Steve Volk, December 11, 2017
In a survey conducted earlier in the semester at Oberlin and among the GLCA colleges and universities, I posed the question: What are the most difficult, perplexing, or problematic issues you face as a classroom teacher? The response most often repeated, not surprisingly, was lack of time.
With the semester concluded and exams, papers, and performances left to evaluate, we surely can be allowed to imagine the time, our time, when the semester past and the one to come haven’t yet collided. I figure that somewhere between the eight nights of Hanukkah and the twelve days of Christmas, there must be a top-ten list of ways to use the time that has just opened for all hard-working teachers who have fought to gain even a minute of “down-time” during the semester. So here are some suggestion for spending the delicious time that rests between fall and spring semesters; use them as you will. (If you’re on the quarter system, sorry. I have no help for you!)
While the soundtrack for these proceedings is still under development, John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” works for me.
10 are the hours of extra sleep you’ll now have to enjoy, or maybe just time to allow your thoughts to meander: small beer given the deficits you have built up, but lovely, nonetheless.
9 are the stories, poignant or funny, sad or inspirational, which you heard during the semester and that you’ll write down to share with your friends and colleagues; record them before they depart to some far-off island at the outer reaches of your consciousness.
8 are the episodes of “Stranger Things” that remain to be watched; feel free to substitute for “The Crown,” “Mozart in the Jungle,” “The Great British Baking Show,” or the second season of “The Grand Tour.”
7 are the books stacked by your bed that you promised to read over the holidays, mysteries and histories, poetry and plays: the only question is where to start?
6 are the measures you will take to stay calm and focused while the torment swirls around you. Illegitimi non carborundum (or for the Latin-speakers among you, Noli nothis permittere te terere.)
5 are the checks waiting to be written (does anyone write checks anymore?) before the year ends to the organizations that need your support.
4 are the colleagues owed a note of thanks or an invitation to dinner, the ones who have lightened your load over the past semester by lifting your spirits, taking over a class, or helping you restore your computer to life.
3 are your teachers, the ones who helped make you the teacher you are. Each year you think: I should write Mrs. Simmons, my 8th grade social studies teacher, who believed in me when no one else did. Nu? What’s wrong with now?
2 are the new paths you’ll walk down in the future, not the ones that diverge in a yellow wood, but the ones that will help you keep head and heart together in the semester to come.
1 is a reminder about what you do by way of Parker Palmer: “Education at its best – this profound human transaction called teaching and learning – is not just about getting information or getting a job. Education is about healing and wholeness. It is about empowerment, liberation, transcendence, about renewing the vitality of life. It is about finding and claiming ourselves and our place in the world.”