Stop counting down the days !

I saw a Twitter thread last week that struck me:

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While I have never been a “countdown to summer” teacher, this reminder stuck with me in a good way. The idea of counting down the days has always bugged me, but this reminded me again why I dislike them.

First, to put into context the reason why countdowns aren’t so fun for some of our kiddos:

  • Some students change custody arrangements in the summer, which may not be pleasant for the child, or may just create anxiety due to imminent change
  • Some students are left alone for a large part of the summer while parents work, so this may be a very lonely time for them.
  • Some students do not eat regularly in the summer, as school breakfast and lunch are the main meals some students get each day
  • Some students find themselves spending more time with toxic family members during the summer
  • Some students need to work for the family business and/or work outside the home in the summer to help the family
  • Some students may have a history of family transience, which may likely happen during summer months.
  • Some students have genuine close friendships in school that are not present in summer.
  • Some students simply feel safer (or more loved/cared about/included) in school than out of school

There are countless reasons why students may feel anxiety as the school year comes to a close. Perhaps the numbers of these students are low in your classroom or school, it’s hard to really know. I would guess that a fair number of them play along with their peers and teachers who are looking forward to summer vacations, beaches, and free time for video games, movies, and outside play. So, should a small number of students (if it is small), influence us to stop a practice which seems otherwise harmless and fun for most?

Absolutely. Here’s why:

There is no real benefit to anyone else, either. After all, what does a countdown really communicate?

Overall, it communicates the notion that like a prison sentence, school days are only to be survived.  When a teacher revels in the countdown (I have known plenty who constantly remind kids how many days are left with great relish), it implies further negativity:

To older students, it says “I, the professional, hate being here just as much as you, and I can’t wait to be unburdened by this job.”

Worse yet, to a younger student, a countdown may also be seen as “I can’t wait to get away from you.” Imagine being a younger student whose favorite teacher reminds them every day how much they can’t wait to be rid of them soon.

Students want teachers to enjoy teaching, because they internalize a teacher’s attitude toward being in school as about them. A teacher that seems excited to be done for the year communicates the message to students that the teacher may not care about them as much as they let on, even if not intended.

At best, a countdown says “the year is winding down, and so you, too, may wind down.”

As a teacher, I wanted my students to be learning at high levels all the way until the end, and to do so, I intentionally scheduled some larger, in-depth projects for the last few weeks of school. Sometimes this was met with an “ugh,” but I reminded them that each school day is an opportunity to enjoy learning. Yes, that also got a few “ughs,” but I wanted to make clear that we weren’t going to just mail it in for three weeks in May. We were going to the finish line in a sprint. That mindset is contagious. Imagine if an entire building had that mindset?

So this year, instead of counting down the days, remind kids that there are still many days to savor together, and that summer will come in its own time.

 

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