When I was younger, I liked those back to school commercials that advertised school supplies. I loved picking out brand new notebooks and pens for the classes I was going to take. But now that I'm a teacher, I don't feel that same sense of excitement when I see those commercials.
Don't get me wrong. I love teaching. Being in the classroom and interacting with the students are the best parts of teaching. Sometimes, students come up to me and tell me they loved one of the authors we studied so much that they started reading other books by that author on their own. That makes me feel like I just found out that I am the sole heir to the Coca-Cola Company. When I see the improvement in their writing over the course of the term, I get a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that they've learned something from me. When students get excited about what they're writing, it makes me feel happy and proud.
But on the other hand, I can't help dreading the prospect of grading dozens of papers on the same topic. I think of the students who not only complain about their grades but demand that I change them. I feel angry when I think of their parents, who send me nasty e-mails, ordering me to change their children's grades or not penalize them for being absent several weeks in a row (yes, this has happened several times. It bothers me that they want to be treated like adults but then run to their parents to fix their problems for them.).
One of these days I'm going to invent a device that will make all the students' cell phones automatically shut down as soon as they enter my classroom, so that they'll never text in my class again. (Of course, the students will react by shrieking, "I've just lost the love of my life! What am I going to DO?") I get stressed out when I think of all the excuses I'm going to hear from students who miss class again and again and again but still expect (or demand) A's.
I also think of my dissertation committee rejecting or tearing apart the chapter I've been working on. I've done so much writing and research that sometimes when I read fellow bloggers' posts, I automatically think, Wait. Where are all the footnotes? I'm afraid that my committee will tell me that what I've written is still not good enough and that I'm not smart enough to be in grad school.
Even though I have been studying and working all summer, for the first time in a long time I've given myself a chance to enjoy myself as well. (I was going to say that I've given myself a chance to "relax", but it's about as difficult for me to relax as it is for one of those "Bachelors" or "Bachelorettes" to keep a straight face when they claim that the only reason they're on TV is to find "true love".)
For example, a couple weeks ago I went to the Chinatown summer festival. It felt so good to be outside on a beautiful day. I ate delicious egg rolls, fried rice, and almond cookies. I even bought a couple souvenirs, including a pretty beaded bracelet that only cost three dollars and a small painting that unfolded like a scroll (it only cost $2.99!) to hang in my apartment. I saw people doing Tai Chi, and I watched the Lion Dance.
There was also a Chinese woman who was holding several sticks of incense, and she gave me one as I passed by. I couldn't understand what she said, but I saw other sticks of incense that had been placed in a container of sand in front of a small statue of Buddha. So I put the stick that she gave me in the sand. I also saw a small donation box, so I dropped some spare change in it. She and some other Chinese ladies thanked me and gave me a piece of cake. It wasn't until I walked away that I realized that even though I'm Catholic, I may have just made an offering to Buddha and a Buddhist temple.
In addition to the Chinatown summer festival, I also went to the Taste of Chicago in Grant Park, where restaurant vendors from all over the city set up stands and sold great food. I read several chick lit novels, and it was a relief to read stuff that wasn't written by people who think that using words that are only used in spelling bees makes them sound smarter. I went to movies with friends. I took walks around my neighborhood, and I wrote down in my journal all the funny, weird, and interesting things that I saw and heard. I also plan to visit the Art Institute on one of their free admission days; either that or I'd like to go to one of the movies featured in the Grant Park Film Festival (you can bring a beach towel to Grant Park and watch a movie for free on a large screen). I'm also interested in watching a free show that I heard about where a dance company is going to perform.
During the school year I'm always working. But during the summer I feel like I have more freedom to do other things that I want to do, and it feels good. I just wish that it didn't have to end, but it won't be long before school starts again.
I really need to work on that anti-cell phone device. I plan to use it on the people who talk on their phones in the movie theaters too, and then I'll point and laugh maniacally when they start freaking out.
What about you? What have been the best parts of your summer? When you were a student, did you look forward to going back to school? If you're a teacher, how do you feel about summer vacation?
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