30 Final Exams to Grade, 32 Final Papers to Read, Why Am I Not Burned Out?

Lead Features May 19 / Top Feature May 19 / May 17, 2019

–Thomas Mennella–

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

That Christmas song plays over and over in my head this time of year. While flowers are blooming and, even in New England (in the US), the snow is long gone, it is a Christmas tune that occupies my thoughts. Why? Because for me, this is the most wonderful time of the year.

To be clear, I’m stressed and panicked out of my gourd. In the next twelve days, I’ve got over 15 hours of student video projects to watch, 30 final exams to grade, about 32 final papers to read over, and I most definitely do not have a partridge in a pear tree. It’s enough to make you cackle and reach for the nearest straight-jacket. But while in years past, I might be filling that extra glass of wine right about now and updating my resume to prepare for a “career change;” nowadays I just hear “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” play over and over in my head (and, no, it’s not because I’ve finally plunged into full-blown insanity).  

What’s the difference between then – when I could barely drag myself over the finish line of the academic year — and now — when I don’t want the semester to end? 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year because my students literally pout (I mean it; they physically, visibly pout!) when I announce that this is the last class meeting of the semester. It’s the most wonderful time because students come up to me as they leave my classroom and mutter, “I’m really going to miss this class.” It’s the most wonderful time because students will write in their last video lecture reflection assignment, things like “I’ve learned so much from this course,” and “I never thought I’d love cell and molecular biology this much.” It’s the most wonderful time because I can’t wait for the summer to end so that I can come back in the fall and do it all again. What’s the difference between then – when I could barely drag myself over the finish line of the academic year — and now — when I don’t want the semester to end? If you’re reading this magazine, then you already know the answer: Flipped Learning.  

Before and After

Before I flipped my courses, I was tired in December, burnt out in March, and a literal walking zombie by early May. I was cynical, exhausted, depressed and done. Since I’ve flipped, that’s all different. To be clear, I am stressed and panicked. I really do have 15 hours of video to watch and 500 pages of reports to grade (and, ironically, here I sit writing this article instead, ha!). But it isn’t depressing me. It isn’t frustrating me. And, it is not burning me out. Instead, it is the broccoli with the steak and the mashed potatoes. I might not like grading, but the steak and mashed potatoes – the classroom experience with my students – is soooooo goooooood, that it’s all worth it in the end.  

Through Flipped Learning, I know my students as individuals. I’ve had the opportunity to make a difference in their lives. I’ve watched them grow and improve and – like a proud papa – I can’t wait to see them walk across a stage as college graduates in a few weeks or to see them again next year. Just like I’d do almost anything for a friend or a family member, and it would not be work, it would be a blessing, having deep relationships with my students through Flipped Learning turns grading and assessment from a chore to a favor. It’s something that actually fulfills me and brings me satisfaction.


As my students and I share more and more lasts- last quiz, last video reflection, last activity day – I begin to pout, too. And then, I get a lump in my throat. And then, in all and complete honesty, I sometimes have to busy myself with my backpack because I can feel my eyes are watering a bit. Though I’m not a religious person and never have been, Christmas has always been a time of love, family, warmth and compassion for me and my family. It is that time of year where simply watching your children play together near the fireplace is enough to bring a lump to your throat. This time of year brings those same feelings of bittersweet love and caring to me now. Flipped Learning has fostered individual bonds between my students and me, and I swell with pride as I see them all moving up and moving on.

Burnout? Puh-leeze! I can’t get enough of this. It’s a wonderful job, it’s a wonderful life, and it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Thomas Mennella
Dr. Thomas Mennella Mennella
I have been an instructor in higher education for over ten years. Starting as a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, and then moving on to an Assistant Professorship at Delaware State University (DSU), a small public university, I experimented with Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and was an early-adopter of the iClicker student response system. Now an Associate Professor at Bay Path University, a private liberal arts institution in western Massachusetts, I primarily teach Genetics, Cell and Molecular Biology. I am Flipped Learning 3.0 Level -II Certified and a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty.

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