Baltimore oriole

I taught my final class of the semester last Thursday, and today I collected my first batch of final portfolios. In between, I spent the weekend catching up on sleep, readying myself for this week’s final onslaught of paper-grading.

Halcyon Lake

I never know how to describe the final weeks of the semester. Are things winding up, or are they winding down? My students’ anxiety and caffeine levels are rising as they study for exams and submit final papers and projects, but other academic activities are slowing to a halt. At the end of every semester, I look forward to Finals Week, when I have piles of papers to read but no classes, committee meetings, or other academic obligations.

Robin in redbud

So whether the semester is winding up or down, I’m looking forward to a chance to unwind. Last week I met Leslee at Mount Auburn Cemetery for a quick walk after work: the first time I’d been there all semester. It was delightful to take a brief stroll among flowers and birdsong before heading back to my desk, a cup of tea, and my waiting paper-piles.

Pieris - flowers and new leaves

I suppose it’s appropriate that the busiest time of spring semester corresponds with a sudden eruption of spring plant growth. Everywhere I look, there are flowers opening and leaves unfolding: a surge of chlorophyll after months of barrenness.

New Pieris leaves

The Japanese pieris in our front yard has been blooming for weeks, and now it’s sprouted gangling whorls of new leaves that gesture from the tips of branches like tiny jazz hands. Yesterday my car windshield was dotted with castoff Norway maple flowers, and today our backyard oaks are dangling catkins that will eventually become autumn acorns.

New Pieris leaves

While both the trees and earth itself are erupting in greenery, my students are pumping out a seemingly endless supply of papers and projects and portfolios for me to read. For months, both my students and the earth itself procrastinated, and now there’s a mad, sudden tumble of productivity: page after page and leaf after leaf materializing as if out of nowhere.

My favorite part is the wrapping

We’ve reached the almost-end of another semester:  I taught my last Fall semester class this past Tuesday, and now I’m hunkered down at home with my end-term grading.  English professors love to complain about their grading piles, and I’m no exception…but even grading piles of exams and essay portfolios isn’t too terribly bad when you can lounge around the house doing it.

Supermarket snowman

After more than two decades (!!!) of college teaching, I’ve established a tried-and-true routine for the almost-end of the semester. The last week or two of classes, I lose sleep commenting on student papers, offering last-minute feedback on rough drafts my students will revise and re-submit to me in their final portfolios. This final push to the end of the semester feels like the end, but it’s only the first step: I liken it to a mountaineer’s trek to base camp. The way is all uphill, but you haven’t even begun the real climb.

Pellegrino Christmas tree

Finals week is when the big paper piles roll in, but before I get down to the business of grading, grading, grading, I invariably spend an inordinate amount of time getting all my organizational ducks in a row. In the past, I’ve likened this to a painter preparing a canvas: before I can tackle my grading piles, there is a long laundry-list of other, unrelated tasks to tend to, like sending Christmas cards, wrapping presents, and sorting through the bills and other mail that accumulated over the sleep-deprived final weeks of the semester.

Today I almost-finished these mundane chores, so tomorrow I’ll start grading in earnest, my proverbial deck cleared of other demands. So far, the weather has cooperated: today was snowy, so I left the house only when J and I walked to lunch, and tomorrow is supposed to be warm and rainy, a sloppy, snow-melting day that will offer the perfect backdrop for a day at my desk, reading exams and essay portfolios over a bottomless cup of tea.

Office still life with artificial flowers

Yesterday I taught my last classes of the semester at Framingham State, and today I’m holding my last office hour of the semester at Boston College. This means my students are now revising a semester’s worth of essays, prepping the portfolios I’ll be reading over the weekend and throughout next week. It’s all over, in other words, but the grading.

Festive holiday bauble

In the meantime, winter storm “Electra” is forecast to dump an undetermined amount of snow and freezing rain starting Saturday afternoon, when I have plans to meet a friend for stationery-shopping and hot beverages. If you’re contemplating a week’s worth of grading, you don’t necessarily mind getting snowed in with your paper-piles…but only after you’ve fortified yourself with new notebooks, pens, and hot caffeine.

As much as I whine about my paper-piles throughout the semester, I don’t really mind Finals Week with its influx of grading. Without any more classes to teach until 2014, my sole focus between now and Almost Christmas is a blizzard of student essays, their pages as white as snow.

Almost

It’s the last week of classes at Keene State, so today I handed back a fat stack of research drafts: the last I’ll see of them until next week’s deluge of final portfolios. It’s been an exhausting week, with that fat stack of drafts arriving right as one online term ended and another began: three fresh online classes that had the audacity to begin right when I’ve been busy with endings. After nearly a week of almost-all-nighters, I feel wrung-out, looking ahead to the weekend and a chance to soak up sleep like a sponge. The end of the semester can’t come soon enough.