The sun has barely risen but my composition students are busily at work writing their midterm essay exams. Once again I posted sample essay questions on the class website and allowed students to bring to class any resources they might need: textbooks, notes, laptop computers, pocket translators (for the Chinese students), anything they could carry into the room aside from a brilliant roommate. And once again some of them have interpreted this as a sign that the exam would be easy, that they would not have to prepare in advance. I can tell which students did this because they are now frantically trying to catch up on their reading before they respond to the essay prompt. For first-year students, the midterm essay exam is a learning experience--even before they start to write.
For me, the essay exam is a chance to relax a little bit before the grading frenzy begins. I'm caught up on my other grading and I have only one more class to teach before fall break begins, so I'm coasting. This afternoon I have to review a colleague's tenure file and observe a different colleague's teaching, both activities that require some mental alertness, but right now I'm just letting the soothing sound of fingers flying across keyboards soothe my exhausted gray cells. In a moment I'll sit at my desk and pretend to be doing some serious work when I'm really reading Salman Rushdie and losing myself in a world far removed from the composition classroom (and regretting that Rushdie once again did not receive the Nobel Prize in literature, no offense to Doris Lessing).
They're thinking and writing; I'm coasting and reading. For now, that's the way it ought to be.