Ben Kissam is a writer, standup comedian, coach, and former middle school teacher. His blog, coachk.co, offers satirical advice for self-improvement and achievement.
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End-of-year stress can bring even the most seasoned educators to their knees. Students are wild, unreasonable parents come out of the woodwork, and all you can think about is lounging by the pool and not grading papers.
With a little bit of strategy and the right mental framing, the end of the scholastic year can be quite enjoyable. Here are five tips to combat the pre-summer stress and end the school year right.
Further Reading: Mindfulness Activities to Reduce Stress and Improve Student Focus
For some students, summer break means pool parties and family vacations. For others, it means less structure, infrequent meals, and possibly returning to a less-than-ideal home environment.
The end of the school year is a stressful time for students, no matter what summer has in store for them. At the end of the year, some students worry about passing tests and moving on to the next grade; some fret about who their new friends will be when they get there. Some students are even concerned about how their new teacher will treat them. (See? Your students love you—at least more than they love getting to know a stranger.)
You're excited about summer, and the thought of it being so close is driving you a little crazy. We know asking a teacher to think about others is like asking a fish to think about swimming—you're always doing it. But empathizing with students—especially the ones who are struggling—during this stressful time of year can help you and your students get through it.
Two organizational tools can help you crush your end-of-school to-do list.
First, apply the 80/20 principle—which Forbes says is when 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of your efforts—to your work. To save time and energy, simply identify your prime movers, or the 20 percent of things you do that deliver the most results.
To figure out those 20-percent tasks, ask questions like:
Another useful tool is the Eisenhower Matrix. This time-management tactic divides all tasks into four categories:
Once you've organized your tasks into these categories, you can prioritize accordingly.
The goal for both these tools is to stop—or at least postpone—doing unimportant work. Instead of making one big to-do list, treat what needs to be done like a set of dominoes. Set up your most important tasks first, then allow momentum to knock down items further down the line.
The first item on your teacher triage list should be identifying struggling students and getting them caught up. This takes a lot of time and energy, so the sooner you do it, the better.
According to a 2018 Frontiers in Psychology study, supporting students is an effective way to ensure your students' academic success. Support looks different for each student, but the good news is that you know your students well. You know that John might need a cheerleader, while Sarah might need some tough love.
To save yourself time, write down your strategy for how you'll help your struggling students after you've identified them. Then get to work.
Struggling students are one thing; parents of struggling students are another entirely.
By this point in the year, though, you likely know which parents are worth your time and energy. Devote that time and energy to the parents who are willing to bear some of the workload. There's simply not enough time for unreasonably demanding parents, especially the ones you're hearing from for the first time. By addressing unreasonable parents, you're taking away from the students and tasks that most need your attention.
Keep parents in the loop, but be honest, and show them how they can contribute to their student's success. And if parents start being rude or pushy, don't be afraid to carbon-copy your boss on your reply email.
Any experienced teacher can confirm this simple truth about teaching: you set the tone. Students follow the teacher's lead, which makes leading by example crucial for classroom management.
When you set expectations high and engage yourself, students learn. When it's Friday afternoon and you're all jonesing to get out of the building, you and your students make mistakes and take shortcuts.
A positive attitude can make the days fly by faster—and that's good for everyone. Not only is this good leadership on your part, but it also takes away the temptation for students to treat the last few days of school as though they are a chore. Before you know it, it'll be summer, and you'll be free to lounge around, go on vacation, and sleep past 7 a.m.
Further Reading: Positive Parent-Teacher Communication
Or, if you're like me, you'll spend the first two weeks waking up at 6:30 a.m., panicking because you didn't hear the alarm go off, then reminding yourself it's summer vacation. If you follow these five tips, though, you might just be able to get back to sleep.