Dealing with Mid-Semester Stress

By Darrell Fontane

“That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something
you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.”
- Doris Lessing

Entering the semester with a high level of enthusiasm and energy is one thing, sustaining it quite another. Fact is—it’s not uncommon for mid-semester stress to take the wind right out of the old teaching sails.

Contributing factors range far and wide: from sloppy homework assignments being handed in to poor classroom participation, from less-than-expected student writing skills to lower than expected grades, and simply falling short of the course materials you’d planned to cover. Any number of factors can be added to the list.

An undated, anonymously-authored article titled REENERGIZE—found on the Honolulu Community College Faculty Development Web site—points a finger at a common cause (para. 7).

“First, consider that a likely cause of mid-course letdown is a slow change of the thought focus from achievement to deficiency. Each time reality doesn’t measure up to an envisioned ideal, emotional energy is drained, self-esteem is lowered and feelings of being in control are diminished. The result is instructor burnout.”

So, how do you deal with these mid-semester blues? The same article suggests a strategy based on the following acronym:

REFOCUS: Recognize—Empower—Focus—Objectives—Commit—Unburden—Surprise

To summarize, here’s a brief description of each element. To read the entire article online, which I highly recommend, click REENERGIZE.

First, recognize the accomplishments you do make—list all the things that went right as you approached the mid-semester mark. It’ll make a handy reference tool for future planning. In addition, acknowledge the accomplishments of your students, particularly those that did really well in the face of demanding schedules or extraordinary circumstances.

Second, empower both yourself and your students. Make a list of those teacher traits at which you particularly excel and focus on using and improving them. Help your students realize how much they have learned by the mid-semester point as well. Use positive motivational strategies to encourage them for the rest of the term. The past can’t be changed, so there’s not a lot to be gained by focusing in any other direction than forward.

Third, focus on the material you intend to cover in the second-half of the semester. Reorganize the course based upon where you stand at the mid-point. Determine what to concentrate your efforts upon by what material has already been covered and what absolutely must be covered by the end of the semester and adjust your teaching plan accordingly.

Fourth, create a list of specific course learning objectives or targets for the rest of the semester. These should describe the required increase in performance levels your students need to achieve in order to advance.

Fifth, commit to achieving these specific learning objectives. Equally important, get your students to reorganize and recommit to the class goals as well. Remind them that, in reality, achieving short-term goals generally has long-term payoffs.

Sixth, unburden yourself from unrealistic expectations. Except the fact that you’re not perfect, neither are your students and, in all likelihood, not everything is going to turn out exactly as planned. Nothing ever goes perfectly! Do the best you can, convey to your students that learning is a joint venture in which you are both participating, and enjoy teaching for its own sake. Your attitude will have a huge impact on the attitude of your students.

Seventh, surprise your students by adding some variety to the course. Tell some stories or play the crisis game every once in a while. A well chosen story can be a powerful learning tool—and the crisis game, played by simulating a crisis situation (say an impending dam or bridge failure for an engineering class), divides a class into problem-solving groups in which contingency plans can be developed based upon the group’s collective knowledge.

To recap then, mid-semester is a time to RELAX, REFOCUS, REENERGIZE and REALIZE that the semester is half-over!


Reenergize. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from the Honolulu Community College Faculty Development Website: FacDevCom/guidebk/teachtip/energize.htm