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    A blog by John Warner, author of The Funny Man, on teaching, writing and never knowing when you're going to be asked to leave.

What Are You Doing on Your Winter Break?
December 17, 2012 - 9:35am

I have started my 3 ½ week Christmas break, one of the perks of teaching that so many others seem to envy. While I think there is a wide acceptance that teachers work hard, there is also the equally wide assumption that when we’re on our breaks, it’s nothing but bon bons and catching up on Homeland. At my wife’s office Christmas party this past weekend, more than one person asked me when school starts again (Jan. 9) and what I’d be doing with “all that time.”

They look at me longingly, like they can’t imagine my luck, and in a lot of ways, I agree with them. I am an extraordinarily fortunate person to be able to do this work, even off the tenure track in a contingent position.

But I can promise that I’ll have no trouble filling the time, and while there might be some bon bons involved, they’ll be eaten in front of my computer screen while I’m typing.

After turning in my grades at 9 a.m., Friday Dec. 14th, following a brief and lovely end-of-semester reception for our department, I was off to conduct an almost 3-hour interview for a very exciting, but pressing freelance assignment. Following the interview I returned home to write and upload three letters of recommendation with Dec. 15th deadlines for former students who are applying to graduate school.

(A pox on any school that puts application deadlines so close to what they know is the end of the academic semester. I’d be shocked if there’s any necessity in terms of the evaluation process behind these deadlines.)

I already feel like I need a break from my break. Here’s some of the other activities that will fill my “leisure” time.

  • 27 more recommendation letters for 5 different people.
  • Completing a transcription of that almost 3-hour interview.
  • Additional research and interviews for that same freelance article.
  • Drafting, revising, and editing freelance article.
  • Finish a draft of a middle-grade novel I’ve been working on for almost three years, and which I promised my wife and the rest of the world I would finish before this school year even started. I was obviously kidding myself before, but I’m totally serious about this now because if I don’t get it done, we’re looking at spring break at best, or even next summer and at some point, if I don’t finish another book, it’s tough to tell people I’m a writer.
  • Conduct, edit, and prepare to publish three interviews by email to run in this very space.
  • Retool and refresh the readings for my academic writing course, something I do every semester, with about 80% of what we read being different than the previous go-round.
  • Retool and refresh the syllabus for my creative writing course to convert it from one day/week to two days/week, and to shore up what I think are some weaknesses in the pedagogy. This will require the creation of a new “close reading” assignment to get them looking at language and craft on the sentence level. I’ll also be updating the reading list for this course.
  • Write my weekly column for the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row book supplement.
  • Conceive, write, revise, and edit 1-2 posts per week for this space.
  • Review and respond to an offer for a film option on my novel, where the money at stake is so little, it’s not worth my agent’s time to handle it so I have to figure it out for myself, which has already involved lots of research and outside help from more knowledgeable and experienced friends.
  • Probably all kinds of other stuff that I’m forgetting.

These are not complaints. I am both happier when I’m busy and fortunate to have so many opportunities to publish and even get paid for my work. I wrote daily for eight years before earning dime one.

I also know I’m preaching to the choir in this space about the reality of what teachers and academics do. Those on the tenure track can likely add committee work, overseeing job searches, preparing review binders, and other administrative tasks to their ledgers.

But maybe we can get the word out the pews. Please feel free to post in the comments how your “break” will be filled this holiday season.

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