The weeks after midterms are a depressing time of the year for teachers in the United States. Some teachers even have a name for it: DEVOLSON: Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November.
The beginning of the semester seems like a lifetime ago. The freshness and excitement of August and September have worn off a long time ago. Students are becoming more tired and apathetic. Winter is right around the corner and yet the end of the semester is nowhere in sight.
The time between Labor Day and Thanksgiving break is the longest stretch without a break in most schools’ calendars. It truly is a test of endurance. As the days drag on, sometimes you just want to curl up and shut the world out for a few days. Of course, for teachers, that’s not an option. We have to be leaders and drag students, sometimes kicking, sometimes screaming, through the remaining classes of the semester.
Teachers can do a few things to help them make it through and come out on the other end less frazzled, if not all rosy. Here’s how I get through these most difficult months.
1. Stay Healthy
The longest stretch of class coincides with the time of the year when everyone is getting sick. And teachers know that (depending on where you work) calling in sick, staying home, and coordinating substitutes and lesson plans is usually more work than just showing up with a runny nose and a headache. It sucks, but it’s life. The best thing to do is avoid getting sick at all. Easier said than done, of course, but here are a few ideas.
Keep eating healthy. Even though you might be tired after yet another long day, make a salad or cook something at home rather than going out for McDonalds. Eating bad food for too many days in a row will take its toll.
Keep exercising. Even when it’s cold, get your butt to the gym or do something at home. It’s easy to stagnate when fall and winter come, but exercise is key for your immunity and overall well-being.
Avoid germs. Wash your hands as much as you can. If a student drops a snotty tissue on the ground, don’t pick it up. If you’re eating a sandwich at your desk, wash your dirty hands before picking it up and putting it in your mouth. In fact, once that sandwich is done, get out of your office and get some fresh, crisp autumn air.
(For more teacher health tips, check out Simple K12)
2. Keep Your Energy Up
Working out is great for your immune system, but it’s even better for your mood. That release of endorphins can get you through the darkest, coldest, busiest November school days. I always find that when I skip my workouts for too long, I gradually become more lethargic.
On the other side of the coin, don’t neglect sleep. Most people find that they have no problem sleeping when the sun starts setting earlier and the nights get longer. But teachers are a quirky breed. If you’re one of those crazy perfectionists who occasionally stays at the office until after Starbucks closes, you’re not helping anybody. Your students appreciate a teacher who has had a full night of sleep and you owe it to yourself to get one.
3. Plan Ahead
I use a retrospective syllabus to keep track of what I’ve done in classes and also plan out what I’m going to do in the coming days. After midterms (usually mid-October), I look at my retrospective syllabus to see when Thanksgiving break is and when my major assessments will be. From there, I fill in the remaining units and/or assignments that I know about. I don’t plan out every day until the end of the semester, but I fill in whatever gaps I can at that time.
If you use a similar tool, or even something as simple as a semester calendar, taking a look at it again in October or November is very mentally beneficial.
When we are able to see something on a piece of paper, it suddenly becomes less scary. This is why some people find keeping a journal so helpful. Or why to-do lists make our busy brains calmer. In the same way, it’s easy to get lost in the dark during this time of the year. Day after day after day with no end in sight can be demotivating. But your brain will appreciate being able to see on paper when your tests are, what units are coming up, and how many more days separate you from that magical day of turkey and time off.
4. Stay Positive
October and November are when students (and teachers) become complacent. They’ve figured you out. They’ve figured the textbook out. They’ve figured this whole class out. And it’s easy for teacher to feel the same way, like there’s so much time left, but so little left to do.
Or, alternatively, it might seem like there’s a mountain of student learning objectives to hit and only few weeks left to climb it.
Either way, focus on how much more your students are going to learn. Say: OK, yes. We have to be in class for two more months. But think of what we can accomplish in two months.
Keep stressing purpose and meaning of your lessons to your students. Let them know why you’re learning certain subjects. Instead of thinking, “another day, another dollar…” think about how much value you can bring to your students everyday.
5. Break it up
The best way to get through monotony is to break it up. Between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, there are no breaks, so you’ve got to take matters into your own hands.
Take breaks between classes. Even if it’s cold, bundle up and get some fresh air outside. Staying on your computer and clicking between Facebook and that worksheet on Microsoft Word doesn’t count as a break. Go on a walk with a colleague, grab a cup of coffee, or read a book for ten minutes. Your mind will be slightly refreshed and you’ll stave off that burnout a little longer (you only have to last til that fourth Thursday in November).
You can take breaks in your classes too. By that I mean breaking up the monotony of your class routine. My writing classes are usually pretty sick of thesis statements and topic sentences by the time Halloween rolls around, so I take a day to do something completely different and ask them to write scary stories. In my listening class, the book topics are getting stale, so we’re going to watch parts of the presidential debates (your students might not find them as interesting as mine, but it works for us). If you’re in charge of your own destiny as a teacher and get to decide what to do in class, it doesn’t always hurt to take one day to do something that’s not exactly in the course objectives.
We can do it everybody. Like I said earlier, it’s easier to cope with something when you can see it for what it is. Recognize that it’s not your fault you’re feeling this way; it’s just the worst time of the year for us. Keep forging ahead. We’re gonna make it.
Thanks for reading.
If you want to read more tips on how to defeat DEVOLSON, this is an excellent post too: