I walked into class last Wednesday and my students looked spent. They’d only been back from break two days, but it might as well have been two weeks. They were working on a paper for me, and it showed. They were exhausted, and in their exhaustion, losing focus.
I sympathize. This is the part of the year that always sneaks up on me, catching me unawares. I expect a week or two after spring break before things start piling up, but in fact the grading that I did over the break was just the calm before the storm, the tip of the iceberg, the appetizer … choose your metaphor.
It may not be that we’re really any busier than any other time of year. It seems unlikely, really—those of us who’ve been doing this for a while would surely know to spread out the work, to pace ourselves and our students? Surely. And yet, relentlessly, spring semester really does pile on the work as we race to finish projects started in the fall, projects that seemed so promising in the heat of August, then went dormant over the winter—and are now, suddenly, inexorably, due.
Maybe it seems worse because we really don’t want to be inside right now. The cherry tree outside my office window burst into glorious flower last week, and the weather has stayed warm and mostly sunny since then. I see students sitting on the lawn in front of the library, wearing flip-flops and shorts that they brought back from home after the break, slowing down as they walk past the tulips and the flowering trees instead of rushing past bare branches as they shiver in the cold.
So the weather encourages us, I think, to slow down a bit—just at the time when the academic calendar is telling us to speed up. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed that the academic calendar is somehow out of sync with the rest of my life—I remember, years ago, a friend noting that academics and gardening didn’t really mix, given that getting a garden into the ground takes big chunks of time right at the same time that the grading, the teaching, the advising, committee meetings, writing, and research are all ramping up.
I gave my spent-looking students an extra day for their papers, and took a little time myself to slow down. I can’t shift my own deadlines—conferences happen when they happen, whether the paper is written or not—but at least I can take a minute to look at the flowers, enjoy the warm weather, and, then, buckle back down to the grading.
(This is, roughly, the view out my office window these days. You see why I have trouble concentrating?)