Monday, December 18, 2006

It's only over if you're a student.

I remember when the end of the semester used to be a happy thing. I would finish the paper at 4 or 5 am and either find someone to slide it under the prof's office door for me at 7am when the building opened, or else crash for a few hours until it was time for class, turn it in myself, and hope I could stay awake for the period.

But then, I was free! I'd start doing laundry, sorting through piles of books and mail and all the other things that had accumulated during the last couple of weeks of hell, and go out to dinner with my friends. I'd start my Christmas shopping - and it would still be early enough to find, wrap, and mail some nice gifts. And then I'd pack to go home. It was always hard to go home, since my life was pretty much at college at that point, but it was always nice, too, to go back to see my family and high school friends, to spend the break catching up on episodes of "Thirty-Something" and "L.A. Law." I had nothing to do over the winter break - it was too short to get a job, and all my classwork was done. I was completely free! So I went to movies and parties, I went shopping, I hung out. I visited relatives. I had five blissful weeks to do what I wanted.

After college, I came back to the real world with a bang. In the real world, there are no 5-week winter breaks. In my first job, I was lucky to get Christmas off at all. That year, my grandmother's 90th birthday (she was a Christmas baby), I got on a train on Christmas day and rode from Pittsburgh, PA, to Hartford, CT. I got in at midnight, and showed up for work the next morning.

When I went back to grad school, it seemed that I was back to a carefree lifestyle. Except...I found that I frequently had papers to finish once classes were over. Our work was due roughly at the end of the semester, not always with final deadlines, and so we often turned papers in late, in time for our profs to grade them after grades were due but before the grades were sent to the registrar (obviously, this was before online grading). And very quickly, I found that the work I had to do was not simply work for my classes, as it had been in college, but work that was building upon itself, work that was coming together into something larger, and therefore, work that needed to be continued and did not have an ending point.

This put a damper on my breaks, which became shorter. My trips home, too, no longer lasted 5 weeks, as there were also papers to grade and classes to plan in addition to qualifying exams to study for and theses to research and write.

And, while finally finishing the dissertation and graduating brought an end to at least the majority of the panic and depression and general malaise that accompanies dissertations, it still didn't clear my schedule for winter break.

These days, the ending of classes is the time to, first, grade all the papers that the students have left under my door or handed in during class. This frequently means carrying all these papers on a plane and then spending the first few days of my "break" grading in a coffee shop somewhere where my family isn't. Second, break is the time to prep for the next term's courses. If the course is a new course, that means several days hunting for the appropriate readings, films, and guest speakers, and then trying to order books at the last minute. It also means reading like crazy in order to be ready to teach the material.

So tomorrow, while I'm on the plane, I'll be reading for next month's class. On Wednesday and Thursday, I'll be grading. And then I'll be reading again, for much of the remainder of the trip. (And not fun, happy stuff, either. It's a course on genocide.)

Meanwhile, it's probably worth noting that the tree is not decorated (nor are there lights on it. The closest I've come is the "Happy Hanukkah" banner wrapped around it (at some point, I'll have to do a post on blended holidays). On the table are two boxes of lights and two boughs that I bought with the intention of putting them up over the windows, but I only got to two out of four of the windows this year. We never made potato latkes or gingerbread men. And I never did buy and string the outside lights I've been wanting to put up since last year.

I am grateful that my parents will have a tree at their house so that Bean can help to trim it. Perhaps this will happen at some point when I'm home (and not when I'm out grading).

I'm sure it will be a welcome relief from reading about genocide.


blacksweatpants said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
blacksweatpants said...

that was me ^. i just wanted to say, at least you'll be on that plane tomorrow. i have to stay until the dorms close.

Drek said...

You sum it all up very nicely. Still, given my experience in the "real world" academia isn't so bad.

That's what I tell myself, anyway, so that I don't go out and drink myself into oblivion.

sallysunshine_26 said...

So true! From one fellow prof to another- I understand your pain! Since we've been on both sides, we know how much work teaching can be! It's worth it though! Happy Holidays my dear!