The other day in class I found myself answering the same questions over and over. What is it you want us to do again for peer response? Did you say we’re supposed to read the papers out loud? Are we supposed to write our partner a letter? When is the draft due? When is the final due again? Where is your office? Is it okay to use “I” in this paper? Will you take points off if I use “I”? Are we supposed to read our papers out loud? What do you want us to do?”
I try my best to answer each question as if it was the first time I have ever heard it today. I try to smile, but by the end of our class I can hear the impatience creeping into my voice. As I said earlier the draft is due on Thursday and it is on the assignment sheet I gave you last week. It’s also posted on Moodle. And maybe if you put your phones away you would know. I don’t actually say that about the phones, but I think it because I’ve had to remind a couple of people to put their phones away.
After class I go up to my office and check my email. Several students from my other class have emailed me to explain why they may not be able to come to class tomorrow: I’m sick. I have an appointment at health services. I have a review session for another class. I have to . . . .
I shut my office door and put my head down on my desk.
What is the matter with students?
Why can’t they just do what they’re supposed to do?
Why don’t they listen?
Why don’t they read the syllabus?
Why don’t they read the handouts I give them?
Why don’t they stop texting in class?
Why don’t they just stop talking in class?
Why don’t they pay attention?
Why haven’t they learned anything?
What is the matter with them?
Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m cranky. I’m crabby. And I’m tired.
I’m also over-whelmed.
Every time I look at the calendar that first twinge of panic I felt when I flipped the page from October to November becomes stronger. The end of the semester is coming and coming fast. There seems to be so much to do and so little time. Every night I wake up at 3:00am wondering if I’m really going to get everything done.
I find myself complaining about everything. It’s cold in the morning. It gets dark too early. My classes aren’t going well. I have papers to read. I don’t know when I can get the yard raked. I don’t have time to do anything. I’m tired. I didn’t teach my students anything.
My husband points out that I always feel like this in November. He’s right. The end of the semester is over-whelming. Back in September it seemed like we had all the time in the world to work through the writing process and the units. But now, in November, the end is so close and the number of classes that we have left seems to be slipping away. And, because it is November, the weeks we do have left for the semester are shorter due to the two holidays. It becomes clear that we have no buffer—the semester is going to end.
And if I’m feeling over-whelmed what are my students feeling? My students are working at finishing up not just my class, but three to four other classes. They are facing finals for the first time. They are registering for next semester classes for the first time on their own. And they are looking ahead to the holidays and the January break. In other words, this is the first time they have faced this end of semester crunch.
So maybe my students seeming inability to focus is really a symptom of being over-whelmed. Our students are learning how to manage their time and how to deal with the end of the semester stress. They are learning there is light at the end of this tunnel.
So how do we all deal with all this over-whelmness?
First, I try to remember that my students have been writing all semester and because they have been drafting and revising they have learned how to draft and how to revise. Writing is an on-going process and since they have been writing consistently and talking about writing they have all grown as writers and will continue to progress when they leave the classroom. Even though my students don’t have the same amount of time to complete their final units as they did the earlier units, I remind myself they have already learned what they need to do. So I tell them. You know how to draft. You know how to develop your ideas. You know how to do peer response. You know how to copy edit.
I also remind myself that being a little more concrete isn’t a bad thing. Going over the plan for the end of the semester at the beginning of each class helps to make things appear more manageable. Here is what we need to accomplish before the end of the semester and here is how we are going to do it.
I also keep in mind what I have learned from Gertrude Stein—there is no such thing as repetition. Or in other words, repetition isn’t a bad thing. When we are over-whelmed it can be difficult to take in information. So repeating can help to make sure everyone is and stays on the same page.
And just acknowledging that the end of the semester can be over-whelming helps. It lets the students know they aren’t alone. We’ll get everything done – it will be crazy, it will be hectic, but we’ll get everything done.