Guess that’s why they call it the blues: Mid-semester blues, instructor edition

Dr. Amanda Smith
Jessica Niblack

By Brenna Eller
Editor In Chief

From planning classes to grading homework and tests multiple times a week, many of the instructors at Hutchinson Community College experience the same mid-semester burnout similar to that of their students.

Teachers are responsible for the education of particular subjects and normally put on a “performance” to help the students learn, and simultaneously make them interested in the subject matter. The job of the student is to sit and comprehend the teachers and if the teacher doesn’t get through to their students, it may affect how the student does in the class. With that stress, it isn’t difficult to imagine instructors going through the mid-semester slump.

Sociology instructor Jessica Niblack gave insight on how she views the mid-semester burnout.

“I feel like the longer we go in a semester without a break, the harder it is to stay focused,” Niblack said, “In the fall semester, we start to burn out right before Fall Break, but many are able to get that second wind that takes them to Thanksgiving break. After that it’s smooth sailing.”

To Niblack, the spring semester is worse in burning out because of the long periods of breaks.

“After Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we don’t get a break until Spring Break, which is almost the end of March,” Niblack said.

When it comes to engaging her students with a positive attitude, Niblack feels that the more interesting topics are later covered in the semester. The start of the semester is geared more towards terminology and research whereas at this time in the semester, students are more interested in the content. “As we move through the semester we touch on culture, race, gender, social class, media, which many students can relate to in some way which in turn makes it more interesting to them,” Niblack said.

When the students are engaging more, Niblack gets excited and the process keeps her positive.

“Also, I can always see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Niblack said.

When it gets to be the end of the semester, Niblack gives her students pep talks of perseverance and reminds them the feeling when semester is over.

For instructors or students experiencing burn out, Niblack would advise them to stay positive no matter what.

“As an instructor, our attitude can be contagious, and if we are whining and complaining, then our students will do the same.”

Regarding burn-outs, Niblack said, “Students need to understand that this is the final step into the adult world. Now is the time for them to learn to adapt and become able to meet the expectations or they will have a harder time finding success. They need to also understand they they will get burnt out at their jobs, they may not like their boss, or the people they work with, but learning to deal with these obstacles are all part of life.”

Another instructor at HutchCC is Amanda Smith, who teaches psychology. When it comes to burning out mid-semester, she said she understands how the students may feel.

“I was a college student for many years, and I can empathize with this feeling,” Smith said, “Coursework is demanding, but students also manage other stressors throughout the semester – jobs, sports and other campus activities, relationships, paying bills, health, family, etc.”

Smith also recognizes the stress for students that come with finals and projects being put off to the last minute.

“Even though students are typically made aware of end-of-semester deadlines at the beginning of the semester, it is easy to ignore them until all are simultaneously looming in the near future (only a few weeks away),” Smith said “Now, more than ever, it is important to be intentional in how you use your time and stress does not come from the events, but from how you perceive these events.”

Keeping a positive mindset is how Smith believes students should perceive the mid-semester stress.

“If you perceive the events as temporary, and that you will soon be done, this can help you feel more optimistic,” Smith said.

Smith also likes to remind students that a break is right around the corner. When asked if she experiences the mid-semester burnout, Smith said, “Oh, my yes. For every hour I spend in front of the class, I need roughly 3-4 hours in preparation.”

Dr. Smith also spends 6-8 hours a week grading homework or tests.

Even though she gets stressed at this time of the semester, Dr. Smith is still positive.

“I love what I do and I love my students, so even when I’m exhausted, it never feels burdensome,” Smith said.

In order to fight off stress or exhaustion, Dr. Smith makes sure she is in good health. Sleeping is a very important aspect for Smith and she believes getting the right amount can help immeasurably. “Even though you do not feel as if you have enough time, make time for sleep, exercise, and short breaks, all of which can help with focusing attention, learning and memory,” Smith said.

Smith also makes sure she has quality family time as well as prioritizes her exercising and work schedule. “There are only 24 hours in a day, which unfortunately is not going to change. Mindfully managing that time, working smarter and more efficiently, is vital to decreasing stress,” Smith said.

When it comes to keeping positivity Smith and her coworkers try to help each other out as much as possible. “I often talk with other instructors; we have a wonderful camaraderie and encourage one another. And if all else fails, I keep a stash of chocolate in my desk drawer!,” Smith said.

For students managing time and stress, Dr. Smith advises a decreased amount of time on cell phones.

“Put your mobile devices away while you try to study, as these are only going to distract you! Instead stay connected by getting some coffee or lunch with members of your support system (friends, family),” Smith said.

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