I’ve been at this teaching thing for a while now – almost ten years – and still I find myself learning new things. Of course, that’s not a real revelation; I know that most people are continually learning. But sometimes, I feel like I should have this down, have it all figured out, and be able to whip through class preps, lectures/discussions, and grading without any real effort. Somehow I imagine a challenging lesson or student should not stump me anymore. I’ve convinced myself, at least in part, people are predictable. And I am always reminded that they are not, especially at this time of year.

We are three weeks out from the end of the semester. I have students who have rocked the free world all term – doing good work, completing assignments, participating actively in discussions – but are now falling apart with the sustained stress of a semester. On the other end of the spectrum, I have students who are barely able to pass because of their attendance, who have trouble with the material, and who seem to be fried but are now, here at the end, giving it a final push, a last stride for the finish. Here, at the end, I am always surprised by what happens.

But then I realize that it’s almost always the endings of things that are surprising. Books, movies, car rides that lead you to unexpected towns, relationships. The beginnings of these things seem fresh and exciting, full of new stuff. The middle gets bogged down in routine and expectations, requisite turns and twists. But in the end, there’s always something unexpected, even if it’s just the end itself. Perhaps this is simply my inability to comprehend death fully; maybe I just don’t really understand that the earthly things, including me, pass away. Perhaps I’m struggling with something more existential here.

Yet, here, at the end of the semester, I must remind myself that the teacher is also the student of her students, of her life, of life itself. What I imagine will be, what I think I can expect, what I deem I can control – these things are beyond me. And I must learn to revel in the surprise of that paper finished (or not), of that lucid comment about what writing brings a young woman who has never read a book, of that moment when it is over, when these people with whom my waking moments have been mostly filled will fade away a bit into life lived not living.

Because I forgot to announce it last week, the winner of the giveaway for Linda C. Wisniewski’s Off Kilter is Cate Hennessey. Congratulations, Cate.