A hush falls over H- Hall. I hear Br- sneeze, a door whoosh open and closed, and footsteps move down the hallway. I look outside at an azure sky and gleaming sunshine, turn up the volume on my computer so I feel not so alone as Liz Phair croons that she's extraordinary, and return to the task before me: cleaning my office at the end of another school year.
I tweet Be- and tell her to come to my office and chat because it's too quiet.
We plan Summer of Fun events, and I show her funny things I find in the piles of papers on my desk. She leaves to go give an exam.
B stops by to thank me for teaching him, tells me I'm a great professor, shares his plans for the future, shakes my hand, and leaves.
More footsteps, and happy voices.
"Dr. J? Will you do us a big favor? Will you have your picture taken with all your students?"
"All my students?"
"Well, just your favorite ones," they laugh.
I swipe on a little MAC plum-tastic lipstick and head down the hallway. We gather in a big group, and, snap, the moment is saved.
All the papers are in their proper places: recycling bin, filing cabinet, bags to take home. I rearrange my bookshelf. I wipe down my desk. If my office was always this clean, perhaps work would be a little less stressful.
I close down the computer, walk down the now abandoned hallway, and head home, feeling blue.
I go for a walk through my favorite neighborhood and head down to the lake and think about perspective, since I don't need to think about what I'm going to do in class tomorrow or how many papers I have yet to grade.
In the middle of winter, it's hard to imagine that the icebergs will ever melt, that the snow will stop, that warm temperatures will return.
In the middle of the semester, it's hard to imagine that we'll ever make it through the syllabus, that the papers will stop needing to be graded, that I'll have time to revel in the pleasures of the written word.
While I'm most definitely not mourning the passing of winter, I'm mourning the end of the school year. I'm already missing the students who will graduate on Thursday night--students who began their matriculation in Fall 2007 when I started my current position.
Some people like to critique teachers and professors for their easy jobs, with three months of "vacation" in the summer. While I readily admit that my job provides many advantages--foremostly a flexible schedule--these three months of "vacation" are absolutely essential. (and, really, at least one month of that time is filled with class prep for the following semester, not to mention professional development projects, and various campus projects).
When I first decided to continue on to graduate school, back when I was young senior in college, I envisioned a life spent in a book-lined office, chatting with students about my favorite works of literature, reading said works, and swapping ideas with colleagues. I didn't think about the actual work of teaching and how it would demand me to be someone other than who I was: someone willing to not only stand up in front of groups of people, but talk to them, lead them, teach them, engage them, and, yes, entertain them. This, from the quiet bookish girl.
I have spent the last 12 years of teaching working on this incongruity. When I "created" Dr. J, things began to work really well. I fool my students, who tell me I'm so outgoing and bubbly. I amuse them with painful, awkward stories about middle school. I emphasize that my college sorority was stereotyped as the nerd group on campus (we consistently had the highest grade point averages of ANY group on campus). They shake their heads, and either think I'm lying or that I have some kind of multiple personality disorder.
Being Dr. J has been good for me, helping me be more patient, more compassionate, but also firmer and more direct (sometimes). And, indeed, helping me be more outgoing and bubbly outside of work.
Being Dr. J, however, is absolutely exhausting. By the end of a semester, I need to not be her for awhile.
And yet, tonight, I sit here, with only one more "appearance" left for the semester--graduation--and am at a loss for how to return to the slower rhythms of life as Jessica.
Gone is April's utter desperation (I can't possibly make it to the end of the semester, I can't, I can't!)
Gone is last week's giddiness (celebrated a little unwisely to too many extremes).
Instead, I'm in reflective mode. What worked this year. What didn't. How to manage the everyday stresses of working at a small campus with strong personalities and ingrained quirks; how to be more compassionate yet demanding of students; how to create a better balance of whole living.
As I write a few pages in my journal, catch up on my blog reading, watch new episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and select the next book to read out of the towering stack in my living room, I think I'm beginning to remember how to be myself.
And I think I'm really going to like it:)