I recently read an interesting article that prompted me to address what the author wrote about. Dr. Donald A. Saucier, a professor at Kansas University, put a voice to something I know I experience, and I am sure many of you do as well. We are all hitting that challenging time in the semester when faculty and students alike are ready for classes to end. We long for summer, a break, warm weather, more sun, fewer clouds, rain, or snow. We all know it happens. We all feel it. The joy and excitement of starting a new semester or class and engaging in the day-to-day activities of teaching and learning have lost their motivating spark. We are tired. Our students are exhausted. Yet, we still have several weeks to go before the end of the semester.
Whether we realize it or not, our students take their cues from us. We set the tone in our classroom, which directly affects the students' levels of engagement, motivation, and learning. If we are energetic and enthusiastic, our students will be attentive and interested to learn (Saucier, Miller, Jones & Martens, 2022). However, if we are listless, tired, frustrated, and bored, our students will reflect that back to us, and everyone's grumpiness increases.
So drawing from Saucier's ideas and others, as well as my own experience, here are a few things to consider
Acknowledge the feelings
Acknowledge that we feel grumpy rather than trying to ignore it. Many of our students also feel grumpy, exhausted, and stressed. When fatigue and stress go up, coping skills go down. Therefore, it is important to recognize our feelings and be empathetic to the student's feelings, too. This could be just getting out in front of the students and acknowledging we are all stressed and tired as we head into the home stretch.
The power of the positive
What we say and how we say it matters when it comes to positive or negative comments to our students. It sticks. We know from neurobiology that when students are stressed, anxious, or fearful, when they feel negative about themselves and their ability to be successful in the program or on an exam, the higher cortex shuts down. When the amygdala kicks in due to emotions, the ability to learn or think clearly gets hijacked (Immodino-Yang & Faeth, 2010; Willis, 2010). We also know from neurobiology that positive feelings support learning, retention, and overall better feelings about oneself (Immodino-Yang & Faeth, 2010; Willis, 2010). Thus providing reassuring comments to students, perhaps more frequently than usual during this time of year, could be helpful for you and the students. So consider starting each class with a positive, encouraging, and supportive dialogue. For example, in one program, students wrote down their most inspirational sayings at the start of the semester. These sayings were then posted on the walls in the classroom to help remind students of their passion and commitment to reaching their dream of becoming a PA. Revisiting these during this time of year when stress is high as final exams approach could be helpful.
Cut them and you a little slack
We tend in PA education to always have the pedal to the metal. However, when we get within the last few weeks of the semester, it feels like we are trying to push the pedal through the floorboard. So, if possible, see if you can cut your students (and you) some slack by creating some space in the schedule. Perhaps, see if you can free the students from having to come to campus by converting in-person class lectures to pre-recorded ones. Or give them the option of more time to complete an assignment. Consider ways to help catch our breath and hopefully decrease some of the stress everyone is feeling.
Since we set the tone for students, if we are not taking care of ourselves, we can't be fully present for our students. When we are impatient, short-tempered, and easily frustrated, it compounds their feelings. But, if we model good self-care habits and encourage them to do the same, we support the importance of self-care and stress management. For example, when we sense the class is agitated, frustrated, exhausted, and not wanting to be there, if we stop and pause and acknowledge what we are feeling and we have everyone take a few deep breaths with us, it can help us and them reset for the rest of the class. We can talk about the importance of self-care, but seeing and experiencing it has a much more significant impact.
Hanstedt, P. (2022). The power of the positive comment: A Challenge. The Teaching Professor. November 7, 2022.
Immodino-Yang, M. H., & Faeth, M. (2011). The role of emotion and skilled intuition in learning. In D.A. Sousa (Ed.), Mind, Brain & Education (69-83).Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Saucier, D. A., Miller, S.S., Jones, T. L., & Martins, A.L. (2022). Trickle down engagement: Effects of perceived teacher and student engagement on learning outcomes. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 33(2), 168-179.
Saucier, D. A., Renken, N. D., & Schiffer, A. A. (2022). Five things to do during the grumpy time of the semester. Faculty Focus. November 28, 2022
Willis, J. (2010). The current impact of neuroscience on teaching and learning. In D. A. Sousa (Ed.), Mind, Brain & Education (69-83). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.