End-of-Semester Survival Tips

I recognize that this will seem impossible given my remarkably young age (ahem), but I'm currently in the throes of competing my 28th semester of teaching at the collegiate level.  You learn some useful lessons when you complete an activity 28 times.  For example, I've learned that no matter how smoothly a semester wraps up, the process always takes something out of you. If you let it, it'll deplete you to the core, which is why it's not uncommon to end a semester and immediately experience a total immune system collapse.  That's never fun.

Thankfully, there are several tips that can help you to finish strong.

Stay Organized.  I've joked with my students that the end of a semester is like triage.  You're required to move briskly between All The Things, treating the most urgent cases, reviving what's fading, and minimizing casualties.  Everything vies for your attention at once, and when this occurs it's easy to grow disoriented.  My mind becomes like a bulletin board covered with post-it notes with a high-powered oscillating fan blowing on it.  Every thought is flapping in the breeze, dangerously loose, capable of being whisked away and eternally forgotten.

That's why it's so essential to stay organized.  I write lists with incremental goals so I have concrete incentive to maintain a productive grading pace. I create distinct blocks of time to check and reply to email so it doesn't morph into a perpetual, yet halfhearted, task.  I (mostly) abstain from social media.  I plan easy dinners that don't require much thought or effort.

Order is a powerful antidote to being overwhelmed.

Remember Self-Care.  I'm not perfect, but I aim for a baseline of three self-care goals when a semester ends: maintain regular exercise, get 7 hours of sleep each night, and stay hydrated.  This not only keeps a semblance of routine, but it also keeps my body functioning.  Short breaks -- like a walk around my building when I'm on campus or around my yard when I work from home -- stave off computer-screen fatigue, restore energy, and provide helpful diversion.

As Mr. Miyagi once wisely said, "Don't forget to breathe. Very important."

Set Clear Boundaries.  In my final classes as we're wrapping up logistics, I relay an example from the reality show, Survivor.  At the end of each episode, Jeff Probst, the host, says, "Once the votes are read the decision is final. I'll go tally the votes."  His statement is definitive; it's not the time for negotiation. Similarly, I explain, once final grades are posted, the decision is final.  I don't fulfill last-minute special requests for extra credit.  I'm not swayed by students' unexpected discoveries that they need a certain grade to get accepted to this internship or that graduate/med/business school.  I don't entertain Hail-Mary questions like, "What is my grade and how can it magically become an A?"

And -- I explain to my students -- I do this out of fairness, consistency, and integrity to standards, not from a lack of kindness or empathy.  Every single time, I observe students nodding as I speak.  They understand the game, after all.  When I proactively set boundaries in a firm, yet neutral, way, they also accept that I don't play it. 

This simple talk makes the end of a semester so much easier!  It's significantly less draining to calmly explain this principle to a classroom full of students up-front than to receive multiple emotionally draining and personalized emails with the subject line "Final Grade" later.

Once the grades are tallied, the decision is final.  I'll go tally the grades.  Clear expectations and boundaries for the win!

And those, my friends, are my end-of-semester survival tips.  I will now be grading until I die, come to my senses, give up, or reach the bottom of the multiple stacks. I'm banking on the latter option.  It's almost in the books.  Here's to the close of another semester!


My Reaction to Juicy Pear Jelly Beans. Every. Single. Time.

My thought process every time I eat Jelly Belly Juicy Pear jelly beans:

"These are amazing! Amazing! They taste exactly like I'm eating a juicy pear. Uncanny!"

Three second pass. Another realization dawns.

"I could have just eaten a pear, couldn't I?"

Be Still and Know

Yesterday evening my church hosted a special service.  I knew the event would be good, but the timing wasn't.  By the time I arrived (nearly a half hour late) with my three kids in tow, we all felt frazzled.  I ushered the girls to their youth classes and then grabbed a seat in the back of the sanctuary, not convinced if my efforts to get there would be worth it.

The very first verse I heard the speaker share was this:
Be still and know that I am God.  (Psalm 46:10)
I had forgotten about this verse. (How appropriate in the face of all my rushing.)

