Last year at this time I was beginning to see the end of my sabbatical. My colleagues had wrapped up their courses, turned in their grades, and had started to join me in my unstructured life of research, writing, summer vacation planning, and the like.
This year it all feels different. My grades are turned in — other than the odd incomplete that will trickle in over the next few weeks — and I do need to turn my attention to research: specifically, to a paper I’m delivering in less than a month. But unlike last year, I have a number of other tasks to work through as well, and so far May feels a lot like April, without the classes.
Again, to my non-academic colleagues, that “without the classes” part must seem huge. But I taught only two classes this past semester and spent more time than usual on service work — mostly, on one big committee. And that work is what’s continuing now. We voted last week (was it only last week?) to alter our first-year curriculum radically over the next year: and it’s my task right now, along with the rest of my committee members, to figure out how to implement our new seminar program. It’s exciting work: inventing a new curriculum and implementing it, all in about fifteen months’ time. Daunting, too — I’ve never done this before, after all, and about all I’m sure of is that there are unforeseen pitfalls ahead of me.
While that work looms, there’s also the day-to-day of May. Nick, our middle-schooler, is in the midst of his annual standards-of-learning exams. Mariah, our almost-college-student, is headed back to Virginia in two weeks after her gap-semester in San Francisco. And the bathroom (I know you were wondering!) is almost redone. Once we’ve got everyone back home, we’ll have to start planning the rest of the summer, which includes a 6-week sojourn in Oxford, where I’ll be teaching a course on English children’s fantasy literature. So there’s that to prepare, as well.
I make this list not to elicit sympathy — everyone I know has plenty to do and then some — but, in a way, to remind myself. Though we academics know we don’t get summers "off," still that pervasive myth affects us, I think. We expect, if not a break, at least a change in intensity once the students are gone and the campus is quiet. My work has shifted, but it hasn’t actually changed gears, nor will it.