Professors experience stress of finals week

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Matt McCallister, junior in biology, studies at Sparrow Specialty Coffee on Mar. 7, 2016. (File Photo by Austin Fuller | The Collegian)

Some professors have little stress during finals week while others experience more. The way a class is taught, as well the types of finals given, can determine the stress level for a professor come the end of the semester.

Ilia Zharkov, associate professor of mathematics, said deciding what kind of final grades students should receive produces the most stress for professors during finals week.

“It’s stressful to give the final grade,” Zharkov said, “The exam itself isn’t what’s hard, it’s when you actually give the final grade. You have to make the right decision, and it’s a problem I face every time. Who deserves an A and who doesn’t deserve an A. That’s where it’s stressful for me.”

Zharkov said that for him, finals week is the best week of the teaching semester because he has so much less to do in the classes he teaches.

“It depends on what you teach,” Zharkov said. “If you teach a big calculus course, you’re going to have 600 tests to go through. It’s time consuming and not very much fun.”

Suzanne Orr, assistant professor of history, said a lot of it has to do with good time management during finals. Making sure the professor sets aside enough time to grade and read through the exams thoroughly is crucial, she said. Orr copes with the stress by carefully planning her week and working out once a day.

“The first few days is me just waiting for students to start submitting stuff,” Orr said. “It’s that weekend that becomes really stressful because I’ll have all those finals to grade.”

Orr said although professors and teachers may have to work on a tight deadline when grading final exams, she does not believe she is nearly as stressed as the students during finals.

“It’s time consuming, and I do feel ‘deadline’ pressure, but because my GPA isn’t at stake I don’t think I have the kind of stress that the undergrads face,” Orr said.

Some professors have no change in their stress levels due to the workload of finals week, though large projects or portfolios due during finals week can be time consuming to grade on a deadline.

Sherri Martinie, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, said she teaches classes where the final incorporates a mock job interview along with a comprehensive portfolio detailing everything the students learned during the semester.

“My finals aren’t your traditional paper-pencil, multiple-choice kind of thing,” Martinie said. “Giving finals is one thing, but then having to score things and put grades in is another. You feel the stress of the students on top of that because they’re stressing over what their final grades are going to be.”

Martinie said her biggest cause of stress for finals is trying to give fair evaluations of student’s grades.

“Sometimes I have to turn my email off because you’ll have students contacting you with things they’re stressed about, so sometimes you have to turn it off,” Martinie said.

Andrew Orr, assistant professor of history, teaches two history courses at K-State that have essay-style final exams. He has written his own tests each semester but said most of the professors’ stress for finals week comes after the finals.

“Our work is all on the other side,” Andrew said. “The students take the exam and they’re done. All of their work is getting ready. All of our work comes after.”

Professors tend to hate final exams that get scheduled later in the week because regardless of the class, the teachers have a grading deadline the following Tuesday, Andrew said. All final grades are supposed to be updated by then. Less time to grade can become stressful because it takes much more work to get the finals graded in time.

“Some of our classes can be very labor intensive,” Mindy Markham, associate professor of family studies and human services, said. “If we have a big final project, the student has to write one, and we have to grade them all.”

The “service workload” for professors during finals week is relatively smaller than during the rest of the semester, Markham said. She said she does not get nearly as stressed as her students during finals. The type of final students have to take for a class is really what is important when it comes to the amount of stress the professor deals with.

“It’s different if you just do a multiple-choice or Scantron online,” Markham said. “That’s easy and the grading is pretty much done for you, but if you’re doing something meaningful, it’s requiring students to compile everything they’ve been learning. That’s very intense.”

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