How to Survive Second Semester - It's Not Rocket Science

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How to Survive Second Semester

What is it about 3rd quarter? It’s still cold, we are all cooped up, and it feels like the year will never end. As a high school science teacher, traditionally this is my students’ lowest quarter academically, despite it being some of our most fun content (like genetics and heredity!!) So how do we survive second semester? And not only survive, but set ourselves up for success so that we can end the year on a high note with our students?

1. Teach topics you LOVE.

I highly recommend organizing your year so that you teach topics that you really love this time of year. You can see how I have arranged my scope and sequences for my different courses for biology, physical science, and anatomy. When YOU are excited about what you are teaching, your enthusiasm will overflow to your students. I love ecology which is one reason why I DON’T start the year with it in biology as many teachers do. I have a lot of energy at the beginning of the year, and less as the year goes on. So I like to start with the harder stuff (micro bio topics for me!) and end the year with my favorites.

Now, since we are midyear, you may not have wiggle room on this. But you CAN plan ahead now for next year. Meet with your department or admin NOW to discuss rearranging the content for next year. Don’t think they will agree to it? Throw in a few statements about how it will probably help increase engagement and improve standardized test scores and you might be able to get them to listen. Let’s be real – admin love a good buzz word or two!

2. Make class hands-on.

This is something you can change RIGHT THIS SECOND! Like I said above, if YOU are excited about your lesson plans, your students will be too! Hands-on class periods are more engaging for your students and will go by way faster for you, too. Like they say, time flies when you are having fun!

Love labs? Do one every other day! Are labs too overwhelming? Try stations! I may or may not have a small obsession with stations.

Want something simpler? Do a project! Projects are SUCH an easy way to take the bulk of teaching and learning off of you as the teacher and put it back on the students. Plus it creates an opportunity for improving student autonomy, practicing research skills, and demonstrating understanding in a nontraditional format.

If you feel like you are in a rut I urge you to change it up! Maybe even try something NEW!! Worst case, it goes poorly and that’s one lesson you won’t reuse next year. You live and you learn!

3. Grade less!

One thing sure to suck the life out of any teacher is hours upon hours of grading. So stop it! I truly believe that the majority of teachers grade WAY more than they have to. Take this quarter (or even just this month!) and try grading less – or at least collecting less work to grade for accuracy. Not sure where to start? I have tons of tips here for how to minimize grading.

Alongside this, I urge you to not bring work home. You need a break. You need to regroup and recharge so you have enough energy to finish the year strong. Commit to not bringing work home for a month (or even a week! Try for a week!) and see how your energy level and general enthusiasm for the job will change.

4. Get students OUTSIDE!

I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. Seasonal affective disorder is real. The second the temp rises to 60 degrees I get my students’ clipboards and we head outside. Does their productivity level decrease a little bit? Maybe. But are we all 2342819x happier with a little extra Vitamin D? ABSOLUTELY.

I have a class set of clipboards for this exact reason (search on Amazon – you can get them so cheaply!) At the bare minimum, open a window or two if you are blessed to have them in your room! I literally plan my entire year around content that makes it easy to go outside and teach to help me survive second semester. This is why I end the year with evolution and ecology in biology in particular. I save the integumentary system in anatomy for my Protection unit, which is my second to last unit (rather than starting the year with it).

I want to note that I think this is especially important if teaching virtually! Spring fever is going to hit these kids like crazy – even more so than a normal year. Our students NEED a break from their screens and to get outside – so let’s create opportunities for them to do that!

Send your biology students on an ecological scavenger hunt. Have your anatomy students color body systems outside and send you a selfie of them doing their work in the sunshine. Replace normal homework assignments by assigning a daily walk or bike ride instead. You can even share fun science podcasts for them to listen to as they walk (check out a great list here from my teacher friend, Becca!) Yeah, you may not know if they actually do it. But that shouldn’t stop us from encouraging them to!

5. Treat yo self.

I love Parks and Rec, and Donna may be one of my all-time favorite TV characters. I LOVE the “treat yo self” episodes, and I feel like that motto should totally apply to any and all teachers who are attempting to survive second semester.

Now, I love Dave Ramsey too, so I am not saying this is a reckless behavior you need to adopt year round. But I do think this is a HARD season and sometimes even just a small treat can make such a difference in morale.

Again, it doesn’t have to be something you commit to all year, but can you make it work in your budget to have a Starbucks treat every Monday? Or a cleaning lady come once a month the last few months of school? Or can you ask your admin for any remaining funds to buy some resources to get you through to the end of the year? These are just some things that have helped me to survive second semester.

Looking for more suggestions? I’ve actually written about this topic before, back when I was still teaching full time in the classroom, and everything I said then still holds true if you are looking for more ideas.

Anything I missed? What do you do to put a little pep in your step this time of year? I’d love to hear!

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