Friday, December 12, 2014


I think I must be lucky because I don't really have any end of the semester horror stories. I feel like such a loner.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Aha! Moment

My Aha! moment this week is that life simply isn't fair sometimes. We all know this in the abstract because we have experienced this unfairness, but over time those concrete experiences fade or are compartmentalized in the back of a cerebral shelf. Our students tell us their stories and we empathize the best we can while working to stay on top of our own lives. We walk into classrooms intending to help students gain a more complex understanding of themselves and the world around them through the curriculum we teach, and they accept those challenges the best they can. They leave stronger and more complex than when they walked in. We gain insight through teaching a novel that we love or through explaining how to craft a good argument. 
Then, a tiny voice wakes me up at 4:00. The groggy thoughts begin to move around. First, I have to pee. Then I hear my dogs breathe. My youngest cat turns in between my knees. I reach for some water and begin considering writing prompts for final exams. I sigh with a mix of exasperation and relief that Jason will need to make me some strong, yet delicious coffee in a few hours. All of this is how I avoid the fact that sometimes the world just isn't fair, and despite all of our work as academics, tragedy stops for no one. 
A few hours ago I found out that my daughter's nine year old friend has brain cancer. The little girl who was playing on the monkey bars last time I saw her cannot even walk now because of the brain surgery she had last week. 
Aha! Sometimes life just isn't fair. That helps put it all into perspective as we get set to finish the semester and assign grades. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

So it's the end of the semester again, and although I would seriously like for people to look at me with some sort of doe-eyed reverence for making it this far, I am in just as much shambles as my students. We're all worn down from months and months of work, and many of us simply took a breather after the spring semester and then jumped into preparing for fall because those weeks during summer are when we can actually focus on something new. Then the semester begins and we walk into our classrooms. Students look at us, we look back, and they begin pleading for add codes. Over the coming weeks, they try to strike a balance between remaining secretive or aloof and spilling their souls on the page. The black ink of their printers (or the laser jets in the computer lab [you can always tell when they print in the computer lab or library]) tip-toe from week one to mid-terms, where luck just might tap the teacher on the shoulder and a students states, in MLA format, "Hello, look at me. I am in your class and I am a real human being. My life is complicated, and if this were a perfect world, then I would have already spoken up, but this isn't a perfect world and I know this because I am in your class when all the other college kids in the movies and on television are at some cool party-time university. Anyway, I guess you're okay and I'll stay in your class." Of course, this isn't what really happens, but it sure can feel like it by the time week 16 rolls around.
Truth be told, some days I am at an absolute loss. I look at my plan book and see the tank is on empty, or else I find myself trying to cram one last piece of information about in-text citations or the importance of credible sources. We might even work on crafting thesis statements or discuss (again) how to introduce a source. Those days are a raft bobbing up and down upon choppy seas. One class is a roaring success and the next one falls dead like a bad joke, and there is almost no time to sit and reflect on it because everything else in a rush.
There are days where it feels like we no more walk out the door of one classroom and a barrage of new demands pop up. Students are asking for letters of recommendation. SLOs need to be assessed, updated, revised, and improved because data means justification, and that means something to someone. There needs to be a plan for next semester. I forgot to turn-in some piece of paper at some point. A student needs to tell me why he cannot finish the semester, but insists that he tried really hard, so I should pass him anyway. Another student quietly opens my door and begins frantically rambling about everything and nothing, and I cannot move from my chair until he is stable enough to speak to a psychologist so that he doesn't commit suicide. And as I leave him with a counselor, I hope that someone checks his backpack once it dawns on me that he might have a gun, and I am of to class again with my mind somewhere else.
And all of this before I can even look at the stacks of papers that need to be graded.
All of this before I can consider make doctor appointments for my children.
All of this before I can wonder how my wife's day is going.
All of this before I can even go to the restroom to pee.
All of this before I can begin to think of what comes next.
Fortunately, when I open my door just a little and listen to conversations floating through the hallway, I know that I am not alone because we all have that end of the semester burden. We all sit at our desks typing, talking, commenting, grading, and planning.
We all scheme.
We all sigh.
We all make it through to week 18.
We always do.
As for me, when I think that no one is looking I turn on some Christmas music and begin to think of my children. When my eight year old daughter began questioning Santa Claus, I decided to grow a beard and tell her that I am Santa. She wants to believe me. I want to believe it, myself. Maybe it's true. Maybe I am Santa Claus because I am the giver to those who deserve, but more importantly, I want to believe in magic and miracles as much as my son and daughter do.
As the semester draws down and the world gets chaotic, I start to sing some Christmas carol in my whirring mind. That puts a little bounce in my step.
I just gotta remember that Santa Claus is coming to town. Yes, Santa Claus is coming to town and Disneyland is beautiful this time of year, especially Small World. I think I need a trip up the 5.
Hopefully that can put a smile on my children's faces because their smiles rub off on me, and that is what honestly helps get me to the end of the semester.