October 1, 2011
Giving when it hurts
ASP'ers are a caring group. They are often the ones students turn to in their darkest moments. It is not unusual for us to be privy to students' struggles and hardships outside the classroom.
Students tell us about illnesses in their families, scary medical diagnoses, deaths of friends, personal embarrassments, relationship problems, disappointments, and more. They need someone who will encourage them, support them, listen, and make referrals where appropriate. At the end of a day with 8 or 9 appointments, at least 2 of those typically are more than just a discussion about academic issues.
But what about when we have had a personal tragedy, illness, family issue, or other unexpected speed bump in our own lives? How do we keep caring when it hurts inside? We need to remember that we need solace as well. We need to put on our "brave face" and do our jobs, but need to take care of ourselves.
So here are some tips to help you focus on your students even when you are feeling depleted, tired, emotionally wrought, and distracted by your life outside the walls of the law school:
- Take some personal time off if possible. Even a long weekend can make a difference in your ability to focus. Give yourself lots of rest, permission to do nothing, and access to emotional or medical support. Talk to trusted family or friends to get support.
- Prioritize your work. What must get done? What can be put off for a few days or weeks? What can be forgotten about for this semester and added to the "do next semester" list?Do not try to soldier on when you do not have the strength temporarily to be "Super-ASP'er."
- Just say "no" or "not right now" to new projects if you do not have the stamina or concentration to do them well. Realize that this is probably not the time to chair a new committee, agree to design a new web site, or implement a new program.
- Balance your day. Give yourself at least one block of project time so that you can focus without interruptions. Decide how many one-on-one appointments you can do without being emotionally drained. Schedule appointments so that purely academic assistance is mixed with students whom you know need emotional support so that you do not become exhausted with the need to be "giving" when you really need to protect yourself emotionally.
- Stay patient with your students. Some law students become overwrought about things that those of us with more life experience know are not crises. They see add/drop period and course decisions as earth-shattering. They feel outraged when a professor leaves them to struggle with processing a sub-topic instead of spoon-feeding them. They are devastated by their first low grade in 16 or more years of education.
- Tell some trusted colleagues what is going on. Your boss may need to know so that you can re-negotiate project deadlines, agree to some days off, or explain some changes you have made in priorities. A few colleagues who can task share or just be supportive will be a plus.
- Follow our own advice to students. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Go to the doctor. Get help from a religious leader, professional counselor, or others if needed.
- Realize some students may notice something is wrong. Some of us are able to look stunningly pulled together even on stressful days and through personal crises. However, most of us look at least somewhat haggard, tired, and stressed - just like we feel. We can still smile, appear superficially cheerful, and pretend to be energetic. However, a few students who work with us a lot are likely to realize that something is wrong. If asked, beg off with "a bad night's sleep," "busy and a little distracted," or "a touch of a bug."
ASP'ers are folks with big hearts for their students. Life hurts sometimes. Be there for your students, but take care of yourself when you need to do so. (Amy Jarmon)
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