By Sandra Heidemann, M.S., Beth Menninga, M.A.Ed., and Claire Chang, M.A., coauthors of The Thinking Teacher
It’s the end of another school year. For many, the year finishes in May or June. For those who work through the summer, it may finish in July or August. Whenever it comes, the end of the school year is a time for memories and opportunities.
It’s been a while since I taught children, but I remember what a poignant time the end of the school year was for me. I thought about who children were when they entered my class and how much they had learned over the year. I felt sad at saying goodbye to the children and their families. I felt relief: No lesson plans or preparations until next year. And I looked forward to spending time with my family on trips and vacations. I really didn’t want to even think about what the next year would look like. But the children in my classroom stayed with me over the summer. As I rejuvenated myself in the summer sun, I thought about each of them and what adventures they might have next. I recalled funny stories, mistakes, joyful encounters, and tearful moments.
So as you jump into summer, it’s pretty likely that your brain will be processing the past year and getting ready for the next one. September, and another year of teaching, is approaching fast, even though you may still feel tired from the past year. So how do you gear up for a new group of children? How do you renew your enthusiasm for and commitment to teaching?
You have your own strategies as you get ready for a new school year. However, I want to share some of the ways other teachers and I have found renewed interest and excitement for the next adventure.
Take time for yourself. It’s easy to fill up your summer with unfinished tasks around your home, children’s schedules, vacations, and part-time work. However, take time apart from the to-do lists to read, relax, and rest. Find ways to experience the outdoors by walking, swimming, or just sitting outside. Alone time, as well as time with friends and family, can reenergize you.
Reflect on the past year. When you’re ready, take some time to think about the past year. Reflection will help you sort out what went well and what didn’t. You can write it down or even share it with a friend or colleague. Think about the following questions:
- What strategies worked especially well with the children?
- What units or themes were the most interesting?
- Was there a child you were particularly concerned about? What were your concerns? How did you try to help?
- How were your communications with families? How did they respond?
- What times of the year were especially difficult? What made them difficult?
- Were there changes in your curriculum or instruction during the past year? If so, how did they go? What was difficult? What was effective? How did the children respond?
- What was special about the past year? Was something puzzling or intriguing to you? What new discoveries did you make about yourself as a teacher?
- What other questions do you have about the past year?
Let yourself ponder these questions. You don’t have to answer them all or all at once. Sometimes, thoughts or memories come slowly. Take advantage of your time away from the classroom to let your mind reflect on what you have learned from the past year.
Think about what you want to change and what you want to keep the same. There will be some strategies, lesson plans, and themes you will want to keep just as you did them last year. Others you may want to tweak. Still others you will want to overhaul. You don’t have to plan out every step at this point. Just keep a notebook handy so you can jot down ideas as they come. One or two words will remind you what you want to change or keep the same as you prepare for next year. You will have a different group of children, so you will want to adapt to their needs as well. You may still have questions about children you were unable to reach. These answers don’t come easily, but by raising the questions and reflecting on your observations when you are not teaching, you may see another pathway forward.
Think about what else you need to learn. Teachers are learners, and learners are better teachers. Through your reflections, you may decide you want to learn more about certain subjects or strategies. Maybe this past year you found yourself wrestling with a particular topic, issue, or strategy. You can approach that learning in several ways. You can go to more training or take a course. You could find books and articles for more insight. You can speak with colleagues or experts in your field. You can go online to listen to experts, watch and learn from clips of other teachers and children, discover posted ideas from other teachers, or find online workshops.
Maybe you want to learn a new skill or explore content that sparks your interest: take up knitting, learn to make Korean barbecue, begin to speak a new language, or read all about the history of soccer. By learning about something new, you can spark new interest in and enthusiasm for teaching.
Think about what materials or equipment would help you be a more effective teacher. Teachers are more interested in how children respond when they have something new to try. Would any materials or equipment enhance your lesson plans? Did you notice certain classroom tools or materials that promoted children’s curiosity? Does your school or center have a budget for each classroom that you can use? Keep those ideas in mind when you are at the next garage sale or visiting a children’s bookstore.
Remember to pay attention to what brings you joy. Each of us has unique and individual experiences that bring us joy. Make sure you give yourself time to savor those experiences during your time off. We often put ourselves last on our list of priorities. Be sure to sometimes put yourself first.
As fall classes come closer, you may feel some dread at starting another busy, packed school year. But when you think about all that you learned from the past year, and what you can accomplish in the coming year, you may feel anticipation and excitement. Think of it: a new class of children, a clean and orderly classroom, and a renewed spirit to start a new year. What could be better!
Sandra Heidemann, M.S., is a decades-long veteran of early childhood education with an emphasis on special needs. A past board president of the Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children (MN AEYC), Sandra has published in Young Children and Exchange magazines and is the coauthor of Play: The Pathway from Theory to Practice, published by Redleaf Press. She lives in Minnesota.
Beth Menninga, M.A.Ed., has over three decades of experience in early childhood education, including teaching in preschool classrooms and coordinating professional development initiatives on infant/toddler caregiving, early literacy, and early math. Beth has also coauthored articles for Young Children and Exchange magazines. She is currently project coordinator at the Center for Early Education and Development at the University of Minnesota.
Claire Chang, M.A., is senior program officer for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota Foundation and is a former West Ed instructor. She has served on the governing board and accreditation council of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and currently serves on the board of directors of MN AEYC and Hope Community Services. Claire lives in Minnesota.
Sandra, Beth, and Claire are coauthors of The Thinking Teacher: A Framework for Intentional Teaching in the Early Childhood Classroom.
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