Behind Fulton Hall

We’re ten weeks into the semester at both Boston College and Framingham State, and right on schedule I’m feeling the weariness that usually descends this time of the term. Last year, I blogged about this sluggish stretch, which I’ve come to call the Dark Night of the Semester: the point in the term when “teaching” feels like an endless slog through student papers, and both you and your students wonder (either aloud or secretly) why you ever chose to assign so much writing.

Steps near Conte Forum

During the Dark Night of the Semester, I often remember a line from the Bible: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” At those points in a long semester when I’m feeling uninspired and bogged down with paper-grading, it’s easy to feel like I’ve lost my “salt.” Instead of being zesty and full of flavor, I feel bland and insipid, without the energy to overcome my own (much less anyone else’s) inertia.

One thing I’ve learned from twenty years of teaching, though, is that the Dark Night always passes: somehow, the salt becomes salty again. It’s easy to get sidetracked (and deflated) by the seemingly endless logistics of teaching: papers to read, emails to answer, classes to plan. With all the busy-ness that teaching entails, it’s easy to lose sight of why you’re teaching to begin with. Did you start teaching because you wanted to spend the rest of your life grading papers, or did you start teaching because you love language, ideas, and the light in students’ eyes when they really “get” something?

Fides and foliage

Sometimes restoring your saltiness is a matter of stepping away from the paper-piles, and sometimes it’s a matter of adjusting what you do in your classes: what activities pique your students’ interest, and what activities leave them listless and disinterested? Sometimes, in other words, restoring your saltiness is a matter of moving away the things that are bland and toward the things that still have flavor. We’ve all heard the advice to “follow your bliss,” and I often tell my students that in their writing, they should follow their curiosity. So, what would it look like if both teacher and students alike followed that suggestion?

For me, restoring my saltiness usually involves some sort of creativity, some sort of movement, and some sort of connection with nature. I don’t find paper-grading particularly exciting, but I find it personally inspiring and energizing to write, take walks, and be outside in the living world. So when I got home from teaching today, instead of immediately tackling my paper-pile, I suggested to J that we walk to lunch through an afternoon full of golden light. If you can’t savor the sweetness of a golden afternoon, where will you find any salt at all?

This is my Day 6 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.