Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Winding down the academic year

After 8 years, I still find it weird dealing with an academic year that ends in July. Chatting to teachers about "next year" when they actually mean later this year. I can't get used to having two "next years" per year.

My own school years were spent in a place whose citizens are likely to be found on the beach on Christmas day, so the long summer holiday between academic years coincided with the end of the calendar year. And, since my birthday falls in December, this seemed to make it all even neater - although it did mean I wasn't able to birthday parties as a child (altogether now: aww!).

So here we are, in July and my children are in the final week of the school year. As I have posted before, it has been a stressful year for our younger son, and for us as his parents, but his first year of high school is behind him. It remains to be seen if things will improve for him next year. Since he will have increased opportunities to participate in performing arts, and the school is an accredited performing arts specialist college, we are cautiously hopeful. Our elder son has discovered that he needs to work harder in order to achieve the results his potential warrants. With his GCSEs next year, he really needs to make the effort sooner rather than later. He seems slowly to be figuring that out.

At their school, the last three days of each year are called activity days. The kids get a choice of activities in which to participate. These range from a very expensive trip to France, to recording your own single, to sporting and/or craft activities on the school premises which are free. My elder son's selection sees him at one theme park today, another tomorrow and the last day is spent bowling. My younger son has opted for three days of golf tuition at the local golf course.

The activity days seem like a great way to end off the year, but the selection process is quite stressful, since there are financial considerations. We placed an upper limit on what we were prepared to pay and suggested that our boys use their own savings if they wanted to go above that limit. Fortunately, there was a decent selection of activities within that price range. What it must be like in single- or no-income households when those forms come home, I can't begin to imagine.

Last week, my younger son received a special invitation to a pool party for those with excellent reports. This, shortly after we had received a very snotty letter from one teacher about his level of commitment, his attitude, the quality of his work. His report was indeed excellent, so we now have no idea what to make of the teacher's letter. Very confusing.

Of course, the academic year for my MA course has drawn to a close as well. Five modules effectively behind me. However, I have two assignments to write over the summer break, so the concept of a "break" is somewhat moot. Because the programme is modular, the emphasis is more on trimesters than on academic years, so the significance of the end of this trimester gets hardly any more notice than any others, and the two-year-ends-per-year issue is less noticeable.

Since I don't work in the education sector, I don't automatically have a six week break to look forward to now. From my subjective position, two assignments seems a far taller order for me when I have to continue with my day-job than for my classmates - although it does seem a shame to have to face writing assignments when you're supposed to be on holiday, I guess.

It's a strange thing, this, for a foreigner from the southern hemisphere. The chronologies of the various aspects of my life are out of synch with one another. The year has ended, yet it has not. The summer holiday is here, but there are no important public holidays to look forward to, no business closures, no pauses (not to mention the fact that the weather seems not to have got the memo that it is, in fact, summer!).

I wonder if people like Ron Lubensky felt similarly out of step when moving from the northern to the southern hemisphere.


rlubensky said...

Thanks for asking, Karyn :-)

I remember my first trip to Australia as a tourist in 1985. I was at a beach, when people still didn't care about skin damage. I set down my mat, saw the sun, saw the tree, laid down. Fifteen minutes later, I'm in shade. And so I learned that the sun travels from right-to-left, rather than left-to-right.

It now makes perfect sense to celebrate Christmas and New Year during the summer holidays. It makes sense to have the academic year fit the calendar year.

These are subtle shifts I've made. I can't speak about South Africa, having never been there. But so much of the way life generally works is similar between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and UK, for example government, taxes, commerce, common law, indigenous affairs. This is probably due to our colonial and Commonwealth heritage. I felt more at ease going to Australia than Quebec--but then I could barely comprends les Québécois.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron. One of the things I find weird about people's perceptions of the southern hemisphere is that, while they will happily believe that both seashells and water swirl in the opposite direction (not true), they can't accept that the constellations are the other way up and the moon waxes and wanes from the opposite side (which they are and it does).

rlubensky said...

The vortex direction of the loo is always an irrelevance to me, but it often arises in conversation. But as a sailor, bushwalker and ski tourer, I do care that low pressure weather systems turn counter-clockwise and high pressure systems turn clockwise in the southern hemisphere.

rlubensky said...

Oops, now I've got myself all mixed up!! Low pressure is clockwise in southern hemisphere!