Weathering the final days of a school year

Weathering the final days of a school year
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Since my last blog post in mid April, the weather has dipped into the 20s, hovered in the low 30s and 40s and then reached highs in the 90s. Inconsistencies like that can downright slap consistency in its face. A spring more like ‘sprinter,’ as a student of mine coined one day in class, can make it tough to keep everything in perspective.

Perspective. What do we spend time worrying about, and what do we let go? At no time is the notion of ‘keeping it all in perspective’ more difficult to buy into than at the end of a school year. The end of a school year can operate much like the weather.

One day students can be as ominous as storm clouds; the next day they will walk in as perky and bright eyed as spring flowers, ready to soak up any lesson. Teachers are not that different; they are just better actors.

The end of a school year can wreak emotional havoc on the lives of students, teachers, and parents. We all can lose perspective even though the end is clearly in sight, and the blue skies are surely on their way.  

Freezing temps in spring made it tough to keep perspective and to keep that momentum going. I know. May is the first month since starting this blog in December that I found my ideas and my writing trapped in some kind of windstorm. They never knew if they should wear a winter coat or a rain jacket.

May also is the month that students and teachers can dread. Even as the hopeful rays of summer hang over us like a distant dream, offering some respite from a spring that isn’t really a spring at all, May remains the month of assessments.

Because of this, the last weeks of school are filled with emotional peaks and valleys as students face one academic challenge after another. Teachers have to give the end-of-the-year benchmark assessments as well as tests to assess what growth students have made in terms of critical learning skills.

A few weeks ago, I was passing out one of these assessments. A normally aloof lad actually bellowed, “Why are we having so many tests?” His near shout almost knocked me over. He went on to ask these questions: “What does this matter? Will this help me in any way?”

I explained. These assessments are for me and the district, ultimately, but your achievement on them can help me to really tell you where you are now in terms of critical reading and writing skills as opposed to where you were when you entered sophomore year. I’m not too sure he heard me, but I was glad for the discussion.

There is no doubt that I brought the snow and wind to that kid’s desk that day. It’s true; the last weeks of school are less about reading to learn or discussing to connect. The focus is on gathering data and determining final grades. Teachers assess students and students, if they continue to play the game of school, can learn how to assess themselves.

Self assessment is something I find critical, by the way. In this life we all have to grade ourselves. There will not always be a teacher grading our effort, our performance on tasks, or our areas of strength and areas of improvement.

The data did show that my sophomores went from sophomoric to serious, from sometimes unfocused to sharp and skillful. The end-of-the-year assessments, including an SAT practice test, reminded students that they would soon be transitioning from the underclasses to the upper-classes, where they will take on new varieties of stress.

Over the last few weeks of May, I also watched my seniors wrap up extensive final projects and papers and then, as if in a flash, I witnessed them walk across the stage at graduation, shake the principal’s hand and move that tassel from right to left.

Before that final stroll across the stage at graduation, the last weeks – actually few months – of school for seniors seemed to rain stress. They were in the midst of determining their plans after high school. They were assessing themselves. Do I have the grades? Was I involved enough? Did I do enough community service? How will I afford college? What is the right path for me?

I am lucky enough to work with some of the highest-achieving seniors in the school, but they are also the ones who seem to wear anxiety like a patch on a Varsity jacket. I never knew the kind of stress kids have today. Because of this we, educators and parents, have to be a part of the process of helping these kiddoes keep perspective.

The end of the school year is not unlike a tornado. The final countdown to summer can either move at a rapid pace or almost seem to spin in an unending swirl of tasks, with no beginning or end. Each week can be defined by a mess of assessments and academic expectations that hang over everyone like thick dark clouds.

I was proud that the sophomores rallied and faced the final assessments fearlessly, demonstrating improved skills and, for many, improved grades. The seniors bid farewell to those senior year stressors and walked across the stage at graduation with a spring in their steps. They were a little weathered, perhaps, but they were resilient. They persevered, and it showed.

If there was any destruction left in the wake of this year’s tornado, it is just that we may have lost a little perspective along the way. Sometimes one less-than-sunny moment can define an entire day or week. One unexpected low temperature in April can make us curse the spring that didn’t really show up. Perhaps June will be the real deal. Summer at last. Or perhaps I just have to keep it all in perspective.


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Filed under: Education, Parenting

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