By Cheryl A. Read, PhD Student and Teaching Fellow at Duquesne University
With no fall break here at Duquesne, everyone on campus is wishing for a few days to step away from the daily grind and catch up on that never-ending to do list.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to both support students pedagogically and take care of ourselves. Here are some of my strategies for keeping myself and my students sane as finals week approaches.
Keep students informed. Most students have a lot of new information swimming around their heads at this point in the semester, so now is a good time to remind them of your policies, particularly regarding plagiarism, late work, and attendance. The syllabus and the university’s academic integrity policy are always available to your students, but, at least in my experience, students are most likely to cut corners when they feel overextended. A brief reminder of your policies in class may save you some paperwork later on.
Additionally, it can be useful to explicitly inform students of their current grade in the course, their absences and tardies so far, and your expectations for the rest of the semester. Since the majority of my students are freshmen adjusting to the demands of college life, I typically make a “doomsday calendar” with all of the remaining deadlines in the semester and hand it out with a reminder of how many of their total points in the class remain available.
Be mindful of students’ schedules. Students may find themselves needing additional assistance to improve their grades or complete their courses. Remind them of the academic support services on campus, and consider making yourself available for additional appointments or office hours.
When planning next semester’s schedule, you may find it useful to adjust typical deadlines for major projects. As a writing instructor, I’ve found that I receive significantly better final papers if I set their deadline a week or two before the final exam period. This allows students to focus on the major project for my class before their exams begin, and it gives me the class time to help students develop a final portfolio.
Prioritize engagement when lesson planning. If you’ve read about a new pedagogical technique you’d like to try in the classroom, now might be the time to try it. You’ve likely already earned the respect of your students, and new approaches to course material can be a refreshing change of pace when students are feeling worn down.
Taking Care of Yourself
Clean up the house and stock up the fridge. I know that my productivity and mood are closely tied to my environment, so I take some time at this point in the semester to prepare for the busy days ahead. I give my apartment a thorough cleaning to counteract the days when I may not have time for anything more than washing the dishes, and I stock my freezer and pantry with easy-to-make meals and tasty baked goods. It may be hard to find the time to do these things right now, but I know my future self will thank me.
Stay organized, and prioritize your work. It’s easy to abandon your carefully crafted organization system when the tasks are endless, but it’s so important to keep yourself organized to ensure that everything gets done. Try to go into finals week with a clean slate: you’ll have enough grading to do, so you don’t need to be dealing with your own late work on top of everything else.
Adjust your feedback. At this point in the semester, students really should be responsible for their own learning as they become more comfortable with the subject matter. Depending on the type of course you’re teaching, you may be able to scale back the amount of feedback you give students on their graded work. This puts the responsibility on students to seek out answers to their individual questions and also saves you valuable grading time.
Finally, don’t sacrifice time for yourself and your family and friends. Even when you feel like little more than a grading machine, remember that you’re still a human being! Don’t forget to take care of the relationships that are important to you and do the things that you love outside of your work.
Do you have additional strategies to share? Please post them in the comments. Best wishes for a less stressful end to the semester!
Bio: Cheryl A. Read is a PhD student and teaching fellow in the Department of English. Her current interests center on investigating the people involved in the work of literature, including readers, authors, publishers, intellectuals, and educators. A native Minnesotan, Cheryl received her BA and MA from the University of Minnesota Duluth.