Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer's over. Except it really isn't.

I finished with my summer classes last week. By and large they were really good. I find that the summer students we get are typically more motivated and hardworking, and earn better grades, than the regular semester students. (I suppose this is because it takes a special motivation to attend college in the summer: you have one more class required for graduation and it's offered in the summer. Or if you go in the summer, you can graduate faster than an ordinary student.  Or you are an incoming freshperson and you want to hit the ground running in the fall. Or you're attending another school but can get some transferrable credits cheaper and with more individualized attention here.)

My grades are done and in. I haven't had any pleas for mercy or extra credit. (In fact, one of the small number of people who did not earn a good enough grade in my intro class came to my office after the exam to ask me to help her enroll in the same class for the fall, because "Now I think I can pass it." I hope so.)

I'm taking about a week's break to go visit family and generally decompress. Though I will say summer helped cure some of my teaching burnout - it's not me, it's the students, that make me crazy sometimes, and this spring, I just had one class who gave so monumentally small of a damn that it really wore me down. Teaching the same class this summer and having people tell me, "I was kind of dreading this class but it was really fun and I learned a lot!" or "Thank you for teaching this this summer; now I can graduate and go on to the job that is waiting for me" makes a big difference.

Then I come back. The local public schools start August 12. We start August 18, but that week before is filled with meetings - four solid days of meetings, at least two of them 8 am to 4 pm solid days. (We get fed lunch one day, I guess. The other day we're "invited" to go eat at the cafeteria - no notification as to whether we are expected to pay or not, so I'll probably pack my lunch that day).

I don't know. Mid-August feels way too darn early to start school. I understand the reasons: we get a couple days mid-fall break, we get the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we finish up well before Christmas (and give exams before Christmas break. In the era my parents went to college, exams were AFTER Christmas break, which I would have hated as a student). In the public schools there are a lot of one-off days off. They get most of the Federal holidays (we do not: we get MLK, Jr. day, and Independence Day, and Labor Day, but that's it). They also get random days off for "teacher inservice" or also, I think "parent-teacher conferences." And I guess that last one is only fair; if you're going to expect your teachers to be available between 5 and 9 pm or whatever it is to meet with parents, maybe it's a bit much to expect a full day of teaching that day....but when I was a kid, that was how they did it. (I think the conferences were also optional? My parents always went and I remember a teacher saying something like, "The parents that DO show up, they are usually the ones where all I have to say is, "Your kid is a good kid; they are doing well in their classes" and the parents I NEED to talk to don't show up.")

Anyway. It's hot. It was very hot last weekend. It's going to be very hot when campus grinds back open all the way on August 18. Those first two weeks (heck, the first month or so here) are just kind of miserable because it's so hot. Oh, the buildings are air conditioned but it's unreliable - sometimes a classroom will be "out." Or the a/c will go out in the faculty-office part of the building. Or it will be so cranked up in one room that that room is freezing. And it's hard to adapt and I often walk around with a headache from the variable temperatures.

And frankly, I think a lot of the students are not ready to be back. When I grew up, I was used to a school schedule where school started after Labor Day and let out for the year in early June. And that seemed to make more sense to me. August is kind of an awful month and it tends to be the hottest month in the summer, no matter where you are.

And yeah, I've heard all the arguments in favor of year-round school and I even agree with some of them (and heck, what I do essentially is teach year-round school for college students), but also, I think in some cases, at least for some kids still, there's value in having a big chunk of time off. Or, at least there was when I was a kid - maybe it's different now with the Internet and video games and 500 tv channels. But when I was a kid, we spend the summers playing HORSE, or having big neighborhood-wide games of Kick the Can. Or we'd go looking for frogs or minnows in a stream up the street. Or someone would set up a sprinkler for us to run through. Or I'd get a big stack of books from the library and spend the biggest part of some days reading. Or my brother and I would beg wood scraps from our dad and "build stuff." Or we'd climb trees. Or go looking for weird bugs or snakes. Or I'd beg my mom to let me bake cookies and sometimes she would let me.

A lot of it was learning to entertain yourself left to your own devices. And there was a certain degree of learning to compromise in there - I didn't like playing HORSE that much because I wasn't very good at it and until I had a growth spurt around 12 or so, I was one of the shorter kids. But I played it in the hopes that later on people would want to play hide-and-go-seek or Capture the Flag, both of which I did like. Or, I played because the only other choice was to go figure out something to do on my own, and playing a game that wasn't my biggest favorite was better than going and digging in the sandpile or something.

We were also largely left to our own devices. There were no cell phones, so if someone got hurt or something, you figured out a way to get them back home (carrying one of my smaller friends when she sprained her ankle) or you ran to a neighbor for help (like when one of the older kids got into a hornet's nest and got stung a lot of times and we were worried he was going to have a bad reaction). You figured stuff out, you were fairly independent.

I don't know if kids today are like that or if they have become less like that. I suppose if we had had cell phones back in the day, I could have called Christy's mom and asked her to come and pick her up when she sprained her ankle. Or we could have called Tim's dad and asked for help on the hornet thing. But both of those situations turned out okay, even with us left to our own devices.

And I see these occasional stories about a parent who gets in trouble because some busybody sees their kid left "alone" and worries on the parent's behalf that something bad will befall the kid. I have no idea how widespread that is, and if kids are more overprotected today. When I was a kid - in the late 70s and early 80s - by and large we were allowed to roam the neighborhood as long as we didn't do anything to dangerously stupid or anything criminal, and our parents trusted us to know the difference. (Well, smaller kids were expected to stay close to home unless a kid in their teens invited them to tag along, and the fact that one of the kids who babysat my brother and me was the oldest sibling in one of the families we palled around with probably had some influence on the degree of freedom we were given). But I remember walking the 1/2 or 3/4 of a mile to the "creek" as an 11 or 12 year old, going to catch frogs, and all my dad said was, "Don't fall in; it's really muddy right now." Maybe in an era now when there isn't a parent at home to kind of man home base, or maybe now when the world seems more dangerous than it was, it's preferable NOT to have long summer breaks anymore, I don't know.

(Though I wonder: is the world really more dangerous? I remember several high-profile kidnappings of young girls that happened in the early 80s, including one not too far from where I grew up. And they all ended pretty badly. But I don't remember my mom or my dad telling me not to go out, or preventing me from going places; they seemed to know that I was smart and canny and would come running back home (or to a trusted neighbor) if something seemed suspicious.)


Kate P said...

I don't know if the world is more dangerous, but I do feel it's more litigious and definitely more expensive.

Dave E. said...

Perhaps the biggest change since I was a kid in the 60s is the number of houses that are now empty most of the day. Back in the 60s most houses had a mom or retired couple that the kids on the block could count on being home if they needed help. They even had a program where there was a Block Parent or Block Mother or something like that. I remember they would put a letter sized yellow sign in a front window and if a kid needed help they were told to go to the house with the sign. I think that program ended in the 70s some time.