Supporting Students

It’s finals week at MSU, and like any other university, that is a time of high-stakes and high stress. Students (and faculty) are often eagerly awaiting a small break, but challenged to give one last strong push before “freedom”.  Given that I’m in that weird stage of graduate student, where we often wear the hat of both instructor and student, I thought I’d put together a list of ways colleagues and I have found to support students that mean something to them, and will help you as an instructor survive the onslaught of multiple stressors.

  • Be prepared in your own class. Make sure students know what to expect from your assessments and try to avoid making corrections/updates during finals week. If you must amend/clarify something, send both an email and post the notice to the campus learning platform (ANGEL, D2L, etc.).
  • Attend your office hours mindfully. If a student has a concern, look at them (not the avalanche of emails in your inbox) and show you’re actively listening. If you are concerned the student is on the wrong track or may be confused, ask them to elaborate and explain their ideas. If there is a hang-up, point this out to the student and give them a way to correct it as quick and as accurately as possible. They are likely juggling several exams at once and may give up if things seem too daunting.
  • Do a check to be sure that the students who seek your help are getting it. Note if you are constantly or more thoroughly responding to the concerns of just a few students, and try to distribute your efforts. Try to divide up office hours or hold group office hour/independent review sessions if multiple students have the same concerns. Post common questions to the course platform, and consider offering a review sheet to limit the number of emails/office hours necessary to address common issues.
  • Do a check to be sure students who normally check in haven’t checked out. On more than one occasion I have had students “blow” their final grade because they thought they were secure in the points they earned. These students didn’t consult the project rubrics/perform as they did on average on the final assessment, thus they over-estimated their scores, and unfortunately fell short. That stinks. Reiterate the value of these last assignments/exams, and if an otherwise-ok student begins to flounder, check in with them.
  • Refer students to campus resources: Tons of de-stressing options go on around campus, especially during finals. Exercise at the campus gym, visits to counseling centers, and getting on a regular schedule with a healthy diet can all promote decreased stress.
  • Understand students are stressed and frazzled, and likely so are you. Take care of yourself and remember that emails may not come across well, as might conversations and other interactions. Try to stay productive and positive during this time.

This is by no means a complete list. What ways have you supported students, or been supported yourself? Tweet to @choosy_female and if you’re comfortable, give a public shout-out to those who helped make finals, or academia in general, just a little bit less stressful.

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