Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Holidays are so much more relaxing now that I’m retired.

One benefit of retirement is that the holidays are so much more relaxing. When I was teaching I spent the week before the holidays grading papers and making agonizing decisions about final grades.

I usually got my grades in at the last minute so I had the maximum possible time for dithering. I envied my husband Rick who taught Math because he did not have to deal with the inevitable element of subjectivity. It was not so easy in Women’s Studies, the Humanities, English Composition to decide who deserved an A, a B or a C. [The F’s were usually clear-cut.]

And then what to do with good students who disappeared without a word of explanation and missed the final exam. Should I assume some horrible tragedy occurred and give them an incomplete? For my husband, the answer was clear. They got an F. Although that was my official policy, I could never stick to it. But that led to debilitating self-doubt-- could I really justify the incomplete to student X and the failing grade to student Y?

After about a week of this, I was in a state of absolute and total exhaustion. Then there was the job of getting the house in shape for holiday parties. Rick and I have a division of household labor which works very well for us. He does all the cooking and food shopping; I do all the cleaning. (I’m a terrible cook and would so much rather clean a bathroom than make a casserole.)

So after total collapse for a few days after submitting my grades, I then had to tackle house cleaning. As I tended to do less and less cleaning as the semester wore on, by late December the house was a wreck and getting it in shape was a major undertaking. I was sometimes finishing the vacuuming seconds before the guests arrived. I frequently didn’t make it to holiday parties because I was just too tired.

Now there’s no late December collapse, no desperate attempt to get the house in shape hours before a party, and I have the energy accept all the invitations which come our way. And best of all no nagging little thought in the back of my mind: Will I be able to get all my course outlines done in time for resumption of the treadmill in January.

When I was young I loved teaching. As the years wore on, it became so same old, same old and so exhausting. As my friend Alison, a committed teacher in her 50’s said, “teaching is a young person’s game.” This may not be true for university professors teaching one course a semester, but for those of us in the trenches, I think Alison is onto something. (Yes, I know there are exceptions—-the teacher in her 70’s who’s as engaged as she was in her 20’s. But it was clear I wasn’t going to be one of them.)

Anyway for me freedom from that burden has made for a much more relaxing rewarding holiday season!


  1. I retired two years ago and thought I'd have more leisure to make my presents. I always made my presents, really involved time-consuming ones, and I was exhausted by Christmas. This year I tried to think of things to make and came up blank for the first time in 30 years. My creative urges were being indulged all year, and I didn't need to save them up. So the whole family decided to skip presents altogether. Talk about relaxing.

  2. Once in a while I've fantasized about teaching pass-fail and sidestepping the grading boggle but maybe even then there'd be considerations of passing with or without distinction. It's certainly the least enjoyable part of teaching for us both, but there are so many other pleasures that the paper grades hanging by a thread are bearable. (Yes, I know, I'm not burned out!) Sitting this morning before sunrise, the wind wailing and snow piled high, a small lamp glowing beside me, I'm glad that you're retired, and that since I'm not I can enjoy working! Though more leisure is always a gift...

  3. Reni,
    I’m so happy for you that you are still enjoying teaching! It may have something to do with starting a teaching career in midlife.

  4. Murr, you are right that retirement brings opportunities to indulge our creative urges all year.
    I am in awe of people like you who can actually MAKE beautiful things.

  5. The holidays bring so much more work for me, it is hard to manage both work and the entertainment festivities. I do look forward to my idea of retirement which is semi retiremment, i.e., seeing half the clients that I now see.
    Until then I must enlist more help when I entertain.