Students are really stressed out this time of year. Frankly, so are faculty. November and December are packed with student exams, department meetings and due dates for upcoming conference proposals. In the middle of this, professors are faced with lineups of students outside their office door. There is a seasonal flavour to this group: the student eager to talk about her paper, the stressed out student, and the student who finally realized that he is not doing well in the course and is suddenly freaking out about their mark.
As a teaching focused tenure-track faculty member, I advise many more students in the late fall when they are preparing their graduate school applications, just at the time that I have more grading to do.
Sure, I have a team of six Teaching Assistants, but I have to review their grading, and in my advanced classes I usually do not have a Teaching Assistant. I have a mountain of marking to get through in these last few weeks. At times, I feel like an academic cheerleader or perhaps an academic first responder who needs to attend to different students' needs. Some of them are falling apart at the seams and others just need more guidance. I know that my students need me more this time of year, but it is also when I am the most emotionally and intellectually drained. So how do I do it? I think that my attempt to have some work-life balance might prove useful for my students.
I find that I work best if I divide my days into pockets of time dedicated to grading, advising, meetings, and the possibility of research or writing. Yes, note that I say the "possibility" for research or writing. I schedule this time in my calendar and guard it fiercely. You need to meet, sorry, I have a meeting. Yes, it might be a meeting with myself and the elliptical machine, but the best way to take care of myself and my students' needs is for me to have balance in my life. This keeps me positive.
If I could wish my students anything, it would be more positive thinking. I know that some will scoff and say, "They are so self-indulgent and have a sense of self-entitlement." Well, that proportion of students is a small percentage of the total in my opinion. There is a larger group who are really trying to figure things out – who they are in the world and what they want to do.
My wish to students is for more positive thinking. Remember that there are people who believe in you and your success.
This does not mean that I am going to give you As. I do not give grades, students earn them. If you get a grade you do not like, this does not mean that I do not like you or that somehow the marking rubric was unfair. Instead, take a step back, inhale and exhale and own your performance. Then, think about how much research, time and writing you put into the assignment. Go into your classes and assignments with a positive attitude. The attitude and interest in your classes can carry you a long way.
Likewise, you really should sleep on the comments and mark and avoid firing off an e-mail. If you have concerns or questions about the assignment, you really should confer with your instructor during office hours or make an appointment. I've had many apologies from students face to face – once I've commented on an inappropriate e-mail that was sent my way. I do not engage these e-mails.
My usual response is something like this: This e-mail is problematic and this conversation must take place face to face. My advice to everyone: Never send an e-mail when you're angry, as you'll usually regret it.
Back to positive thinking and visualizing your success. Much of what I do is validate students. Yes, you are on the right track. Yes, that paper topic sounds promising. However, you ultimately have to do the work. Your first step is being honest and optimistic. The second step is planning. Planning your thinking, studying, and writing time – I do this, too.
If you look at my schedule, it's filled with notes to self. Eat lunch. Go to the gym. Stop reading this post and get back to work! Make notes to your self and that C could turn into a B or better.
Janni Aragon is a Senior Instructor of Political Science at the University of Victoria.