I work in adult education so both my students and I can relate to the joy and craziness of the holiday season. Many of my students are working parents taking courses part time to get their degree. We can all celebrate and commiserate during this very busy month.
We can also relate to each other’s workloads: they are cramming to finish final papers and projects and study for their final exams. I am frantically grading papers in order to submit my final grades on time. However, we all have the same carrot dangling above our heads: Holiday Break.
We can all probably agree that December may be the most difficult month to be productive at work/school. Our schedules are crammed pack with holiday parties and get-togethers. If you have children, every weekend seems to hold some winter wonderland activity, not to mention the Christmas programs and concerts at schools and churches.
Then there are Christmas gifts: figuring out what to get everyone, actually shopping for it, and of course managing your December budget with all of these additional purchases. Adults are completely distracted and overwhelmed by all of the Christmas cheer. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Christmas, and I am sad that all of this joy and excitement is shoved into only one month. However, I am also realistic about the toll this month takes on not only myself but my students and coworkers as well.
As the title insinuates, there are teachable moments to have with your students: stress management, time management, and goal orientation.
Students are feeling overwhelmed at end of the semester: projects, papers, and final exams. When you add the additional stress of the holiday season, many of them are not taking care of themselves. Maybe send out an email or have a brief discussion about stress management techniques that they can utilize, such as exercise, getting enough rest, talking about their feelings, coloring (I have even given out printouts from adult coloring books- very therapeutic!), listening to music, etc.
If there is ever a time in the year that we all need to get a handle on our time management skills, it is probably December. When students come to you saying there is too much to do and not enough time to do it, offer to help them find and make time for all of their commitments. This busy time in our lives lends itself to an opportunity to review with students prioritizing and scheduling. We can’t assume that all adults (young, middle-aged, or older) know how to effectively schedule their time. You can spend time in class going through this with students or ask students you know are struggling to meet with you individually and help them by having them do the following:
- Write out a list of everything they need to get done and include a due date/deadline for each task. Then take a calendar or use the calendar in the student’s cell phone, mark off all days and times that are already committed to the class, work, commute, etc.
- Then begin to fill in the free blocks of time with the tasks the student needs to complete.
- You will probably hear things like, “Well I can’t study then, my kids are up and they will distract me” or “I don’t know if I can finish the paper in the two hours we wrote down, what do I do if I don’t finish before I go to work?.”
- This is another opportunity to help students problem solve as well. Explain to them that it is okay to ask others for help when you’re feeling overwhelmed. If they know they need to study a lot in the next week or have a big paper or project to work on, they may need to ask someone to help with childcare so they can focus and get their work done.
- Ideally, the student will feel less overwhelmed and more empowered after seeing the schedule because there will be a plan for the student to complete everything. However, some students that are not accustomed to planning so much of their time and typically resist rigid schedules may still feel frustrated; for those, the third teachable moment is especially pertinent: goal orientation.
Our society has developed the bad habit of instant gratification, and unfortunately, this has seeped into our personal lives and goals. I have encountered many students that have never successfully completed a long-term goal that they set for themselves. For example, many of my students have a track record of start, stop, start, stop with their college education. There are many factors that contribute to this pattern (finances, transportation, housing, medical issues, family troubles, etc.), but nevertheless, the pattern has been repeating itself.
These students need to be reminded that a long term goal takes time, dedication, and perseverance in order to achieve it. Not all of our students are fortunate enough to have been raised in households where others are setting and achieving long-term goals, so for many, this is something they have never really done before.
As I mentioned at the beginning, there is a significant carrot for college students and professors in December: holiday break. We are rewarded with significant time off to rest, relax and regroup after the end of a semester. So we need to keep our students motivated and working hard until the end. I have seen too many students throw in the towel at this point in the month. Teaching students not to give up when things get hard is a tough lesson. Many students give up repeatedly, and it is not until they are older, and often regretful, that they realize the errors of their ways.
We can’t save them all, but we can certainly be cognizant of this and use this time of Christmas cheer to be extra encouraging and chisel a little time in our teaching schedules to discuss these important lessons with our students.