THE TRANSFORMED TEACHER – Stuck in the middle (of the semester) with me
Down in the doldrums.
Ugh. Here we are. The middle of the semester. SIGH. The crazed enthusiasm of a new beginning has worn away. The end of the semester is an eternity away. Getting enthused about learning, participating in discussions, even getting to class seems like a colossal effort. And that’s just us teachers!
It doesn’t help that the cold weather works against us. Nesting in our offices? Curling up in a chair? Overindulging in chocolate, cheesy puffs, and other not-so-healthy carbs? Seems perfectly reasonable. Nay, it’s practically a prerequisite for maintaining any kind of productivity. Or sanity.
Stuck in the middle.
All my plans for engaging students now feel routine, predictable, and dull as a sloth snuggling into fleecy blankets on a cloudy day.
EVERYTHING takes too much time and effort. And the semester doesn’t end for weeks – even air is weighing me down! How am I supposed to maintain my enthusiasm and motivate a class full of sluggish students when everyone has an acute case of mid-semester burnout?
Why is the middle of the semester so onerous?
There are lots of challenging ‘middles.’ Middle child. Middle school. Middle manager. Mid-career. And the most infamous of all – the midlife crisis. The parallels between the latter and mid-semester burnout are downright eerie…
a midlife crisis1
|Translation in the teaching-verse…|
|Greatly decreased ambition||Recycling the same lecture five years in a row.|
|Exhaustion, boredom, discontentment||Sleeping on a stack of essay assignments that are two weeks late.|
|Wanting to do something completely different||Launching into an impromptu class debate with zero preparation.|
|Self-doubt||Am I a good teacher? Did I cover enough content? Am I engaging my students? Are they learning? Is my class meaningful? [repeat in an infinite loop]|
|Confusion about who you are or where your life is going||Should I quit and hike the Appalachian trail / visit every historical marker in a 500 mile radius and write a book about it / become a professional skydiver / establish a rescue farm for lemmings?|
|Daydreaming||Smiling wistfully while thinking happy thoughts – a la perfect SROI scores, publishing pedagogical articles, receiving recognition for your hard work, etc.|
|Irritability, unexpected anger||Where are the exams? I put them right here! RIGHT HERE! Where are the DADGUM exams?!!|
|Persistent sadness||Sobbing for hours every time you think about grading.|
|Increase in food intake and other compulsions||
Remember the chocolate, cheesy puffs, and not-so-healthy carbs?
How can we re-perkify?
To get over a midlife crisis, you’re supposed implement ‘no-brainer’ behavior – eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep, and deal with those pesky feelings. Because that’s soooo easy when you’re an academic.
Why can’t someone just invent teleportation already so I can pop along to exact moment I submit year-end grades? Argh!
Luckily, we can all move through time and space (and no, The TARDIS2 isn’t real). I’m talking about our brains.
Perspective – get some.
When you’re stuck in the middle (of anything), a crucial step is to…*drum roll*…get perspective. Use your little gray cells and get some. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Think long-term. Focus on the bigger picture. See the forest through the trees. Tap into your eagle-eye. Sounds simple, but of course it takes practice. Dig deep. Try to remember what inspires you about teaching. If your mind doesn’t cooperate, check out these letters to profs from students and one from a prof to her students.
I would argue that being in the middle is powerful – you can simultaneously understand and appreciate BOTH ends of a spectrum.
…being in the middle is powerful – you can simultaneously understand and appreciate BOTH ends of a spectrum.
Remember, the semester is finite. Really. What do you want your students to learn before you part ways?
Imagine. Visualize. Aspire.
Get your sweat on.
And then perspire. Yes, get to work. Whether it’s baby steps or a catapult, action can propel you out of your middle-mire. Plan and prioritize. What do you need to get done this week? Next week? Before you know it, you’ll be saying goodbye to your students.
As you’re getting the job done (or teaching like a rock star), don’t forget the no-brainer stuff. Nurture yourself. Have a skinny decaf-a-choca-latte with a pal. Commiserate with your cat while nibbling veggies. Do yoga like it’s 19993 and take a nap.
And rest assured. If there’s one certainty in life, it’s that time doesn’t stop. Change is inevitable. Stick in there and you’ll find that being stuck will soon be a thing of the past.
And if any readers have ideas on how to re-perkify, please add your wisdom in the comment box below!
The Transformed Teacher
The Transformed Teacher is a faculty member who took a bold step out from behind highly detailed lecture notes and a gigantic podium into the teaching-verse, which is a magical place filled with helpful tips, tools, and teachers.
As I learn more about teaching, I find I’m significantly better than I was before, and a lot less neurotic. In fact, sometimes teaching is downright fun. Imagine that.
1https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/midlife2BBC. 2017. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/profiles/5Dp7g7b0dSVhD2TM1xNlf7c/the-tardis
3Shout-out to Prince’s song 1999 (Party Like It’s 1999).