Sometimes it’s not about you(r finals).

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I’ve been struggling for a few weeks to write this post. While much of my interest in advocating for students around holidays and breaks comes from my belief in equity for every student, it is also very much drenched in my own personal experiences as a student many years ago…and again, as a student today.

Over the next two weeks, campuses will post, “Good Luck,” messages to students, and finals hours will become the new norm across the country.

Anxiety, too, will become a new (or revisited) norm for many.

As final presentations and papers are soon to be due, student anxiety will increase over the next few weeks. I have even found my own anxiety increasing since just before Thanksgiving. There was always something unsettling about the end of a semester for me. After my teenage years, holidays were rarely a pleasant experience. Through college and even after, I spent many Thanksgivings and winter breaks solo, or with friends (and/or their families). Wrapping up the semester, checking boxes for completed assignments, juggling un/wanted feedback, and gearing up for break, the end of the semester can become a nightmare of personal stress.

As I sit to write this post, the message that keeps running through my head is a plea to educators, “Please be patient with your students.”

Please be patient with your students.

The stress and anxiety associated with this time of year are not completely about final projects, tests, papers, and presentations. In addition to gearing up for the semester’s final stretch, some students’ stress comes from anticipating holidays and winter break. Much like Thanksgiving, winter break can be tough on many; some even without a place to go.

A few months ago I had the privilege of keynoting a conference in southern Indiana, and midway through my keynote, I shared with the audience that each semester I take time to use my voice on social media, advocating for those students who might be feeling some type of dissonance around this time of year – dissonance that exists beyond the expectation of “finals.” It wasn’t until recent that I associated these two anxieties with one another: the stress of finals + the stress of anticipating break.

Juggling my own anxiety this time of year (first semester doctoral student, and all of that), this has become much more clear to me

What can we do?
How do we best support students during this time?

First, ask questions and support students who you know aren’t thrilled about the next month of non-school instability. Consider the ones you don’t already know about who might feel this way. Connect your students to resources on campus and in the community, and remind them that they are worthy and loved. For some schools, it’s an on-call counselor, for other schools, it’s the student affairs staff who will take shifts. In some communities, it’s a counselor or social worker, or shelter or youth house.

Next, fight like hell for your students. If a residence hall or cafeteria closes for break on your campus, completely or with no alternative (OR is unreasonably expensive), speak up! If you fear for a student’s safety, speak up! Engage your staff, supervisor, or classmates, and establish a plan to challenge the system that is leaving students behind. Don’t simply send students away assuming, “it’ll all be okay.” Sometimes, it’s not okay. And sometimes, student are left in their cars, bunking up with ten others in a hotel room, spending thousands to get “home” for a few weeks, or heading “home” to a place that is not accepting, embracing, or safe.

Share hotline information (Trevor Project), or campus support numbers (again, the on-call counselor or counseling center staff). Draft a calendar of events with your student/s, help them see the whole break at a glance, giving them things to do or accomplish over the course of their time away from school. Simply listen to them. Some may not feel as pressed as others about going home, yet still remain anxious. A listening space will help them externally process (and anticipate) what might exist ahead.

Finally, instead of a “good job” on completing finals or projects, a simple, “I’m here for you as you go into the break,” could make all the difference. In fact, in some contexts, it might be exactly what they need.

Educators, teachers, faculty/staff, and beyond, as you take on these final weeks of the semester, please consider the students who are carrying much more than the load of your coursework. Trust me, it might not be about you(r finals).

Anxious, as well,

Michael

One thought on “Sometimes it’s not about you(r finals).

  1. Michael,
    Even though I’m an elementary school teacher, I couldn’t agree with you more. My students are fifth graders and they don’t have finals to stress over, but I see their stress levels ramp up at this time of the year. Uncertainty, for many different reasons, creates a level of stress that elementary students shouldn’t have to deal with but often do.
    I have two daughters who are currently college students, and it is heartbreaking the things some of their peers go through over break. We’ve been host to many homeless college students over the last few years.
    Your message couldn’t be more well-thought out. Everyone deserves to feel community during this time of the year. All students need to know that their well-being as a human is so much more than a test score. Thank you for writing such a heart-felt reminder to all educators about empathy for our students both big and small.

    Chris Vezino
    Professional Educator
    Grandville, MI

    Beautifully written!

    Liked by 1 person

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