Wednesday, May 07, 2008
With finals just about to start, nearly everybody on campus is on her worst behavior. The students are jumpy, what with legitimate pressures (final exams, papers, and projects) and self-imposed ones (missed deadlines have a way of catching up to you). The faculty are visibly strained, with grading pressure combining with student begging combining with end-of-year events. The administrators are exhausted, since we do all of the end-of-year events, and we deal with the conflicts that don't get resolved at the departmental level. (I'll admit to giving thanks that I don't work at Dartmouth. The idea of a professor suing her students for not liking her is so headache-inducing that I can't even work up a full post on it without a serious blood-pressure spike.) The plagiarism board is doing land-office business, dealing with students who haven't figured out yet that faculty know how to use Google.
Those are relatively normal, if draining. After going through the same cycle enough times, most of us come to expect that two periods per year – roughly “Thanksgiving to Christmas” and “tax day to graduation” -- will just plain suck. I try to keep my bride apprised of which nights I'll have to stay late in any given week, but it's actually reached the point where I start to lose track. Like Rocky, I pretty much give up on the idea of 'winning' this month, instead hoping just to go the distance. And this is the time of year when I honestly wonder just how the hell single parents do it. I couldn't do this job and raise kids by myself. The events alone would do me in.
I'm too spent even to work up a decent blog post.
So a question for my wise and worldly readers: how do you stay sane during silly season?
Above all, a healthy dose of humor helps more than anything!
On a serious note, I try to work in chunks, so as to not get burned out. I also have a deadline for students giving me stuff.
Some students are still legitimately turning in late work or make-up work or whatever, but they know after today I won't touch it until I'm done with all finals. And as for the students with self-inflicted problems, most of them are just as glad I'm not dealing with it until after finals, so they can focus on their other finals.
I also make students a) get permission for extensions/rule variations/whatever by e-mail and b) staple my return e-mail to the back of the assignment so I'll remember I told them it was okay. I can't possibly remember who I gave permission to for a rewrite or who was at the hospital for a week with a very sick sibling; this has vastly simplified my life. I'm putting it in my syllabus from now on.
I work a second job half-time in addition to teach a pretty full course load, so I take about two weeks more-or-less off from the second job during finals, which actually makes me feel like I have TONS of free time. Free time spent giving myself eyestrain headaches and getting sick to death of reading student papers, but while I feel stressed, I don't feel terribly time-pressured.
I'm thinking of requiring term papers to be due two weeks before the end of the semester, at least in some classes, next semester, both to spread out my grading and so fewer of MY papers are caught in my students end-of-semester frantic-ness and get half-assed as a result. Has anyone else done this, and how has it worked?
Well, that and a lot of planning when I write my syllabus. I try to spread out my grading throughout the whole semester.
And, for me, it's the research that's a killer. I have two conferences each year, right after spring break. Back to back. Now, that's way more evil than grading.
At the beginning of the semester, frown a lot and say NO.
At the end of the semester, smile a lot and say SORRY, STILL NO.
Drink less coffee and work out (or do yoga, or take long bike rides) more often.
There is no substitute for planning exactly how you are going to get the job done. For example, if the final exam is late in the week, the questions must be designed so they can be graded efficiently.
Example: Today I started working on the daily schedule for one of my Fall classes.
I like Eyebrow's suggestion about including the permission e-mail with the assignment, but I do that so rarely that I usually just make an annotation in my gradebook or consult my own copy of the e-mail (which was filed appropriately in the course folder).
Eyebrows, my ex found that having a paper due approximately two thirds of the way through the semester (i.e. somewhat before the conflict that Dance mentioned) worked pretty well. She was able to get that graded before the end-of-semester crunch. I've never quite managed to do it myself, though, so I ended up with papers and final exams to grade at the same time.
Right. These are my term papers in lieu of a final exam. This semester I just have students upon students who have put them off until the last second and now are half-assing them because they have a zillion other finals. I'm just wondering about making the term paper due two weeks before the end of the semester and finishing up with something very light -- a final quiz on the last chapter, a final 2-page response paper on an issue we discuss, something like that. (I typically get good attendance at option sessions, so I'm not super-worried about half the class disappearing if their major assignment is turned in two weeks before finals; but then, every class has a different dynamic, I'm sure eventually I'll get that group.)