Seventh heaven

12th June 2015 at 01:00

At the end of last term, some of my developmental students were anxious to know if I'd be teaching the next course.

"Sadly, I won't be around much next semester. I'll be on a sabbatical."

"On a what?"

Too cleverly, I countered with, "What's the Sabbath?"

"Saturday!" answered Sam. "You're taking off a Saturday?"

"Yes, but.How about, Lori, if you explain what sabado in Spanish is?"

"Saturday!"

By now the students didn't care what a sabbatical was and were daydreaming about the coming weekend. "Anyway, sabbatical. Just as the Sabbath and sabado are about `the seventh day', a sabbatical is about the seventh year; for teachers, it's a rest year, not just a day, so that we don't burn out. We go and do something related to teaching that recharges us, but we're not teaching."

"Going to catch up on partying?" asked Armon.

"Am I going to party while on sabbatical?"

"Yes!" he laughed, and the class laughed, too. They were thinking of a year of Saturdays.

"Sure, why not?"

Grigor, encouraged by a smirking Jasmine, asked if I'd smoke marijuana while listening to.(some unusual combination of syllables that I couldn't decipher): "Of course! I love that group? guy? woman?.But I don't smoke."

Manu asked if I'd be somethinging on the something. When I tried to repeat his phrase, even the native speakers of Russian and Chinese laughed, while Oksana, catching my eye, shook her head for me to say no. "Could be," I said. "I'll ask my wife."

My students were celebrating for me, that I was going to "go crazy". My colleagues? Not so much.

Maybe it's because I was embarrassed. If I were a professional athlete I'd say that even though nothing's the matter with me, I'm sitting out the season. When a colleague asked at a wrap-up meeting what I'd be teaching next semester, I answered, "I'll be on sabbatical".

A pause. Dr Cronos gave me a once-over, as if I was getting away with something: "Oh." He asked the polite question that few ask: "What are you going to be working on?"

I confessed-bragged: "What I've long been working on." and before I could go into more scrumptious detail he waved his hand, enough!

I appreciated that some of my students knew me well enough to ask, for example, "You will travel?"

"I will travel."

"To Russia?" asked Irina.

"Mozhet byt - maybe."

Trevor asked, "What will you really do?"

"Read a lot of books, try to write a book, play basketball."

"No, really, professor."

"Yes!"

"You play basketball?"

What's kept me from missing the classroom too much so far is maintaining those real routines. Also, I've told myself that when I return in the autumn I can't use any of the prepared writing assignments or readings that I've used in the past five years. The comedian Louis CK says he throws out all his old material and starts over each year. If he can resist falling back on what's worked before, I can, too. His risks are bigger. My audience is assured.

Bob Blaisdell teaches English at Kingsborough Community College in New York City

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