December 7th, 2011

End of Semester Reflections: Beginnings, Endings and Spaces Between


Fall is slipping into winter here at the farm in Pennsylvania … no real cold yet, but hints of what’s to come. The leaves are down and things are mostly brown. It’s a quiet time.

For most readers, another set of courses have ended or will end shortly. Unless grades are in, it’s probably not a quiet time just yet. I think there are decided advantages to professions like teaching with clear beginnings, endings, and spaces in between. The spaces in between are never long enough but there is still time for reflection and that is encouraged now as the year winds down as well.

I’ve decided that reflection is more a personal matter than I once thought. Those of us who write are endlessly after those who don’t, touting all that can be learned by writing down thoughts, feelings, ideas, impressions, and reactions. For us, it is a way of slowing down thought processes that hop and skip among ideas, never landing anywhere long enough to really get hold of an idea. Words on paper or in the computer are there, fixed in time and space so that they can be revisited—perhaps deleted, revised, elaborated or connected to some other ideas or insights.

Previously I would have encouraged everyone to write about the courses that have just ended. What do you think you will remember about them in five years? Are there students you will remember? Others you hope to forget? What were the best and worst moments in those courses? How did your relationship with each class begin, evolve and end? What was new, different and exciting about the content? Did you teach well? Did students learn well? If you could change one thing about your teaching and their learning next semester, what would it be?

I live with someone who does not learn by writing. He designs houses, boats and lamp bases in detail, all in his mind. When he starts building, there are no blueprints. The plans are completely inside his head. I don’t have a clue how he does that, but minds work in decidedly different ways. To reflect usefully on the semester or quarter just completed, you may not need to write or even use questions (although writing and questions still work well for some of us), but you should return and take stock of what has been, using the insights and understandings gleaned there to plan for a better semester. Chances are good your best teaching has yet to happen.

My dog Woodie and I hear silence as we walk in the woods. It is such a peaceful place. Full of wonderful smells, if you’re a beagle. Still full of life, even among all that has died. I hope you’ll find places like this during this time between semesters. May you find cause for celebration in the courses that are ending and cause for joy in the ones to come. May you be renewed, refreshed and re-energized during this season of rest.

I would like to close this year with a word of thanks, for reading and responding. More than ever before this blog has become a conversation, a place where ideas, insights, questions and concerns are expressed with care and goodwill. I thank you for that, and I look forward to our conversation to continue in 2012.