Many of my friends who don't work in academia have trouble understanding the anxiety that hits at the beginnings and endings of semesters. While we teachers experience a range of anxieties in myriad (or plethora) of forms, such pre-semester anxiety often takes the form of:
- Syllabus Stress. Is it/will it get done? Is it complete enough? Too thorough and thus too rigid? Have I addressed every last little thing that went wrong in preceding semesters? Have I anticipated everything that might ever go wrong in the future?
- Tossing and Turning. This is done whilst lying in bed, wasting the few days remaining in the break, replaying all those things that went wrong or that I just know I could have done better, as well as anticipating all the future wrong stuff.
- Teaching Nightmares. Once I'm finally asleep, I face those lovely teaching anxiety dreams. A few examples: I'm trying to get to my first class, but I can't seem to get across campus to the room, as I'm forced to drag my limp body across busy streets or (once) swim across some sort of reservoir. Or, it's halfway through the semester, and I have yet to collect any actual writing from the students. Or, they just won't listen to me, and I keep yelling louder to get their attention. (This last leads to talking in my sleep--or, at least, making noises in my sleep so that I sound like a teacher from Charlie Brown.)
- Not Eating. This is a new one. My stomach gets so upset (think chronic low-grade acid reflux--lovely!) that I can't eat more than a little bit at a time. Even though what I want more than anything is to deflect stress the way I used to, by eating and drinking lots of lovely things. Like chips and dip. And macaroni and cheese. And margaritas. And cosmopolitans.
But, this year, I have a novel plan: I'm going on vacation. I'm not getting back until two days before classes start. I'm going to be lounging on the deck of a cruise ship in the Caribbean, my syllabi already off to be photocopied. If this works, it's going to become an annual rite. In the meantime, watch this space in a few weeks for photographs of me next to blue blue blue water...