End of the Year Time Savers for Secondary Teachers

End of the year tips to help teachers save time and sanity.
The end of the school year is quickly approaching. In fact, many teachers started their summer countdowns weeks ago! As the days slowly tick by and as summer begins to creep (ever, so slowly, it seems) in, there are several things you can do now that will save your time and sanity at the end of the year!
1. Stay Organized – We’ve all heard of senioritis, but have you heard of summer-teacheritis? It’s real. Right now it is so easy to let papers pile up, assignments go ungraded for days, and let the outbox accumulate more papers than the US Post Office. However, if you manage to stay organized now, you will save so much time during that last week of school.

Organization Checklist
-       grade any ungraded papers at by the end of the week
-       pass back graded papers on Monday
-       recycle (or file) papers that you will not use for the rest of the year
-       keep a “to grade” and a “graded folder” on your desk, and try to empty them as often as possible

End of the year tips to help teachers save time and sanity.
2. Don’t Grade Everything – Yes, students want to receive credit and acknowledgement for the work they’ve completed, but it is nearly impossible to grade every single assignment that students complete. Between homework, classwork, and assessments, you will drown in piles and piles of papers, which will only make your organization problem even worse.

           Prioritize Your Assignments
-       grade tests and quizzes
-       grade essays and large projects
-       spot check assignments
-       offer participation grades for small assignments
- grade together as a class

End of the year tips to help teachers save time and sanity.
3. Be Mindful of Assignment Due Dates – I was the worst at this my first couple years of teaching. I would assign my students a large essay and have it be due the day before I had to turn in my grades. I was up into the wee hours of the morning grading those essays. I didn’t just do this once either, I did it twice! Now I have fully learned my lesson. I have my students complete and turn in their large end-of-the-school-year assignments the week before grades are due. Not only does this give me more time to grade the assignments, but it also allows me to post grades earlier so that students can see what their final grade will most likely be. 

If you are looking for fun and engaging end of the year activities to incorporate after your big projects are due, check out my End of the Year Activities Resource Packet!

End of the year tips to help teachers save time and sanity.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Plan a Study Day – As long as this isn’t a habit, do not feel guilty about planning a study day for your students. In fact, if this is something you rarely do, your students will be very grateful for the extra study time. I like to plan two study days a year; each one is toward the end of the semester. I give my students a study guide for the exam, turn on some classical music, and allow them to write Cornell notes for the test (I will even count these as a participation grade to get more student buy-in if necessary). While they work on their notes, I alternate between grading large assignments and walking throughout the room. Everyone wins!

End of the year tips to help teachers save time and sanity.
5. Learn to Say “No” – I don't know why, but the end of the school year always seems to be the time when teachers receive so many requests. As teachers, we need to be able to know what we can and cannot do in the time we have. It is okay to say no. It is okay to say no to a colleague or administrator whom is asking you to fill an additional role. It is okay to say no to a parent who is just now asking for a list of all of the assignments his or her child missed that year. It is okay to say no to a students who is asking for additional assignments to bring up his/her grade. At the secondary level, students should be held accountable for their work throughout the entire semester, not just the last four days of the year.

So Much Content, So Little Time

Fifty-nine minutes. That is all of the time I have with my students each school day. Just fifty-nine minutes. In those fifty-nine minutes as a high school English teacher I am expected to teach my students how to read literally, figuratively, and analytically. I am expected to help my students increase their vocabularies and improve their grammar. I am expected to guide them through the writing process and help them become better writers. And then don’t forget about researching, citing, quoting, summarizing, paraphrasing, sentence combining, finding the theme, analyzing the theme, writing the theme, and well, you get the idea.

What it all boils down to is that fifty-nine minutes is not a lot of time at all. Then when you add in mandatory standardized tests and other events that take up valuable class time (whether it be assemblies, field trips, absences, and weather), there just isn’t enough time.

One way that I try to make sure I cover the necessary curriculum in my classroom is to work backwards and plan from there. I think about what I want my students to ultimately do, and then I fill in the space with lessons, assignment, activities, notes, and discussions that will get my students to where I want them to be. I also like to combine one of the three writing genres (argument, informational, and narrative) with each major piece of literature we read. For example, when we read The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in the Spring, I also teach argument writing. As we read the drama, I have the students look for clues that they can later use as evidence and quotes in their writing. This saves valuable class time, especially when you are working with ESL students who already find this task to be extremely challenging. I think ahead to the essay prompt, and guide my students as they keep a dialectical journal of all of the important quotes.

Another way that I try to make sure I cover the necessary curriculum in my classroom is to prioritize efficiently. When I prioritize my curriculum, I talk to the teachers who teach one grade level above me. I ask them what essential skills they would like their incoming student to be familiar with and which one they would like the students to have mastered. By doing so, I am helping out other teacher in my department, setting my students up for success in my class and in future classes, and covering all of the essentials for the year.  

For more ideas on how to maximize your instructional time and teach what matters most, check out THESE other blog posts. 

Read. Write. Speak. Listen. Engage Your Students in the First Ten Minutes

Over the years, one thing I have learned that is tried and true about teaching English is that if you have your students read, write, listen, and speak in class each day, you are covering the four pillars of the English language arts. I try to have my students engaged in these four pillars within the first five to ten minutes of class. I do this through my daily bell-ringer activities.

This is a classroom routine that I establish during the first week of school. It takes a couple days to teach, but once the students know the routine, it is so worth it. During this time while my students are working on the bell-ringer, I take attendance, gather all of the supplies and resources I need for the day, and sometimes pass graded work back to my students.

The moment my students walk into my classroom, they know that there will be a bell-ringer exercise to work on. My bell-ringers are usually a broad mix of activities. Sometimes it will consist of a review or higher-order thinking question from a text we are reading. Some days it might be sentence combining to work on grammar. Other days the bell-ringer might be a quick growth mindset writing prompt that will engage the students in and introduce them to that day’s lesson.

Whatever it may be, there are three very important rules to follow.
Engaging secondary students in the first ten minutes of class with bell ringers.
1.  Be consistent – This must be a daily habit. There needs to be a bell-ringer every single day. This helps the students because they know what to expect.

2.     Hold the student accountable – The students need to know that they are responsible for each day’s bell ringer. The students in my classroom receive credit for the work. If they are tardy or not on-task, they don’t receive credit and they are also not allowed to make up the points.

3.     Review the bell-ringer – This is probably the most important rule. This rule incorporates listening and speaking into the mixture. Each day I will call on several students to share their answers. Reviewing the bell-ringer is important. If the activity resulted a correct answer, students can see if they answered it correctly. If the activity required a subjective response, students are exposed to responses that are different than the ones they wrote.

In my classroom, students read, write, speak, and listen all within the first five to ten minutes of class. This opens them up and prepares them for the day’s lesson. 

Here are some Bell-Ringers that might interest you:
William Shakespeare Bell Ringers: 30 Bell Ringers to Inspire Discussion. These bell ringers are a great compliment to any William Shakespeare drama study. Each bell ringer includes a William Shakespeare quote and a writing prompt. 

Bell Ringers to Establish Community. There are 40 different bell ringers in this resource. Each bell ringer includes an insightful quote to inspire love, acceptance, tolerance, and diversity and an accompanying writing prompt to really get students thinking outside of their comfort zone. These are great bell ringers for the beginning of the school year. 

Growth Mindset Bell Ringers. Cultivate a growth mindset in your classroom with these bell ringers. There are 30 different bell ringers includes, and they are sure to get your students thinking about their mindset!