Teaching To the End

Girl writing on September Page of Calendar

iStock 000019207828XSmall 150x150 Teaching To the EndWhich is your most difficult month? When asked, teachers will usually choose between September and June.

Some find that the transition from summer to school that takes place in September is the most challenging. They point to the fact that students have come off a long break, with little or no organized (or sometimes even unorganized) learning having taken place for more than ten weeks. Requiring students to settle down into a regiment of classes, tests and homework, after the summer hiatus is no small feat.

Others choose June. With the prospect of summer fun beckoning from just beyond the classroom windows, focusing attention on schoolwork is a daunting challenge. This challenge is especially acute when dealing with a senior class, at elementary, middle or high school level. For the senior class the entire school environment in which they are presently found is about to pass into a blissful or bitter memory. Their eyes are focused elsewhere entirely, frequently to the complete exclusion of the classroom in which they now sit. Good luck trying to teach seniors in June (or from January on in some cases).

As a teacher and administrator I experienced many Septembers and many Junes. And while I found both times with their particular challenges, I found September usually uplifting and June somewhat depressing. September spoke of promise and unlimited potential, while June often turned my (overly) critical eye to missed opportunities and unfulfilled dreams. The fact that students’ minds seemed to be elsewhere did little to sooth the uneasy feelings that permeated the last weeks and days of the school year.

The prospect of ‘losing’ my students to the summer months, or, in the case of seniors, to graduation, never sat well with me. I lived to teach and soon realized that the real challenge was not the students’ behavior but the teacher’s sense of mission. It was that sense of needing to teach that made the June challenges so daunting. For as the classroom began to unravel, when the intensity of the educational program began to wane, the inspiration gleaned from the lessons was compromised.

The solution? Teach to the end.

There is no reason that teachers have to give up or give in. The best teachers plan their lessons for the last day of school with the same focus and creativity that they invest into the first day. Teachers must control the environment; the environment should not control the teacher. As always, students follow the leader. It is when the teacher begins to ‘wrap it up’ as the end of the school year approaches, that students begin to do the same. When teachers stop teaching with focused intensity because they claim to “have finished the curriculum”, then students react by stopping to learn.

Teach to the end. What more valuable lesson could I possibly convey to students? Every moment is precious precisely because I can teach, and they can learn, something new. Teach to the end. To the final bell make sure they understand the incredible beauty of learning, one more idea to be considered, one more truth to be discovered. Taken this way, June doesn’t seem so bad after all.

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