It's finally almost here! SUMMER!!! You're grades are turned in, you've said goodbye to your students, and all that remains is a war-torn classroom with the remnants of the life that was once there-- wads of paper on the floor, half-empty bulletin boards, stacks of books. Well, maybe that's just my messy classroom at the end of the school year. I always end up with piles of "Oh, I'll do that at the end of the school year." But now that the school year is here, it's time to face those piles and make good use of those final teacher work days-- even though you want to head for the beach and bury your nose in a NON-ACADEMIC book!
But I'm here to tell you not to stress out about the overwhelming "punch list" that you might be facing at the end of the school year. Here are the three things especially not to stress about!
1. Don't stress about keeping every scrap of paper!
The first few years of my teaching career, I tried to keep everything. I wanted samples of every piece of work possible, and I ended up with so many boxes and piles of papers and projects that I never had time to go back through them. My classroom basically looked like this:
If it's at all possible, take pictures of any sample work still lying around, and then toss it! Save the pics under a file name that corresponds to the assignment, so you can find it again next year (ouch! too soon?). And if you have to keep any physical copies of student work, try not to keep more than ten items. This adds up over time, and if you're like me, I don't tend to do the same assignment the exact same way two years in a row. I'm always tweaking and tailoring the assignments to meet the needs of my students, so old student work isn't always relevant.
2. Don't worry about that "to do" list that's a mile long!
I tend to keep a "to do" list throughout the school year of all the things I will go back and tweak for each assignment and project. While I idealistically think I will have time to go back and make these corrections and changes during the school year, it rarely happens. So at the end of the school year, I select the three most pressing items on that list and set aside a couple of hours to go back and make the changes that I can make. But if this takes more than 2-3 hours of my time, I stop at that point, and I make sticky notes about any other changes and put them on the inside cover of their corresponding files. If you are 100% electronic with all of your files (first off, you rock!), then you can create a quick document, type up these notes, and save them in the appropriate files on your computer.
While it is important to record your thoughts about these changes or ideas while they are fresher on your mind, don't sweat it if you don't get to everything. Do what you can, and be satisfied that every year, your assignments are getting better. In the words of The Beatles, "It's getting better all the time!"
3. Don't stress about next school year!
I taught in a school during part of my teaching career where my team was literally making copies for the first week of school on the last work days. I mean they were photocopying the syllabus for the fall, the calendar, the first handouts-- everything for the first week of the new school year. Now, most of these teachers were veterans and had been teaching 20+ years, but don't feel stressed if this is not where you are in your career. I give you permission not to think about next school year just yet. I think it's important to have some down time in order to process the previous school year, rest up, and rejuvenate your creativity before launching into what the first week is going to look like.
As an English teacher, the only time I have to read new books and new material is during the summer. With a toddler at home, I just do not have time to read on top of grading papers and prepping for my classes. So, instead of planning for the first week of school, I make myself a reading list. It's usually about ten books too long, but I write down a list of everything I would want to read if I somehow magically ended up with eons of free time. And I also fantasize about the summer and how I will feed my spirit-- the trips I will take, the museums I will visit, the food I will eat, and that yoga workout I will get back to! All of this is a necessary part of making an effective teacher... along with a freshly squeezed summertime limeade...
So, give yourself a break. Give yourself time to relish in the job well done. Give yourself time to enjoy life... and then when next school year comes knocking on the door, you'll be excited about the challenges that lie ahead, and you'll be ready to face them!