10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Last Two Weeks of School

Sometimes we have to go on autopilot. Knowing that we are too tired to trust our emotions.

Emotions are like tires on a car. Too many miles and they just get out of round.

Attribution Some rights reserved by TheDarkThing

We can't replace our emotions but we can renew them.

People who have never been in the classroom cannot understand the stress of winding up the school year. It is kind of like explaining having a baby to one who hasn't done it. But we don't have to explain. We don't have to justify.

Do what it takes to get through the last weeks.

Tip #1 Focus on the Most Important Thing

  • Make a list of the three most important things you need to do.
  • Put them in order of importance.
  • Log out of email. Only open ONE tab in your browser if it requires your browser.
  • Start on #1 Now.
  • Work on that one thing and stay focused. If you need to write that one thing on an index card and keep it on your desk do it.  (I use the Next Thing app on my iPad.)

Tip #2: Outline Your Projects

But what if my most important thing is a project?

The time spent planning a project cuts down on the time it takes to do the project. Break it down into steps. Figure out the first thing you need to do to keep that project moving forward and put it on your most important thing list.

A checklist will help you here.

Tip #3: Focus on One Thing at a Time

Attribution Some rights reserved by austinevan

But I need to do a ton of things! How can I get it all done?

Start 3 other lists.

  • After school is out
  • Classroom work to do over summer
  • Preplanning

I have over 100 things on my list. If I see something that absolutely doesn't have to be done before May 27th – it comes off.

Remove the date put it on one of those three lists and don't look at it until after school is out.

You can get this work done. One thing at a time.

You can't eat a watermelon whole. You have to eat it in small bites. Same with this watermelon of a workload you have during the last few weeks of school.

Tip #4: Make a “Finish the Year Well” List
What helps me is to list my classes and list every thing I have to do to close out that class for the year. Every grade left to take. Every school supply list to create.

Every project that needs to be done with a checklist.

All on ONE piece of paper. Yes, I have this list in my 2do app but when I overload. This is how I handle it.

Every day use a different highlighter. Highlight what HAS to be done that day. Write MIT(s) on my index cards (in the Next Thing app) so I will do those first BEFORE everything ESPECIALLY email.

Tip #5: Resist the Desire to Hide
Some teachers cope like students who aren't doing well. They hide in the bathroom or teacher's lounge just waiting for time to blow over and wash everything away in a tide of irrelevance.

But things like book inventories, curriculum updates, final grades – these things are important.

Those who win the race are those who finish well. You've come this far, finish well.

Tip #6: Put One Foot in Front of the Other
If you want to have a panic attack think of everything you have to cram in today. It is probably too much! Just look at the next thing you need to do. And the next. And the next. You can do it.

Tip #7: Let the Rough End Drag
Granny Martin always said “sometimes you gotta let the rough end drag.”  The roughest end of teaching is definitely the last 2 weeks of school.

My Mama, a veteran teacher gave me some sage advice my first year of finishing the year. She said,

“If you've got the money, order out. Don't give yourself any grief about cooking dinner every night. Just make it through May, it will pass.”

I remember crying,

“But Mom, no one has any clothes because I haven't had time to do laundry.”

She said,

“Just go to Walmart and buy the cheapest of what you have to have in clothing. You gotta make it through, cut yourself some slack. Let it go, it is OK.”

Tip #8: Don't Make Any Life Changing Decisions
Today, this morning. I feel like a failure. Last night I felt fantastic for a moment when a parent called excited about her child's website. Yesterday afternoon when a child forgot what his c drive is, I felt like a failure.

I look at all the things these kids need to know! I swear that they do their best to forget during the last week of school just to frustrate me. I feel like I've taught them nothing because there is so much left to do! I'm worn out and not very rational. No one except other teachers really understand.

Tired decisions are often WRONG decisions. Be careful and don't make them unless you have to.

Tip #9: Love on Your Other Teachers
I love my friend Pam our Science teacher. Her daughter is getting married next Saturday and she had an unexpected death in her family and had to plan the funeral this past Monday and Tuesday.

She'll ask how I'm doing and we'll just look at each other. She looks into mine with her snappy smart doe brown eyes and says, “I know.” And she Does. She knows.

So do the other excellent teachers. The ones who care about finishing well. We are running around on the verge of hyperventilation frustrated at those with their feet up on the desks and leaving early because they checked out two weeks a go.

Teachers, we've got to stick together. 

 Look for your friend who is drowning and reach out and help her up.

