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For Teachers: Self-Care Activities as the Semester Ends

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The fall 2018 semester is coming to an end. I have one more week of teaching left before the final exam period. As I don’t meet with my students during finals week, I have one more week of campus activities to complete and then a week of grading final projects and miscellaneous activities. November’s shift into December tends to be an extremely stressful time for teachers, especially college instructors whose courses are coming to an end. January is a time to start fresh with new students and new or revised lesson plans. But, we’re not there yet. In today’s post, I’d like to share a few self-care activities specifically for teachers that are wrapping up their classes in preparation for winter break.

Note: There are plenty of general self-care activities I could include in this list. Eating healthy, drinking lots of water, exercising, sleeping at least 8 hours a night, etc. are all good habits to have, especially during high-stress times of the year. But, these types of activities are beneficial for anyone who wants to live a healthier lifestyle. In this post, I want to focus on listing (pun intended) a few self-care activities that teachers shouldn’t overlook as the semester ends.

In this post, I focus on listing a few self-care activities that teachers shouldn’t overlook as the semester ends. Click To Tweet

Self-Care Prep

Create a list of quick, pick-me-up activities that you can easily do during these next 2-3 weeks. 

What do you enjoy doing when you only have 5, 10, 15, 30 minutes free? Create a list of these activities (I’d organize them by time requirements) and put it somewhere that you’ll come across on a daily basis. Your desk, computer, and phone are probably three of the top locations for this list. Here are a few activity ideas, for anyone who’s already too overwhelmed to think up your own: walk your dog, watch a YouTube video, call a friend, meditate, journal, doodle, listen to a podcast episode, make a small snack you love. Add as many fun or relaxing activities as you can. Bonus: Include a few longer activities that you can use as rewards for when you finish larger projects/goals, like watching a movie or going out with a friend or partner.

Follow-Up Task: Do one of these activities daily after completing your daily goals and big picture goals.

Yes, daily. Waiting until you finish all your goals or just your big ones can make the days feel like they are dragging along. By celebrating big and small accomplishments with these activities, you can motivate yourself to push forward. It’s up to you to decide how many of these activities you do a day, of course. Perhaps you’ll complete a 5-minute self-care activity each time you accomplish a small goal. Or, perhaps you’ll set three goals for a given day and celebrate with a 30-minute activity once all the goals are completed. Experiment and find out what works best for you.

Once this list is complete, you’re ready to put the following self-care actions into place.

Grading Life

Create a master list of everything you need to grade.

Organize this list by class, by section number, by project size, by the amount of time the items will take to grade, or by some other category. Or, you can just brainstorm everything you need to grade in no particular order. You can do both, too: brainstorm then organize. Just make sure you list everything left to grade in one place (1 notebook or 1 app), so nothing is overlooked later on. Once you have your list, you can stop double and triple-checking your teaching journal and LMS class website for what’s left to grade. [Or maybe that’s just my own idiosyncratic behavior?]

Follow-Up Task: Create a grading routine or schedule.

Of course, once you have your master list, the next step is actually grading everything. I suggest creating a grading routine or schedule so you know exactly what times you expect yourself to be on the clock. Are mornings, afternoons, or evenings your optimal times to grade? Perhaps you’d rather schedule grading specific items on specific days, instead. Whatever works best for you, write or type out your routine/schedule for the next 2-3 weeks. For efficiency, keep this information in the same place as your list.

Personally, I tend to plan my grading by the number, rather than by time. For example, I plan on grading 5 papers a day starting tomorrow for my ENG 170 class, so that I’ll have them all graded by the time my students take their final exam next Thursday. It might take me 1 hour to grade tomorrow’s five papers and 2 hours to grade Saturday’s. That doesn’t matter to my personal approach to creating a grading routine, but you might feel differently about the importance of designating a certain amount of time per day.

Just make a (reasonable) plan and stick to it. Consider your grade submission deadline and the amount of items left to grade. Start from the deadline and plan backwards to today’s date. Remember, you’ll have some fun/relaxing self-care activities ready to go once you finish your daily grading goals!

