My summer classes have ended. The grades are done and posted, and I can take a moment and look back on my return to teaching. Summer classes are a mixed bag. For one thing, they are fast - very fast. In essence you condense a 15 week semester into a third of the time span. This can be good and it can be not so good. The good part is that if the class isn't going so well or if you and the students simply don't hit it off it's done relatively quickly. The bad part is that no matter what, it's done relatively quickly - meaning that you can't take an extra day to grade an assignment or make a decision. You'd better have it done and figured out before you start. It's intense, to say the least.
One of the things that drew me to teaching is the starting and the stopping. I like endings. I like the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing something. Whether it's an afghan I've crocheted, a book that I've read, a recipe that I've cooked, I like to be able to see a project through from start to finish and be able to judge what I've accomplished. When I came to Minnesota to live, I briefly considered a career in corporate America and spent a year working as a temp to test the waters. I learned quickly that the "sameness" of corporate life was not for me. The projects never seemed to come to a close and I quickly began to feel trapped in that environment. It was drudgery to me - never-ending drudgery.
The academic life is much better suited to my temperament. There are any number of built-in endings. They're called semesters. I like the beginning of a new semester - the chance to meet 150 new students, the chance to try a new way to teach an old concept, the chance to explore new research, a new method, a new activity. It's new and exciting and a wonderful challenge. More than the beginnings, though, I like the endings. I like being able to look back and evaluate what worked and what didn't, where I need change or improvement, where I can take a technique to a new level or make the decision that it didn't work and doesn't deserve a second chance.
I even have the advantage of mini-endings. Each class period is a separate entity. It has a start and a stop. If it doesn't go well, it's over in 50 or 75 or 150 minutes. It's done. I can start fresh the next time and salvage whatever went wrong. That stop gives one the time to make mid-course corrections that other endeavors don't necessarily allow for.
At times I think that, if we aren't careful, life can begin to feel like a hamster's wheel. We run faster and faster and our momentum on the wheel means that we don't have time to think or consider or even feel - our jobs, our relationships, our values become a blur in our race. We must keep moving - there is no end in sight. Some people acknowledge that they have awakened one morning to the thought 'Where did the past 20 years go?' They've been caught in the wheel.
The endings in life allow for self-reflection. They give us the opportunity to take a breath and evaluate. They allow us to consider. They are a gift.
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