I am a week and a half away from being finished with this term, and I tell you, this stretch is difficult to pull through. Yesterday, when emailing a friend I liked the end of a semester to mile 25 of a marathon (not that I have personally run a marathon, but it's what I imagine it to be like); the end is in sight, but the pain is excrutiating. I know that some of you are college students, so don't take offense to this, but I have been teaching at the college level for six years, and every single term, within the last two or three weeks of the semester, things begin to go haywire.
A.) Grandmas start dropping off left and right (why is it that Grandpa never goes at this time? poor Grandma), students are suddenly very accident prone, and tragedy and sickness start striking them down wherever they turn. Now, I am sympathetic to a degree because in my own college experience, my grandmother did die during finals week in the fall term of my junior year, and I had to make special arrangements for my finals and was very appreciative of my professors' understanding. But after I've heard that Grandma is on her sickbed for the upteenth time, I start to become a little cynical.
B.) Computers usually unite and start undermining student work. Disks are lost, hard drives are irreversibly damaged and the material lost, and printers run out of ink or start eating paper instead of printing on it. (Many writing instructors complain that modern word processing programs have done for writing skills what the calculator did for math skills, but I think the computer is awesome and wouldn't abandon its aid for anything; however, I do think its ability to provide an unprovable excuse is downright wicked. It's a fail-safe problem and students know they can be as vague or as detailed as they want, but they have a solid reason -- "my computer crashed." End of story. Of course, I have circumnavigated this problem on my syllabus and state, quite clearly, that it is the student's responsibility to ensure that all work is saved and backed up to disk -- preferrably a flash drive -- and that computer problems will never be an acceptable excuse for late work. If only I could think of a clause that included Grandma's death.)
C.) A semester is sixteen weeks -- four months -- and inevitably during fourteen of those weeks (or three and a half months) I will get a trickle of email traffic from students with questions, concerns, etc, and I will get a handful of calls, and maybe a few who stop by my office or who make appointments to see me. But suddenly, in the last two weeks, my mailbox is full, my voicemail is full and I have appointments with them in every available time slot, and they are lining up after class to speak with me. It seems as though someone turned on the light and they see the sign that says, "The END is coming: Repent!"
At this point, I am always just relieved to finish the term, as I know students are too, and I wonder: Would I be cut out for a marathon? Could I go the distance? I am usually plagued by doubt that I could endure that distance running all the way, but then I remember that I have completed 12+ semesters (summers are in there as well) and that each one feels like a test of endurance. If I can teach, I can run a marathon. Physical pain can't hold a candle to this mental anguish.