Tutor: Fatigue Makes Fools Of Us All

Everything is a project these days, isn’t it? We tutors always have plenty of projects on our hands, as small as drafting the perfect response to a client email to as grand as a massive curriculum revision. Add all of our personal ambitions, domestic responsibilities, social obligations, and side hustles to the list, and it’s no wonder we’re all combatting project fatigue.

Educator John Spencer, an authority on project-based learning (PBL), offers valuable insight into project fatigue and ways to combat it, starting with the concept of the midway lull:

“Project fatigue is actually a pretty common phenomenon. At some point, the excitement of a project will fade and the fatigue sets in. We see this in PBL. There’s often this midway lull where you begin to wonder if students even care about the project anymore. Students seem to work more slowly. There’s more bickering within the teams. This is why it helps to adjust our expectations ahead of time.

“When I plan out projects, I tend to focus on a linear model, with students working equally hard in each phase of the project. However, I find that students tend to work in spurts, with big bursts of energy followed by lulls. It’s less like a marathon and more like an interval workout.”

Progress, as you probably remind your students regularly, is rarely linear. But the midway lull represents a dangerous inflection point. Hitting that midpoint with motivation and sufficient gains can initiate a period of acceleration towards successful completion. On the other hand, a sense of limited progress might be perceived as at least temporary defeat. Those who fail to muster enough enthusiasm to work through this lull might abandon the project altogether.

Business guru Harvey Mackay noted that “fatigue makes fools of us all. It robs us of our skills, our judgment, and blinds us to creative solutions.”  Fools for students make for unhappy tutors, so we need to learn to manage project fatigue in our charges.

Today’s students juggle endless projects, assuming you recognize each minor and major assignment, each extracurricular activity, and every hobby that way. Tutoring is a project too, and one in which every student hits that midway lull sooner or later. How can you help your students either accelerate through the midpoint or break out of the lull with a new sense of purpose?

  1. Manage expectations for realistic progress.
  2. Set appropriate benchmarks within the larger scope.
  3. Structure responsible breaks when possible.
  4. Acknowledge the existence of competing simultaneous projects.

Consider this framework in the context of your specific practice. For example, as a test prep tutor, I can anticipate project fatigue within weeks of prep for a test months away and combat frustration using specific strategies:

  1. Help my students look at practice test results as incremental steps towards their target scores.
  2. Quantify how many more questions are needed to reach the next desired levels of progress.
  3. Reward success by cutting or canceling a week’s homework .
  4. Accommodate other priorities by rescheduling lessons.

Fatigue makes fools of us all. Ignoring project fatigue won’t make it go away, either in your students or yourself. You’ve got projects too, so think carefully about how to accelerate rather than abandon your goals as well as those of your students.

— Mike Bergin

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