Saturday, August 28, 2010

87 %

27 down and 4 to go.  If this blog assignment were graded purely on completion, I would already have earned  87% of the points for a B+.  It is tempting to call it a day and take the B+.  A B+ is an honors grade, right?  To be honest, on a few recent days, I have not felt like writing anymore. Part of me is eager for Sept. 1st when I can skip a day or even a week, or for that matter stop altogether, and not feel like a quitter.  But I said I’d post an entry to this blog every day in August, and I will, in fact, post something every day in August.

I must be feeling exactly the way my students feel a week before final exams.  They know that the bulk of the work has been done, essentially all of the content has been covered, and it is really a matter of just finishing.  But, by the end of the semester, they are tired.  Very tired.   Motivation sags.  Their energy cannot be restored by any number of double tall nonfat vanilla lattes, no whip.  It is tough going, and they just want to stop.

Here is what I tell them:

If I were to plot energy level as a function of time for the fall academic semester it would look like this:

Everyone starts the academic year with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, ready for new challenges after a long summer break.   Energy remains fairly high in the early fall, with only a slow decrease as September rolls into October.   We experience a faster decrease through late October’s mid-term examinations and by the time we get to Thanksgiving, we are exhausted and  ready for a long weekend!  A few days off with family, lots of turkey, stuffing and apple pie boost our energy and our spirits but, the energy spike is very short lived. As soon as we get back from Thanksgiving, final papers, projects and exams are upon us.  This is the dangerous time.  This is the time it is easy to give up and try to coast in.

But here’s the thing.  You may get to the point that you think you cannot write one more paper and that if you have to do another chemistry problem you will just scream.  Go ahead and scream if you want, but the truth is that you can keep going.  You do have the energy you need to see it through to completion.  It is hard to believe now, but when you are done with the work that seems so insurmountable, you will barely remember being tempted to give up and you will look back at your accomplishments and  feel deservedly proud of yourselves.  So, just keep going... keep slogging it out.

I would like to say that the students applaud at this moment and thank me for my inspiring message.

Yeah, right.

In my dreams.

In fact, usually, they don’t say anything.  We just go back to our work and solve more chemistry problems.  But occasionally, after the semester is over, students will tell me that they did feel very proud of work they completed in my class and they thank me for reminding them that they could do it.

So, blog I will for at least three more days after today.  I will meet the August pledge, even though my energy for this project is a little low right now.   I have started thinking about what I will do with this blog after Sept. 1st, but haven’t reached a decision.  I do know that daily writing will become impossible as my professional responsibilities ramp up next week.  But we’ll see.

For today, I am grateful for those hidden energy reserves that get us through those tough times when giving up seems acceptable.

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