Each time a course ends, pretty much as soon as I submit course grades, I experience the blues: I feel slightly bored, restless, dissatisfied. It usually takes me a week or so before I bounce back and feel myself again.
Maybe I’m a workaholic. Enough academics are, for sure. Perhaps, when I suddenly find myself without the work of teaching a course, I no longer know what to do with my time and energy. Maybe I yearn for that busy feeling, ache for that pressure of being behind on responding to student writing, crave the stress of making sure that a course is adequately planned.
Still, even though I probably do work too much, I don’t really fashion myself a workaholic. And, regardless, I have enough work to keep me plenty busy, even when the semester is over. I can prepare teaching materials for the following semester, attend to one of many articles-in-progress, write a grant for a new research project, clean up my email inbox … you get the picture.
The end of teaching does not, therefore, create a loss of work.
Instead, it leaves me at a loss for a particular aspect of my work: teaching. But even this is not quite true. I teach nearly every semester, so I always have a course on the horizon that I can invest myself in by developing course materials and re-considering pedagogical strategies.
Thus, even more precisely, the end of each semester leaves me at a loss for a particular course experience, with particular students.
Each semester, in a writing course, I have the privilege of cultivating relationships with the human beings in my class. The formal and informal interactions across the semester become a part of my lived experience. I get to know students through conversations, seminar discussions, observing their interactions with one another, and reading and responding to their writing. These interactions often include large and small groups, as well as individual conversations with students. As students develop their writing projects and engage with course material, we discuss ideas that matter, ideas that have significance.
Facilitating conversations about writing throughout the course infuses the experience with an even deeper level of interaction. I find myself across a semester sharing with students my own writing challenges and misgivings, and cultivating a climate where they, in turn, reflect on and discuss their writing processes. Their discoveries about themselves as writers enrich my own writing life.
Ending the semester involves, at the most basic level, a degree of mourning, saying goodbye to these relationships and to this part of my life. These enriching relationships, moreover, tend to be harshly tromped upon at the end of a semester by an intense barrage of grading and evaluation. While I recognize grades are an inevitable and even crucial component of education, they are nevertheless one of my least favorite parts of teaching. Transforming the rich, textured writing-based relationships into quantifiable calculations on an excel spreadsheet seems in many ways an act of departure and distancing, an insult to the nature of an intellectual, writing-based interaction.
Sure, I often continue to interact with students beyond a semester, through email, an occasional lunch or coffee, perhaps a letter of recommendation along the way. Some of these relationships have even extended beyond a student’s undergraduate career, and I have the honor of seeing a student move through many great adventures and accomplishments over years.
But, after a semester ends, the essence of the relationship changes dramatically. Interactions are less frequent and often are less commonly focused around a writing project. Moreover, the collective community of a course is irrevocably gone once a semester ends, even if one maintains individual relationships with particular students.
One of my colleagues once suggested creating a group on a social media site at the end of each semester so members of a class could maintain the writing community. I haven’t actually tried it, but my guess is that even if there were initial enthusiasm, such a community would likely dwindle over time.
Moreover, I’m not certain the prospect of sustaining the community through different means, even if it did last, would completely offset my end-of-semester blues.
Because another element that contributes to these blues involves the ongoing nature of writing growth and reflection. Writing development is a lifelong, highly dynamic endeavor, and at the end of a semester I am often left feeling that I didn’t have enough time … to facilitate conversations about writing, explore and discover various aspects of writing, learn more about ourselves as writers.
And this element of writing is why I have become somewhat resigned to being caught in a periodic current of inevitable blues as each semester ends. Maybe my goal, in the end, should not be to eliminate these blues so much as honor and understand them as part of the complex network of emotions that inform and shape our pedagogy.