School years end. It's how education is structured. There is an arbitrary beginning of a grade and an ending. Teachers and students count down to the end (teachers by the hour during the last week). Different activities occur with varied degrees of behavior accepted. Finally all the students leave, the teachers totally deconstruct their rooms, usually someone leaves/changes grade levels/retires, and new people are hired.
Our principal retired this year. At one point he expressed to me the wish that we could avoid all of the hoopla of the end of the year. Students would continue to learn. Teachers would continue to teach. Everyone could simply spread out their vacations throughout the year. Then one day the students would simply pick up their books, mats, and pencils and move into a different classroom.
While education isn't that simple and there are definitely signs of teacher burn-out, Dinah Zike, during her interactive workshops, addresses the need for teachers to be 100% focused on teaching everyday. She utilizes hands-on manipulatives to foster writing and creativity. Dinah has experienced some major health battles in her times and she expects all of her doctors to be 100% on top of their game every day. Shouldn't we expect the same from teachers? I train student teachers, volunteers and assistants to maintain a positive attitude throughout the day because the very last child to enter the library should be treated as wonderfully as the first child. Should we tolerate less than our best efforts for the following excuses:
- beginning of school,
- right before a vacation,
- coming back from vacation,
- a snow day,
- the teacher migraine day,
- the days right before report cards (when we've got to stop everything to get them done),
- assessment days,
- program days,
- school board/superintendent/legislative visitors,
- party days,
- on and on
If a child makes it to school despite all the obstacles in their path, don't they deserve the absolute best we have to offer? We could graph the school year with the amount of interruptions and activities that interfere with learning. But perhaps a large part of this is our institutionalized attitude of accepting less. Some of the very best teachers I know reduce discipline problems simply because their students are meaningfully engaged in hands-on activities continually up to the minute they leave school. Usually the school librarian is part of this mix.
It is sad that we have to stop reading, stop circulating, and stop browsing/learning/scanning reference books, etc. in the school library simply because we have so many arbitrary end of year tasks to complete. Put it all perfectly in order. Get the lost books paid for or hold the report cards. Fill in meaningless reports to justify our existence. Detail how many collaborative lessons we have completed for every grade level and for every subject within the grade level. Detail how many times throughout the year someone used the library copier, the computers, the newspaper. Inventory the special collections resulting from NCLB such as book rooms, essential literature, guided reading multiple copies. Does any of that help children? If an administrator really wants to know if teaching is occuring, which would be better: a report listing 7 kindergarten science collaborative lessons or a visit to see the activities occurring throughout the year and witnessing individuals engaged in learning?
Speaking of leaving school, I'd like to showcase two of my own sons that have graduated high school this past week (resulting in my not posting Wed-Sat.). Anthony and Zachary both leave for the military – U.S. Army – two weeks from now. This is an ending and a beginning that is hard for mom to endure. The two teen boys I have left at home will be beginning a new life as the oldest sons in the house.