July 4, 2016 by Jean
Nothing highlights the differences between the summers of my teaching years and the summers of my retirement years more than the 4th of July. When I was teaching, this holiday came in the middle of my three-month summer break, and it marked the transition from a period of relative relaxation to the panicky realization that the new semester was breathing down my neck.
Many people who don’t teach assume that teachers are “on vacation” all summer long. (In a forty-year career, I never succeeded in disabusing most members of my family of this notion.) The truth is more complicated. As a college professor, I was expected to spend time in summer doing research and writing for publication. But I also had to get everything ready for fall courses. During most of the years I was teaching, I taught three separate courses each fall. Each course needed books ordered, assignments created, and all of this put together into a coherent course syllabus. Occasionally, it was just a matter of taking out the old syllabus and configuring the course outline and assignments into the dates of the upcoming semester. Other years, I might be teaching a brand new course that needed to be created from scratch. Most often, I would be using new books that had to be read before I could figure out how to work them into the course outline or new writing assignments whose details had to be worked out. Two weeks was a reasonable amount of work time to get everything prepared for one course, which meant I had to get started six weeks before I headed back for the beginning of school in mid-August – in other words, around the 4th of July.
My botanist friend Sharon used to say, “If the Queen Anne’s lace and the goldenrod bloom and you don’t have your syllabi done yet, you’re in trouble!” Each year in early July, I would see the first Queen Anne’s lace flower at the side of the road and developing buds on the goldenrod in my garden and feel that summer was over.
But now that I’ve retired, the dynamic of my summer calendar has completely changed. I saw that first Queen Anne’s lace flower last week, and the goldenrod buds are getting bigger every day, but they no longer signal a looming deadline. I still have deadline-driven summer projects, but these are gardening projects; and I can work on these projects through September and into October. If I begin the year’s big garden project in late May or early June, I still have months to work on it in early July. It’s the 4th of July and summer has just gotten started!