The spring semester in academia is notoriously brutal: conference presentations, thesis and dissertation projects, graduations looming, and many classes to teach. Years ago, well into a PhD program, my friends and I started to notice a pattern: around April, one of us would lose it. Our panic rotated through the group, but on any given day as the spring semester bore down on us, someone would talk about quitting. When we could not see a light at the end of the tunnel, it just sounded so much easier to go back to our day jobs and give up this grad school dream. We kept close: calling each other in moments of weakness and talking each other off the ledge: off the ledge and over to a beverage of choice. We created a motto: nobody quits in April.
The rule was that you could quit in June if you still wanted to, after you had showered, slept, and had a glass of wine. If you still wanted to quit then, perhaps the feeling was real and right. But the middle of April, with ten deadlines on the horizon, is a bad time to make life changing decisions. I now repeat this to my own students over and over again in the spring semester: nobody quits in April.
The advantage to this way of thinking was that it also bonded us together, sort of a “you go, we go” attitude toward college. We knew how hard everyone worked and we championed success and consoled each other through rejections. We had an advantage in a PhD program: we got to know each other over time in the years and years of grad school. It makes me wonder how we can do this in our short time together–sixteen weeks in a semester–with students: how do we create empathy so that our interests and successes are tied to each other in just a few weeks?
One way I hope we do this in our first-year writing course is to blog together. If we read about the struggles of the first-year, will we see each other reflected in the stories? Will this create empathy for each other? Will we get a chance to get to know each other outside of the short 50-minute sessions? You can find our featured blogs every week on our course site. What you’ll notice is the universal buzz of the semester: we are all running from one task to the next, hoping to have a few moments of feeling good about the work we are doing. If you feel so moved, feel free to give words of encouragement on our first year students’ blogs. Perhaps, together, we can create a culture of kindness.
Nobody quits in April.