As the end of the year draws near (here in the South school ends the 3rd week of May), teachers and kids begin to get excited about the prospect of summer and the end of another school year. Some students can think ahead as far as June trips to the lake and perhaps Fourth of July fireworks, and no farther. But many students begin to wonder about the following year and what the next grade will be like. A few students feel increasingly nervous and, in my class at least, they began to feel nostalgic about our class community to the point that I began to receive an increased volume of love letters from students. Since these letters usually expressed the nervousness they felt about the “great unknown” that represented the next grade, one year I decided to put their minds at ease by compiling a “panel of experts”.
These “experts” were some of my former students from the previous year who were now much older and wiser for having been away from me and in the grade above for almost 180 days. On a day during the last two weeks of school I would invite 5-7 of my previous students to visit and be interviewed by my current class. Before their arrival we would brainstorm and chart questions we had about next year. Questions invariably revolved around the amount of homework, whether cursive was required, how hard math was and whether students were still allowed recess. But my students also wondered whether they’d be allowed to read books they wanted to read, if they could still write letters about their reading to their teacher, and whether students still were allowed to participate in writing celebrations. Uncharted, but still sometimes asked, was the biggie: “Is your teacher nice?” In reality, I think this question meant, “Does she care about you as an individual? Will she know how many brothers and sisters I have and understand why my homework wasn’t done because my uncle went to jail last night? Will she make banana pudding from the leftover breakfast bananas and come to my Little League game even if it’s at night?”
Despite some questions being left unasked, after my students had access to the panel of experts for a half hour or so, they felt much better about the prospects of the following year. The visiting “older” students enjoyed the reunion and reminiscing about old times. Oftentimes the entire group – alumni and current students – would break out in song, singing the multiplication tables as we’d learned them year after year.
Change is hard for anyone. Making the great unknown a little more “known” helped my students relax about the upcoming year and enjoy the last days of school even more. And their focus returned to where it should have been – the trips to the lake and the fireworks of July.