What I Learned From My First Finals Week
This past week, I have come to an astounding revelation that will seem in no way surprising to you, but knocked me clear on my backside: Finals week is stressful. What happened this past week? I’m only now waking from that foggy and nightmarish sleepwalk of frustration and stress. It is an understatement to say I was unprepared for the emotional onslaught of finals week. Despite having graded previous assignments, handing out study guides out with ample time, and administering a Kahoot that was eerily similar to the final, I was not ready for the emotional turmoil of my students. Doing all the teacher-y things I was supposed to did not barricade me from my students’ concerns. During my first ever finals week, I found myself overwhelmed with negative feelings, leading me to grump at my students, loved ones, and (I am horrifically ashamed to admit) my dogs.
Pessimism was pressing on me during finals week. Suddenly, my conversations with my colleagues seemed to be steeped in frustration--with students, the weather, my homelife. Every aspect of my existence seemed to be somehow uncomfortable. Even at the supposed moment of relief, when every student had put their laptop away and was headed to the buses, I did not experience the great sigh of happiness and relaxation I expected. I was wearing the doom-and-gloom of finals week like a heavy coat, and I unknowingly refused to take it off.
While most of my blog posts are based in mild amounts of research, with references to several reputable articles throughout, I would like to take this time to reflectively self-examine how I became so drained by my first experience of finals week.
My students were stressed. I am not so far away from the days of my high school and college experience that I don’t remember the frantic race to eek my grade a few percent higher in the hopes of a new and exciting letter grade. I understand their panic, their endless emails, and barrage of questions I have definitely answered at least a thousand times before in class. I understand and I will always help. I had students fight painstakingly to make their way from mid-level B’s to low A’s in these past few weeks, and I admire their commitment and spirit. I worry, perhaps, about their motivation for education, but no more so than I do for other students in our current education system.
The students I don’t understand are the students who express complete apathy. These are my students suspended in limbo between passing and failing, my students who need to buckle down for merely an hour of focused work on missing assignments to avoid summer school or losing an elective next year. These students, who need my help most, aggravate me beyond belief. As a person who was generally motivated to achieve highly in school, I lack empathy for a person who takes the time provided in class to do alternative things and then complains when their grade does not turn out well.
However, my aggravation and lack of empathy helps no one.
I must learn to sympathize. My anger does not assist these students, any more than their apathy helps me. It is my job to continue to fight for their education and push them to do better, even when they feel their best option is to stand completely still. I must remind myself that these students have life experiences I do not and that school may represent something for them that is completely different than it ever did for me. Their rebellion against organized curriculum is not a personal comment on their distaste for me, but rather an internal conflict within themselves. To take their struggle personally is foolish and, as a new teacher, I need to learn this lesson quickly.
My oppressive feelings of negativity this finals week were of my own doing. I let my students’ burdens become my own. In theory, taking on your students’ problems can appear cinema-esque. It reminds us of Robin Williams-like teachers who fight wholeheartedly for their students education, martyring their own needs in lieu of their students’. But in reality, it creates an endless cycle of frustration, bouncing perpetually between teacher to student. For the spring finals week, I hope to be a better influence to my students. I want to reassure them of their abilities as they ride, head-first, into one of the more important battles of their high school lives.