It’s at the end of term that your classes are most likely to get distracted and disengaged. There are a number of common end of term challenges in the classroom from behaviour management to student absences, as well as coming to the natural end of a topic or unit and not wanting to start a new one with the end of term so clearly in sight. There can also be challenges with certain holidays and differences in culture, for example Christmas and Easter, where students from cultures and religions that do not celebrate these festivals, or indeed celebrate them in different ways, may struggle with religious references or subject content at these times. For some children, a school holiday is their most dreaded time of year... the NSPCC sees significant increases in call volumes over school holidays, and over the Christmas period receives a call from a child every 25 seconds (NSPCC, 2022). So how do we navigate the end of term?
1. You Are the Set Point
At the end of the year, teachers are TIRED. We’ve given all we’ve got and there’s simply not much left. Students pick up on these changes in your mood or attitude instantly! They’ll notice if you are a bit distracted or especially laid back or extra silly or a little grouchy, or any other out-of-character behaviour, and respond in kind. You are the set point. For many students, a change in the teacher’s mood or attitude can trigger anxiety (leading to increased behaviour issues). This change may also send the message that the accepted boundaries and expectations have changed, prompting a little extra mischief or silliness. To maintain the peaceful and organized classroom you’ve worked so hard to create, you have to maintain your normal tone, mood, and habits with your students. If you relax too much, they’ll relax too much. If you stop holding them accountable, they’ll stop showing accountability. If you send students the message that learning is over and a break is here, you’ll spend your last weeks of school battling behaviour rather than enjoying the fruits of your labour.
2. The Routine Rules
Every classroom has a daily flow of events that students come to expect and rely on. Routines provide an important sense of security for students and a predictable rhythm to the day. When routines change, students may feel excited, anxious, or downright out of control. At the end of the school term, it’s easy to let things slip. Special events and activities take over and soon you find yourself having to change your plans at the last minute.
Although the special events and activities will inevitably impact the daily routine, you can minimize the effects. First of all, stick to your normal schedule as much as possible, even if the activities within a part of the day look very different..
3. Increase Self-Directed Learning
During those last weeks of school, large group activities can be especially challenging. Students are easily distracted, there are constant interruptions, and to be blunt, they just start to bug each other. It’s like siblings on a long car trip that get sick of one another. My solution is to make more time and space for self-directed learning projects. The students spread out around the room and focus on work that interests them while the teacher enjoys the peace and quiet. My favourite projects typically include some kind of research component, a choice of topic, and a creative final product that studentss are excited about.
4. Slow Down and Do It Again
This is the most obvious solution, but I know that when you’re in the thick of it, it doesn’t always seem so obvious because by the end of the year, we expect students to KNOW the expectations. We’ve lined up 800 times, so everyone should know exactly what to do without a reminder! Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. To keep everything on track, it’s still important to slow down, review the expectations, and take time to practice if necessary. When we begin rushing through transitions, assuming students remember expectations, and allowing smaller problematic behaviours to slip by, things escalate quickly.
Treat those last weeks of term like the first weeks back after a break. It’s important to slow down, review, and practice as needed. .
5. Team Up
The end of the school year is hard, so why not recruit some much-needed support! My saving grace has always been partnering with another class (or a few other classes) for special get-togethers and activities. Think of a teacher you could use some quality time with and then look for an activity that fits the bill. Whatever you do, keep it simple. You get some time with a teacher-friend while the studentss enjoy a unique and novel experience.
6. Excessive Talking
You’re teaching a lesson and students won’t stop talking. You’re trying all of your classroom-management strategies to no avail. Even your most quiet students are whispering to their friends sitting at their table team. This happens because students are excited and know the end of the term is near. Students are starting to check out of an academic mindset and check into a holiday-planning mindset. And to be totally honest, so are most teachers! So, why not join them? Let your students know you know how they’re feeling. You get that they’re excited for the upcoming end-of-the-school-term events and that the holiday is almost here. Remind students that they still need to get work done, but there will still be opportunities to talk to their peers. Put a timer on for three minutes (or more or less) and tell students they have three minutes to talk. When they hear the timer, it’s time to focus. If they can focus on the lesson (remember to keep your lessons short, if possible), then you can make their “talk time” longer.
7. Incomplete Work
As you’re collecting work and marking, you notice that three-quarters of your class didn’t turn in their assignment. You also see that Lucy and Daisy, who did turn in their assignment, have rushed through their work and have done the least possible to get a mark or grade.
Students know that end of term testing is over and that reports are most likely already written. They feel they don’t have to turn in work or even finish assignments because, to them, it’s not a part of their overall grade. If students aren’t going to complete their work, take a look at the work you’re asking them to complete. Is it meaningful to your students? Do you even need it for their course or grade? If the answer is “no” to both of those questions, then don’t assign those assignments. Instead, have students complete work that will keep them engaged and give them ownership. Rather than assigning students a worksheet to complete, have them make a game board that is based on the skills they’ve learned that term. Have students create their own Reader’s Theatre that is based on a story instead of simply writing a summary in their books.
So, you’re teaching a lesson and Joey is wearing his headphones and listening to music on his phone. You ask him to turn it off and remind him of class expectations, and he looks at you and says “no.” In your mind, you’re thinking a million things, and on the exterior, you’re trying to keep it cool and think of how to respond.
Even though most students are excited about the break from school, there are students who have anxiety about the holiday that is coming up. For some students, school is their constant and their only routine, meaning that a half term break might bring added stress and anxiety of the unknown. Having this anxiety could spark students to be defiant or have outbursts in class. Whilst it may be a challenge, it’s important that you don’t take this behaviour personally. Student behaviour is a form of communication, and a student like Joey blatantly telling you “no” is his way of communicating something else. If this happens during a lesson, don’t engage with the student in that moment. Let him listen to the music, and when your other students are working, talk to Joey in a safe space. Get to the root of the issue rather than letting anger take control.
Emma and Lola, who are usually best friends, come in from recess and immediately come to you crying. Apparently, Emma was playing with Chloe and Lola was upset because Emma is not allowed to play with anyone but her. Emma feels like Lola is too controlling and wants to have new friends. Sometimes classmates and friends can form relationships that are like siblings, and spending too much time together can take a turn for the worse and make students blow up at each other. Everyone needs a break. Listen to both students individually so you can hear both of their stories and so they each feel heard. Bring the students together and have them tell each other what they told you. Mediate the conversation and bring the students to an agreement. Have them come to a decision about how they’ll move forward to finish the term on a good note.
10. No Motivation
Students have lost interest and are not motivated to put in their best effort. They’re turning in sloppy work and almost seem lethargic. It seems like they’ve forgotten all classroom procedures and are just wild and carefree. This happens because students are obviously checked out. They know the end of the school term is near and they’re ready for their break. They could also be dealing with anxiety of the unknown in their home lives as the break approaches. Let your students know that you understand how they’re feeling. Also remind them that they still have tasks to complete and learning to do until the very last day of school. Set daily goals for your whole class and announce them at the beginning of the day. Being better aware of when free time might present itself in lessons towards the end of term and knowing how to plan effectively.
11. Mindful Language
It is just as important to recognise Christmas and Easter (as a largely Christian country) as it is to recognise that not all students will celebrate the religious elements of these term breaks. As teachers, we have a duty to “not undermining fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs” and also ensure that “that personal beliefs are not expressed in ways which exploit pupils’ vulnerability or might lead them to break the law.”
As much as saying “Winter Holiday” or “Spring Holiday” may be inclusive, it may also be offensive to those who celebrate it as “Christmas Holiday” or “Easter Holiday”. Be sure that you are following your school’s policy on the language of half term breaks.