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It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

November 5, 2009

When I taught high school English, I was tempted to take the occasional one-hundred-paper fever day to try to catch up with the waves of paper that washed over me from my students. I tried to keep up with them, but the volume often felt overwhelming. There was always a pile of paperwork sitting next to the bed softly whispering, “Read me, read me.” If you do the math, you’ll realize that teachers can spend a lot of time outside of school just looking at student work, and if the teacher comments on the work, it’s even more time-consuming. Imagine that a teacher has one hundred students. Each week s/he spends just five minutes looking at work from each one. That’s five hundred minutes or eight hours and twenty minutes or the equivalent of another workday, and that’s a very low-end estimate. No matter what side of the teaching/learning interaction you’re on, the work sometimes seems like the neverending story.

School can feel unending for students too. You go to class and there’s always something to do, some deadline rushing toward you, some urgent thing that must be done. There’s always something screaming for completion. The week after midterms leaves many students vulnerable. There is great relief in having completed tests and handed in papers, and it’s tempting to relax too much. Once you do, it can be difficult to get back into the rhythm of the term. I’ve seen it happen many times to students who were so delighted to get past the pressure of the middle that they forgot how quickly the end would arrive. They reveled in a false sense of completion.

That’s not to say celebration isn’t in order when midterms are over. I’m a big believer in rewarding yourself for just about any kind of accomplishment, especially when you’re in school. When I was an undergraduate, my son and I used to go to the grocery store for Popsicles in the middle of the night on Fridays when we were done with homework. I was probably a lousy mom for letting him stay up late with me, but it got his homework out of the way so he could enjoy the weekend and it encouraged me to make a dent in mine. Otherwise, I probably would have collapsed in front of the television, telling myself that I deserved to do nothing for a few hours. This homework night also created a sense of camaraderie. We both had things to do we might rather not have been doing, but we got them done. I found that those Friday hours really paid off for me, helping me get focused and organized for the coming week.

It’s not time yet for the finals celebration, but it’s coming. How will you reward yourself? Perhaps you should plan now for your mental health day (Note for those who might be keeping track: this term was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary recently and was first used in an English language publication in 1971).

What will you do on your mental health day?

Rest is not idleness, and to be sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.
• J. Lubbock

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