Revving Up for the New Academic Year

10 Sep 2021 12:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Dear STP ECP Committee,

After nearly a year and a half of living through a pandemic, I am emotionally exhausted and have been experiencing major compassion fatigue. I have also been on summer vacation for the last three months and, as a result, I feel “out of the game” and mentally unprepared to start a new academic year. I would love to know what each of you do to get ready (physically, mentally) for a new academic year. 

Please inform,

Needing a Break Before Even Getting Started

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Dear Needing a Break Before Even Getting Started,

Wow, we all resonate completely with your question! The last year and a half asked a great deal of us as teachers: to change our typical ways of living, to be flexible in the classroom and outside it, to be patient with our students and ourselves, and to show compassion to everyone else who is having to deal with similar sorts of challenges. While we are grateful to have had the summer to decompress, summers can also be a double-edged sword. Like you, it can be all too easy to lose your typical work mindset, which can make returning to even small tasks feel overwhelming. For others, summer becomes a time of even more work—a time to catch up on everything that was delayed by the busyness of the academic year. Despite having had a very different kind of summer, these people will typically also feel burnt out and overwhelmed by the prospect of a new academic year. Whatever your situation, your ECP Committee is here to help with a variety of ideas for how you can get your head in the game for a new academic year! 

Molly: Honestly, I’m not ready, and I’m not sure what it would take to feel “ready” right now. I’m also stubbornly opposed to any messaging about getting “back to normal,” so I might just be reactive to anything that even hints of that! In an effort to try to get myself even a tiny bit closer to that mystical “readiness,” whatever that means, I’ve been doing everything I can to control my environment and reduce discomfort and uncertainty in the ways I can. Recently, this has meant buying new pants, since my jersey-knit joggers just won’t cut it for in person classes, and researching and purchasing a wide selection of N95/KN94 masks and mask brackets to make public speaking as comfortable and audible as possible (just search “mask” in the STP FB group for lots of suggestions). I’ve also been continuing to work on my self-compassion (with the help of this handy workbook: The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook). It’s a useful skill in the best of times, but I just know we have more months ahead of uncertainty, suboptimal choices, and unclear guidance. I try to regularly remind myself (and anyone who will listen to me) that we can only do what we can do with the information and resources we have at a given time, and that we can’t self-care (or tell others to self-care) our way out of structural problems. Hang in there, friends.

Daniel: What a wonderful and appropriate question! I have two suggestions for how to get yourself mentally prepared for the admittedly daunting task of starting a new academic year. First, I would suggest trying to find ways to motivate yourself, for example by remembering why you care about the work you are doing in the first place. For example, I like to keep a digital folder that contains pdfs of encouraging student emails and pictures of notes and cards that students have given me over the last few years. I find it so encouraging to read about how students were positively impacted by my teaching and about what they planned to do with the information and skills they learned in my courses. For me, this simple practice shifts my mindset from being all about the tedious tasks that need to be completed for the new academic year to why engaging in this work is worth it to begin with. My second suggestion is to start small. It can be easy to get overwhelmed when staring at a big project or a new course prep that you have not yet started. Break those large tasks into small ones and knock them out one by one. Relatedly, try to follow the 2-Minute Rule: If something can be done in 2 minutes or less, get it off your mind by just doing it now! 

Janet: I don’t know that I have any great advice for you. Instead, I’ll just share my experience and maybe that will help (or, at a minimum, offer solidarity).For me, getting back into the rhythm of the semester has been challenging. To prepare, I created four columns and listed out all my service obligations, current research projects, duties as director of instructional excellence, and teaching tasks for the coming year. I then went through each column and prioritized the tasks — which tasks are CRITICAL?  Which have the biggest benefits for myself, my students, and the faculty with which I work? Based on this process, I am trying to let go of the lower priority tasks; to give myself permission to say no or to keep my contributions reasonable. I don’t know yet if this has helped, but I’m trying. 

Courtney: I can totally relate to this. Summer was simply not enough time to fully recoup from a year plus of pandemic teaching and with COVID numbers not looking great, it is setting us up for another year of uncertainty. For me, I’m trying to remind myself that both my students and I need that sense of connection this year more than ever! I’ll be teaching primarily in-person and am hoping that in-person discussions and activities will bring some renewed energy and excitement to students (many of whom have never been on campus before!). Thinking of helping the students reconnect with each other and the campus helps me to get motivated to make the upcoming semester a great one. In terms of preparing for all of the logistical tasks that come with a new semester, I’m making use of my Google calendar to assign myself specific tasks on various days. Carving out time for everything I need to do helps to reduce my stress (because I know there is a plan to get everything done) and also lets me enjoy any free time I have without so much worry that I should be working! Finally, I always enjoy keeping tabs on the STP Facebook page. Sometimes I get new last minute ideas for activities, projects, or classroom techniques that get me really excited about starting the new semester. Other times, I take in advice from others facing similar struggles or challenges. Either way, it’s nice to feel connected to other educators as we all begin a new academic year together.

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Your STP Early Career Psychologists Committee

Albee Mendoza, Ph.D.

Courtney Gosnell, Ph.D.

Karenna Malavanti, Ph.D.

Molly Metz, Ph.D.

Janet Peters, Ph.D.

Daniel Storage, Ph.D. 

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