Thursday, April 16, 2015

#youredustory, Week 15: End of the Year Difficulties for Students

Prompt: Spring can be a tough time for teachers (with a stretch until spring break and then after it before summer). How do you help morale on campus as tiredness sets in and the kids get squirrely?

I think that there are a lot of ways to support students as the year winds down. Though it is true - kids get squirrely - it is also true that kids get stressed out.

As the semester winds down, more and more students get concerned with their grades. This isn’t pressure that I’m applying - I regularly tell kids that grades are dumb and they should focus on learning and enjoying school. That’s a tough message for them to digest though, with outside pressure from friends and parents to ‘do well’.

Because of these pressures, this is a time of year that kids can start to break down.
Autumn Screaming by Melissa Segal from flickr

By this point in the year, you’ve spent a lot of time and energy getting to know your students. This is a time of year when this knowledge of your kids, when the relationships that you’ve developed, can pay dividends.

In this chunk of the year, you should know what your students’ baseline is: what they are like from day to day. You also should then know what days they are off. That’s where leveraging those relationships, that knowledge of your students, comes in.

As a high school teacher, when these pressures become more magnified, it becomes vitally important to listen and hear and see how kids are doing and what they are saying and thinking - or NOT doing and saying and thinking. And more importantly, it becomes vital to act when things aren’t as they normally are.

This might be a conversation with a kid during a prep period. It might be a small group conversation. It might even be a day where you ditch your curriculum and you go outside and have a conversation with all the kids in your class about what they’re stressing about and what you and they need to do to move forward and have a successful end to the year.

It’s this stance of knowing your kids and being willing to put the time and energy into them as some of them start to break down that to me is vitally important this time of year.

One of the best days of class I had last year involved ditching the curriculum for the day and going down to the football field. Kids had come into class that week stressed out, but that day seemed especially bad. We lay on the field and took some deep breaths. We talked about what the kids were stressed about. We troubleshot the most vital steps for kids to take that week and subsequent weekend to feel like they made some progress.

Kids felt heard. Their struggles were acknowledged. And they left class feeling like they could tackle the work that needed doing.

I would make that choice to ditch the curriculum again in a heartbeat.

In the end, education is still all about relationships. But we already knew this.

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