Classroom Culture: Reaching the Finish Line

With the end of the year so close, everyone is feeling all the big feelings—excitement, anxiousness, relief, impatience, and even a tinge of sadness. Our students are definitely feeling this energy too!

In this classroom culture post, I want to share some ways that I’m bringing my team to the finish line with activities and experiences they will remember for a long time. But first, I wanted to talk a little bit about the Iditarod finish line. Everyone experiences it in a different way, from the first finisher to the last, the Red Lantern. I had the joy of being at Safety, the last checkpoint before the finish, to see Nic Petit and Matt Failor come through with their dogs.  Both teams looked good and both human racers were in good spirits.

I got to check Matt Failor into and out of Safety, 22 miles from the finish line. Photo: Carol Fairfield

Unlike the end of many school years, the last 22 miles between Safety and Nome is an easy, beautiful stretch over Cape Nome and along the Bering Sea. Once you get inside the Nome city limits, the trail comes up off the beach and onto Front St.  A siren calls out, and the spectators gather around the finish chute.  I got to see so many wonderful finishes in Nome this year, and each one was exciting.

Definitely make the end of your year meaningful! Here are some things I like to do.  First, I read an entire novel out loud! You may already do this as part of your curriculum, but I don’t get to do this until the end of the year.  So I have all year to pick the right novel for each class.  My morning class is more active, with boys that need to see how fun reading is, so this year I picked Hatchet by Gary Paulson.  As you know, Gary Paulson ran the Iditarod three times, and he describes his experiences and his life as a writer in this interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, rebroadcast shortly after his death in 2021. He talks about the finish line of the Iditarod—that he had such an amazing experience with his dogs that he didn’t want to finish. “I stopped about 20 miles out. I stopped and – well, 18 miles, maybe, or something. I stopped, and I stood there looking. And I decided I’d go back. I decided I’d just not go in. And there was another man running near me. And he stopped and said, what are you doing? And I said, I think I’ll turn around. And he said, no, you’ve got to finish. You don’t get your buckle, he says, unless you finish.” So far, my students are absolutely glued to Hatchet.

Gary Paulson, Iditarod finisher and children’s author. Photo: Tim Keating

Another activity you could do with your students is create a musher bio. Students can look at some of the bios on the Iditarod page for mushers from the 2024 race.  What would they say about themselves? For younger students, you might give some guidance and sentence frames, where older students might just need some examples to look at.  Students can create the musher bio for their families. Use their class photo for the year. In 5th grade, we do a “graduation” ceremony where families come. Wouldn’t this make a great gift? Alternatively, students could be randomly assigned another student in the class.  They could be challenged to create a musher bio for another student that they don’t know well.  This helps preserve and celebrate the wonderful culture you’ve built in your classroom all year.

Finally, don’t forget awards.  End of year awards season is upon us, and what better way to celebrate the Iditarod learning in your classroom than to award students the Most Inspirational Student or Rookie of the Year, for a new student who joined your school this year.  The Leonard Seppala Humanitarian Award could go to the kindest student—or to your school nurse.  A list of Iditarod awards can be found here. As much as your students would enjoy receiving awards, you can also do this for your fellow teachers.  For example, you can give the Golden Clipboard Award to a non-teacher staff member such as a custodian or lunch worker to celebrate how they helped students have a good experience in their classrooms or at lunch.  Have fun with Iditarod awards—and get the students involved in ways that work for your class.

Travis Beals receives the “Fish First” Award, presented to the first musher to reach Kaltag. Photo: Siri Raitto

Over the last nine or ten months, we have definitely formed a bond with our students as mushers do with their dogs.  Enjoy the last few miles of the race, and make it fun, exciting, and meaningful.  The siren has blared, and the finish line is just down the street!

How do you enjoy the end of your school year with your students? Email me at