Beware, you’ve just crossed over into the twilight zone

4th May 2018 at 00:00
Weirdness abounds in the build-up to exams, so it’s worth trying to understand how people react to pressure – and to avoid being too judgy

It’s getting to that time again. We’re coming to the crunch and feeling the squeeze. The number of lessons left are ticking down and time seems to be speeding up. Exam season – in all its terrifying glory – is gearing up and preparing to invade.

It’s a time of year in colleges when the pressure is almost palpable. And this pressure can often manifest itself in different ways (not all of them massively positive). Office-based arguments increase; students, often under the influence of panic or feigned indifference, start to act like utter members; and an off-key word or phrase in an email is enough to have staff clamouring for the head of the nearest senior manager.

These are understandable symptoms of a greater anxiety about the future of those we teach, as well as our own status and security; the investment in hours, effort and soul has been laid out – and the return (if any) for that will soon be seen.

It’s a brittle time. Staff and learners alike have such a weight to shoulder that it takes a weaker tap than usual to break us and watch us crumble. So, what can be done to avoid walking into work and stepping over countless piles of dust, where happy college-going folk once stood?

Simply being aware and sensitive to the situation is a good start. Accept that there are going to be some slight rule changes due to the twilight zone of exam run-up. Some constants will be less constant, some personalities will take on a few ticks, and some arsery will be encountered.

If you’re ready for this, are understanding and even forgiving of it, it might keep your own blood pressure down. I’m not saying let everything slide – exam pressure is no excuse for anyone to go around giving it the A-class douchebag routine. But isolated incidents that could be put down to the time of the season should be let to slide, and then just forgotten about. Normal service will resume shortly, and you’ve got too much on, after all.

This applies both in and out of the classroom. You will then be able to handle the weirdness when Brandon in Group 3 demands that you tell him the way to this thing he’s heard rumours of, called a “library”, while chewing his nails down to the nub and grinning manically. Or when Jess, tutor of sports science, is so wrapped up in getting a set of practice papers printed off that she loses all peripheral vision and bowls you over in the corridor.

Understanding how people react to pressure and allowing for those reactions without too much judgement can make things go that bit smoother. Smoothness, of course, being a precious quality in these highly turbulent times.

And if you do find yourself floundering as the big day looms, on those days of extra revision sessions, marking past papers and trying desperately to get kids to revise, remember this: however stressed you are, you’re nowhere near as stressed as the exams department is going to be very, very soon.

Tom Starkey teaches English at a college in the North of England


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