October 27, 2013 by Jean
Two weeks ago, I spent a long weekend, our mid-semester break, at home in Maine. I read a novel, stacked a cord of firewood, put away the deck furniture and took down the screen house, put away plant supports and garden hoses, put out reflectors for the snow plow, did some reading for class, and graded a few papers. Although there was a lot to get done in just a few days, it felt both productive and relaxing.
When I came back, though, it was to the hardest part of the semester, and it hit me hard. During the six weeks from mid-semester to Thanksgiving, the workload ratchets up inexorably. This is always the case. This past week, I held individual conferences with all the students in one of my classes to discuss their progress on their term papers; 7 hours were needed just for these conferences. This week, I will hold similar conferences with students from another course. In two weeks, students in all three courses will begin handing in first drafts of their term papers. These drafts typically take me 90 minutes each to read and comment on, and there will be 50 of them to complete before Thanksgiving. During this same period, I need to complete work on evaluations of three faculty – a junior colleague in my department who is going through a pretenure review, a tenured colleague whose quadrennial review I am responsible for carrying out, and a candidate for tenure at another college whose scholarship I have agreed to evaluate.
I know that once I get to Thanksgiving, things will be easier; we have only one week of classes after the holiday, followed by a week of final exams and final grading, and then a blissful 5-week holiday break. Since my teaching load will be much lighter in the spring semester, I will never have to work this hard again. Still, at this point, all I can see in front of me is a wall of work. I always feel this way at this time of year, but I think it’s worse this year. I seem to be less tolerant of this exhausting work load because I know that this is the last time I’ll have to experience it.
Sometimes, when I’m on a long walk or hike and start to feel as though I want to quit, I push through the tiredness and keep myself going by chanting “One foot in front of the other; keep going, keep going.” That’s what I need to do now, keep putting one foot in front of the other and push through the wall of work to the freedom beyond.