Celebrate September: the academic New Year

by Beacon Staff • September 15, 2011

strongMorgan Baker, Beacon Columnist/strong

Summer is officially over — regardless of what the calendar says or how it feels outside.  Sept. 23 may be a week away, but my new year has already started.  Labor Day has passed. Long days to read, write, go to the beach, hang with my dogs, husband, and daughters are long gone.

When August nights started rolling in sooner than the July ones did, my stomach lurched knowing I would soon be getting my children ready for school, which meant sending one back to college, and settling into routines that don’t always put me first.  It’s now time to hang with my students, plan classes, correct papers, drive carpools, and argue about homework.

As much as I miss summer, I adore fall. September is exciting and energizing and full of change. Despite my aversion to change — watching my daughter leave our home last year rent my heart — the fall is the start of something new, the promise of better times, the smell of new books and paper.

No matter how much I thrived on days of little structure, there is something to be said for the return of routines and students.

Routines give me the sense of predictability — I know when my classes are, when my younger daughter has to be at school, when I’m supposed to go exercise — and I can attack them with newfound verve from my summer away.  My students, on the other hand, keep me jumping.  They are anything but predictable.  I never know who I’m going to have in my courses or what they’re going to say or do from class to class, semester to semester.  This keeps me tingling with anticipation in early September, and racing with excitement throughout the semester.

I have lived my life by the academic calendar for as long as I can remember.  September has always been the start to my new year, except for three years between college and graduate school — when I tried to live in what some consider the “real world” — and when I had babies. In the real world, I worked in a hotel, a department store and an advertising agency. But what I really wanted to do was write, and so a friend bribed me with a $500 loan to quit the next day and apply to graduate school.

I didn’t know then that I would stay in school for the rest of my life — although, I should have. When I graduated from college, I mooned over the course catalog at all the classes I couldn’t take because I had received my diploma.

My love of the academic world did not come naturally. As a student, I was the one in the back of the classroom. I rarely raised my hand.  I practiced what I was going to say before I said it. I hated talking in class. I hated having the attention on me.

Now look at where I am, at the front of the room with all eyes focused on me.  When I taught my first class as a graduate student, I thought I’d puke through the whole semester.  I made it, though, and one student approached me at the end and said, “You got better; you really did.”  I discovered I loved balancing my freelance writing life with teaching.

I couldn’t have been more surprised by how much I enjoyed teaching. I loved the interaction between the students and me, and how much vigor they threw my way.

So here I am, still living by the academic calendar, getting anxious and excited about the start of my new year—wondering who’s going to be in my classes, what new twists I can put in my courses and how I’m going to balance my own writing with correcting my students.

While many people make their new year’s resolutions on January 1, I tend to make mine in early September.  This fall, I’m going to write daily, walk my dogs more, exercise four times a week, de-clutter my house, smile more, and frown less. I’m going to stay on top of my workload and I’m going to be firmer with my students. Check back in a month to see how I’m doing.

While the start of every semester is stimulating, there’s hope in the fall, hope you don’t always see in January — hope for a better way, a better year.  The weather hasn’t turned yet and my tan hasn’t quite faded. I can wear my boots again and see friends I haven’t seen all summer.  Students are energized too — they’re not burned out, they’re moving into new apartments and dorms, reuniting with friends, and even if they’re anxious, they’re excited about the changes coming up, whether than means leaving home for the first time or planning their thesis.

Even though change can derail me like last year, when my daughter left for college, I also know I can meet any challenge after surviving big transitions in my life.  I just have to keep reminding myself of that.

Even though I will never get used to the shorter afternoons, fall is a time to embrace the future.

emMorgan Baker is a part-time writing, literature, and publishing professor and a Beacon columnist. She is also a freelance writer who has been published in The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine./em