How to handle the last day of school
I’ll level with you: even though I like my job, the last day of the summer term is marked on my calendar in teenage-girl-style bubble writing and no fewer than three exclamation marks. (Please don’t tell Nicky Morgan – she’d probably have me disbarred from the profession.)
While your own countdown might take on a slightly more sophisticated format, If you’re honest, I bet that – like me – you could instantly tell the number of days (hours? Minutes?) to go until the wonderful E of T-Day.
But in among the report writing and the sports days and the end-of-term performances, it can be easy to forget that the last day also marks the moment when you’re going to have to say goodbye to the small beings that you have nurtured all year.
It can be a bit of a shock to wake up and realise that, actually, you’re rather sad that the day you’ve been counting down to has come around so quickly.
That mix of emotions can make teaching tricky, so here’s a guide to making the most of your last day.
The usual morning alarm has no power to upset you today because – unless you have children of your own – the next six weeks are for lounging in your pyjamas until 10am.
Leap out of bed early, whistling What a Wonderful World before the existentialist angst kicks in during your shower, as you realise how many year groups you’ve now said farewell to in the inexorable passage of time.
Time to put your game-face on!
Whether you’re internally plagiarising Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, after a full year with the class from hell (“Free at last, free at last! Thank God almighty, I am free at last!”) or trying not to have an actual cry, as you bid farewell to some of the loveliest children you’ve ever had the pleasure to teach, your features should be composed into some semblance of professional nonchalance by the time the morning bell goes.
Every last day of term needs an end-of-term assembly, during which the whole school meets for a seemingly endless cavalcade of certificates, awards and commendations, as well as a chance to bask in the glow of being part of a community united in readiness for the summer. Endure it with a smile, and never stop clapping. Bonus points if there’s some sort of wacky teacher-led treat for the children at the end, since it’s always good to send them on with the final impression that their teachers are people, too.
It’s usually around mid-morning when you realise that you don’t want to be stuck at 9pm on a Friday night still sorting through trays full of broken crayons and pictures of Queen Elizabeth. The only sensible response is, of course, The Great Tidy (capital letters mandatory). While the children attack their drawers, PE bags and a cloakroom reminiscent of Blitz-time London, don’t forget to raid your stock cupboard for treasures including a plastic bag of broken pine cones you thought might come in useful at some point, an anonymous child’s left shoe and more of those infuriating bouncy balls you’ve been confiscating all year than seems feasible (what, are they breeding in there?!)
Final-day staffroom discussions tend to centre on two things: where people are going on holiday over the summer and how exhausted everyone is. Weirdly, it’s the second topic that gets the most competitive with people seeking to win some sort of strange game of Tiredness Top Trumps.
The real winner of this game will be the person not participating at all because they’ve fallen asleep in the corner. Make sure that’s you.
You’re very much approaching the final count-down, but any misty-eyed nostalgia you’ve been having about your class may well be crushed by this point, as they run riot, free of the structure of a normal school day.
The trick here is having a range of activities up your sleeve and pulling them out as necessary – calming, crafty activities are good, but so is a boisterous game of rounders.
It’s definitely not a day to go against popular consensus, so let pupil voice be your guide.
If all else fails, let them work with music in the background for that classroom/summer festival mash-up vibe.
The last-day slump kicks in, as the children start to get a bit emotional, too, and everyone starts to wonder why an afternoon of fun activities is going so slowly.
Take a deep breath and remember that while it’s really understandable that little Grace and Stevie are fabricating an argument because they’re sad about being in different classes next year, any foot-stamping from you is likely to be counterproductive. Turn the music up, tell a joke (you’re way past any “don’t smile until Christmas” admonitions) and press on.
The fantastic speech you had planned about the things they’ve taught you, and your great hopes for each and every member of your class, falls apart when your voice breaks halfway through line one. Fortunately, you cover it up with a brisk, business-as-usual efficiency, until one child surprises you with a bear hug on the way out and you have to mumble something about having dust in your eye.
There’s also the poignant moment when you see the children realise that this is a stage of their lives they will never return to… until they realise you’ve brought them end-of-year sweets, of course, and a riot breaks out when the bell rings.
There’s still likely to be a steady stream of traffic through the classroom because your desk is filling up nicely with cards and presents. Try not to look most happy about the bottles of wine.
All is empty and silent, the children have gone home and it’s a chance for a rare moment of reflection on the year.
This is always a good time to open your first box of gift chocolates if you’re feeling tired and/or emotional.
The good news is, there’s only six weeks until the merry-go-round starts over again.
Kate Townshend has taught in primary schools across Gloucester for the past 10 years