What Professors Do in the Summer

 

Nothing? Maybe.

One can easily imagine professors running from campus at 4:00 on the last day of spring semester classes, outpacing students and smelling of suntan lotion applied just before their 3:00 classes. They return in mid-August, stunningly refreshed with stories about summer adventures. This blog is not an apologetic for how professors deserve a summer hiatus. This is an insight into the unknown range of experiences that are created by college professors during the much coveted and much anticipated dog days of summer. Their range of experiences may surprise you. And their range of activities might impress you enough to break the stereotype of poolside-paid professors.

As provost of a Christian college in Georgia, I have seen faculty members log some of the most impressive accomplishments that a career might undergo. They couldn’t do them without the summer break. And since many readers will know Toccoa Falls College professors, I’ve dropped a few familiar names to illustrate each.

1. Teach.

Yes, that’s right. Residential and online classes are taking place out of sight of a world that doesn’t think of college campuses as a hub of summer labor. For each course, a professor is teaching. Lectures, Powerpoints, grading, student emails, and course objectives are underway across America and across the globe. But there’s other related work, too. Administrative faculty are calling on them to submit reports, such as the accomplishment of year-long goals and action steps for next year. It may be a part-time schedule, less demanding that a fall or spring semester, but it’s still work—sometimes in the same office occupied the other nine months of the year. Dr. Günther Juncker is an annual stalwart in the residential summer teaching program on our campus.

Dr. Juncker’s quality evals on the public “Rate My Professor” reflect more than a 9-month work load.

Dr. Juncker’s quality evals on the public “Rate My Professor” reflect more than a 9-month work load.

 2. Write.

For professors who love to write, the summer is a haven for creativity and accomplishment. Reading, researching, composing, and editing alleviate the frustration of the full-time teaching load of the year. They may be in their offices, and for those who love to write it isn’t a space of summer prison but a transformed oasis of opportunity. Their minds are aglow in new ideas to be threshed and submitted. I’ve already read two books and written their book reviews, excited about a self-appointed summer schedule of publication. The backyard, beach, coffee shop, hotel lobby, or an in-law’s house can be the venue for such progress. Sometimes working at a distance can refresh the writing effort. Dr. Don Williams is one who finds delight in the summer writing experience, and his record of books evidence his success.

3. Travel.

Going to new places with family or solo is a universal part of summers. Sometimes these trips provide professional opportunities to professors. Right now, Dr. Chris Vena is voyaging England with his daughter, charged with networking and imagining a semester abroad location for our students. Meanwhile, professors are visiting summer student interns, taking students abroad, and scouting out museums for next semester. The power of a laptop means that all their courses, writing projects, and administrative reports can be toted along for the trip. While it’s a sign of health not to luggage this mental load with you on vacation, the ability to dedicate blocks of time to work duties is available and often embraced by professors on summer break.

Dr. Burris sweats it out with students underneath ancient Roman aqueducts.

Dr. Burris sweats it out with students underneath ancient Roman aqueducts.

4. Prep.

Soon, the dog star Sirius will be rising in the southern sky as August begins to loom. This means that rafting trips and pontoons boats will soon be memories of the summer. Fall semester syllabi, fall course lectures, and gradebook rosters will be created. The untold number of hours required to set up a (good) semester long class is familiar to teaching professors and often underestimated by non-teachers. This time requirement assumes, of course, that the classes are prepared well. Mathematics Prof. Sally Shelton always comes to class well-prepared to engage students and she spends innumerable home front hours to arrange it so.

5. Missions. 

Sometimes professors give themselves away in service during the summers. Herein lies one of the best-kept secrets about these seeming 9-month employees: after bearing with students for most of the year, their time off is characterized by giving even more. These professors help us realize that teaching is about others, that the seeming burden is a joy, and that the sacrificial life is a hero’s life. Dr. Dale Garside has taught pastors in Philippines for two summers now, with a track record of summer service in Africa and South America—in part thanks to the extended reprieve from the academic calendar.

Dr. Dale Garside accepts appreciation by Filipino students.

Dr. Dale Garside accepts appreciation by Filipino students.

Dr. Elkins on his last day with Serbian students.

Dr. Elkins on his last day with Serbian students.

6. Nothing.

Yep. It’s true. They’re not all writing, prepping, and serving. Some would say they are “strategically pacing themselves” for the long haul ahead. They have families, pontoon boats, yards, and passport stamps. They can be seen in the fiction area of the public library, in the grilling aisle of the hardware, and the side of the pool in town. I need not name professors just being summer-normal. (You’re welcome, Dr. Wanner.) At the same time, they might be sharing these nothing experiences with faculty colleagues, campus staffers, and even students. They might have a non-fiction from their discipline on that Kindle. They be thinking about the summer administrative assignment their provost has assigned. Yet, being human, they just might be doing nothing. Enjoy it, my friends! Your provost and seventy students are just on the next page of the calendar.

Brian doing nothing…    in wonder at the feet of a second millennium BC  Egyptian pharaoh in the Vatican Museum  Rome, Italy

Brian doing nothing…

in wonder at the feet of a second millennium BC
Egyptian pharaoh in the Vatican Museum
Rome, Italy