Thursday, April 06, 2017

April: still cruel after all these years

Bloodroot, blooming!
If April is the cruellest month, it's doubly cruel in the academic world.

No one wants to sit inside grading papers when baseball season has started, when spring wildflowers are blooming and the warbler migration is heading our way. The skies clear and the sun shines and I'm stuck inside with a pile of exams scribbled frantically in handwriting I can't read.

April is when faculty committees and task forces suddenly realize that they have only a few weeks left to complete their tasks, so they panic and plan extra meetings and pile up reports and proposals that everyone has to read and respond to or complain about or protest or ignore, making all our hard work feel futile.

In April we pay taxes, coming face-to-face with the fact that our income hasn't improved for the past five lean years, and the Chronicle publishes its annual report on faculty salaries so that we can see just how far we've fallen behind our peers elsewhere. In April we count the years until retirement and wonder whether we'll ever be paid what we think we're worth, or else we fear that we're not worth any more than what we're getting paid. 

April is when we reward our illustrious students with prizes and banquets and scholarships and massive pats on the back, but it's also when the less illustrious students suddenly realize that they have only a few weeks to pull up those grades and finish those projects. Seniors who have succumbed to senioritis frantically pull themselves together so they can finish well, or at least finish.

In April, desperation gnaws at the edges of just about everything: If I can only get through this project, this proposal, this pile of papers, then maybe things will settle down and I'll start feeling human again. For some students, desperation inspires cheating or lying or obvious plagiarism, while others try to excel at absolutely everything and suffer meltdowns after weeks of little sleep.

If April is the busiest month, it's also the month that requires frequent mental-health breaks. I don't have time to go out and look at wildflowers with this big pile of grading on my desk, but if I don't go outside and let the fresh air blow away the frustration, I'll never get through the pile of grading. 

But April is also the month that makes me squirrel away little notes to myself about how I can make things better next year: Move that assignment a week earlier so it doesn't overlap with the one in that other class; add a catch-up day to the syllabus; take the class outside as soon as the weather allows. One of these days I'll figure out the formula to make April less gruelling. Today, though, I'll just have to put my head down and charge forward. 


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