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Do Teachers Contribute to "End of Year Syndrome?"
by Kathleen Carpenter, Contributing Editor

Schools are preparing for summer breaks and teachers are lamenting that students have become more active, less attentive, and more difficult to motivate. Teachers.Net asked educators to respond to the question, "Do teachers contribute to students' end of year syndrome?" Educators considered: Do we bring this upon ourselves by planning activities that over-stimulate or distract students from curriculum goals? Do we start packing up classrooms too soon, causing students to believe that the year has in effect ended, along with their obligations to perform school tasks and exhibit appropriate behavior? Can we justify the amount of time we "lose" because of end of year activities? Is there something about human children that causes them to be keyed up in May and June? Do kids become less productive according to the calendar or because of other external influences?

Most respondents admitted to exhibiting behaviors, or observing colleagues whose actions cause students to be less productive as summer vacation approaches.

"GUILTY! One thing I start asking them is...What will y'all be doing this summer? Raise your hand if you happy it's almost SUMMER!!!!"

"Teachers are often their own worst enemies, at least at our school. Soon after spring break, it is common to hear otherwise 'on task' teachers beginning the countdown. While teachers still complain about 'senioritis,' they exhibit much of the same behavior, and it is contagious -- the other students catch it quickly."

"I know that a significant number of teachers do "fold their tents" early. Many of my seniors in AP Chemistry report that their other teachers are showing (non-educational) videos in class."

"There are a few ways that teachers do contribute to the problem. I teach in middle school and sometimes get discouraged by students who keep asking if WE are going to have a party, if WE can ever have a free day, if WE can go outside and sit in the bleachers on the football field, if WE can watch videos, etc. because that's what some of the other teachers are doing."

"Many school activities change as teachers prepare for end of year concerts, field trips, play days, etc. While each of these is worthwhile, the deviation from more rigid schedules can be very unsettling to those children who need a lot of structure."

"Kids do not 'spond,' they 'REspond' Their behavior at the end of the year (and the last five minutes of the period or the day) is a response to our behavior as teachers. Their actions are feedback; if we communicate the year is over (by our attitude and actions, not our words) they act as though it's over. If kids are working primarily for grades, when the grades are pretty well determined there is no reason to continue working."

Many teachers who posted on this topic recognize that their actions do cause their students to become less productive, but feel there is no alternative because they are forced by deadlines to turn in grades and materials by the end of the last school day, making it inevitable that students will become aware of and react to end-of-year syndrome.

"We are required to do an inventory of all books, etc. That is due on Monday. So my partner and I had to rearrange bookshelves, baskets, and our library so that we could finish this task on time. That means changes in the classroom and our Kinders are aware of all changes. Small children react to any difference in their lives."

"We have school until the second week of June. Our Library closes this week. Our computer lab will shut down the first week in June. All cumulative records, inventories, etc. are due by the first week in June."

"Our library closed almost two weeks early. P.E. was minimal because those who passed certain levels were treated with special days at P.E. and the rest of the kids had a shortened schedule. Records and grades were due the week before and the kids knew it."

"On the last day of school the kids leave at 1:30 and we are required to turn in our gradebooks and keys at 4:30 that day --not to return until a week before school in August. We HAVE to 'tear down and pack up' in front of the kids---there's no other time!"

Several teachers offered the opinion that "separation anxiety" explains at least some of the behaviors seen in students near the close of school.

"Another teacher described this in a very kind way~and I believe her. A LOT OF THE KIDS' BEHAVIOR IS SEPARATION ANXIETY. They've been "my kids" for 9 months now...and they know that very soon they won't see me or our room every day. Their way of getting through it is pulling away from me...distancing themselves through their behavior. They are doing it to each other, too. Scuffles and arguments abound, not just in my room, but throughout the "upper grades" in our elementary. I truly believe its their way of making it ok to turn away from routine and have the freedom and separation of summer."

"Those of us who are in a self contained classroom setting are faced with what seems like the break-up of the family. We have spent 180 days getting to know and appreciate each other, We've become a well oiled machine, knowing what to expect and how to do it all, but now we know the end is coming. We will never again be together as the group that we have worked so diligently to build. We are getting ready to say goodbye to the familiar and face the unknown. It's a bitter-sweet time of year."

"Would you believe many of our students DON'T WANT SCHOOL TO END? For many of them, school is the only stable, structured element in their lives. So it certainly makes sense that they would be anxious about losing that structure. Most of them don't verbalize it, but I believe it's on their minds. At our school they are treated much better than they are at home....we give them hugs....and respect...don't yell profanities at them....we take care of their little aches and pains....we don't have drugs or weapons laying around.....we give them clean clothes and shoes if they need them.....we feed them 2 great meals every day."

Others attributed the change in students' behavior and attentiveness to an unavoidable "burnout" factor.

"I often think that the students are just as burned out as the teachers by May. Our school days are getting longer and our days in school have increased. Our children are going to school much longer than I did at their age."

"Particularly with first graders, if we worked so hard during the winter months, I truly believe that the mind reaches a saturation point and children need time to step back and assimilate everything they've learned."

A number of teachers pointed out that external distractions related to the season can have a negative effect on segments of the student population.

"My school has a laughable dress code, and any boy with even a modest testosterone level will have a very difficult time focusing on school with the parade of bare flesh."

"When the change to daylight savings came, children are forced to get out of bed an hour earlier and have extended daylight for play time, not getting the kind of rest they need to function well in the classroom. In addition, with the increase of sports activities, springtime leaves little time for family involvement in homework activities."

"When classrooms are hot and stuffy as they often are in spring, neither teachers nor students concentrate well. Air conditioned schools would help a bit here."

Some writers described measures their schools have implemented in an effort to maintain the routine and a higher level of productivity in their schools.

"Now at the end of each year, I choose a really fun project that I have wanted to do all year and there was NEVER any time!"

"My administrator keeps up the zero tolerance about dress and behavior."

"We took the Fifth Grade State Test in early March. Many students felt that since they took their tests they were done. In order to combat that I do several "projects" that require work at school and home. We also opened up the Internet access after spring break. This helped make school more interesting. I also will not do a "countdown" of any kind. I don't turn in most books until the last day. I finished school yesterday. We have been reading Hatchet. We finished the book at 2:50 and dismissed at 3:00."

Remaining productive takes another form in this teacher's classroom:

"Write beach poetry and love stories. Find a good long play and read it aloud in class or act it out. Make paper dolls of famous people, do a baseball unit, or study the Caribbean."

"I have not begun to take things off my walls yet. I have plenty of kids who come in on our workday to help with all of that. I stress to my students (and enforce) from the very beginning that every day will include activities and assignments that require them to think."

One teacher cites evidence of the effectiveness of proactive measures implemented in his/her school.

"The principal 'strongly suggested' that NOTHING (that would indicate the end of the school year) could be changed in the classroom environment until the last two days of school and that no 'countdowns' to the end of the school year were to be held because he knew that those changes would trigger changes in the attitudes of students. Sure enough, those teachers who did not follow that advice had more problems with student attitudes and tended to refer more students for disciplinary action."

Finally, a teacher sums up the benefits of adhering to school routines at this time of year, "It is much easier to pass those weeks busy and involved than with students who are counting the days!"

Best wishes from Teachers.Net for a well-deserved summer break!!