Monday, December 12, 2022

Students are STRESSED, Ya’ll: More COVID-Influenced Pedagogy

Read my first COVID pedagogy screed here 

There is an ugly impulse among college instructors to mistrust student excuses the last couple of weeks of the semester and make jokes about all the sick relatives and technology failures that students reference when they are asking for last-minute deadline extensions. This attitude has always bothered me, but it seems especially nasty in the wake of COVID. It is clear that students feel like they are are in over their heads when the end of the semester rolls around.

 It's easy for us to look back through hindsight's rose colored glasses and make snarky comments about time management or talk about how easy kids have it compared to us as child-rearing, pet-owning, bill-paying adults, but I think we have to remember ourselves as college students. Even though we know now that college is not really real life and that adulting is way more than remembering to wake up in time for class, when we were college kids, our problems felt real. Add to that the crushing weight of parental expectations (which are, I think, more crushing than they were for us since our parents weren't monitoring our digital grade books in middle school and high school and had, generationally, an attitude of benign neglect about our progress until we shared our transcripts with them if we shared our transcripts with them. Also, college was proportionately less expensive, so I bet it felt less high-stakes for gen x's parents, who were way more open, as an aggregate, to the idea of college as a path of self discovery. Today's parents want SKILLS that lead to GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT, and this is a lot of pressure to put on a kid who is still narrowing down their humanities major), and you can see why kids are stressed in December.

So, grant that extension. Excuse that kid from an assignment without questioning the veracity of their excuse. Even better, create a classroom environment where kids don't feel like they have to come up with an excuse at all or at least don't feel compelled to humble themselves with TMI to make us treat them like humans.

When we plan our next semesters, we need to make sure to spread our assignments out. If we are ending the term with a paper, we should scaffold it so that when the final deadline rolls around, students are just making revisions, not starting from scratch. Everyone appreciates a little break at the end of the semester, instructors included. I think part of the reason we get stressed about student stress is because a lag in them turning in work means a lag in us being able to grade the work, and then our pre-holiday cushion is gone and we have to do all of the things at once. The best way to head this off is to make sure we won't be waiting for a bunch of work at the very last minute. In the fall, I try to have the bulk of my assignments due before Thanksgiving, and in the Spring I use spring break as this benchmark. It has really helped the last-minute scramble on my end and on theirs.

(I saw some FB posts today that really rubbed m the wrong way, and instead of picking a fight with my friends, I decided to write about it here).

Happy semester's end, friends!

In the spirit of a rosier outlook on life, we went out last night with friends to the most Wisconsin bar to ever Wisconsin.

Only burgers and liverwurst sandwiches on the menu

PULL TABS. I could play the Pull Tab Amvet lottery all night long


Vintage bar decor

We were home before baby bedtime and full of good cheer

A brandy old fashioned sweet and Pull Tabs. Wisconsin forever.


  1. That cheese plate cracks me up!

    Very good points about teaching. I feel like there has been such a huge shift in perspective about how to "manage" students since I was a student (or an adjunct), and it seems like it's all for the better!

    Also, I admire your restraint in refraining from arguing with anyone and instead posting your thoughts here. Although clearly your viewpoint deserves to be shared!

    1. the cheese plate was a true delight.

  2. Hear hear. Especially the bit about not creating an environment in which students feel they have to lie. Since COVID I allow sooooo many extensions, always with clarity on what their options are and I’m always up front about what it means. “You can have this extension, but it means you won’t get my feedback until this date” or “you can have it but then you can’t do peer review” or whatever. Then I let them decide because guess what? Deciding is the most grownup thing they can practice doing! And YES on revisions at the end of the semester. Works better for everyone when I can do it that way. I can’t always, but in most of my classes, that’s the name of the game for sure.

    1. You're right that this format is not always possible-- or not possible without a major course overhaul that frankly no one gets paid for.

  3. Amen to all of this. So well written, Sarah!

    I've been working at a post-secondary for well over a decade and even in THAT time I notice huge shifts in terms of student mental health, the direct oversight of parents, etc. College today is NOT what it used to be like when I was in college. And I know that COVID really impacted the final years of high school for freshman, so they seem even more unsettled.

    I love this line:" generationally, an attitude of benign neglect about our progress until we shared our transcripts with them if we shared our transcripts with them."

    I remember watching a documentary about parents checking their kids accounts for grades and I was GOBSMACKED.

    Finally, I have never forgotten something I heard once when I was in university: you'll forgt 95% of what you learn...and 95% of what you need to know, you won't learn in a classroom. I'm not sure about the accuracy of those figures, but I do think that so much of what student gains from university has nothing to do with rote memorization and test-taking. They learn so many soft skills that are hugely advantageous for both future careers and life in general. And I think we miss the forest for the trees - putting all our eggs into the academic basket without aiming to make them well-rounded thinkers, who also gain tremendous amounts of common sense through learning to manage deadlines and interacting with professors/peers etc.

    1. I agree so much with what you are saying about the value of a university education. I think inflated costs have made this attitude not accessible for so many people, and it;s ruining the academic experience.

  4. Anonymous8:51 PM

    Yes. Agree. People are worn out by cumulative stress from the past few years. So many studies are saying mental health is at all time lows across many age groups and metrics. Best to give people rest, breaks, passes, and benefit of the doubt.

  5. I teach where you teach. I take the same approach you do - so THANK YOU for writing this. Thank you so much. I tell my students I trust them, I grant the extensions, I work with them to complete the assignments, and for goodness sakes, I don't question when they need to miss class. Why on earth would I do that when I don't want others doing that to me?
    Thank you, again.