Nine days before the last day of school, Mrs. Richardson stands at the front of the room, trying to review for the final. In the middle of a discussion about the parts of a cell, she notices Jenna mouthing something to Aiden, who is four rows up and making faces at her.
Mrs. Richardson asks Jenna if there’s something that she can help her with, when Sean yells out, “You can help her get a date with Aiden!” The class explodes into laughter and starts teasing Jenna and Aiden.
Getting red-faced and impatient, Mrs. Richardson bellows to the class to calm down and be quiet. Ignoring her requests, the students continue with their side conversations, paper ball tossing, and yelling to each other across the classroom.
Aiden puts Sean into a fake headlock, Jenna and Jasmine start taking selfies, four students crowd around to watch a video on Haley’s phone while only a couple of students remain in their seats.
Infuriated by their defiance, Mrs. Richardson wonders What the HELL is wrong with these kids?
The distance between your expectations and reality
Many new teachers find themselves thrown off by similar behavior in their classes at the end of the year. They’re pulling their hair out, ready to throw in the towel, and are stunned by their students’ transformation from kind gentle souls to Tasmanian devils.
While it’s reasonable to expect your students to still be respectful and follow the rules, it’s an exercise in frustration if you also expect it to be business as usual during those last couple of weeks of school.
Here’s what you can and CAN’T expect from your students as they count down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until that final bell.
They’ll resemble a toddler on a road trip
Even if you don’t have a kid, you can picture the struggle of keeping a 2-year-old happy and entertained while strapped to their car seat for 5+ hours. It’s not fun, and it’s barely tolerable.
Your students will be big balls of mixed emotions, which causes them to give Mr. Hyde a run for his money. Here are just a few thoughts and feelings coursing through them.
- Excitement about vacation plans
- Eagerness to be homework-free for an extended amount of time
- Overall restlessness
- Nervousness about finals
- Fear of being home alone over the summer
- Anxiety and depression about not being able to hang out with their friends and being bored
- Uneasiness about being able to eat (i.e. food insecurity, especially if they live at or below the poverty level)
- Frustration with having to babysit their younger sibling(s)
- Dread about having to work a summer job to help support the family/save for college/pay for car insurance
Unless you know your students and their situations well, it could be easy to misinterpret their misbehavior for insolence. Just remember that they’re just kids (yes, this applies to high school students) and that they don’t necessarily have control over how they handle these emotions.
Your disposition towards them makes all the difference
We need to be honest with ourselves and realize that the window through which we see our students will most likely be different at the end of the year. Instead of squeaky clean and shiny, it’s now smudged, grimy, and possibly cracked from banging our head against it.
You’re probably tired and annoyed
Teachers are EXHAUSTED and are literally dragging themselves through the finish line. This means that they’re more likely to be impatient, irritable, and quick to anger. It’s been a long year, so it’s completely understandable.
Just like with your friends and family, when you’re in this mental state, even the smallest of offenses will light your fuse. The mixture of your fatigue with the students’ restlessness often leads to explosive situations and misunderstandings, which sours the mood in your class even further.
If you’ve checked out and don’t care at this point in the year, expect them to flatter you with imitation
Students are surprisingly perceptive and pick up on our cues when we’re feeling extreme emotion. In the same way that they have more energy when you’re hyped up, they also exhibit negative behaviors when you’re feeling negative.
This means that if you’re moody and short-tempered, they’ll volley back with their version. If you give them a packet of work to do, and in a monotone voice, say, “Here, do this assignment,” and then sit at your desk to scroll through Instagram, expect them to meet you with the same amount of motivation.
If you didn’t have a good rapport with your students, don’t expect them to listen now
This makes sense, right? If your students haven’t developed a positive connection with you at this point, then how can you believe that they’ll be compliant this late in the year?
If you’ve had an adversarial relationship with any of your students, it’s only logical that they’ll amp up the bad behavior during those last couple of weeks. This means that if you’ve used threats of parent contact, detention, and Saturday school throughout the year, DON’T presume that those consequences will have the same impact now.
The same goes for grades – if you’ve used grades as a carrot or as a classroom management tool, it probably won’t work at this point. Think about it – if a student is failing anyway, why should they listen to you? What more can you do to them – fail them even more? You’re at the end of the year, and they know they’re going to be out that door and out of your life anyway.
If they’ve been to every detention and Saturday school, and have been suspended, what more can you do to them at the end of the year? Suspend them again? Gift them with an early start to their summer break?
What you can do now
Knowing what to expect and being armed with solutions and preemptive strikes will do more for your sanity than continuous movie days (which actually don’t work…students can only watch so many movies before they’re over it).
Entertainment vs. Engagement
If you still have material to cover because of finals, plan to do it in a more engaging way than usual. This doesn’t mean that you have to entertain the students, but mixing up the delivery method will break them out of their rut.
Here are a few ideas:
- Rather than just filling out worksheets and study guides, create a scavenger hunt.
- Augment that scavenger hunt with a playlist of videos that pertain to the material on the final.
- Use/create a breakout or escape room for review. Students go NUTS over these!
- Use a digital quiz program like Kahoot or GoFormative
And of course, you could do a combination of the above!
Use pop culture
If you really need to use worksheets for review, consider using celebrities, TV shows, movies, and just general pop culture in your examples.
Completing sentence correction sentences is far more amusing and engaging if it’s Kim and Kanye going up the hill in lieu of Jack and Jill. Students will be distracted by your silly examples rather than their silly friend across the room.
Keep it low stakes
Unless you offering it for extra credit, consider not grading their study guides or minor end-of-the-year assignments. You can still require them to do it, but they don’t need to know that it won’t show up on your gradebook. Alternatively, you can just give them a check for participation.
At this point in the year, there’s probably not much they can do to change their grade. They also lack the motivation to do anything academic, and you probably have enough to grade and worry about anyway.
Spend your energy on the positives
It’s easy for the disrespectful students to ruin it for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that it should! You have other students who are being responsible and who deserve your best.
Remember why you chose to teach (a mantra would be helpful at this point), and let those wonderful students lift your mood. The others will move on to the next grade soon, so cherish your time with the ones who respect and value you!
Plus, you want those sweet students to end with good memories of you and on a high note. With the joy they bring to you, they definitely deserve it!
Being ready next year
One of the most important things you can do as a new teacher is to document what works and what doesn’t. Take copious notes or journal as often as possible.
You may be thinking, Seriously Kim? I don’t have time for that!
That may be so, but you also don’t have the time or energy to repeat your mistakes. It’s a surefire path to job dissatisfaction and possibly leaving the profession, and I’m sure you don’t want all that time and money you spent to become a teacher to go to waste.
So next year, be prepared. Create better relationships with your students. Be fair and consistent with your policies. Plan ahead so that you’re not slammed with so much work the last month of school. Save some of your most engaging material and projects for the end.
Knowing what to expect will result in being able to expect the best.