Battling Late-Semester Fatigue

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Every year around this point in the semester -- past midterms, almost at Thanksgiving Break, and starting to think about final exams -- I find myself needing some additional inspiration to push through the last weeks of fall courses. I can feel my motivation lagging and the early sunsets only add to my lethargy. I’m taking some time for reflection this week in hopes of reinvigorating my mental focus so I can finish the semester with the same (or close to) enthusiasm I had the first week of September.


The first step in my reinvigoration process has been to take some time to think ahead to next semester. Half of my course load is different in the spring so I looked back through some of the notes I kept from last spring to remind myself of particular changes I want to make to those courses. Giving my brain a future project to think about, even briefly, gave me a momentary break from the weight of the current semester. I like to make at least one significant curriculum change each time I offer a course. Reviewing my notes from last time around reminded me of ideas I had for spring 2022 and gave me an opportunity to feel excited about their implementation. 


Next I spent just a handful of minutes today browsing the current registration numbers for my spring courses. Registration just opened this past Monday and already my US Women’s History class is full. To know that there are so many students interested in the subject matter made me more excited to think about topics I will be teaching in the spring and how to better connect them to my students’ lives.


Finally, as a last bit of motivation, this morning I pulled one of my all-time favorite books down from the shelf. Many years ago as a graduate teaching assistant at Boston College I was assigned to a Western Civilization II course. As a US history major I remember dreading the shift in focus to European history for so many precious hours of the week. The professor assigned Pat Barker’s brilliant Regeneration (1991) for the students to discuss as part of their World War I materials. While I cannot remember anything about leading those discussion sections, I have reread Regeneration every single year since that fall semester in 1999. The book itself is now in its thirtieth year of publication. Each time I read Barker’s fictional account of a British asylum for soldiers during the war I am reminded of how the book initially led me to read more about World War I when the course finished, and then many years later inspired me to start researching asylums in the United States around the same period of time. As I reread the book now I’m hopeful that some new inspiration and motivation will grow from the familiar story.


How do you handle late-semester fatigue? Suggestions welcome.


About the Author
Suzanne K. McCormack, PhD, is Professor of History at the Community College of Rhode Island where she teaches US History, Black History and Women's History. She received her BA from Wheaton College (Massachusetts), and her MA and PhD from Boston College. She is currently at work on a study of the treatment of women with mental illness in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Massachusetts and Rhode Island.