Ten Ways to Use Your Time (now that the semester is over)

Steve Volk, Professor of History Emeritus, Oberlin College; Co-Director, GLCA-GLAA Consortium for Teaching & Learning. (Updated from original post, December 11, 2017).

Contact at: steven.volk@oberlin.edu


A Bridge Leads from One World to the Next, from Another World, 1844

In a survey conducted in 2017 at Oberlin and among the GLCA colleges and universities, I posed the question: What are the most difficult, perplexing, or problematic issues you face as a classroom teacher? The response most often repeated, not surprisingly, was lack of time.

With the semester concluded and exams, papers, and performances left to evaluate, we surely can be allowed to imagine the time, our time, when the semester past and the one to come haven’t yet collided. I figure that somewhere between the eight nights of Hanukkah and the twelve days of Christmas, there must be a top-ten list of ways to use the time that has just opened for all hard-working teachers who have fought to gain even a minute of “down-time” during the semester. So here are some suggestion for spending the wonderous time that occupies the space between fall and spring semesters; use them as you will. (If you’re on the quarter system, sorry. I have no help for you!)

While the soundtrack for these proceedings is still under development, John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” works for me.



10 are the hours of extra sleep you’ll now have to enjoy, or maybe just time to allow your thoughts to meander: small beer given the deficits you have built up, but lovely, nonetheless.

Little Nemo, by Winsor McCay (1906)



9 are the stories, poignant or funny, sad or inspirational, which you heard during the semester that you’ll share with friends and colleagues; record them before they depart to some far-off island at the outer reaches of your consciousness.



8 are the episodes of “Bodyguard,” “Broadchurch,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” or “A Very English Scandal,” that remain to be watched; feel free to substitute as you see fit!

7 are the books stacked by your bed that you promised to read over the holidays, mysteries and histories, poetry and plays: the only question is where to start?

6 are the measures you will take to stay calm and focused while the torment swirls around you. Illegitimi non carborundum (or for the Latin-speakers among you, Noli nothis permittere te terere.)

5 are the checks waiting to be written (or the Venmo’s waiting to be sent) before the year ends to the organizations that need your support.

Bird of paradise from Ulisse Aldrovandi’s Ornithologia (1599)

4 are the colleagues owed a note of thanks, an invitation to dinner, or at least a coffee. You know them: the ones who have lightened your load over the past semester by lifting your spirits, taking over a class, or helping you revive the computer you thought had shuffled off this mortal coil.

3 are your teachers, the ones who helped make you the teacher you are. Each year you think: I should write Mrs. Simmons, my 8th grade social studies teacher, who believed in me when no one else did. Nu? What’s wrong with doing it now?

2 are the new paths you’ll walk down in the future, not the ones that diverge in a yellow wood, but the ones that will help you keep head and heart together in the semester to come.

1 is the need to always remember just how important your job is. As Parker Palmer wrote, “Education at its best – this profound human transaction called teaching and learning – is not just about getting information or getting a job. Education is about healing and wholeness. It is about empowerment, liberation, transcendence, about renewing the vitality of life. It is about finding and claiming ourselves and our place in the world.”

Have a good break, everyone. We’ll see you next year!

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