is what I feel I have to do so my students and I can have a successful end to the school year. It's stressful enough with all the final papers, projects, and exams they have to complete before they cross the finish line, that I don't need to add to the tension. Is reducing the stress always possible? I don't claim so. But it's worth striving for, so here are the 3 things I'm going to do.
Classroom disruptions increase at the end of the year as students get antsy. I can get irritated or embrace them as part of the learning. I've been teaching for 15 years, but only recently did I realize that I feel more in control when I respond positively not punitively when students get restless. "The obstacle is the way" according to Ryan Holiday. Difficulties can be turned into opportunities. I noticed that when I don't make a big deal out of disruptions when I'm explaining important concepts, we all benefit.
Sometimes a simple Hey, I know it's 6th hour and we're tired, but we need to get through this together is all it takes. Other times, I stop and just ask if they can give me a solid 15 minutes without side conversations so I can model how to solve a problem before they are tasked with doing it on their own. It's that simple and it works. I owe them that. They are 17 year olds sitting through compulsory education; a chemistry class many of them did not wish for, and let's be real, they've been forced to acquire knowledge much of which they'll never use. I agree that knowing basic chemistry is helpful in becoming an informed citizen, but why the hell does every student need to know how to convert from grams to liters using moles or how to calculate Ka of an acid?
Knowing that, I choose to relax, because they've done everything and more that I asked them for. They grinded it out the entire year and now they're tired.
So quickly can we get defensive and reactive when students act out. But if we just look for a way to point out the behavior in a non-threatening way, we might even enjoy the moment. I try to approach the situation with humor while at the same time helping the student realize that it is time to listen and participate. It is all about enjoying the relationship we have built. She's not trying to ruin my day. She's just a kid doing what kids do. And yes, high school applies.
I also tell them about taking my 3 year old son to soccer for the first time and how much fun he had doing the frog walk or about that one time I attempted (and failed) to prove inertia is real at a wedding in Duluth, Minnesota. Turns out pulling a table cloth out from underneath a bunch of plates and glasses is much easier on TV.
It is important to me to maintain the relationships I built with my students, so giving them a break and allowing them some grace is easy. I used to think all hell would break loose if I'd let go of control, but I learned I was creating my own personal purgatory by trying to hold onto it.
But now, it is the end of the year and I want to build my students up and thank them. It was a wonderful year. The chemistry was okay. It was fun and it was a grind at times. Sharing time and space and stories was wonderful. It was far from perfect. We screwed up. It was messy. We adapted. We improved. Looking back, it was they way it was supposed to be. I was able to reflect and change. I changed how I did some things and I changed myself.
It's like that lawn I brought back to life. Rather than feed it toxins, I can allow a few weeds. When I relax, I can focus on enjoying it as a whole, imperfect, but beautiful nonetheless. And I know that I need to nourish and take care of it. Relationships require work. These days, I choose to make it a labor of love.
I guess what I'm saying is that, just as in life, everything that transpires in the classroom is a learning opportunity and we should take advantage when the moment arises. Teachers can learn so much from their students and from interacting with their students. We just have to let it grow.
We have the power to change the world. Let's use it often.