Sunday, September 29, 2013

Dealing with Stressors

For the past two weeks, I've been dealing with a couple of specific stressors; one is a recurring cause of stress (more on that later), and the other was (I hope) a one-time event.

The first event that caused me considerable stress was one I thought I was prepared for. A person (non-relative, non-friend) entered my life for just two weeks. To be fair to that person, I won't share details other than to say that their brief "stay" threw all of my personal routines off kilter and made my home less "mine".

The second stress-inducer was different in a couple of ways. First, it was work-related; second, it occurs at least once every semester. As part of the course I teach, students submit a finished piece of writing approximately 6 times throughout the semester. As part of preparing those 6 texts, they prewrite and submit outlines; I provide feedback on those outlines so students can then write a rough draft of their paper. Responding to the outlines is fairly simple; responding to their rough drafts (so they can make the necessary revisions i.e. create further drafts and, eventually, a final draft) and conferencing with students on those rough drafts can be immensely stressful.

Each semester, each class, each paper is different, but the first go-round or two is typically the most difficult for a myriad of reasons. I know that, I mentally prepare for that, and yet each semester I'm thrown for the proverbial loop when I arrive at this point in the semester.

This semester when it was time to respond and return their first rough drafts and conference with students, I did what I have done almost every semester since I began teaching at this level. I hunkered down.

That -- "hunker down" -- is my term for how I tend to handle stress. It's a half-way point between the two extremes of "fight" and "flight". I don't run away, although I often wish I could. In fact, last week during a conference with a student who stated quite casually that Los Angeles and Washington, DC are states, I briefly considered excusing myself, grabbing my purse, walking out of the office, and driving to North Carolina to sit on the beach. But I kept my face blank, explained gently that the two places are cities, and continued the conference.

I also don't fight, but I do irritate and sometimes even anger students when I persist in doing what is best for them -- help them find errors, ask them to consider what we've covered in class so they can understand  why they are errors, and draw out from them how they can/should correct those errors.

The hunkering down process is quite simple. I focus the bulk of my attention, time, and energies to doing whatever I need to do to survive the stressful task (in this case, working through the rough draft stage of the assignment). When I get home in the evening, I have no remaining mental or emotional energy for much of anything, so I perform mindless, soothing tasks such as knitting, re-reading a favorite book, or watching sports on television, and I consume easily-prepared foods I find comforting. I would share what they are, but the nutrition-police would surely arrest me.

Each semester, once that stressful week (whether the process has to be repeated a second, or even a third, time depends on the class) has passed, I get back into my routine. And each semester, I promise myself that I won't do that again, that I won't allow my job to derail me to that extent.

I realize that my method for dealing with a stressful period in my life may not be the healthiest, but it's what I've got, and it's worked fairly well up to now. But I've decided "fairly well" isn't good enough. This time through, I kept a log of what was happening, how it made me feel, how I responded, and the effect of my response. I think Dr. Sheldon Cooper ("The Big Bang Theory") has rubbed off on me! Once a few weeks have passed and I have some perspective, I plan to look over these notes and see if I can come up with some strategies for heading off the entire situation to begin with.

Hopefully, I will have a few new strategies to employ next semester. I'll give them a try and let you know how things worked out.

On a more light-hearted, fun note, I'm excited that "my" beloved St. Louis Cardinals clinched the National League Central Division title Friday night with a win over our arch-rival Chicago Cubs. It was a great game, and I was there!! If you're a baseball fan -- I hope you, too, are enjoying this part of the season and that "your" team is heading to the play-offs as well.

1 comment:

  1. Good point about how to handle points re: drafts, conferences, etc. What I've found is that no matter what "system" I use, the students catch on pretty quick and work to get points as opposed to gain knowledge and improve. As a result, I follow the same basic process every time, giving the students the same basic assignment (use the writing process to produce a piece of text), BUT I change up how conferencing is done and how points are assessed along the way with each of the 7 or 8 major assignments. That way, they keep practicing the process, but because they don't know what is going to be graded or how/when that's going to happen, they will need to do everything as assigned or risk losing points. Sneaky? Yes, but it works better than anything else I've tried. :)