Fin de semester?

The stockings are hung (on the stairwell as I have no chimney) with care, and the calendar year is drawing to a close.

The end of a semester and end of a calendar year is always an interesting time for an academic. Our year really runs from September to mid-May (and then summer school is an entirely different beast). The calendar and seasonal changes that take place as December moves to January still apply–but it is a little different. January may be the new year; but for those of us who live in the rhythm of academia, January is really just the start of spring semester. The “new” year starts in September.

Nonetheless, there are still nice rituals,even for academics, as the semester ends and the calendar year ends.

As I am out of the classroom now, some of the end of the year rituals are no longer part of my year-end: No more sitting in front of piles of papers, reading and commenting and grading–smiling when I see that my students “got it.” Making other facial expressions (and other expressions) when I see that something was missed–routinely, and so knowing that I need to make some changes to the class the next time I teach it. No more the feeling of satisfaction when that last paper is read and that last grade entered. No more the search for anything else I can do other than sit there and grade papers!

As a faculty member, at least for me, the end of the semester really did bring a feeling of completion and closure–and, just as importantly, the promise of a fresh start with the beginning of the next semester. A course ended; a new course will begin–new students, new goals, new teaching ideas.

Out of the classroom now, and so much of my work doesn’t end and begin with the semester (and of course it never really all did as a faculty member–there are always ongoing projects, but the heart of what I did–teaching–had a self-contained beginning and end).

But there are still possibilities for end of the year rituals.

I clean my desk. I do my best to address those e-mails that have been lingering in my in-box (I have never been completely successful at the one read and respond method so many of those productivity people recommend–too many e-mails that have longer-term implications and can’e be read and responded (or turfed)). I file (and as much as I try there as well–I still have paper files and haven’t been able to make the transition to a paperless office).

At the end of the semester, especially at the end of fall semester, the last few days before the university shuts down are a little more quiet. Fewer people on campus each day; the phone rings less often; the e-mails don’t roll in quite so fast–a chance to work and not just dash from meeting to meeting, e-mail to e-mail, mini (or perceived) crisis to next perceived crisis.

A respite.

I hope you are all enjoying a little time away, a chance to wrap up one semester and plan anew for spring, and an opportunity to remember why we do what we do and what about our work gives us joy and satisfaction.

Enjoy the holidays and we will see you in 2016.