On endings, and being a horrible professor
I have been continually waiting for the final-exam adrenaline to kick in, the way it almost invariably does.
It’s not arriving. I’m seriously starting to believe it will never arrive. Not at the end of this spring semester.
Over the fourteen years that lead up to this, I have often been incredibly guilt-wracked for what I’ve left undone, what I’ve done imperfectly, at every loose end that could have been explained better or could have been assessed better or could have been written better or could have been could have been could have been.
That’s not happening this year either.
This may still be leftover shell-shock from exactly how this has ended, and how deeply my students have been impacted, and how many questions are still lingering about the future of just about everything, and and and. And this seems to be my mentality right now; this is desperately undone, this time of our lives, and yet at the exact same time it is very much done and one way or another there are a lot of people preparing to go a lot of separate ways.
It has occurred to me, early and often, that right now if I only care about doing my job – that designated, professorial job that I got hired to do here – and I relentlessly focus on my job, there will be a lot that I miss.
That doesn’t mean that I blow off every last thing I have intended to do. (Yes, I’m still giving my finals.) But it also doesn’t mean I chase people off and just stick with my standard finals-week agenda of hiding out and staying invisible until the moment the final is given, either – and certainly not if somebody just wants to come talk, or if I want to just seek somebody out to talk.
There is a lack of discipline in what I’m doing right now that, by every one of my standard metrics, is failure. Things are happening that I would have once beat myself up over and declared myself a horrible professor over that I’m simply letting go now because of the sheer number of people that I can see now and I don’t know when I’m going to see again.
(It also occurs to me that this is potentially a longer-term problem when it comes to seriously doing my job best and most efficiently. I’ve been trained over a very long time that you do your grading in a solitary place, where nobody can see how you’re doing the assessment, and there’s a ton of other academic work that is quiet contemplation, done alone. Through the miracle of the last two decades of my life, a person who was once hard-wired to be an antisocial nerd has now gotten re-wired to be around people, and to ache when he has to be alone, and to cherish the social and interactive tasks involved in teaching. It occurs to me that there is a serious work that I can do to make how I assess learning more interactive and more meaningful to me, and that will be important for the next phase of what I do.)
Simply put: finals started today, and finals will be given tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday, and then that’s it. That’s all the time that’s left. The heartache is real.
My usual coda on my semesters is a spiritual discipline: “pray for me, pray for my students.” It is a serious work, to pray that the stresses my students are under will stay minimized and the understanding will come clear, to pray that I take the work of final grades seriously and soberly and make the right decisions. I don’t understand the theology of that work; I once pretended to. I don’t get what God does in a brain to answer that prayer, and it’s mystery to me, but I still believe in that work and I still ask for that from those of you who believe in such things.
I have never wanted you to do that for me more deeply than I do now. Please pray for me – and not just for me, but all my colleagues. Please pray for my students – and not just my students, but all the students of this place called Virginia Intermont College, that they do their last work with peace over what their future holds.
And if you are a student, please know that I am not so busy – with anything – that I can’t be interrupted to hug you and say goodbye, when that time comes. Please know that.
I have always said this as a joke: The best things about semesters is that they end.
I can’t say that this year. This is not a good ending. This is heartbreaking.
Final exams. Here we go.