Like most of my posts, this idea doesn’t come from me. Kathy Mann, a brilliant administrator that works in my division, and I were talking and the topic of classroom countdown’s came up. You know, those tally’s on the whiteboard that count down the days until Christmas holidays or Spring or Summer Break. Well Kathy talked about how she was against them because, for her, the time she has with her students and her career in general is not endless and she appreciates the time a great deal.
That stuck with me, and I never really processed that concept until I was sitting working one on one with a student. He was one of those really tough but really great kids, and I have enjoyed the times when he has been sent to me to work out whatever frustrations he was having. I looked up on the board and saw a countdown that read “22 days until Summer Break!”. I realized in that moment that I would be leaving my current school at the end of this year and may not again see this young man when I do leave. I was reminded so clearly of Kathy’s words and in that moment I felt that idea of time and opportunity lost.
Driving home that night I started thinking about how we are modeling for our students when we have those countdowns in our class. What message are we sending to them? Are we suggesting that we are looking forward to getting rid of them? Are we suggesting school is something to dread and look forward to leaving behind us? Are we telling them that the learning stops at the end of June and resumes in September?
I know none us intend to send these type of messages, and that we all enjoy our time with our students (at least I hope you do), but sometimes its the unintended message that sticks with kids. I remember when I worked in alternative education, it was always our last week before any major holiday that was the toughest. Not because the kids were hyper or excited, but rather because the idea of being home for a week, two weeks or even two months was not a pleasant thought for our students. At home there wasn’t the structure, the stability, the positivity, the hope, the challenge or the support that school provided. Sometimes there wasn’t a solid adult provider or role model, and they would worry about who would look out for them or provide some direction. For some of our students home=turmoil while school= care, compassion, and security. We need to remember that this feeling exists in our students as well, and while we might be counting down the days to sleeping in and time at the beach, they may be dreading the days away from the one place they know will always provide stability. To them, the message they received was one of abandonment, whether intended or not.
Instead of counting down the days, or focusing on the end, we really have a great opportunity to focus on the present. Celebrate the final month together, let your students know how much you value your time with them. Make each day count, even if it is simply to tell a student why you appreciate them. If you want to look to the future, challenge them with ideas of self improvement and continual learning over their time away. Keep their minds on being constantly connected to their education, both now and in the future. We want them to know that for us, learning never stops and we would like them to feel the same way about it rather than counting down the days until they can shut it off.
At our school, we have 20 days left with our students until the summer break, for me I have 20 days with these kids before I move on to a new building and a new collection of colleagues, students and families. When I think of it I want to enjoy these 20 days and take in as much as I can during our time together, I don’t want these days to just be finished and over with. I hope I can help my students see that I feel this way, and I challenge you to do the same.