― Mel Michel
Every few years it happens. Thanksgiving is at the very end of November. The VERY end of November. When this happens the days have gone grey and short like our attitudes and the attention spans of our students. In a normal year, I’d be thinking about the Macy parade, football games and feast (not necessarily in that order). As it is, I am struggling to engage with burned out students who just want to go home.
The students. The poor students. They have had no break to speak of since summer. The ones from the East have not seen their families since summer, and for the freshman in my large section of Intro to Theatre, I don’t dare even mention it, for fear that half of them will break down in tears. As Thanksgiving is so late, many of them have just now realized that they are in grade trouble and, with only one week remaining, their situation is beyond dire.
Then there is the week upon returning. Only one week before finals. One week to regroup after being away. Many of the students will skip Monday for travel or hunting, which puts them further behind.
I wonder how other faculty deal with the barrage of excuses, complaints, panicked emails and creative reality interpretations presented to us during these times? In this season of Thanksgiving I find it hard to find it in my heart to say “too bad, so sad” ― or as a colleague suggested I tell them, “Next semester take a physics class, learn how to make a time machine, build it, travel back to last August, and then DO THE WORK.”
Perhaps it is also the merriment of the media and commercialism that adds to the woes as well. One can hardly shop, watch TV, or read anything online or in print and not be reminded that the holidays are imminent; we are most probably already behind. (Sounds like what we say to the students.) When anyone, usually a non-teaching friend asks, “Are you ready for Christmas?” I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or growl. Am I the only one who presses submit for their grades in mid-December only to turn almost immediately to the calendar and realize there are fewer than ten days ‘til Christmas? Oh the times I have had to resort to Harry and David or Swiss Colony for quick last minute gifts for family far away, and paid extra expedited shipping to insure the underside of my Christmas tree isn’t bare? The envious eyes I cast on neighborhood homes with lights up? The shudder of the stack of unaddressed Christmas Cards breathing down my neck each time I receive one from a more organized friend?
With all that looming over our heads, how can we approach the holidays with anything except dread?
Then perhaps, we open an email from a student who took us away from the grading to meet and discuss their grades and what they need to do to pull their semester from jaws of hell, “I just want to say thank you for meeting with me today. And working with me. I’m gonna try my best even if it may not get my grade up for this semester.”
And the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. ~ Dr. Seuss
Mel Michel is professor of theatre at Clarion University. In addition to directing the musical theatre program, she is a yoga teacher writing a book on yoga for actors.