The end of the school year can be a stressful time for parents, teachers, and other school staff. By default educators maintain moderately high stress levels on a daily basis, but exhaustion is added to the mix as we near the closing of the school year. We’re stretched thin all the time, but the end of the year ushers in a slew of extra responsibilities: assessments, field trips, Little League, fundraising, graduations, organizing, tying up loose ends at home and school. Teachers begin to feel like a rubber band stretched to its limit, every added task makes us feel a step closer to crazy town.
Stress is unavoidable in this profession. Somehow we always get through with our sanity in tact. I think the key is recognizing our limits and being intentional in everything we do. Planning to avoid stress, or at least minimize it, is a way of being proactive and intentional. Here’s my plan for minimizing my end of the year stress.
Increase project-based learning. Some of the stress comes from wanting to cover those standards that students haven’t mastered yet in a way that will stick with them. High interest lessons with lots of project-based learning is key. At the end of the school year, I struggle to balance my need to teach with my students’ need to play. Project-based learning helps keep teachers and students working on the same team. My goal is to make every bit of fun a learning experience and every learning experience fun.
Be flexible and patient. The kids get wound up — whew! It feels like we might as well teach school on a trampoline! My students need more movement in their day. My goal is to take meaningful breaks and find opportunities for them to earn outside activity or free choice learning after periods of focused attention in class.
Have an easy, content-rich backup plan. For example, I have an Animal Atlas CD on my shelf that I pull out as an emergency back up plan. Sometimes their focus crashes and they just need something different. Rather than fighting a losing battle, I assign an animal research page based on the CD. The students are still learning and writing, but they think they’re getting a break!
Keep high achievers challenged and busy. I find that my high flyers seem a little less dependable at the end of the year. Having some fun challenge activities prepared will keep them engaged and cut down on class time silliness. Fellow teacher blogger Denise has spent many years of her career teaching gifted students. She has created some early finisher and enrichment solutions that keep high flyers engaged and growing.
Stay off the drama train. I write notes to myself with one of my favorite verses from James, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” This becomes my motto when stress begins to pile up at the end of the year. I don’t know if drama causes stress or if stress causes drama. It’s the old chicken and the egg dilemma. Either way, it’s wise to be watchful of your conversations.
In the spring, student energy multiplies while adult energy wastes away. Well-meaning coworkers and parents will share their frustrations. It’s up to us to find a way to show compassion without becoming a part of the problem. I ask myself if the situation is my business or not. If not, I stay out of it. If it calls for my participation, I try to follow the school procedures for solving problems while extending grace to all involved. A soft answer turns away wrath!
Make lists and delegate. Looking good in tights doesn’t make you a superhero. I’m getting better at using my resources to share the work load. Not everything can be delegated, but letting others help out blesses both teacher and helper. Students can organize classroom tools. Volunteers can put up new bulletin boards, plan class parties, and take inventory of supplies to be restocked for next year. It’s OK to delegate!
Take a Sabbath. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed when we don’t force ourselves to put the job away for a day. I try to spend one day a week on family things: going to church, watching movies, or enjoying the outdoors — something different from my daily work routine. The point is that we need rest, and a change in daily routine brings inspiration. My plan is to make sure I spend one day a week resting and reflecting on priorities in my life.
Take time to enjoy a hobby. My number one relaxer is crocheting. It forces my brain to sort through thoughts and focus on something other than work. I always have several projects “on the hook.” Last summer, I never truly took a break from school. My daughters were taking a college class and I drove the two hour round trip to school four days a week. When my school year started, I didn’t feel as rested as I should have. Also, I didn’t finish a single crochet project! Now I work on at least one crochet project during school year vacations, and plan several projects for the summer.
Another spring time hobby of mine is gardening. I usually plant in phases — a row or two at time. I tend to walk to the garden after work each night and admire my veggie babies. It’s also a hobby that my husband and I share. Sigh… therapy!
Many teachers are burned out by the end of the year and contemplate their satisfaction with the responsibility of being a teacher. Minimizing end of the year stress is important for our mental well-being and our relationships with family, students, parents, and coworkers. Finding ways to enjoy our school babies, taking breaks, and paying attention to our relaxers keeps stress at a manageable level.
What are your plans for minimizing end of the school year stress?