Grades were due this morning at my institution and that may be a contributing factor in my end-of-semester blues. I hate assigning grades to papers and to students, but unfortunately it is a necessary evil. I would rather focus on helping my students learn and grow as writers, but too many other forces (including my students) demand that I assign a grade. Perhaps if we could find a way to measure and quantify that learning and growth I would feel better about the grades that I assign, however as scholars of writing studies know, that learning and growth is not confined to the 16 weeks they were assigned to my class and does not show up in easily quantifiable ways.
I can use my own hard-won expertise to study a variety of data sources and evaluate the successes and failures of the semester which can help me (if not my students) move past those grades. I hope this process will help move me out of my current funk which I describe as postpartum depression or the end-of-semester blues, but I just can’t summon the energy to do so. I should also be cleaning my house and wrapping presents, but I don’t see either of those tasks getting done today.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines postpartum depression as the depression that occurs in women after giving birth. While it may be caused by changes in hormonal levels, it can also be caused by nonhormonal factors such as lack of sleep and worries about her ability as a mother. I can certainly sympathize with both of those factors at this point in the academic calendar and so feel justified in using the term to describe my current state. I am lacking sleep and worried about my ability as a teacher.
I’ve also read that postpartum depression is also caused by a period of grief and mourning. While the birth of a child is certainly cause for celebration, it is also the death of the dreams and possibilities that the expectant mother held. It is also the loss of a closeness that can never be recaptured. In time, those losses will fade in importance as new dreams and possibilities center around the child and a new relationship is forged. I think teachers experience similar losses whenever a class ends. Certainly this is the point when we must accept that all the dreams and possibilities that existed at the beginning of the semester have now either been fulfilled (or dare we hope exceeded) or fizzled into something we neither expected nor wanted. Fortunately, we can start anew in the next semester, but that doesn’t seem like much of a consolation prize when we are tired from the end-of-semester grading onslaught and worn out from dealing with the angst of our students. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be better equipped to look back objectively at the Fall 2011 Semester and begin looking ahead to Spring 2012.