Yes, you have too much to do. So does she. If we rescue everyone who is drowning then when you are drowning you'll find four or five hands pulling you out of the whirlpool. Don't let a good teacher go down for the count.

If there is a time when teachers break it is now. Look out for your friends. Love them for who they are and what they give.

Don't let them walk out and never come back because if they get to that point, they will. This is what happened to my mom. In post planning, she packed up her stuff and left and no one except the principal really knew it was coming until she was gone and they could do nothing about it.

A kind word. A loving gesture. Even looking at their papers and saying, is there something I can help you with?

Tip #10: Keep Your Eye on the Main Thing
These kids aren't finished. Don't expect them to be finished little perfectly polished gems of knowledge if you know that you aren't either.

We're never finished, we just move on to another circumstance of life that will add luster to our learning.

Know that you are part of something. The best thing you can do right now is to get good feedback from your students both with an anonymous form and through “focus groups” of sorts. Ask them what they liked, what they learned, and what they felt was pointless. They will tell you. But they will also appreciate and respect your rapt attention and the fact you want to improve! (Lots of good teachers do this, like Glenn over at History Tech.)

Let's Finish Well!
And now for a poem! ;-)

This is a reprint a poem I wrote that I plaster on my wall every May. First published in May 2006 on this blog:

Living in May

Lord, let me live through May
as underclassmen stress and seniors play
Help me stay positive
no matter how they act
Let my emotions be calm
and my attitude intact.
Lord, please let me live through May.

Lord, help them live through May
as they tend to act up all day
When temperatures rise
and tempers flare
As younglings try wings
and rebels dare.
Lord, please help them live through May.

Lord, let me teach through May
not just biding time all day!
Each day is a gift
as is each precious one.
This may be my last chance
to reach someone!
Lord, please let me teach through May!

Lord, let me live in May
sharing knowledge all the way
Enjoying the ride and laughing a lot
Cause in this school year
May's all I've got!

I do not want to waste a day
even the waning days of May
I do not want to miss a chance
to make their cerebellum dance!

I really want to leave my mark
to fan the flame and kindle a spark!
For as I use each second of time
I make a deposit in their mind.

It is now, when I unselfishly give

that now, in May,

I truly live!

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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CreativeEdu May 19, 2011 - 12:04 pm

 What a great list!  Just off to retweet it right away as I think there are some fab ideas in here…. 

coolcatteacher May 19, 2011 - 1:10 pm

You are so right! The funny thing is that no matter whether we end in May or June or November or December – the feelings of frustration, failure, elation, and exhaustion are common among us. Truly it takes the summer to heal.

coolcatteacher May 19, 2011 - 1:10 pm

Thank you. Hope it helps some teachers.

Gabrielle Deschamps May 19, 2011 - 11:54 am

In Australia, we finish school midway through December. 

I am pinning this post to my blog, and in December, I’m going to print this one out and pin it on the wall in front of my desk.

Thankyou for your wisdom. :)


Lorna d'Entremont May 19, 2011 - 4:08 pm

As a retired teacher who spent 30 May and June months in elementary, much too hot classrooms I just love this post and the poem! 

. mrsdurff May 19, 2011 - 5:52 pm

1 1/2 weeks! First day I am sleeping – all day!

Melanie Boyd May 19, 2011 - 10:45 pm

Wow – excellent ideas. Everything you’ve said rings true for me. In May it is so easy to be hard on myself and think that every other teacher feels relaxed, organized, and I’m the only one frazzled and frenzied at the end of the year. I know better, but in May it is easy to lose perspective. Love the poem also!

coolcatteacher May 20, 2011 - 4:38 pm

Everyone else seems to be in control but that is an illusion!

coolcatteacher May 20, 2011 - 4:38 pm

I would sleep if I didn’t have this book deadline!

coolcatteacher May 20, 2011 - 4:38 pm

Thank you!

Glenn Wiebe June 1, 2011 - 3:24 am


Thanks for the quick link back to an earlier post on having kids complete end of the year evaluations.

I love your list! Especially enjoyed #7 – Let the rough end drag. We eat a lot of carryout pizza and sub sandwiches the last few weeks of school but never knew we were dragging the rough end!

Thanks for the great advice. Good luck to everyone who’s still dragging!

coolcatteacher June 1, 2011 - 5:37 pm

Yes, there are many teachers still roughing it out there! Thanks for jumping in and saying hello. Granny’s picture of dragging the rough end is really a funny picture but helps keep perspective, to me. Thanks for agreeing. I miss granny every day – more the older I get.

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