The students are back on campus, and it’s as if the volume has been turned up again. All week it was quiet. The library computer terminals were turned off, our offices hushed; there were no lines in campus eateries. I’ve heard folks joke that a college campus is a great place to work when there aren’t students around, and I understand why: we get a chance to enjoy the loveliness, to have the terrific facilities almost to ourselves. But there’s no buzz when the students are gone; it’s really too quiet, as if the purpose has gone out of things.
In fact I didn’t spend much time on campus during the break myself. In all the years I’ve been teaching, I’ve never really taken a “break” during spring break, never gone off to enjoy a sunny beach or a snowy mountain. My “break” is that I can work at home — in pajamas, if I like — at my own schedule, on “my own” work. This break I wrote the first draft of a conference paper that I’ll be delivering in (gulp!) ten days. And that, along with grading and various catching-up chores, is usually how I spend my break.
When students ask, during that last week before break, what my plans are, I usually mention that my kids don’t have the same break as I do, so I won’t be going anywhere. And it’s true, of course — for some reason the public school schedule insists on tying spring break to Easter, while my own, once-Baptist-affiliated school, has a resolutely secular schedule. My students commiserate, as if I were sharing some sad news, but secretly I’m glad not to share a break with my children. The fact that Nick got up every morning during my break, shouldered his backpack, and headed to his bus, meant that I had the luxury of a free day — or a free eight hours, anyway, until he returned home hungry and tired. If we’d shared a break, I would have felt more torn — needing to do my work, but wanting to make the break special, to share some time together. As it was, I got my work done and still managed to get out to one matinee with my husband, whose time right now is even more flexible than my own.
In a few weeks’ time Nick will be on break and his big sister will be home visiting for Easter, and I’ll feel torn. But by then I’ll have delivered my conference paper and the semester will be winding down. The campus will be a little quieter than usual then, too — not because the students are gone, but because they’ll be hunkered down with final papers, with job interviews, with all the myriad things that go into the end of spring semester. So I may take a non-teaching day for another matinee, or I may keep to my schedule and let the kids entertain each other; there are no rules any more for spring break, and that’s just fine with me.