Spring Fever

2014-03-08 12.11.07

Melting snow in the Big Horns

It’s spring, and despite the snow and cold wind, I can taste summer. I can hear the birds’ arrival, and I can see signs of spring in the baby bunnies outside my office window, fawns grazing at the side of the road, and green-tinged tree buds scratching at the glass as the wind blows. I feel a deep restlessness in me as well. I don’t want to wear my jacket or long sleeve shirts. I’m tired of wearing tights and thick pants. I want to go play. I want to be outside hiking, biking, breathing the mountain air. I don’t want to grade papers or discussion posts. I don’t want to answer student emails. I want to be done with the semester already. But despite these feelings, a sense of duty drags me out of bed, gets me to work, and helps me complete my to do list.

On top of having spring fever, next semester I will be on sabbatical working on a writing project, so I’m having an extra hard time getting anything done. I describe it to my colleagues as having senoritis: that feeling of new adventures beginning and old ones ending and the feeling that “now” doesn’t matter much. My fingers itch to write, and my brain is consumed by other projects unrelated to grading and teaching English.

I know I’m not alone in this feeling. It’s this time in the semester when my students stop turning in work, or they turn in sloppy work. It’s also that time of year when we’re all weary…weary of winter and weary of routine. Often, some students will disappear. They may resurface at the end of April suddenly aware that they have to pass the class. Hopefully it won’t be too many, and hopefully it won’t be too late. I remember having these feelings as a college student. I would resist them when I could, but sometimes I skipped class to spend time outside or to simply sleep.

As an instructor, it’s more difficult to skip class. I could take a personal day here and there, but often, they’re accompanied with guilt, and there are still emails to answer and grading nagging in the back of my mind. That carefree irresponsibility I felt as a student no longer exists. Perhaps I’ll experience some of that on sabbatical, but I really don’t know.

I’m not sure what to expect on sabbatical. I’ll have a project to complete, so I’ll keep a schedule, but there won’t be anyone around to make sure I’m producing my self-assigned number of pages. It will be a different type of work…a different focus for me, and I’m excited. I’m also a little bit worried–especially with how I feel right now. What if I just don’t do it? What if I can’t do it? What if all this time I have been working hard to convince others to pay me to write, and then I just can’t produce?

Are these fears that my students experience? Is this perhaps why they don’t do the work or the reason they procrastinate? I suspect this is part of it. I also suspect there are other mitigating circumstances that I’ll never know or perhaps understand. This is why I get so upset with Complete College America. I want my students to succeed, but I also want them to work hard at it. A degree should be earned, not given. I want students to complete college, and I believe our society is better off if our citizens have an education. But what bothers me most is that legislators wants to tie our funding to how many students finish a degree. This puts the responsibility of learning squarely on teachers’ shoulders, not on the students’. This is the problem.

I can give my students every opportunity to learn: provide them resources, spend hours responding to their essays, spend time talking them through the assignments, and provide feedback on every missed quiz question or misleading discussion post. However, if the students do not do the reading, don’t show up for class, don’t access the resources, or don’t do the work, they will never learn. And this is what the completion agenda does not address.

I can only do so much to motivate my students. In the end, they have to drag themselves out of bed when they have spring fever. They have to talk themselves into doing the work even when they don’t feel like it. They have to decide to make education a priority in their lives, and they have to decide to stick to it and to do everything they can to learn. I can’t do it for them.

So, dear students, I know how you feel, but together, we need to hang on and get it done because come summer, we can either have a sense of accomplishment or disappointment. The choice is yours.

~ K

Beginnings: Part II

The hallway usually teems with life (and furniture), but Friday, everything vanished as the College prepared for graduation and the following reception.

The semester ended officially on Friday. The halls emptied except for a few stragglers here and there and faculty still grading. Every spring, one set of graduates move on. I will miss the students I came to know and whose lives I entwined myself. Like the circle of life, come August it will begin again.

I love the ebb and flow of the semester—even the crazy stress of midterms and final exams. I even enjoy the race to the finish followed by the huge sense of accomplishment and relief that comes with summer break. In the end, I look to the summer exhausted and frustrated by those who gave up. I feel like a beaten piñata, spewing unhealthy emotions and defeat.

Then Graduation comes, and I’m reminded why I neglected the rest of my life for the past nine months…why I put my life on hold every semester.

It is for these students…these students who look toward the future with hope and promise and who strive for a dream. It is for these students who I see during life’s transitions: the beginning of school, figuring out their classes, their dreams, their identities; the middle of their program when they struggle through the difficulties of college and the self-doubt that comes with trying to change. Finally, I am there in the end when they realize their dream with graduation. I get to see the look of accomplishment and pride on their faces as they walk across that stage…this moment that they earned.

This semester, one moment in the ceremony remains with me. The final graduate to walk across the stage earned her master’s degree from the University of Wyoming.* On Saturday, this one girl, the very last person to walk on stage, smiled from ear to ear. Faculty stood and applauded. The rest of the audience joined them. The dean passed the graduate her diploma and directed her to the front of the stage. The graduate looked confused, but she continued smiling. The dean hooded** her as the audience continued to applaud in waves of respect and pride, especially faculty because we remember our own graduation.

I remember my time on stage feeling a sense of wonder and joy. There were times I thought I wouldn’t make it, but I persevered. I met the challenge, and I fought through the tough times.

It began one spring day sitting on the porch in Nebraska with the graduate packet from UW. I read the degree requirements, and I was completely overwhelmed. My step-dad came out and sat next to me. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m reading the requirements for the University of Wyoming English program.”

“Oh, yeah? What are they?” He looked over my shoulder at the packet.

I read to him the list of classes, the number of credits, and the requirements for the master’s thesis. He nodded, “That sounds like a good, rigorous program.”

I looked up at him, “Do you think I can do it?”

He smiled and said, “Yes. You can.”

And I believed him. I took that little pearl of belief with me to the University of Wyoming. I took the first step, then the second, and I accomplished it. I stepped across the stage. I saw my adviser and the entire English faculty there to greet me. They shook my hand, hooded me, and gave me flowers. My family was in the bleachers cheering, and my classmates and friends applauded. I was proud of myself, and I will never forget it.

As that girl stood on the SC stage on Saturday, I bet every faculty member remembered his or her own experience with the same sense of satisfaction. This is why we do what we do…we want everyone to experience that same sense of pride and accomplishment. We want everyone to believe in themselves and succeed.

*Sheridan College allows members of the UW Outreach Program to participate in the graduation ceremonies in Sheridan. This allows graduates to graduate in their community among friends and family rather than traveling 5 or 6 hours just to get lost in a sea of people.

**In a hooding ceremony, the graduate is placed at the front of the stage, facing the audience, and the dean or adviser drapes a colored hood around the graduate’s neck.