End of Year Feelings
I remember a tweet that said something like, being a teacher is just repeating, “This is the toughest time of year over and over again until June.” That said, I think teachers agree that the final weeks of school can be especially excruciating. In New York City, the end of school usually coincides with some of the best weather we get all year. As students and teachers alike dream of summer vacation, we struggle to complete end of year tasks and assessments. In the midst of this end of year whirlwind, I don’t often make enough space for the feelings that arise. I’m so focused on getting across the finish line, I forgot to notice what I’m going through emotionally.
To be honest, it’s a mix of emotions. The exhilaration of my approaching summer vacation is there for sure. But there are other feelings there too. After spending a year (sometimes two) with a group of students, the end of the year can bring feelings of sadness. Goodbyes are always hard for me, and the relationships I form with students after 180 days together are special. It feels sad to say goodbye to students I’ve looked out for, helped through social and academic ups and downs, navigated conflict with, without knowing if I’ll ever see them again.
Other feelings arise from the realization that time is running out. It feels different in June, when you are sitting across from the student who still struggles to decode sight words or the student still not comfortable adding or subtracting within 20. It can send waves of panic, anxiety, and shame through me. Did I do enough? Did I communicate with families? Did I try the various interventions I know and seek out new ones? Did I ask for help? Did I advocate for more support? Whatever I did or didn’t do cannot be changed. I have the face the outcome and make my peace with it if I can.
This year of remote learning exacerbated many of these feelings. Especially, because I recently decided that this year will be my last in the classroom for the foreseeable future. In a normal year I always struggled to get through the curriculum. There were always standards we didn’t master and others we didn’t touch. I truly have never met a teacher who has covered everything proposed in a curriculum map. Everything moved even slower this year. It felt like it took twice as long to cover half as much content. I felt like I was in a perpetual tug of war in my. mind between, “Just do your best. Show the kids you care and take care of them emotionally, because IT’S A PANDEMIC!” and, “Kids and families are relying on you to provide the best possible education and ensure they show up ready for the next grade.” Maybe those two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive, but it felt like they were.
Recently I discussed the final weeks of school with colleagues. We thought through the content we had yet to cover and conceded that we would not possibly get to it. I took a deep breath. I asked myself, what do I want my students to remember about these final weeks? Paraphrasing the Maya Angelou quote, I know my students won’t remember if I taught them a division strategy in late June, but they’ll remember how I made them feel. How, I wondered, can I make these last weeks truly count? How can I give my students, and myself, a sense of completion, closure, and accomplishment?
I almost always end my years with creative projects that we don’t quite finish. The goal is to keep kids engaged and to keep them doing academic work. I will continue this tradition this year, but I am trying more than ever to manage my expectations. This may be my last June in the classroom ever. I really want to make these final weeks count. I will do my best to make sure we cover some key content, but more than that I want to make sure we take time to process our year as a community together. I want to make time to reflect, celebrate, and say good bye.