I check the photo I just took before putting my phone away. “Nah,” I say, and I delete the photo. (Crazy how we just delete photos and the moment is gone as quick as it was captured, right?)

I snap another photo and make sure that my stupid finger isn’t in the photo. It is. Dammit.

Take three.

This one is good. (Third time’s a charm!) Satisfied with my captured moment, I put my phone back in my pocket and walk out of my naked classroom, down to the teacher’s lounge for a refill of coffee. I sip the bitter yet caffeine loaded coffee and peer into classrooms that look like mine: furniture pushed to the middle of the room with boxes, milk crates, bags, and other storage containers stacked neatly.

There’s hardly any kids on campus today. Most have already left for summer break, but as we all know, there are some who will always show up on the last day of school. I wonder about a few students who aren’t at school today. An unspoken prayer for them slips into Heaven as I take a gulp of the coffee, now cooler than when it was first poured.

There is joy on kids’ faces. There is exhaustion on the faces of teachers, but the teachers carry themselves with a sense of accomplishment. As they should. Teaching is hard.

We did it. We made it through another year.

Teaching is very rewarding, but it is also exhausting. Teachers make thousands of decisions each day; decisions about how to phrase your instruction so that all students understand, how to handle misbehavior, how to praise student for positive behavior, how to group students for intervention, what scaffolds and differentiation will work best for each group/student, and…you get the picture. The larger the class size, the more decisions need to be made. Decision making is exhausting. No wonder teachers are tired.

Teachers are in the service industry. We teach people, not subjects. We teach humans, not grades. We are teaching humans through the content we deliver. We provide a service to families and students by giving them the best education we can. The largest class I had was 30 students, but I averaged about 25 between my first eight years of teaching, so we’ll use that number for a second. That’s 25 humans that I had to interact with for 6 hours a day. Every day I served each of those students in my class in various ways. It’s rewarding, but exhausting.

And even the really great and successful years of teaching can wear us down. No matter how awesome your year was, I can almost guarantee that by May you are ready for summer!

I know very well that by the end of the year, it’s hard to see the end. I also know that when you try to look back on the year you just made it through, it can seem like a blur at first. It’s one of those “what the hell just happened” kind of moments. You’re just happy you and your students made it to the end. After we have recharged and the dust settles, it becomes easier to reflect on the school year that was just closed out. It’s then that we can see the good, the great, and the awesome things we did and maybe forgot about. It’s then that we can see the growth our students made.

I saw lots this year.

Storytime (cont.)

I pass by the special education classrooms. I saw both SPED teachers make sure that their students minutes and goals were met. They made learning fun and built a community within their own classrooms. I saw them do what was best for their students.

I saw a first year teacher grow into a confident and dedicated teacher. Her kindergarten students grew to love her very much and they learned a lot this year!

I saw another kindergarten teacher build a community within her class. She showed her students that she cared for them and gave them opportunities for them to learn through play.

I saw a first grade team of a teacher and an educational assistant (paraprofessional) work together to give their class learning opportunities. I saw them work together to make sure their students – several with high academic and emotional needs – were safe and that they were given chances to learn from their mistakes.

Next to our first grade class is second grade. I saw our second grade teacher teach students organizational skills, routines, and of course, content. Her class loves her and is happy that she is looping with them for third grade.

Speaking of third grade, I popped into the third grade teacher’s room to say hi, and I’m taken back to her first couple of weeks. She, a first year teacher, watched me model Fundations (a phonics curriculum) lessons for a few weeks. By the end of the year she had grown very confident in her abilities and was seeing growth from her students. The students she and I shared grew in confidence and abilities as well.

I continue walking and begin thinking of the fourth grade class I pass by who had lots of outdoor learning experiences and several memorable field trips. Their teacher gave them as many experience based learning opportunities as possible.

I pass the fifth grade hallway. This class, to be honest, was kind of a hot mess last year in fourth grade. They had some trust issues with teachers, as they had a total of three different teachers by the end of that year. This led to a lot of behavior issues. They struggled in fourth grade, after coming back from the pandemic. But this year was different. With a veteran teacher as their homeroom teacher, they really turned around. She helped get those students ready for middle school.

I can not leave out the specials teachers. Our PE coach loves to have fun and teach students about physical fitness and health through games. Our librarian helps foster a love of reading, as was evident when kids came back with a couple of books in their hands. Our music teacher played instruments for the students and let students explore several different instruments.

And Pre-K. I saw our Pre-K teachers work together and come together as a true team. I learned how different their work is from K-5 work, and more importantly, I learned how crucial their work is. I witnessed Pre-K rally together to support students who had daily emotional outbursts, even if they weren’t their own student.

I pop back into my classroom and set my coffee down. I pull out my phone and open the photos app. I look at the photo I’ve taken. It’s a tradition of mine to take a photo of my classroom at the end of the year. I’ve got nine photos that all look similar. I smile, because now I’m thinking about how year 9 turned out for me. I did some great things too. I saw students grow in confidence and abilities. I saw students persevere when they were frustrated. I saw and heard my students encourage each other to keep trying. They also celebrated each others’ success. I gamified my classroom. I made my students feel safe.

Year 9 was a year of growth. For students and teachers.

As I’m writing this, there is a windstorm outside. New Mexico spring and summer winds are crazy. Right now, all I can see is the dust flying through the air. Sometimes that’s all we can see.

If you are having a hard time seeing the good things that you have done this year, just wait for the dust to settle. If you are too exhausted to reflect and find the good, then take time to recharge and refuel. Rest and recovery is, at least for me, part of the reflective process.

Once it settles, once you are recharged and ready to reflect, it will come to you. The good you forgot about. The opportunities and experiences you gave your students. The growth that your students made this year. The growth that you made this year. Yes, you can make a plan for next year, but it’s equally important to celebrate what you’ve just walked through and accomplished.

Take time to reflect and celebrate this year once the dust settles.

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