Mixed Feelings at Midterm
Reading through a stack of student responses this morning, I happened across a sentence that touched off my semiannual midterm crisis. It was just a tossed off line that my student had overheard others in the class saying what a dumb course this was. Reading this caused me to think: "It is a dumb course. They're absolutely right." Then immediately I thought to myself, 'Ah, yes, it's that time of the semester again.'
Indeed, anyone whose read this sucky old blog for a while knows that I usually have an existential crisis about this time every semester. I start each term with optimism and big plans, but long about midterm I inevitably begin to question everything. What was I thinking? How is any of this relevant to the lives of my students? At this time in the semester I catch myself grading assignments just to get them done, recycling comments and half-assing my way through course preparations with a sticky note filled with gimmicky time-wasters. Who am I kidding? I'm no teacher. I'm nothing but a sad song and dance man whose act has grown just a little shopworn.
Strangely I can sense the students are at the same point. They too begin each semester hoping that this time will be different, the courses will better and their own efforts will be an improvement on previous attempts. It's astonishing how sincere and well meaning we all are the first week of class. By midterm, however, we have both fallen back on our old slapdash and compromising ways. We are both phoning it in. I pretend to be teaching. They pretend to be learning, and we both agree not to mention what's really going on. Oddly, some slightly altered lines from Yeats come to mind:
The [weeks] to come seem waste of breath,
A waste of breath the [weeks] behind...
I know from past experience that I will feel differently by semester's end. Indeed, I would be tempted to quit this job if I had not been through this cycle of hope, futility and feeble redemption time after time. If I face the facts, I have no reasonable evidence I am doing much good. At midterm, however, it's often best to set the facts aside and remember what another poet, John Donne, once wrote, "Reason is our soul's left hand, Faith her right."