Some teachers will probably hate me for even mentioning next year when we still have a month of school left, so my apologies for those of you who don’t have the bandwidth to think about it yet. However, I find myself feeling the same way every year around this time. I experience a mix of guilt, frustration, and exhaustion. I feel guilty about all of the things I didn’t get to or all of the aspects of my teaching that could have been better. I feel frustrated by the routines that did take and my students’ unwillingness to buckle down in the last month of school to finish strong. And, I feel exhausted by all of the mental, emotional, and physical energy that has gone into my work this year.
I’ve developed a strategy for managing my mixed emotions as we head into the final few weeks of the school year. I create a “Things to Revamp for Next Year” Google Document to reflect on the year and brainstorm new strategies, routines, lesson ideas, project concepts, and skill labs that I want to build into my classroom and curriculum next year.
I find this strategy helpful on two fronts.
First, it helps me feel like I’m in control of my teaching reality when I actually feel like things are a little crazy and out of control. The end of the year feels like a tidal wave. There is so much to do and not enough time to do it all. Adding items to my revamp list allows me to identify the aspects of my current teaching reality that aren’t working well and gives me a place to articulate how I can make them better next year.
Second, I know that when I leave my classroom for summer the pain points I’m experiencing right now won’t be as poignant. I want to capture my thoughts about how to improve my teaching practice for next year while I’m feeling the pain. When I am stressed out or feeling frustrated, I tend to organically think of a multitude of different ways to improve my current situation, so I want to capture those great ideas for next year.
This is a simple sanity-saving strategy that I’ve come to lean on in my moments of desperation at the end of the school year, so I wanted to share it with other teachers who might also be feeling down or being too hard on themselves. We have to remember that we do the best we can every day. There is always room to improve, but we have to appreciate all that we are currently doing for our students.
First, thank you for admitting that you have frustrations and regrets at the end of the year. From the outside, your teaching situation seems so ideal and yet you still with the hard work of teaching. As the end of the year has approached, I am feeling tired and ready for it to be over. This attitude has made me wonder if my commitment to teaching has waned over the years, but your blog post reminded me that this is the normal cycle of a school year.
Last year, I informally made a similar list at the end of the year. It was not as complete as yours, but even this little list of reminders helped. I agree that it is important to create the list in the moment so that you don’t forget the urgency of the problem. Two months from I will probably minimize the issues and then find myself right back in the same predicament.
The bigger topic that your post points to is taking time to reflect as a teacher. Ideally, this habit should be continued throughout the year. I find it so difficult to find the quiet time to reflect. So often, my time is eaten up by meetings, grading, ad hoc conversations, etc. Reflection is so important though. I think you planning document could be something used all year, possibly at the end of each grading period or before a holiday break.
Thank you for sharing your ideas!
You are so welcome! I love teaching 95% of the time, but I struggle like everyone else. I’m glad that sharing my own challengings is helpful for other teachers who are also feeling disillusioned, tired, and frustrated. This is a tough time of year and it’s nice on some level to know we are not alone!
I agree that the best part of this list is the reflective nature of it. It forces me to think about what is working, what isn’t working and how I can proactively make changes and improvements.
Good luck in these final weeks!
After 22 years of teaching, I have come to the conclusion that there are things I simply won’t get to. In the beginning, I was losing sleep about it. I would go over and over my lessons in my head trying to figure out how to approach things differently so I could get to those things. However, I never felt guilty about this. To me, it’s just the nature of the beast.
What I discovered was that there were some years that I got closer to what I wanted to accomplish. Other years, I never got close. I always want my students to get as much from me as possible. As an eighth grade teacher (math and algebra), I view my job as getting students ready to handle a different chapter of their life. When my students come back to me (and they come back to visit often), they almost invariably tell me that freshman year math was super easy. That’s how I know that no matter how far into the curriculum I get, I have done my job.
Do I want to get further? Of course. Do I keep trying to complete everything? Absolutely. But I have such high standards for my students learning of the curriculum that I seldom get all the way through.
Keep on keepin on.
Thanks for sharing, Larry! You are so right. Some years I get closer to accomplishing what I want and other years I feel like I fall short. Given everything I want to tackle, I guess it makes sense that I can’t get to it all!
I have done something similar each of the past few years, usually about the time state testing comes around and I have endless hours of time to think while I administer or proctor these tests. It is helpful to capture those ideas as they come to you because they might not be as strong over the summer when you have time to improve them. Something new I tried this year was to share some of the control of end of year reflections. I have my students a teacher evaluation form and told them to be brutally honest with me on the condition that they have complete anonymity. When it came to identifying my weaknesses and ideas to improve what they thought were both the best and worst lessons, my students gave me exactly the level of honesty I wanted. Having their perspective on both my teaching style and lessons will allow me to keep their needs in mind as I revise lessons for the upcoming year instead of just my thoughts on what could be better.
I love the idea of a Google Doc for this purpose. I usually have a notebook or folder labeled with the next school year where I jot down ideas as they come–I don’t wait until the end of the year. By the end of the school year, it’s usually full of notes, most of them on post-its that have been added haphazardly. It’s unorganized and difficult to go through. A Google Doc will help keep things more organized. Thanks for the idea.
Ha! My teaching partner and I don’t ever make it past October before starting this very important doc. for the following year : ) Really like how you include categories within tables- we had the ah-ha to start doing this within our current, running “To Discuss” doc., however definitely want to be more proactive to start categorizing now versus later, after reading your post. Thanks for the “extra bandwidth” needed during this crazy time of year!
You’re so welcome, Amy!
[…] year as principal and finished my doctoral dissertation. I am reminded of Catlin Tucker’s end of year blog post as I sit here in my quiet, empty office feeling a mix of guilt, exhaustion, and anticipation. I […]
[…] last few days, but really, then what will be better by this time next school year? I came across this awesome post by Caitlin Tucker in which she gives an example of her End-of-Year Revamp list that she uses to […]
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Thank you for this document. It is in my pinterest file so I will see it when I am not in the walls of school and interrupted in such deep soul searching thought. After 46 years as an educator, you would think I would have this all figured out. NOT!
I am working half time at a public High School for our most at risk students. I love it because there is always plenty of opportunity to make a difference. The problem is that the district thinks this is a position to manage the academic needs of five students. That was the basis upon which I was hired. Reality: I have managed 18 Individual Educational Plans, re-writing each one once or twice and managing one as a referral to new IEP. Each one is so unique! So is their history, needs and paperwork. I wish I could do more but I learned in high school that some things are out of my control. I just come to school available to influence students to see their strength and make a good choice. Is there more I can do? Yes, I hope so….I will complete this self-evaluative goal setting plan. It is so much more important than counting the IEP’s I manage, the meetings I attend and the many “beans” we tend to count. I need to make sure I have influenced our hearts and brains to work better (mine, the students and the staff)
You sound like you are doing the best you can with what you’ve been given and letting go of those things you can’t control. All we can do is our best. Like you said, we must try to influence the hearts and minds of others. Our jobs are so big and on some level, we cannot possible “do it all.” Part of teaching is learning to place our time, energy, and effort in those places that have the most impact. Keep doing what you’re doing! I’m glad this template is a useful resource.