The late spring is a great time to reconnect with friends. After a winter of hibernation, the decks and patios get cleaned up, the barbeques fire up, and the good times begin. During these times, my non-teacher friends being their barrage of (mostly good-natured) comments about June being “movie month” and how everyone at schools appear to be pretty much in “shut down” mode gearing up for summer. The reality though is that this could not be further from the truth.
For students, teachers, and even families, June is the most stressful and difficult month of the school year. Here is what June really looks like in schools.
For students in an elementary school environment, June is a roller coaster ride of emotion and many of these them don’t understand why, or have the words to express their feelings. You see, they know the end of the year is coming and their brains begin to realize that this will bring about a significant change in their lives as they transition away from the teacher who has been by their side for the past ten months. They have come to know their teacher as their champion, their confidant, their coach, and maybe even a friend. Their teacher has seen the best of them, and the worst of them and knows every trick in their playbook.
Looking back to my classroom teaching days, I would always play a game with my students I called I Know You Better Than You Know Yourself where I would go around the classroom and predict the summer plans for each of my students, how they were likely feeling about that, and what their hopes and fears were for the next school year. After I would finish a prediction, I would ask the student to tell me if I was a) perfectly right, b) mostly right, c) somewhat right and somewhat wrong, d) mostly wrong, or e) way wrong. I can say that I never got anything other than a “perfectly right” or “mostly right”. My favourite was always the look of the student who would almost invariably look at me as through I were a magician and say something along the lines of “how did you know that?” These are the types of connections teachers make with their students, and they are significant and powerful.
The student reaction to this change can be equally significant and powerful. Some students begin to get teary, others start to get real quiet, but the most obvious sign that the change is hard for students is in their behaviour. June is by far the most difficult month for behaviour concerns and as a principal; I believe it’s because of this emotional roller coaster. And while I am not a psychologist, I can draw some immediate parallels to separation anxiety.
For teachers, June is our busiest month. On top of the regular day-to-day planning and assessment, there are report cards and what becomes a million end-of-year to-dos. We are also back-loaded with performances / farewells and, in the case of our grade sixes, achievement exams. Compounding this complexity is that teachers themselves have a hard time saying good-bye to their students. That emotional bond between student and teacher goes both ways.
On a personal level, some teachers are looking at moving to new opportunities at other schools, or even securing a contract for the next school year. For those teachers happy to be staying at their current school, they could be faced with a change in school administration, the prospect of moving to a new grade, and for those who are staying in the same grade, their teammates, or assigned classroom may change. Again, the cumulative nature of the amount of change has a significant and powerful impact on our teachers.
We know where our parents are coming from too and understand that your life will look very different at the end of June. For working parents, the prospect of finding two-month childcare can be certainly daunting. Of course it’s not even just about childcare. You want to provide your child with exciting and stimulating opportunities which means summer camps. Finding the right summer camp for the right price can take time to organize, and then you need to hope that the camp isn’t full. For many, vacation may be looming and this brings further organization, time commitment and another big financial layout. At home you’re also managing the emotional change in your child (see above) and of course all of this is happening at a time when spring sports and activities are winding down - including competition season and playoffs. Add in evening school events, and your own work commitments seems like they take a backseat in June as well. Many nights just getting dinner on the table and sitting down to eat it can seem like a parenting win. The saving grace is that you’re mere days away from not having to pack daily lunches, and doesn’t it seem like summer break is worth it for that alone? Let me move back to the teacher perspective to remind everyone that the vast majority of our teachers are busy parents too.
Overall, it’s pretty clear that June is no cake-walk for anyone. Students, teachers and families are going full tilt. For teachers, the payoff for making it through this busy month isn’t what you might think. Whereas you may think of the pending summer break as the reward, the real reward is seeing our students off in the right way and celebrating the end of another successful year together.