End Of A Semester

While the semester doesn’t formally end until later this week, I finalized all of the grades for the courses I was teaching on Friday. This means I can now devote my time to finishing up some papers, plotting out some grant applications, prepping myself for summer travels, and organizing the students who are working with me this summer.

And of course, I have to do this all before I head off to China. No big deal.

Fortunately, the next two weeks have the potential to be extremely productive. More importantly than that, they seem to be far more relaxed. While I love teaching, the lack of class related prep means that I have a significant amount of time to do other things such as maybe sleeping in, or casually sauntering to the office after enjoying a coffee at home with the wee fuzzball, or perhaps both. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I can’t do this during the regular part of a teaching semester, it’s just that the opportunities are few and far between.

And of course, this is just what the doctor ordered because I always find that as the winter semester comes to a close, my batteries are running low. And no matter how hard I try to avoid this situation from happening, there’s always something new that pops up that requires attention and a little bit more of my energy. It’s not so much the quantity, but the sheer variety of things that seems to burn up all of my reserves.

And when I’m this tired it’s very easy to become jaded about teaching. There’s always a set of students who aren’t showing up, or living up to some expectation that I have for them. There’s always someone who doesn’t like the way that I teach, or perhaps think I’m only doing certain things so I can pad my C.V. And there are those who think I’m wholly unqualified for the job because my Ph.D. is in Statistics and surely I can’t know a thing about Computer Science. And as much as I try to ignore these particular things, they weigh on me. And that weight only intensifies as I grow further exhausted as the winter semester comes to a close.

The good news is that despite the negative things that might leave me jaded, I’m surrounded by students who constantly inspire me and keep me going – even when I just want to fall over and sleep for about a thousand years. And this past week has been a perfect example of how simple actions can make a world of difference, and can keep me going when my batteries are exhausted. From dropping by to say thanks, to leaving me notes and little thank-you gifts because they felt that I’ve somehow helped them figure out what they want to do with their lives, to inviting me for a pint, students have left me smiling. And not because they’ve reminded me that I can and sometimes do make a difference (which they have), and not because they insisted on treating me to a coffee or a beer (which they did), but because they simply took the time to say anything at all.

In one particular situation, I pressed a group of students who had decided to donate a sizeable sum of money to one of my projects: “Are you sure you want to do this? This is a lot of money.” They replied without hesitation “Most certainly. It’s something we’ve discussed thoroughly, and we’d prefer to see it used to motivate and inspire other students in the way we were.” To say I was gobsmacked would be an understatement. There may or may not have been a little dust in my eyes.

The reality is that these students could have easily finished their exams and their respective degrees and moved on, but they didn’t. They chose to take the time to say thank-you for something they feel that I have done for them. The reality is, it’s I who should be thanking them. They keep me going. They inspire me. They remind me why I want to teach in the first place, and they keep me striving to be a better teacher every single day.

Yup, the semester is coming to an end. I’m tired, and I’m very ready for a rest. But I’m also very aware of how lucky I am to get to spend my days doing what I do.

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