May Survival Guide for Teachers

For teachers, May is the month of madness. Reviews, exams, grades, and a million other obligations pull at you. On top of all of these event variables, your students have spring fever. Every year without fail this flower of discontent blooms in late April and early May. The students are distracted, playful, and done. Yes, excuse my grammar, but they are done, baked, finished. Over it all.

As the captain of this porous ship, you have to be the one who stays sane. It may be just a bit easier than you think. Try these five simple hints for happiness in order to survive the end of the year shenanigans.

  1. Do not Cram in that Last Chapter-Think quality not quantity. Step back and evaluate your reasons for cramming in work. And be realistic, when has the word cram ever been associated with positive connotations? What will your students really glean from you teaching the Vietnam War in three days? Nothing. Absolutely. Nothing. The world will not come crumbling down upon you if you do not finish all the units you wanted to finish.
  1. Stop Taking Yourself so Seriously-You teach children who are prone to being playful, unique, and creative. So stop trying to sap those qualities out of them because you aren’t handling the May Madness as well as you could be. Instead of punishing an entire group because one child made a fart noise, consider a wrap up project that is actually fun and educational. Do a takeoff on John Green’s Crash Course and have the kids videotape a 30 second spot on their favorite topic of the year or create actual medicine bags for the short story “The Medicine Bag.” Stop being so serious and find some joy in your job; everyone involved will benefit.
  1. Go Outside-This time of year is perfect for a brief walk for students of all ages. You can go for a five-minute walk, come back recharged, and then get back to work. A week of walks can literally change your entire frame of mind.
  1. Round Up Recap-When the kids control the learning process, the results are always the best. Do a Round Up Review. You throw the first question out; such as tell me one thing about FDR, and the kids bounce around the room with details. At answer number five, get ready for the change up-a new question. There can be no longer than a five second wait for any answer. Some teachers use a beanbag to toss from child-to-child as the answers flow. This can go on for the entire hour with the students controlling the entire process. This is another wonderful example of be quiet and teach.
  1. Let Go of One Job or Commitment-Teachers tend to be overachievers. It runs through our blood. But if you do not volunteer for the end of the year dance committee, know this, someone else will do it. Yes, you are replaceable. Even if you are climbing the ladder, no one will be impressed with your struggle to juggle too many extra duties. Your work becomes shoddy and you become frayed. Make a list of every obligation you have from now until the end of the year, and then eliminate one of them. Be realistic in which one you excise; it probably should not be your fifth hour class. Also, do not take on any new tasks to fill in the one you just gave up. And do not even think about feeling guilty for not signing up for the class reunion committee.

The odds are against you in May. But your well being, mentally, physically, and emotionally, is important. Your family needs for you not to snarl at them, and you need to rediscover why you decided to teach in the first place. Look to these five easy to follow suggestions to help you on your journey to peace, love, and knowledge in the month of May.


Step Away from that Red Pen: Self-Rubrics and Self-Grading



Having students create their own project rubrics and then having them co-grade them with you will result in better work and a stronger sense of ownership. In “Benefits of a Student Self-Grading Models” by Dr. Maryellen Weimer, she reiterates this idea, “Given student motivation to get grades and the prevalence of cheating, most faculty would never seriously consider letting students grade their own work. However, self-grading, especially of homework, does accrue some significant benefits. It can move students away from doing homework for points to making them more aware of why and how doing problems helps them learn. If students grade their own work, they see exactly where they are making mistakes.”

Invention and implementation are often a result of a need, and my experience with invention, self-grading, and self-rubrics was no different.

A Call for The Need

A family history video project was assigned in my class. It soon became apparent that each child’s project was going to be unique beyond the information, but also in the parameters of grading. Some students could not go back and find information on the required five generations, and others could go as far back as the Civil War. In addition, some children had missing information on a parent or simply had only one parent. I did not want those children to feel inadequate in the least because of this project.

Because each project would be different, each rubric would be different and who better to create it and then help me grade it, than the student who created the project.

The Benefits

Students were asked to make a rubric unique to their situation. They had 100 points to distribute among their categories. They were required to have at least eight sectors and the total value had to equal 100 points. Two components were required: information on themselves and a family connection to history. These arenas were required because it was a given that the students would be equipped with the knowledge to complete these arenas.

  • Ownership

The students began to own all aspects of the video. They actually complained at first and I had separation anxiety. But as recorded in Students Grading Themselves with Rubrics, “With self-grading, each student will have to think critically about their work before giving themselves check marks… Regular use of the self-grading rubric system can help students improve their writing and learn to target their projects toward your expectations. Your class will have fun playing the teacher and grading their own papers too. Using a self-grading system with rubrics is really a win-win situation. “

  • Life Lesson

It is a life lesson to be able to recognize your own flaws. For example, I know I am stubborn, lean towards self-righteousness, and tend to get too passionate about my own agendas. I also have been known to take on too many projects at one time. I know my weaknesses. Some businesses and schools are moving from administrator driven evaluations to self-evaluations for these same reasons.

A student can look at a project and note if t has only two photos when six were required. In my case, the kids were told to fill the empty spaces with new information on a different field. For example, the photo category, if the child had none, could be replaced with art from the child’s culture or a famous people in the family category. The student will recognize where replacements are needed and also where the sections are still weak even after a replacement occurs.

The bottom line is that a child can view the end product and clearly indicate where it is weak. Sehar Siddiqui in “Recognizing Flaws Just as Important as Embracing Them” the author hits the nail on the head, “True flaws are trickier because they’re the ones that can inhibit us from success. This is why most of us don’t like admitting to, thinking about or even considering we have a flaw that is deeper than something that shows purely on the surface level. What’s even harder than realizing and admitting our flaws by ourselves is accepting the criticism when we hear it from someone else. Flaws and criticism go hand-in-hand: Chances are if you’re talking about flaws, you’re going to talk about the criticism you received about them, too. “

By implementing self-rubrics and self-grading, you are teaching a beautiful life skill. It is not always easy to admit your flaws, but doing so is a life skill. You have flaws, the project may have flaws, and they can recognize this and note in on the rubric.


You have to put much time into this project before you can present it. You also have to know what will be required and what you can let go of without having a meltdown. Then you have to sit back, close your mouth, and watch the learning happen. Teachers are not prone to letting go or shutting up.

You will need a disclaimer to cover that one child who will mark his project 100% without justifying the grade. My rule was that each mark given had to have a short comment as to why that score was assigned. And I reserved the right to override any rubrics that were not prepared in neither earnest nor true reflections of the work. My last safety net was that I too, would be grading the video, so this evaluation would be co-scored.

Join Me in 21st Century Teaching Techniques

Our world of teaching is changing, and we are discovering new ways to challenge, educate, and inspire our students. The next time you give a project, let the students create the rubric and self-grade. This process is a win-win maneuver in the classroom. Consider these thoughts from Lead @ UVA, “When you self‐assess, you become an active participant in your own evaluation.  Your involvement enables you to honestly assess your strengths and also the areas you need to improve. “