Regret, Gratitude, and Hope: The Last Week of Class

One thing I love about my life in academia is its seasons. Living in Southern California, I find it difficult to distinguish between summer and winter by the weather, but I always know where I am in the year by the semester clock. I am always either approaching a new semester, bringing one to a close, or anticipating the next. Academic life is full of beginnings and endings, of fresh opportunities, and regrets at the daily (hourly?) mistakes of teaching and advising. While research just keeps moving forward at its own slow crawl, teaching is endlessly various. Marathons disguised as sprints. Fourteen week bundles gift-wrapped with intensity and pathos.

Can you tell that another semester is about to end?

The final week of class is always a period of mixed emotions for me. I am, every time, filled with gratitude that we all survived the long haul voyage we began together in that distant, nearly-forgotten past–three months ago. I have long since given up on the idea of using the last week to “catch up” on all the content that every semester I chuck overboard from my ambitious syllabi to keep the class afloat during the mid-semester wallow that always seems to bog down our progress. Instead, I think of the final week as a period of reflection and discussion with students. A kind of intensified advising period, with a bi-directional glance back at what we’ve accomplished and forward toward what comes next. Will students want to continue to study a certain type of writer, or issue, or problem? Will they NEVER EVER want to study a topic again? Will they, too, have a sense of arrival, of nearing a new port? Will the material or experience of their semester classes have nudged them into difference from their pre-semester selves? Will they, too, feel that they will need to regain their land legs as they adjust to their slightly shifted perceptions?  I always leave a semester feeling transformed in some way. Do they?

As we all swim to the surface of the semester, our perspectives change. The minutiae of the semester falls away, and the shared experience comes to the foreground. The frustrations with technology failing, missed deadlines, or experimental assignments fall away, and I am left with a sense of nostalgia. Each class, each semester, develops its own unique character. And the final week of each class I anticipate the approaching farewell with sadness.

But, to be honest, also with JOY! School is almost over! Just as I yearned for the summer holidays in elementary school, so, too, do I yearn for the end of the intensity of the semester. Loved ya, class. But we’re all ready to move on, aren’t we?

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