In the center of Boston is the Boston Common, where there are several small statues of the ducklings made famous by the book “Make Way for Ducklings”. Long before I became a parent, I bought a painting from a local Boston artist that depicted the statues of the ducklings from that children's book. In a decision of radical faith in the future, and one that involved finding a few extra dollars that I, as a graduate student, didn’t really have at the time, I bought it and decided that if I was ever to have a child, I would hang it in their room. I know that someday my daughter will outgrow it, but for now, it hangs above her desk in her room. I hope to visit the Boston Commons with her some day and show her the original statues that depict the characters from the book which she, of course, has a copy of. If such a visit takes place some year, it will be after my summer school class has ended for the summer.
I know of many people who claim that that just don’t teach summer school. The pay is often not great, and it takes away from time that might be spent on research and course development. However, someone must teach summer classes, which reminds me of the question of the “tragedy of the commons.” Like the farmers who all brought their cows to graze in the commons in the center of town, each individual professor is asking whether they, as individuals, wish to teach summer school. Something similar happens as is found when the common grazing land is depleted as too many cows are brought to the commons to graze. In both cases, since a “public good” is involved, the individual decisions may not lead to an optimum result. Too few professors may end up choosing to teach at that time.
I have been teaching statistics for the past few weeks, and, as the course nears its end, I realize how much I enjoy teaching summer school. I have a very small class, but they are students who are spending the few weeks of the class focusing on just statistics. I don’t have to hear things like “that is a bad day for a test because we have an English paper due.” Instead, they (and I) live, eat and breathe statistics for a few weeks, totally immersing ourselves in the subject in a way that is impossible in a longer semester. Even I do not have conflicting teaching responsibilities, as I don’t need to juggle Statistics and Calculus and Algebra all at the same time. Instead I can be more focused and, in a perfect world, organized (ha!).
I teach summer school for many reasons, not the least being my desire to maintain a departmental presence in the summer offerings. We often have transient students from other universities who are home for the summer come to take our classes, and it is good to hear many of them say that they appreciate the individualized attention that we show our students. These past few weeks, I have had a group of students in my statistics class who include several who are only one course short of graduating. It has been exciting to watch them move from being terrified of statistics to actually admitting that they enjoy it. But the most exciting part of the experience has been in watching them make the transition from student to professional. For, in these few weeks, I have seen several students obtain good jobs in their fields. The satisfaction that gives me is enough to encourage me to continue teaching summers. That is a decision I believe leads to an optimal result, even without knowledge of the simultaneous decisions made by others.