One of the benefits of having a laptop and wifi is being able to work outside. This past weekend while I caught up with online grading, Reggie and I took advantage of the nice weather by working (and, in Reggie’s case, resting) outside, both on the sunny patio and shady porch. Just because you have your nose to the grindstone doesn’t mean your entire life has to be a grind.
One of the results of teaching as an adjunct instructor at schools with overlapping schedules is the simple fact that the usual “hell week” of end-term grading actually lasts about a month or so. First, there’s the ramp up to the end of one online term; then, there’s the train-wreck of deadlines as you simultaneously submit end-term grades and get your new online courses rolling. While all this is happening, of course, your face-to-face classes still demand your full attention, and sleepless nights are the only way to tackle the torrent of almost-end-term drafts you have to read, comment upon, and return before your face-to-face students can assemble their final portfolios.
This week is Finals Week at Keene State, so I’ve been collecting final papers and portfolios from my face-to-face students while scrambling to keep up with my new batch of online classes. While many of my Keene State colleagues are rounding the home stretch, getting ready to submit grades after having collected final projects last week, I haven’t even started my end-term grading. When I first started managing the juggling act that is adjunct teaching, it was discouraging to watch my tenure-track colleagues finish their grades before I’d even started. Now, though, I realize that pacing yourself is key when you’re in the midst of a hellish month of grading. As this weekend’s Kentucky Derby illustrated, it’s perfectly possible to come from behind to win if you save your strength and hug the inside rail. Teaching, it turns out, is more like a marathon than it is a sprint, so you have to pace yourself accordingly.
One way of pacing yourself is to emulate your lazy dog by taking advantage of every available bit of down-time to stretch out and even nap. This weekend I made a conscious effort to catch up with both work and sleep, knowing this week will be long. The lesson of lazy dogs everywhere is that you can rest in installments, snatching a little sleep here and a little sleep there if life doesn’t throw you an extended stint of downtime. What I envy most in my tenure-track colleagues these days isn’t the fact that they inevitably finish their grading ahead of me; it’s the fact that they enjoy actual summer breaks and even sabbaticals while my staggered semesters keep rolling on. Just as city dwellers cultivate small, hidden gardens as a refuge from crowds and squalor, I’m perfecting the art of the mini-break: a brief chance to step away from the paper-pile, stretch, walk the dog, or even do the dishes as a way of clearing my head. It isn’t as good as an actual break or sabbatical, but it’s welcome all the same.
If you don’t have the luxury of an extended stint of downtime, you learn to take mini-breaks where you can find them. On Saturday afternoon, after making good progress with work, I treated myself to a short afternoon walk with J to try out the new neighborhood ice cream parlor. When you’re almost finished with a busy semester, a small cup of root-beer-float-flavored Italian ice serves as its own kind of root beer reward.