For most of us who teach in higher education, the year is divided into three parts: the fall semester followed by a brief interlude between semesters (this does not really count as a part), the spring semester, and the summer. We celebrate the New Year in the fall, but not as much as we celebrate the end of the year in early May. The two dominating parts, the fall and the spring, are divided into fifteen week sessions. All in all it’s a nice way to spend 365 days. What bothers me, however, is that we label the second semester the “spring semester.” Most of the weeks that make up this semester, running roughly between mid-January to early-May, are cold and covered in snow, at least in the Northeast. Most of the time we enjoy only about three good weeks of weather toward the very end of the semester. I’ve always thought that the spring semester should be called the winter semester. After all, this is much more accurate. Maybe it’s because we’ve just cancelled classes on account of a blizzard. Maybe it’s on account that I wear more clothing during the spring semester, or the fact that I am forced to wear bulky jackets, winter gloves and hats, scarves, and any other combination of accessories that will keep me warm. In fact, labeling the semester “spring” seems like a cruel joke.
The warm days and trees in bloom are a world away in January and February, and ten minute walks across campus can make one feel like Dr. Zhivago making his way across the frosty steppes of Russia. The hardships that come with the spring semester include colds and sinus infections, flu, repertory illnesses, and a numerous other aliments. I tend to avoid conferences that force me to travel during the spring semester for fear that I will become sick on the airplane or at the hotel. I’m also always nervous that illness will keep me at home, thus forcing me to cancel my plans. Deposits are lost this way, and with the going rate of conference registration fees these days, to say nothing of the cost of air travel, the sum can be quite large. It’s hard to wake up while the world is dark and cold, and it’s impossible to stay warm once the cold has seeped into one’s bones. In addition, cars refuse to start, and when they do it takes at least twenty minutes to warm them to a civilized temperature.
One is also more prone to depression during the first months of the year. The days are too short and the sunlight is weak. Through these long, dark corridors we call the spring semester, the world can feel like it’s ending, although it’s just begun. The spring semester always seems much longer to me than the fall semester. Even memories seem diminished. Of course the snowfall can be pretty, but by the time mid-January rolls around we’ve had quite enough. So, I propose that we rename the spring semester the winter semester. Isn’t time we stop kidding ourselves?