This time of year, as finals week approaches, I hear constantly from my academic peers across the nation the sleepy, melancholiac sigh: “I can’t wait until the end of this semester.” I see and hear it everywhere – Facebook posts, Tweets, in the hallways. Those who aren’t saying it are showing it with droopy eyes, bags overflowing with reams of tattered paper, and exasperated moments of confusion and disorientation: “Was I supposed to be at a meeting this morning?” and “Sorry students, I graded all of your work but then left it on my desk at home.”
Although I admit I’m tired, I also really look forward to this time of year. I usually cancel classes in order to hold individual conferences, and this is always a favorite part of my job. I get to see my students really rise up; they bring me what they’re working on and they’re prepared with questions about how to improve it. It’s crunch-time, yes, and they’re concerned about their grades, but for some of them, it’s also the first time I really get to see how their minds work as they talk about their own writing. Students who I didn’t really get a chance to talk to this semester now receive individual attention; I don’t think even in this last week that it’s too late to teach them something in our few minutes together. And, if I’m lucky, I get a few “thank you”s and/or some compliments about the course. “I really learned something” – only one student has to say it for my heart to skip a little beat.
At this point, the last week of classes, I move everything on my current to-do list other than grading onto my Winter Break To-Do list. This means that unless I have some grading to do and unless I have a student in my office, I actually have some free time. This gives me a chance to do some reflection on just “what happened” this semester. I look through my Evernotes and recall what I learned at meetings with colleagues, committee sessions, and professional development workshops. I don’t stress about the future (that Winter Break To-Do list) or even think about my courses for the next semester. I just try to remain present, in the now, mindful.
Of course, it helps that I’m not a huge procrastinator, I’m a Type A organizer/scheduler ,and I pretty religiously follow the five-minute rule, so I don’t have a thousand things on my to-do list. But it also helps to remember that I enjoy teaching and I enjoy my students, and I want to enjoy these last few interactions I have with them. Keeping that in mind really can help as we try to get through the stress of these last few days.