Over the years – quite possibly since the very beginning of formal education in the late 19th century – children have somehow got it into their heads that the final lesson of the summer term is not a time for schoolwork.
Some teachers will be OK with this, others will not. In some ways, where you stand on this issue defines you as a teacher.
Regardless of whether you want to cut the students some slack (they’ve had a tough year, after all) or squeeze the last drops of work from them, the requests that teachers hear in the last week of term will be familiar to all.
Here, then, are some ways of responding that try to keep everyone happy.
Five things pupils say at the end of term – and how to respond
1. Can we watch a film?
This used to be the default lesson for the end of term. But, in recent years, a growing number of killjoy headteachers have been sending round terse emails to their staff instructing them to avoid this option and stick with the curriculum up to the last moment.
There’s an obvious workaround for any teacher reluctant to give up the old traditions, by finding a “subject-relevant” film. Admittedly, this is going to be easier for English teachers than physics teachers. But a little creative thinking can usually solve the problem – I once managed to watch a crucial World Cup match in a sociology class by creating a worksheet beforehand that had the students identifying differences in the way the commentators described players of different ethnic backgrounds.
For those who don’t want to show a film and can’t face an hour of incessant pleading from the class, just remove the batteries from the projector’s remote control before the lesson and hide them in the desk drawer.
2. Can we play a game?
This is generally harder to mould to the scheme of work. Hangman in English is probably fine, or a quickfire mental maths quiz might fit the bill.
In history, how about a contest to name all the kings and queens of England, with dates and causes of death as bonus points? Science teachers could have every student write down the name of a chemical element and, in the style of Pointless, only award marks to those who choose one no one else gets.
Heads Down, Thumbs Up is a great way to keep a class quiet – it’s not uncommon for a few of them to actually fall asleep. It’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, and it’s always surprising that what is essentially a game for seven-year-olds remains incredibly popular right up to sixth form.
If, however, you just want to deter the fun seekers, explain that the “game” is trying to pass their exams and go on to lead a productive and fulfilling life, and then carry on with the lesson as normal.
3. Can we change seats?
These days, seating plans have become a little more inflexible. But in the normal course of events, pupils are always keen to rearrange themselves according to this week’s friendship groupings.
If you permit this, it will make some very happy but then entirely incapable of doing a stroke of work, and others miserable as they’re abandoned for someone more interesting. The chances are you will then have to spend the remainder of the lesson interceding in a hundred fraught relationship issues.
The whole thing’s a total nightmare – avoid.
4. Can we have a fun lesson?
There’s just something a little soul-destroying about this question, the implication being that, for the entire rest of the year, you’ve been boring your students endlessly.
The stock response is therefore a slightly hurt: “My lessons are always fun, aren’t they?” But this is likely to get a muted response at best.
Another strategy is to promise that the (undefined) fun part of the lesson will take place once the regular work has been completed, then simply set enough work to last until the bell. They pretty much always fall for this.
5. Can we leave 10 minutes early?
I’m usually a hard “yes” on this; it’s an obvious win-win.
However, if you want to keep them with you till the bitter end, just tell them they can leave as soon as the whole class can remain totally silent for one minute. Sounds easy – I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done.
Callum Jacobs is a supply teacher in the UK