The antidote to midterm grade stress

Midterms (and the stress of impending midterm grades) are a time when students tend to feel anxious. Maybe they make some not-so-great choices about food, or don’t get enough sleep, which doesn’t help your Deac’s mood, or how they feel. All of this, I might add, on top of the everpresent worry about COVID and the strangeness of the days we are living in right now. It can be a recipe for a fretful student.

With grades specifically, students’ worries tend to fall within a number of common themes:

What will my family/loved ones’ reactions be to a bad grade (or a bad overall semester)?  

What if I don’t pass this class?

What if this one grade tanks my GPA?

What if this means I can’t get into the business school/med school/law school etc.?

And – by extension – what if this means my *whole life* is going to be messed up?!?!?!?!?

As adults, you and I both know that there are very few things in the world that have irrevocable consequences. You can get a bad grade (or two), have a bad semester (fail out even!) and still go on to recover and turn things around and live a really great life. Your students might not realize that because they haven’t been through it.

If you think your student might be tipping over into this Worry Territory, you can help by bringing some perspective into the situation. This is not to suggest that you downplay their worries or tell them “you don’t know what worrying IS! Wait till you have to worry about [insert dreaded thing here, layoffs or cancer or money woes, etc.]” Rather, you can acknowledge their stress AND help put it into perspective, using phrases like:

I know you are worried about this grade. I also want to be sure you know we love you unconditionally.

I have been in a similar situation where it seemed like things were really bad.  Here’s how I turned it around…

Did I ever tell you I failed at X? It was hard, but I got through it.  Here is what I learned…

I can see that you seem really worried about your class in X.  I want to assure you that one grade/one semester will not determine your future.  

You get the idea.  

You can also encourage your student to celebrate their successes – and surely there have been many this semester.  Your students have adjusted to life during a pandemic, which is an enormous accomplishment in and of itself. In school terms, they have plowed through large textbooks, learned foreign languages, read great works of literature or studied art or dance, got involved in extracurriculars, etc. They probably had moments where they struggled, but grew from that. They probably had to wrestle with decisions – on small things or big – and had to ask themselves questions about their ethics, or how to make the choices that felt right to them. They hopefully learned more about themselves as well as other people.

Your students are evolving into Who They Will Be When They Grow Up. That’s something that is hard to measure or quantify, but is critically important nonetheless. While grades matter of course, help them see that the growth they are experiencing in all areas of their lives is key to their adult development. And they ought to give themselves a pat on the back for everything they have worked through this semester.

Help them remember that college is about the process of learning – maybe even more than about the outcome of a particular grade. And always remind them of your unconditional love for them – especially when they are stressed. That can be the best medicine of all.

Categories: the daily deac

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