The end of the school year is fast approaching: 2 weeks and counting. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of meetings, conferences, planning sessions, organizing stints, cleaning extravaganzas, and (of course) grading. Final exams have been created and fine-tuned/edited. The students have received instruction on more standardized test prepping tips and skills than they know what to do with. My brain has been on auto-crazy for over a month, and the students have been acting more like squirrels than teenagers.

I can not adequately express the intensity of my delight in finally seeing the light at the end of the long dark tunnel that this year has been. Amid the firestorm of changes in students, curriculum focus, and job planning, I’ve come to several revelations and conclusions from this school year:

1. I continue to find more ways to become a better teacher, thereby increasing my guilt for not having known last year what I know now. There’s so much more I should have done to be a better teacher my first year of teaching, and it kills me to know that I can’t go back and redo that year with what I know now. Fortunately, I think this is the mark of a good teacher: awareness of the quality of my instruction and the motivation and dedication to improving each year.

2. The (academic) reason why so many of my students fail or do poorly is that they can not read or write at grade level. The biggest problem in the way the US structures education is that we do not require mastery of a skill before allowing the student to move forward. Our standards have become complacent with accepting mediocre reading and writing skills in students, and thus, students are not prepared to move forward and understand more advanced concepts of reading and writing when they reach high school. The NCLB law is very much like communism: the concept and plan of attack look great on paper, but fail in reality.

3. Classroom management is a delicate balance between giving respect in order to receive it and maintaining high expectations throughout the entire year, while knowing when to give them a break. I had very few student behavior issues this year, and I had some of the toughest kids to teach. The line between being a teacher and being a friend is very prominent, but very easy to step over without noticing. Last year, I think I let that line blur too much. This year, I’ve definitely solidified my identity as a friendly teacher, not a teacher-like friend. Keeping my classroom as democratic as possible has also gleaned a lot of respect. If I know they need a break, and they ask for it, I put forth a vote for their options and let them decide. Giving my students their own sense of power in the classroom and control of their learning helps them to own it and be more dedicated to their education, even if that power only surfaces every once in a while. Plus, the breaks I allow are never “just sit and put your head down” or “talk amongst yourselves” kind of breaks so that we don’t lose instructional time.

4. There will always be more things to learn about how and what to teach. I learn something new each week and share it with my students. It’s important that students see that learning (despite all of the cheesy millions of school mission statements) really is a life long thing if you want it to be.

5. Things can always get worse. After the legislation  passed regarding the voucher bills and teacher evaluation/pay scale changes, I realized that my petty issues with stress back in November are nothing compared to what we (teachers) are about to face next year.