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The Year’s Anticlimax

Not sure if anyone realized this, but there are only three days of school left. It’s really impossible to believe. The process of frantically trying to clean and pack up the classroom has begun. Meanwhile I’m hoping to get the kids to publish one last writing piece, create “summer survival kits” and rehearse a play. As I remarked last year, I’m doing more teaching in my last days of school now, than I did at any point my first year. In light of that progress, in spite of the challenges of this year, I feel good.

At yesterday’s meeting with my principal to discuss the year and my students’ data I had nothing but positive statements about the year and I had data to support that. Not the state assessment data. No, looking at those scores all one would notice are four “did not meet criteria” labels out of 19 students. But looking at the other meaningful measures of progress I have, I could point out that all of my students made a year’s growth or more in reading and math. The only point of regret I made was that in my class, most of the students needed more than a year of growth to “catch up.”

Still, in spite of this positive moment of reflection, overall, the end of the year has always felt like an anticlimactic time. Yes, the classroom gets totally disassembled and wiped clean. Yes, there will be pizza parties and a final class meeting. But the best and worst part of teaching as that no matter what the results of your year, there is no final product, no tangible outcome. The students are a work in progress, one that you must pass on and hope for the best. If you’re lucky you’ll keep in touch with a few of them, but for most of them, especially elementary school kids, the end result remains an unanswered question.

What’s surprised me most lately is how ready I am to go back in the fall. This wasn’t the case as recently a few weeks ago. But a dinner with some friends of mine from my Teaching Fellows cohort allowed me to reconnect to the original idealism and passion that brought me to the classroom. One friend described the “addictiveness” of teaching, and I can’t disagree.

Even though I won’t get a chance to continue working with the same students, and try to “finish what I started” (as if that were possible in the fourth grade), I am anxious for the chance to teach another year, another class, and do things better. This relentless pursuit of improvement is what inspires me when I see it in the best teachers around me. New lessons, new methods of differentiation, new centers, new projects, even new methods for sharpening pencils! A new year offers limitless potential to fix the mistakes of the past one. That is a truly addicting idea.

So maybe the school year doesn’t end with a perfect sense of closure. I will wonder and worry about my students over the summer, and whether their gains will be erased by two months of PlayStation and DSi. But the anticlimactic nature of a school year’s end is also maybe the most exciting part of it. The possibilities are endless.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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