Planting a Semester
With the first summer term starting Thursday, I’m busy doing my semester prep, which consists of about 25 things, some minor and some major, that need to be done every semester. Much of it must wait until very shortly before and even after classes start. Some are as simple as reserving rooms for various meetings during the semester and some are as complex as reconfiguring web pages that have a difficult user interface, but that aren’t available until shortly before the term starts. Much of it is busy drudgery that takes enough brain power that it isn’t easily automated or delegated.
I started thinking about how the beginnings and endings of terms are always my busiest and most stressful times, and there simply isn’t much that can be done about them. It is very cyclical, so I started thinking about other life cycles and realized that the academic term for a faculty member can best be compared to the growing season for a farmer.
When planting time comes, there is a bustle of work that must be done. Seed needs to be acquired/verified, the field prepared, equipment to ensure is in working order, help to be hired, and so on. Then, once everything’s planted, there is still plenty of work to do, but it is fairly routine and you can look to other aspects of the farm’s operation. But during the beginning of the season, planting consumes all of your focus and anything else is an unwanted distraction.
Similarly, harvest is a critical time. The crops are ready, and there is a real time limit on getting them in, because rain midway through harvest can ruin a crop, so lots of extra help is hired, long days are lengthened into long nights at times, and nothing else matters. Once harvest is finished, then life slows and literally the fruits of your labor can be enjoyed and even reveled in.
So if the cycles are similar, what else can I glean from the analogy? What is the purpose of farming? Growth of food so that people can eat. What is the purpose of teaching? Growth of minds so that problems can be solved. By getting the labs and the course materials ready, I am preparing the fields so that growth is maximized and the crop can be as bountiful as possible.
Thus, there is real purpose in the drudgery, and honor in doing it faithfully and well.