My career in education began the minute I graduated high school. At eighteen years old, I was employed as a classroom aid and tutor at the private school I had attended for the previous four years. After four years in this role, I spent two years as a full time Math & Latin teacher at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Although I no longer work at this school, I look back upon this time as a young educator with fond memories and an appreciation for all of the ways in which they helped me to become the teacher that I am today. In particular, I will never forget a quote by the administrator that was our “mantra” as the end of the year approached: Finish the race strong. Every year our administrator would echo these words to encourage us to continue teaching with the same energy and strength that we had in August – even though it could be very difficult at times. He encouraged us to finish strong because our students deserved our full effort and attention to their education even if the school year was coming to a close. It’s been several years since I have worked at this school, yet these words have always been my mantra at the end of the year. Finish the race strong and finish it well.
As I am saying these words, I know that it can be difficult to continue teaching as students are losing interest, teachers are losing energy, textbooks and Chromebooks are being returned, and the school year is ending. It’s true. It can be very difficult at times to continue teaching as we did in August. In the effort of full transparency, I’ll admit that I am very tired at this moment. It’s been an amazing year and I don’t regret a single moment of it. Yet…right now, with two days left of school, I am tired. My energy is dissolving and I know that my busy year has caught up to me. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, it’s completely normal but I have to keep reminding myself to finish the race strong. Whether it is two weeks or two days, I’ve told myself that I must finish the year strong because it is in the best interest of my students.
Even though we know that this is something that we need to do, the question becomes…how? How do we continue teaching and engaging our students? How do we keep our own motivation for creating relevant and engaging lessons and curriculum? After state testing, I always feel like we are in the “golden window” of teaching. Less time can be devoted to the district and state mandated testing and, instead, creating some relevant curriculum that sparks the interest of our students. Although this should always be our goal, I think we can all agree that the testing can consume a large amount of time during the month of April and May. In my opinion, too much time. However, once it is over, the sky is the limit on what you can teach. Choose something that is interesting to your students but also interesting to you. After all, if you are excited about what you are teaching, then your students will jump on the bandwagon based upon your enthusiasm and energy.
With these ideas in mind, I have found some ways to continue to create relevant and engaging learning experiences for my students – even during the last two days of the school year. In the last month, my students have participated in projects that allowed students choice, introduced real-life situations, and catered to their interests. Students have participated in statistical research projects and conducted their own surveys on campus. They have gathered and analyzed data on situations that are interesting to them. In addition to this, we have “embraced the fad”, as I like to call it. Students have been obsessed with flipping water bottles and spinning fidget spinners. So, why not create it into a relevant project that promotes subject matter content? Honestly, the minute you tell students that they are going to be designing and testing out their own fidget spinners, you have immediate engagement and buy-in.
Here is my challenge to you:
1.) Find something that interests your students.
2.) Discover how it relates to your content area.
3.) Be creative and build an amazing activity/project.
I truly believe that if you can follow this simple plan, then you will find a way to finish the race strong. I encourage you – don’t stop teaching. Don’t stop creating learning experiences for your students. I know you are tired because every teacher is tired at this point in the year. Even I am tired. However, we must continue creating engaging learning experiences for our students because it is what they deserve. They deserve our full attention and energy. They deserve meaningful learning experiences that are relevant to their current and future life. They deserve an opportunity to finish the year in a way that they will remember forever.
So, I encourage you…Finish the race strong.
This is a part of a set of blog posts from the Transparency: Real Stories from a Real Classroom series.