How to Get Through the End of the School Year When You’re Tired and Sad

We are all feeling it. Hang in there. You can make it.

Getting Through the End of the School Year When You're Tired and Sad

These days when I pull into the school parking lot in the morning, I find myself sitting in the car for a few extra minutes. I doubt I am the only teacher doing this. Some days, getting through the end of the school year feels like a Herculean task.

When the bell rings, releasing my class into the hallways, I sit down on my desk like a sprinter trying to catch a breath.

Work follows me home on a lot of afternoons. It’s like that stray dog you can’t shake, but you know you don’t have the time or energy to take in. I feel tired, and I doubt I am the only teacher who feels this way. 

Maybe you feel this way, too. Maybe you are digging a little deeper to maintain the enthusiasm you started the year with, faking it until you make it (to summer). 

But we all know that on the horizon is the chance to reboot, recreate, and rethink. On the horizon is another year when we get to do it all again, and that may be the magic of it.

Right now, a fresh start looks pretty good.

It is about now that I begin longing for the fresh start of a new school year. In September, nothing has gone wrong, and there is an excitement in the air as we start the process of forming the relationships with students we hope will inspire them and push them toward success. Students are eager to learn and eager to please.

This time of year, however, there are kids at risk of failing for the year, students who have cheated on tests, and lessons I wish had gone differently. I doubt any teacher makes it through a year without feeling like there was a kid they just couldn’t reach. We feel that we could have done better, should have done better. Good teachers are haunted by those kids.

Right now, our minds may start wandering.

There is an inevitable turning away that comes with the spring. Nowhere is that more evident than in the seniors I teach. Their minds are coordinating the colors of prom dresses and tuxedos or planning the layout of their dorm rooms. But it happens across all grades. Students who were happy to dig into a piece of literature on a dreary winter afternoon are feeling the pull of other interests. Just like us, they are distracted by the promise of summer. Just like us, they want to be outside enjoying the spring air.

Then there are all the kids we know are not looking forward to the final bell that starts summer. I fixate on those kids who I know take solace in school. It’s the only safe harbor in a life that has offered them far too strong a tempest. All year we seek these kids out for a quick conversation in the hallway. We check up when they are absent. We write a slightly longer, more supportive note at the bottom of their paper. Now they will head out for more than two months, navigating the world without us. We wonder: In a world of stormy seas, have we helped them build a strong enough boat?

Right now, your tank might be empty.

We all know that being a good teacher requires being a good counselor, surrogate parent, shoulder to cry on, cheerleader to celebrate with, taskmaster, inspirational speaker, and caregiver. We all know the energy required to do that day after day. After nine months of this, we may be running on fumes. 

Right now, there is the promise of next year.

Even in the waning days of fourth marking period, we keep reaching out to those kids creeping closer and closer to the numerical impossibility of passing for the year. We know that, if nothing else, we are laying the groundwork for another attempt in the fall. We fight to never show them the exasperation we feel, to never offer up anything they may construe as us giving up on them. We keep shaking off the urge to relinquish the last ten minutes of class to Snapchat while we stare out the window dreaming of where we would rather be. We compile work for kids whose summers are voids to be filled and promise to check in via email.

So, we keep plugging along.

There is so much to be excited about. Spring flowers are speckling my commute to work with a dazzling display of colors so vibrant it seems fake. It is no longer dark when I drive home from work. Administration has almost finished observations for the year. Teachers across the country know that we have one marking period left before heading out for the only real perk our profession offers: summer vacation.

So we sit in the parking lot for an extra minute while we finish the track on our “Pumped for School” playlist. We hit up the school store for an extra cup of coffee. We might even pay for our colleague’s cup as well, with a knowing nod. We dig a little deeper. We try a little harder.

And maybe, as we pack up our things for the day, we pull the paper chain from the bottom drawer of our desk and rip off another link. Summer will save us. It will rejuvenate us. In September, we will begin again with an energy that we now must work so hard to summon.

Posted by Jeremy Knoll

Knoll is a public school English teacher of nearly two decades. Outside of the classroom he spends his time working as a freelance writer or exploring the outdoors with his wife, two boys, and dog. He loves the subject he teaches so much that he named his dog Atticus and got a half-sleeve tattoo depicting a scene from Maurice Sendak's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE to celebrate the birth of his kids.

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