The Gifts of the Season

It’s the end of the semester.   This is one of those good news, bad news stories.  The holidays are coming.  We are about to get a break.  For some people, the holidays mean a chance to see friends and family.  For others, the holidays can be a challenging time, with loneliness and depression always a danger.  As a teacher, I am (like my students, I think) a little tired after the rigors of the semester.  August seems a long time ago.  Final deadlines for classwork loom on the horizon, and my students have begun to look a little bit tense and weary.  And it gets dark so early!

For me, the bad news is that the work my students and I did to become a community in each class will be over.  We won’t see each other weekly, or talk about ideas together. The shared interest, the trust, and (for my students) solidarity in the face of adversity (that’s me, sometimes) won’t be the same next semester.   New semesters are new beginnings, and for that I’m grateful, but I will miss the old semester and the relationships we built during the past months.

The good news is that I can see what my students have accomplished. This fall, I am teaching the history capstone seminar, an advanced history course requiring a research paper, and a first year seminar.  I also advised nine candidates (students and alumni) who submitted Fulbright applications in October.  In both the Fulbright process and all of my classes, the joy of the end of the semester is seeing my students accomplish what they set out to do.  Some of them will write brilliant papers.  Some of them will write longer, more complex papers than they have ever attempted before.  Some of them are writing in new genres—personal statements; grant proposals; analytical papers instead of reaction papers; history papers, when their majors are not history; arguments supported by evidence instead of simple opinions.  They are challenging themselves, and it is a privilege to be a part of their efforts.

I will read all the papers with care and with excitement. I celebrate when a student finds a primary source that makes her argument come to life.   I admire the breakthrough when a student who has been summarizing other historians’ arguments makes a clear argument of his own.  When a student writes a clear argument supported by evidence for the first time, I cheer.  I am in awe of the work my students have done in my classes, when I know they have other classes, co-curricular activities, jobs, and lives beyond the classroom.  I look with admiration at my first-year students, who have made the transition to college, and who are moving on to learn more about themselves, their talents, and their goals.  I have my fingers crossed for my Fulbright students, who will find out in January if they are semi-finalists.  There is a lot to celebrate at the end of the semester.  I want to thank all my students, without whom my days would lack purpose.  Thank you for your work, your trust, your good will, your persistence, and your cheerful attendance and participation.  I think I had record good attendance this semester, and I take it as a sign that you were with me, and we were accomplishing something worthwhile.  I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays if you celebrate something else.  I hope the end of the semester is a good one for all of you, and I hope the New Year brings you all manner of new joys and new adventures.

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