Negotiating the January Panic: Tips for Catching Up Mid-Year

student looking at laptop

By Gabe Moss, Oak Meadow High School Teacher

Many families return from their winter holidays to an unpleasant surprise: the fact that their students are weeks behind in some or even all of their courses. This situation, while worrying, is neither unusual nor irredeemable: the “January Panic” is a common feature in the ebb and flow of any school year. While every student and family’s situation differs, the advice below will often help you negotiate and move forward from this academic speed bump.

Remember That You’re Not Alone

Part of what makes the January Panic so tricky is the feeling that your student, and your student alone, is behind. Let me assure you that this is not the case. Lots of students find themselves behind at the beginning of the new year. The vast majority of these students will make the adjustments they need to make and will successfully complete their courses.

Remind your students that there’s nothing wrong with being behind, nor is their self-worth based on progress through a course. Self-discipline and self-management are not innate traits, but skills that need practice.

Make A Plan

A key part of negotiating the January Panic successfully is for you and your student to make a plan to get back on track. Some students may be able to do this independently—others may need your help.

Start by mapping out all the assignments that still need to be completed, alongside new assignments coming down the pipeline in the coming months. Allow your student to be creative in how they complete their assignments. An essay can become an oral presentation if that allows your student to more easily check it off their list. Remember also that your student may not need to attempt every single assignment in order to master a concept. If you haven’t already, now may be the time to incorporate a weekly planner into your school routine.


Ask for Help

Use the resources you have at your disposal to support your student. Enrolled Oak Meadow students should let their teachers know immediately that they’re behind schedule so that their teachers can help adjust the workload and make plans. Independent homeschoolers can lean on resources like tutors, homeschool co-ops, and study groups, as well as the Oak Meadow educational counselors who can offer advice for getting your student back on track.

Focus on Consistency, Not Catch-Up

Encourage your student, and yourself, to take things one lesson, one day, and one task at a time. Counterintuitive though it may sound, don’t worry right now about catching up, and let go of the mental burden of “being behind.” The most important task right now is to establish regular routines for completing work. Your student’s goal should not be to make up for lost time, but to establish good habits that will allow them to regularly and predictably chip away at their work.

Like most wake-up calls, the January Panic is never fun, and you’re not wrong to be concerned. But remember that you can (and, in all likelihood, will) move forward from this, duly awakened, to complete the school year successfully. Hope is not lost. Your student has not failed. And neither have you.

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