Back in the old days, I used to celebrate the end of the semester. It meant something to turn in final grades. I usually had at least a month before my kids’ school year ended, leaving me with glorious free time to relax and catch up on my to-do list.
Am I the only one wondering what happened to this feeling?
When the spring semester of 2020 ended, many of us already had our eye on fall 2020. We may have survived ending a semester by pivoting to online teaching, but imagining a whole semester online was daunting. Some of us were googling “hybrid teaching” to try to figure out what our administrators were talking about.
Some of us were also on the SWAT teams for our departments and schools, planning for virtual orientations or assembling mental health resources for all the students we knew were going to be affected by the challenges of the pandemic.
Back then, we had a collective sense that we could do this! We could learn new skills and show up in new ways to our collective work of keeping our academic programs afloat.
And then the academic year started, and we all just kept on running. My campus opened on time and stayed open (except for one week in the spring), supported by a robust testing and contract tracing program. Some of us taught in person, masked and socially distant from our students. We taught classes online from our bedrooms and kitchens, with kids, pets and partners in the background. (Why do they always walk behind us when we are in the middle of a lecture, anyway?)
Meanwhile, we kept on meeting to respond to the latest directive from our campus leaders, to address issues arising for our students and to figure out what we needed to think about next.
Now, after the longest academic year on record, our semesters are finally ending. The chorus of “I hope you take a break” has begun, as we encourage our colleagues to finally just rest. We see each other’s exhaustion. (Those masks don’t do much for under-eye circles.) We notice that our filters are thin -- that perhaps that we are snarkier than we used to be with each other.
We’ve also grown closer, having gone through more than a year of crisis, chaos and collaboration.
There is always more work to do, and we are still dealing with the impact of COVID and other crises in our programs. We’ve learned a ton over this past year about online and hybrid learning. Yes. Let’s not lose the momentum.
But it’s time for most of us to finally pause, close our laptops and turn off our notifications -- even for just a day.
Our work seems to have fried our willpower and our ability to unplug and left us feeling tethered to our email and work even when, ostensibly, we are taking time off. We need to rest our minds, bodies and spirits -- which will inevitably enrich our ability to return to our work with new energy. We can’t all book a fancy self-care retreat on an isolated island, but maybe it’s time to commit to enjoying a guilt-free beach read. Or to taking a long walk in the middle of the day or visiting a local venue for a live music performance.
Let’s commit to actually taking time away this summer, and let’s hold each other accountable. If I set my automatic out-of-office reply and then immediately respond to your email, call me out! If I say that I am taking a week off in July but then show up in a meeting during that week, call me out!
And let’s not forget to celebrate the end of an academic year that called us to show up together for the good of our students -- and now, for each other.