Thursday, June 6, 2013

Negotiating Summertime - Three Steps

I grade essays.  Lots and lots of essays.  I have a system for doing so and the nights that I am up until the wee hours reading arguments about poetry are very familiar to me - quiet living room, sleeping husband, bad '90s sitcoms on mute on the television.  Each day of the week, I negotiate with myself as to how many essays I can get done before dinner, between dinner and bed, maybe even between the morning workout and the commute to campus.  I calculate how many minutes each essay will take and each time, undoubtedly, underestimate that length.  In short, grading essays is a part of my life.

I have always taught summer classes, leaving little room for any period of time not grading essays. That's okay; I'm an educator and this is my job, right?  This year, though, my summer class got canceled.  Canceled.  And so begins my journey into not grading, not negotiating grading timetables, not watching Full House on mute at two in the morning.  

How will I do this?  I have a lot of time on my hands.  And yes, I have other projects planned for the summer, projects that will most likely make me some money and keep me relatively busy.  The problem is, I am used to responsibilities that include a constant cloud of essays hanging over me, waiting to be graded, evaluated, sent back for revision.  Any project I choose this summer, and there are many, will not create this kind of schedule.  I will have to adjust. I will have to figure out how to do this.

So, here are my steps.  

1.  Read.  

I know. This sounds counter-productive.  I spend the entire academic year reading; why continue?  Personally, I just cannot let my brain turn to mush.  I need stimulation.  I need thought.  So, I read.  I read romance novels and entertainment magazines and bestsellers and poems and book club books and articles about student loan debt.   I find myself watching Jeopardy religiously just to prove to myself that I can still rock out the American Literature category. It helps. I think.

2.  Take the time to remember why you were motivated in the first place.

It's easier said than done.  When we spend ten months saying, "Once I get a break, I'll write that article" or "I'm going to start that small business if it kills me" or "That novel is not going to finish itself," we are all gung-ho when that break comes.  You grab a cup of coffee and are seated in front of that crisp, white, empty Word document by 8:00 am.  You're going to change the world.  And then, you get distracted - by Facebook, by videos of kittens playing with string, by the internet in general and all of the ridiculousness it has to offer.  Why have you lost that motivation?  Because you're tired!  This seems like a time for a little self-reflection, a break, possibly even (gasp!) a vacation.  No one says you have to go party in Miami.  Maybe sit in a bookstore for awhile and stare off into the sea of people around you, or visit relatives, or drive to the beach by your lonesome just to sit.  You'll remember, sooner or later, upon reflection, what it was that made you so gung-ho in the first place, and you'll be more productive for it.

3.  Stop being so mean to yourself!

Listen, we all feel like we should be doing more after two semesters or more (I haven't had a summer without at least one class in five years) of grading and teaching like superstars.  But it's okay to have a glass of wine at four in the afternoon on a Wednesday when you have no papers to grade and some old episodes of Twin Peaks bookmarked on your Netflix.  It's okay to take an entire day (!!) to do NOTHING AT ALL.

(I just couldn't resist my favorite Simpsons line there!) So relax; take it all in.  Summer is happening, whether you're teaching or not.  Enjoy it.  Write something.  Read something.  Research something.  Or, do nothing at all.  Ned Flanders would approve.