Ten Ways to Use Your Time (now that the semester is over)

Steve Volk, December 11, 2017

L’Illustration, Issue 769. Paris: Dubochet et Cie, 1857

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.”

Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark: Illustration: Peter Newell, London: Harper and Brothers, 1903.

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?

Optical illusion disc – Wikimedia commons.

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.”

Closing Time: Managing the End of the Semester

Steve Volk, May 1, 2017

(Note: This is a revised and updated version of and article written on April 24, 2014).

“I must finish what I’ve started, even if, inevitably, what I finish turns out not to be what I began” (Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children).

Ann Nooney, "Closing Time," The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. Public domain.

Ann Nooney, “Closing Time,” The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. Public domain.

The end of the semester, like the first week, poses specific classroom challenges. Most faculty are rushing to make it through the course syllabus (you remember: the one that looked perfectly well planned in January). And you still have to hand out evaluations (see: “Set for SETs? Student Evaluations of Teaching”), prep students for their final exams, read drafts of their last papers, squeeze all the students who want to present into the available time; and don’t forget the note from the dean’s office asking for fall book orders! The end of the semester is also a time when both student and faculty energy levels have bottomed out, even more so in the spring semester.

All of this can crowd out another important part of the teaching semester: marking the closure of the semester in a way that acknowledges all you have accomplished in the class, all the ground you’ve covered. It goes without saying that the best way to end the semester is the way that works for you. But here are some suggestions that have come up over the years from my own practice and some that I’ve taken from other teaching and learning centers. Continue reading

Learning from the Semester: 2.0

Steven Volk (April 25, 2016)

[The following is an edited and updated version of a post from 2013.]

From Guy Newell Boothby, "Doctor Nikola" (London: Ward, Lock, & Co, 1986), p. 335. British Library.

From Guy Newell Boothby, “Doctor Nikola” (London: Ward, Lock, & Co, 1986), p. 335. British Library.

As the semester moves to it close (insert fist pump), it’s a good time to reflect on what you learned from the semester as well as considering what you think your students are taking away from your classes. To begin, here are three ways to track your teaching, from the quick and simple to the more time consuming.

End of Semester Snapshop

While you can, and probably should, reflect on your teaching at many points during the semester (see nos. 2 and 3 below), two moments can be particularly productive: Some 2-3 weeks before the semester ends (when you already have a very good sense about how the semester has gone), and about 2-3 weeks after the semester ends (or once you have had a chance to read student evaluations). You are all unbelievably busy right now, but try to set aside 30 minutes to begin to answer these questions – and then return to them when you can. It is useful to engage in this process before you read the students’ evaluations, as you want to be able to consider from your own perspective why the semester turned out as it did. Continue reading