March 11, 2012
Spring break! And the Rhythm of the Semester
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

Spring break!  People often ask if I'm going anywhere.  I tell them there is no better place on earth to spend spring break than Athens, Georgia.  The weather is usually beautiful, the roads and restaurants are empty, and the flower beds are bursting with color.

Spring break for me is a chance to catch my breath. Of course I'll be busy getting a draft out the door, revising my Illinois symposium piece, catching up on grading for my seminar, drafting a piece for our alumni magazine, and preparing for classes.  But there's still a pause from the headlong tumult of teaching 2 classes and co-teaching a third, and I thought I'd take a moment to reflect. For some reason, in this my seventh year of teaching, I've been thinking a lot about the rhythm of the semester.  Here's how I chart the 14 week segments that make up my life.

Week 1: Ugh.  Here's a little secret for you: I dislike the first week of class, particularly the first day.  The class doesn't know you, or doesn't know what the classroom dynamic will be like.  Some of the students won't even wind up in class with you (at least if you succeed in driving them away).  My tactic is to limit the introductions and get down to the substance as soon as possible.  

Weeks 2-3: Things are getting better.  The class is getting used to my "popcorn" style questioning (I cold-call on 12-20 students in a class), and I am starting to joke around a little bit.  

Weeks 4-8: If the class is going to click--and it usually does--then things are going great by now.  They understand what I'm doing and how I'm doing it.  Themes are emerging.  But, if I'm teaching 2 classes, I"m also running out of steam.  When will spring break come?  Why am I on these committees?  

Weeks 9-12: I'm still enjoying classes, but there's a part of me that feels like we've been at this a while.  Like we've all been in this classroom with each other for a long time and the semester will never actually end.  In the past few years I've tried to mix up the class a little bit, particularly around this time, with guest speakers and in-class exercises.  I think the students appreciate it.  

Weeks 13-14: I can't believe the semester's almost gone!  There's so much more I wanted to cover!  The class has (generally) really come together.  It has its own personality.  There are various class characters, we have in-jokes, we have a chemistry.  And then it's over.  And each spring as I see another Georgia Law class graduate, it strikes me that we professors create, in roughly 42 50 minute sessions, a little community.  If a class works, then there's a real sadness in the last class that those particular people will never be together in quite that way again.

And then we start anew...


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