God directly invites us into stillness as a way of knowing him.  He doesn't advise, "Get busy and know that I am God."  He doesn't say, "Overcommit and know that I am God" or "Burn yourself out and know that I am God."

Instead, he invites us to be still.

So there I sat in the back row, quieting my heart, subduing my racing mental to-do lists, and remembering how essential stillness is to connecting with God.

Sometimes we all need the reminder.

Be still.  Know that God is God.

Letting Kids Be Kids As Long As Possible

You can fast forward childhood. But you can't rewind it.
- Jon Acuff

This afternoon as I cooked dinner, our eleven-year-old neighbor knocked on our door and asked if my girls could play.  It's one of the first warm days of spring, and even though dinner was going to be ready in just a minute, I sent the kids outside.  They ran across the street in a pack, and I stood at our door a moment longer, listening to their banter and shouts as they bounced on the neighbor's trampoline.

Dinner could wait.

I've never taken for granted how my kids play with the neighbors.  For the past several years, most summer days they rotate from house to house: playing soccer in our back yard, jumping on a trampoline in the neighbor's, riding bikes up and down our hill, staging a game of hide and seek, and then cooling off in our kitchen by raiding our refrigerator for drinks and snacks, leaving a trail of cups and wrappers in their wake.

There's something organic about this.  It's wholesome and healthy.  Our door is open, kids are streaming through, and as a parent, it feels right.  The back-and-forth, screen-door-slamming has become part of how we function, just one of the rhythms of the neighborhood.  I can't help but think, "This is exactly how it should be."

But, to be honest, I don't know for how much longer this season will last.  At what point will the kids be too old to run across the street, knock on the door, and invite the neighbors out to play? 

At some point, the dynamics will change.  It's inevitable.  The kids will grow up and have more formalized demands on their time.  Instead of riding bikes, they'll be driving.  Instead of holding their once-a-summer neighborhood bake sale and lemonade stand, they'll hold part-time jobs.  The bonds of neighborhood friendship, born of convenience and shared experience, might not last forever -- not due to any trouble, but simply because life moves on.  New experiences will expand their horizons beyond their childhood street.

Yes, I know that one day -- likely in the not-so-distant future -- my dinner preparations won't be interrupted by the neighbor kids knocking on my door and asking my girls to play. 

I'm just glad that today isn't that day.


Make a Routine. Break a Routine.

We've done it.  We've reached the month of April.  Although I'm not sure why, each year this particular flip of the calendar page feels like a major accomplishment.  The start of April marks a break with the doldrums of winter.  (At least theoretically.  It still was 30 degrees this morning.)  April promises refreshers like forsythia blooms, and warmer temperatures, and the first garage sales signs being spotted around my community.  All good things.

But we're not quite there yet.  It's the cusp of spring, not yet the reality.  So here are two things I'm doing to hang in there until the evidence of spring catches up with my desire for it.

Make a Routine.  When my motivation is low, it helps if I have even just the modicum of a routine.  Each Sunday, I plan a weekly menu for the week so I'm armed with a plan and prepared with groceries.  Each Friday, I clean the house so I start the weekend living in a hospitable environment.  These minor routines -- running the dishwasher every night, emptying it every morning, doing at least one load of laundry per day, jotting down a daily to-do list -- help me keep my household and my professional life functioning. There's great peace when I know that the spokes aren't coming off the wheels. 

If I don't quite know what else to do, at least I can follow a routine.  Trudging is still forward progress.

Break a Routine.  Ironically, when my motivation is low, it also helps if I break even just the modicum of a routine.  I can drive a different way home, walk a different route across campus, or change up something -- anything! -- so life doesn't feel so predictable.  For example, when I needed to drop off a form off at my daughter's school the other afternoon, I took a 20 minute detour and stopped in a small boutique I've never visited during my 23-year tenure in this town. And you know what?  For that small window of time, I felt like a tourist.  The store had been there all along, yet it was new to me.

If I don't quite know what else to do, at least I can break a routine.   Novelty keeps things interesting.

Make a routine.  Break a routine.  Both will help.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay
Back to Top