In my opinion, though, planning out your end-of-semester will help you see just how much time you do and do not have to spend on non-academic activities in the next few weeks. Click To Tweet

Research/Service/Student Life

Create a master list of other semester projects.

As a graduate student teaching assistant (GTA), grading is not my only major responsibility as the semester ends. I’m no longer completing coursework, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have student responsibilities left to complete. So, making a list of other projects tied to the semester is imperative. I have a couple writing deadlines to meet in the next few weeks. Perhaps you have papers to write, CFP ads to respond to, reviews or articles to submit, students to meet with, etc. Make a list (brainstorm -> organized) of these projects, preferably in the same notebook/app as your grading master list.

Follow-Up Task: Create a plan to accomplish these projects before year’s end.

Just like with your grading, create a plan to accomplish your other projects. Are certain projects due before your grades and some after? Plan accordingly. Can you delegate any tasks related to these projects? Do it. Are any tasks you’ve listed for certain projects unnecessary to the successful completion of the project? Cross them off the list. Having a plan for these tasks is like having an outline for a writing project. You might not think you need one or you think creating one will use up time needed on the actual projects. In my opinion, though, planning out your end-of-semester will help you see just how much time you do and do not have to spend on non-academic activities in the next few weeks.

Home Life

Create a list of home tasks to complete.

As a grad student, I go home for winter break. Florida > Illinois. Before I leave for three weeks, though, I need to clean my house. Over the semester, I accumulate so many library books, papers, snack containers, pens, and other items on top of basically every flat surface of my house. Plus, I can’t forget dirty laundry, dust, and other unwanted debris. So, in preparation for winter break, I create a task list of things that need to be done around the house before I can go off and enjoy a warm break before winter really hits.

Note: I also create a list of book chapters/sections I want to scan before I leave for break. That way, I don’t have to travel home with so many books, but I can still work on my academic writing at home.

Follow-Up Task: Set up a schedule to complete them.

I think you see the pattern here, so I won’t go through this again in detail. Basically, don’t just make a list of things to do. Make a plan to complete the tasks and reward yourself with self-care activities. For me, creating these lists and plans are self-care in-and-of themselves. Having it all written down and ready to be crossed off calms my end of the semester panic. But, adding in some YouTube, crafting, or smoothies as mini self-care rewards really helps propel me forward.

Social Life

Plan an end-of-semester social activity with your fellow teacher friends.
Follow-Up Task: Celebrate semester’s end once grades are submitted and your break officially begins.

To be totally frank, I won’t be completing this follow-up activity myself. But, that’s because I leave for Florida before the grading submission deadline. I already have plans though to meet up with a couple friends next week for a couple meals, and I’m sure at least one or two more small social events will pop up before I leave for the break. No one knows how stressful this time of the year is better than your fellow teachers (and grad students, in my case). Make plans to get together with them as a way to celebrate completing your final semester tasks. It’ll be something larger to look forward to in addition to your smaller self-care activities.

Final Thoughts

You might not be a list maker at any other point of the year (though really, as teachers and/or grad students, I find that possibility hard to believe). But, as every semester comes to an end, I think creating these lists is a great self-care habit to attempt. And wrapping up a semester with colleagues and friends is a great way to transition to holiday festivities and fun. Or, perhaps, it’s one last social event before you spend the break making time for “me, myself, and I.”

Comment Below: Teachers/Instructors/Professors, what other self-care activities do you recommend as the semester comes to an end?

>>If you’re interested in using some ready-made list templates, I’ve created a PDF for those on my email list. You can subscribe here! You’ll receive access to all my blog-related PDFs and will also receive an email every time a new blog post goes live. <<

As the semester draws to a close, here are some activities to consider when feeling overwhelmed or burned out. Creating these routines can help make sure your self-care practices are not forgotten during this high stress time. #education #selfcare


  1. Melanie Morphyades

    Good points! I like the idea of setting grading number goals instead of time.

    • Erika Romero

      It helps me so much! I find the pomodoro method really helpful when writing (and cleaning). But, for grading, I find the number system more motivating. I hope this goal setting approach works for you!

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