It's that time of year for many of us -- just a few weeks left in a very long school year. What can we do instead of counting down the days until the end and be energized for our students and for us?
I was a community organizer for nineteen years prior to becoming a teacher eleven years ago. Here are a few ideas that are modified versions of what organizers are often urged to do when they are feeling “burned-out”:
Work Fewer Hours: By this time of the year, “throwing time” at school doesn’t pay dividends. Cutting back on outrageous work hours per week can often result in feeling more energized in the classroom.
Read a Stimulating Book: Finding an intellectually-stimulating book (or article) on teaching and learning might get you excited to try-out some new things -- even though it’s at the end of the year.
Watch An Intellectually-Stimulating Video On The Web: Watching one of the numerous short and thought-provoking videos on the Web from sites like TED Talks, The Big Think, Ignite, or Pop!Tech is another option. These are all groups that bring people who are doing some of the most “cutting-edge” thinking and working in the world to make presentations and then put them on the Web so others can see them for free. Here's a list of my favorites among these kinds of sites.
Write Something Useful for Other Teachers: Whether it’s a blog post or a lesson plan to be shared (or something else), forcing yourself to craft something public can keep your mind sharp.
Make a Point To Eat Lunch — Individually — With Teachers You Don’t Know Well, but are Impressed With: It can be energizing to meet with another teacher and learn why they chose this profession, what they’ve learned about teaching and learning, what gives them energy, and just their “story.”
Develop A Personal Learning Network Using Social Media: Thousands of teachers across the world use tools like Facebook, Twitter and blogs to connect with each other. Whether it’s at the end of the year, or at the beginning, developing these kinds of virtual relationships can be energizing and professionally helpful. Of course, the Teaching English - British Council Facebook page is the first place for ESL/EFL teachers should visit, and there are many other resources for us English teachers.
Taking these kinds of actions to stay fresh and energized during these this time will help us and our students not "sleepwalk" during these last few weeks. And there's an even more important reason to avoid these doldrums than just acting professional...
Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman tells about an experiment done in the 1990’s when two groups of patients were given colonoscopies. One group "finished" when the procedure was completed. The other group stayed a while longer, believing the procedure was continuing when in fact it had ended—so the pain was gone or reduced dramatically. The second group described the procedure afterward as much less painful than the first group did, even though both groups had recorded similar levels of pain during the procedure except for the extra time provided the second group. Kahneman uses this example to explain that we have an "experiencing self" and a "remembering self."
The "remembering self" is comprised of the one or two "peak" moments we have had in a situation combined with how it ends (this is known as the "Peak/End Rule"). It is the remembering self that tends to stick with us and the one we use to frame future decisions.
From this perspective, what occurs in the final weeks of our classes will have a huge influence on how both our students and we feel about—and make future decisions related to—learning, schooling, teaching.
This time near the end of the year provides us the opportunity to help our students -- and us -- finish strong, with a peak or two to remember as well.
Larry Ferlazzo teaches English and Social Studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. He has written six books on education (portions of this post are adapted from his book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves), writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher, and has his own popular resource-sharing blog. He writes a monthly post for the New York Times on teaching English Language Learners.