Erin and I were discussing what our first blog entry should be about. We both teach first grade, we love what we do and we want to be helpful to our readers. We also hope to build bonds with new people who can relate, share and learn with us. It’s exciting to begin something new, even though the year is ending. What better time for reflection on how we choose to end things?
Thanks for reading!
Every year, Erin and I do our best to avoid the “countdowners.” You know who they are, the people who inform everyone of how many days are left in the year and announce that number daily (usually in an overly enthusiastic voice). Our countdowners start right after spring break, exuding the urgent, anxiety-ridden message: “You only have ___ days left with these kids - just survive!”
The definitions of the word countdown are as follows: “An act of counting numerals in reverse order to zero, especially to time the last seconds before the launching of a rocket or missile” and “The final moments before a significant event and the procedures carried out during this time.” Ok, so I guess in a way, we are “launching” kids to the next grade (hopefully) and completing another school year is a “significant event” - but does it have to feel so hurried?
Erin and I always find ourselves wishing for more time. Does anyone else do this? Last Monday, one of my first graders announced, “19 more days left!” and I got an immediate pang in my stomach and thought, “But I’m not ready yet!”
It always feels difficult to let go of my students (even the tough ones). You hope you’ve taught everything, opened their minds and hearts and imparted profound and useful words of wisdom. Counting down seems to take away those final opportunities to make lasting impressions. So Erin and I choose the opposite. We choose to be “countuppers.” (Technically this isn’t a word so I can’t give you a definition.) Simply said, we “count up” the many ways we can send our kids off happy and not anything like rockets or missiles!
Here is our Top Ten End-of-the-Year Traditions List. Please share your own ideas with us too!
- Last Letters, Lasting Impressions: Write a letter to each student and include it in their last report card. We like to include personal details and celebrate accomplishments. These become keepsakes. We’ve even had former students come back years later and tell us that they’ve kept their letters!
- Doorway Greetings: Stand at your doorway every morning for the last week of school and greet your students. (Maybe you already do this!) It may be the only “Good Morning” they hear for a while. It’s always great to start the day with a smile.
- Class Magazine: Choose a title like “Teacher’s Name Young Writers” or “Teacher’s Name Remarkable Writers.” Include an autograph page, a short story written and illustrated by each student and surveys like: “What is your favorite memory of first grade?”, “What will you be doing in ten years?”, “What is your favorite food?”, “What is your favorite book?” and “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Ask all of your students to illustrate a cover page and have an unbiased party choose 1 winner to be the cover of the magazine. We even put report covers on the finished product so they will last longer.
- Teacher Autograph Book: Using a blank journal, encourage your students to write a good-bye message to you and sign their names. Include a class picture, add the date and do with your class every year!
- Classroom Escape: Create getaways, like a campsite, right in your very own classroom! We use a bed sheet and prop it up in a corner or throw it over a table to replicate a tent. (We aren’t allowed to hang anything from the ceiling anymore.) Stock with books on camping, flashlights/battery operated lanterns and marshmallows/s’mores. Hand out passes to students who need an escape from the daily grind. Other escape ideas: puzzles, the beach, Washington, D.C., the zoo, the circus and the farm. Click here for passes.
- The Special Table: Clear off a table with enough room for 2-4 students to work. Invite students (we use an actual invitation) to sit at the table for the entire day. Choose your hardest workers first. They will inspire others to land a seat at the table another day! Set up “special” items for each student. For example: a placemat, a snack, an individual bottle of water, hand lotion, the teacher’s supply of crayons, colored pencils and any other extras you choose.
- Make Each Day Special: Hang up a sign titled, “Make Each Day Special.” The sign lists Monday-Friday and 1 fun idea for each day. Choose from our list or create your own.
- Conversation for Closure: On the morning of the last day of school, sit in a circle and share compliments, favorite memories and proud moments. This helps calm anxieties about the big good-bye and it’s a touching way to end your time together. Be prepared for some tears- both yours and your students!
- Top Ten List: Make a list of the class’ favorite activities from the whole year. You may need to start with a larger list and vote to narrow it down to ten. Type up the list and send a copy home with each student.
- Thank You Notes: Have your class write thank you notes to staff members. Include cafeteria workers, office personnel, custodians and specialists. They all deserve to be recognized for their dedication and hard work throughout the year.