Tuesday, June 4, 2013

End of the academic year - Reminders to self

Ever since my students took their AP exam, multiple endings and good-byes have marked the final weeks of the year.  It seems to be a rather long march, as I tick off many "lasts" from my list: last day of seniors, last day of classes, farewell parties to colleagues, last day of exams, the end of the senior trip, graduation (finally!), and then last day of meetings.  That final day of meetings is yet to come, but graduation certainly marks a moment when, as a community, we breath a collective sigh of relief.  Not that I can speak for everyone, but I know that Sunday night, as the pomp and ceremony came to an end, I felt much lighter, and, as usual, I spent way longer at the faculty/staff post-graduation party than I intended, probably thanks to the coconut shrimp that is always the highlight of that event.

I don't think that I "do" good-byes or come to a sense of closure very well, and this year was no different.  For my younger students, there is a sense of comfort that I'll see them around next year, even if I don't teach them, but the seniors start to slip away throughout the spring semester.  It's natural, and I'm usually fed up enough with some or most of them that I can't wait to see them leave my classes (yes, teacher of the year award here).  But then I head off on the Senior Trip, and it is usually a really nice way to conclude the year with lots of activity.  This year, I did the ropes course and surfing the same day and the next day, I felt muscles in my body that I didn't know existed.  Overall, the trip is exhausting but fun, and I usually have a few great conversations with random kids, and I end up appreciating them, which is a nice change from how I feel about seniors for most of the month of April.  However, the final morning, I'm officially burnt out - tired of sleeping in a filthy tent (after only 3 days, I'm a lightweight), sorting through dirty clothes, and feeling sunburned - and just ready to get home!  Friday, I returned home and promptly took a nap, after shoveling a salad into my face.  So nice to eat greens after a few days of an almost total-carb diet!  The outdoor group that we contract for the trip calls this the "float and bloat" trip because it's pretty low-key and the focus is on having fun.  And stuffing ourselves, obviously.

After more greens, sleeping more in a bed, unpacking all of my shit and doing mounds of laundry (how does one manage to get so many clothes so dirty in a relatively short amount of time?), I started to feel that I was returning to my normal self.  By Sunday night, I was able to put on a dress and look somewhat 'together' enough for the formality of graduation. Not that it really matters what I wear since we strive to be academic in cap and gowns, same as the graduates.  Again, pomp and circumstance!

This is also the time of year that I can look back and evaluate the experience as a whole.  As I conclude this year, I've felt a bit conflicted about my teaching, classes and connection to students.  Michael has commented that my stress level has seemed, to him, lower than usual.  I'll take his word for it, but I can't help but wonder if I've just slacked off a bit more this year.  Have I also been more negative?  More disconnected?  More discontent?  Or do I always find myself swirling in these thoughts at this time of the year?  I suspect that the answer to that question is a resounding "YES", especially as I think back to other years, some of which ended with much lower points than this year (like the year that I made a student cry; I realize that none of what I'm writing makes it seem as though I'm a good teacher or caring teacher).  But, still, it can be hard to get to this point and be all sunshine and warm happy thoughts.

Which brings me to the topic of reminders - things that I really should remember for next year:

- First of all, don't make any major professional decisions in May.  It sounds crazy, but at the end of the year, I almost always think about switching schools, changing careers or taking a year off.  I contemplate any number of options and even look at job boards for the hell of it.  Again, I'm not winning teacher of the year awards here.  It's not that I don't like what I do, but I seem to suffer serious burn out by the end of the year.

- During graduation, I should dress more strategically under the gown because it gets really hot!  Also, make one more bathroom before the ceremony.  I didn't have to majorly pee during the ceremony, but it was still a nagging thought as I sat there for hours.

- Do NOT, under any circumstances, look at people in the audience during graduation, especially during the most-boring-speech-ever (how did this student end up as Valedictorian - so boring!), because if they make a face at you and you start to laugh on stage, it doesn't look good.  Fortunately, I didn't start to laugh, but that was only because I bit the inside of my cheek really hard.

One of these days, I'd like to end the year without all this ambivalence towards myself, students, colleagues, and entire place of work.  Maybe that is where the idea of closure comes into play - so that I don't feel quite so torn about the experience.  But isn't the bittersweet ending a part of the experience?  If it weren't bittersweet, what would that mean, especially as we celebrate and say good-bye to students and certain colleagues?

And maybe this is why I like the academic calendar.  As soon as one year ends, I can begin to think about the next year, wonder how to tweak a unit, or restructure a class, or improve a project, and contemplate my own performance and personal experience.  There is always the hope that I can improve!

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