It's midterm exam week this week and while I'm welcoming the change of pace (and the chance to wear jeans, and to sit in my office listening to music while I grade), it's also a lot of work. Midterm exam week is also proving to be a welcome distraction for me this week, since one charter school lottery was held on Wednesday, and another one will take place today and if I think about it too much I'll go absolutely crazy. I've never been good with lotteries, and I'm definitely not good at coping with lotteries involving my children's educations. Who wants to leave THAT to the chance drawing of a number?
Since I'm still knee-deep in grade calculations, and in dealing with the constant stream of students coming in and out of my office, I'm re-posting an appropriate piece from two years ago: a Bag of Tricks post on college survival tips. See you back on Monday!
My students are in the throes of midterm exams this week. Whenever I watch my students bent over their papers, I feel a surge of protective, maternal concern for them--even for those students who taxed my patience in the weeks leading up to exam week. But my heart always goes out to them when they're taking tests. They seem more like the children they were (or are?) when they're chewing on their pencil ends, or staring off into space for the answers, or feverishly writing--pouring out all the stored-up knowledge onto paper. I want the very best for them at midterm time--I really and truly do.
While a large chunk of teaching has to do with helping students master the material, an almost equally large part of it has to do with helping these young adults-in-the-making cultivate the skills they need to do well in everything they do, whether it's studying for an exam, organizing their time, or learning how to deal with all the different people they might encounter on any given day. This semester I teach mainly second semester freshmen. The novelty of the first semester of college has worn off; some are stumbling a little, making poor choices, feeling burned out already. Helping students early on avoid these pitfalls is just like trying to help your own children avoid mistakes: you can talk with them, and show them what to do, but they will seldom fully appreciate all that you're doing until they've made their own mistakes.
College also surrounds most young people like a protective bubble, but when students graduate and leave campus, the bubble bursts and many young people find themselves ill-equipped to deal with life in the Real World. Every semester, right before midterms, I hold a study skills/life skills seminar for my students, and I include several tips and tricks to help them make it through to the other side of the semester.
So here are my top seven tips to help not only students, but all of us, learn to cope better with day-to-day life--whether in school or in the Real World (you know--that place we all end up in, sooner or later):
--Get a calendar--not a digital one, or the one you might keep on your Blackberry or iPhone. Get a real, honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned paper one, the kind with big blocks for each day, and with lots of room to write in your schedule. At the beginning of the semester, I print out batches and copy them for my students. I tell them to hole-punch the pages and keep them in a three-ring binder.
--Organize the fun stuff, not just the work. It's intuitive to write down all the work we have to do, but less intuitive to schedule in the fun stuff. I tell my students to write in their favorite TV shows, or a 30-minute meal at the dining hall. If you plan the fun stuff, you'll feel less guilty while you're doing it, and you'll learn to balance work and play in more efficient ways.
I keep my own calendar, and I really do pencil in the "fun stuff"--including my own favorite TV shows and family activities to work around.
--Lose the snooze. In a college student's world, it IS possible to oversleep for a 12:00 pm class. But many of my students struggle with the morning classes, in particular. Years ago I weaned myself from the snooze button, and now I get up when the alarm first goes off. The snooze button is just too tempting, and when you're half-asleep it's hard to judge whether you're hitting the button one too many times. Before you know it you're late, and the day often goes downhill from there. It's far better to get up when the alarm first rings. You'll be more efficient with your morning, and feel less exhausted with the extra time.
--Bank credibility wherever you go. Every semester, no matter what classes I'm teaching, I give my students a lesson on "credibility"--what it is, and how it works for them. I tell my students that having credibility in all your roles--whether as a student, an employee, a partner, a friend, a sister or brother--is like having money in the bank. If you work hard to earn it, by being respectful and mindful of your responsibilities, then you can withdraw the "money" when you need to--whether it's to get a job promotion, an extension on a paper, or the respect and trust of your family and friends.
--Don't run with the pack, if the pack is bringing you down. The other day a student athlete came by my office for a conference. He's a smart guy, but he sits with a group of jokesters in the back of the class, and their poor behavior is pulling him down. "But they're my buddies!" He protested when I suggested he sit somewhere else in class. We talked about whether he really wanted a group of "friends" to determine whether he passed the class, and I was happy to see that he's now sitting by himself, at the front of the class.
--Always do your best, but don't dwell on your failures. I want my students to learn from their mistakes, just as I want my kids to. I don't want them to be defined by their mistakes or failures of judgment, or to feel as though they're doomed and there's just no point in trying anymore. Yes, grades are cumulative, and tests count--just as they do in the Real World. But a test is just a test in the end, not a measure of who you are, or of what you are truly capable of doing.
--Be your sister's keeper and your brother's keeper. Yes, we're ultimately all responsible for ourselves, but keep an eye out for your friends around you. Be a good role model, give encouragement, and don't hesitate to let them know when you think they're doing something stupid or self-destructive--or when they're doing something positive and inspiring.
Now...if anyone has any tips for me on how to get through all this grading, send them my way!