By Teachers, For Teachers
No matter how strong the experiences or relationships throughout the year, I’ve often felt that the end of the school ends on a sort of – well – disappointing note. The students are anxious to start their summer, the bell dismisses them, and we say “Goodbye” like on any other day.
The only problem is that it’s not any other day. It’s the last time, ever, we’ll be together as a class. We all have poured our hearts and minds into using teaching strategies to make the year count, and the lack of any formality or importance at the very end seems like such an anticlimax. It seems like there’s no shortage of “First day of school ideas” to start our year strong, but we need to consider the importance of our “Last day of school” and make sure we are ending strong as well.
So how can we use teaching strategies to organize our last moments together to make an impact and conclude our year together in a manner more befitting of our experiences throughout the year? Here are a few ideas.
Your students have worked hard this year – why not host a small awards ceremony? You can create categories and pass out a survey for students to write down which student in their opinion is most deserving. You can even leave a write-in category for students to create their own awards.
Or instead of having your class vote on award winners, you can have students all create unique awards for one another. This way, everyone would receive a unique, personalized award, and everyone would have the chance to give one.
It never hurts to recognize that your last day of school is, in all likelihood, the last time this group of people will ever be assembled. Mark the occasion with a meaningful “Farewell address” where you praise your students, give them advice, reminisce over the year, and think forward into the future. Students don’t always seem like they’re paying attention, but when a respected teacher gives meaningful advice, students appreciate and remember their words.
In addition to giving words, give students a meaningful object to remember your time together. The object does not have to be anything fancy, but rather it gains importance based on the shared meaning your class assigns to it. You can have students take something that’s already a part of the classroom – like nametags or art projects – or give them something new, like a superhero cape, a book, or another small item that reminds them of your words and shared experiences.
Along the lines of the farewell address and memento, give an official “Toast” or series of toasts related to the successes and accomplishments throughout the year. Share the stage and ask students to give their own toast speech to commemorate their favorite elements of your time together. Form a circle, link hands, and clap loudly for one another’s statements.
Of course, you’ll need to bring in bottles of water or another beverage to sip after each toast. Or, if you want to be especially cheesy, bring in actual slices of toast for students to nibble from.
Ask students to write letters to their future selves or take an object that had meaning to them this year and put it in a time capsule box. Ask students to share what they put in the capsule and why. Store the time capsule in a safe space and mark it with the year it is to be opened. Then (and you really have to remember to do this) when that time passes, reconnect with your students and open the capsule.
Pose for the camera! Tell students in advance that you’re going to take a picture as a class. On your last day, pose as a class and smile. You can print out a copy of the photo for everyone, or just share it digitally on your class website, social media account, or cloud-based storage sharing. Be sure to label everyone’s names. You can even treat this like a yearbook and have students sign the photo or write their own personal messages to everyone else on it.
For every class that leaves, there’s a new class following right behind. Develop a “Passing of the torch” tradition that involves your outgoing class sharing advice, a class gift, or even a literal torch that can be passed on for the next class to enjoy. This helps outgoing classes feel like they are leaving a piece of themselves behind, and it helps incoming classes to feel like they are entering part of a legacy that’s bigger than themselves.
There are limitless possibilities for how you choose to end your school year. But whatever you do, don’t shortchange your students by ending on a fizzled-down note. Avoid just watching a movie, reviewing your class study guide, or playing a meaningless game. Instead, focus on how you can cram those last moments with one another in a way that adds value and meaning. This isn’t about making you or your students feel good; but it is about commemorating a great year of learning together and ending in a way that respects the relationships and growth everyone has participated in.
What will you do on your last day with your students to end on a strong note? Share your plans with our TeachHUB.com community in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.