Teaching Tips #9: Spring Semester Funk

Does this definition ring a bell?

“Spring Semester Funk: physically and mentally exhausted, annoyed with colleagues, can’t stand to hear another talk, students working their last good nerve, and hopelessly behind on writing and research.”  (from The Monday Motivator e-newsletter by Kerry Ann Rockquemore, PhD)

Probably due to our winter disruptions, this year’s Spring Semester Funk (aka burnout) appears to be more severe than usual.  Being a great teacher means taking care of yourself and helping your students learn to do the same.  So, where to start?

  • Recognize what’s going on.  What are your sources of stress, both in and out of the classroom?  What do you need that you’re not getting?  Sleep? Decent nutrition? A pat on the back? Relief from caring for others or someone to clean your house?  A feeling that you and your students are making progress?
  • Assemble your support group. Professors tend to be very independent, and they often don’t think about asking for help.  Here are some things to try:
    • Identify the things that only YOU can do, and look for ways to delegate the rest.  For example, can you refer your students to the LRC for help with editing instead of finding every error yourself?  How about having students write their own study guides?  You also can ask students to evaluate their own work before they turn it in, or have a peer do so.  This can shorten your grading time. All these methods are excellent learning opportunities for the students as well as taking some of the burden away from you.  At home, can you afford someone to clean, even occasionally?  What can other family members do for you?  Cook, clean, make their own lunches?  Do you need to be at this meeting or event, or could someone else go? (These are good learning experiences for family members too!)
    • Misery loves company – find a colleague.  If you’re writing, edit each others’ work or discuss ideas.  Or buddy up to get a fresh perspective on handling a class that’s driving you nuts.  Get referrals for dog walkers or cleaning services, or walk your dogs together. Or just eat together and tell war stories.
  • Do less to accomplish more.  Don’t over-prepare lecture notes for class; use problem solving or class discussion to deepen learning. Why assign letter grades if a simpler, easier, faster option is all that’s needed (like check, check-plus, check-minus)?  Look for places where the return on your time is low, and see if you can do things more efficiently.
  • Laugh. Make time for something you really enjoy even when it isn’t “required”.  It may not last long, but it gives you something to anticipate and a motivator to keep working.  Some people schedule “joy breaks” a few times during the day — 15 minutes to do something that makes them happy.  Even if you just get up, walk around and admire the daffodils your mood will improve.
  • Quit. (sometimes).  Lots of people drag their work home with them every night and weekend, feel guilty about not getting to it, or not doing as much as they should, and never really relax.  Pick a night (or more if you can) and don’t bring anything home.  You‘ll have more energy for later.
  • Don’t forget your body. Sleep, eat, exercise, etc.  Your brain only works well when your body does. Better health means improved energy and mental attitude.
  • Know the enemy. Invest some time in planning.  If you record everything you need to do, then you can prioritize with the confidence that you aren’t leaving out anything important (which helps you relax).  You can also make sure that those odd little blocks of “between” time can be used productively for small tasks OR enjoyed as a break.   Try to leave some margin time to cover yourself when unanticipated events (student in crisis, illness, last minute meeting) come up.  If you don’t need it – celebrate!
  • Share with your students. With just a few word changes, that definition of Spring Semester Funk applies to students as well as faculty.  Spend a couple of minutes in class acknowledging their stresses and sharing ideas with them about how we can all get through this time successfully. It’s important for students to know that everyone (even their professor) has extra busy times, and the solution isn’t to give up or do shoddy work, but to work on finding the balance and perhaps making better decisions next time.

So, how do you cope with Spring Semester Funk for yourself, and how do you help your students? What is hardest for you to manage?

If you are interested in more thoughts about taking care of yourself and combating spring semester funk, here’s a link to Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s blog:

http://newfacultysuccess.blogspot.com/

Although it’s targeted toward new faculty, the blog has great tips for anyone coping with the stresses and joys of academic work.

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