In the midst of the semester, students are focused on their studies, grades, and strategies for improvement. Breaks between semesters, on the other hand, are often seen as breaks from being a student. But in the same way that we never stop learning, we don’t stop being students just because school’s out for the summer (or winter as the case may be). Here are a couple of simple strategies for being a good student when classes aren’t in session.
First, prepare for the next semester. This is the more boring of the two strategies, but it is helpful. As soon as you have access to the next semester’s course materials, go ahead and get things organized. Set up your notebooks for each class, print your syllabuses, take a look at the first readings on the course calendar. Will you watch any films for the class, read anything published online? Go ahead and do these easy things and then revisit them during the semester. Talk to friends who have already taken the classes you’ll be taking. Plan out your weekly schedule. What will a given week look like next term? You should always know what you’ll be doing on any given Monday, for instance. If you’ve got a solid plan, it’ll be easier to improvise downtime and unexpected challenges.
Second, read at whim. I take this exhortation from Baylor Humanities professor Alan Jacobs, who wrote a book called The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. In short, Jacobs argues that we should read what gives us pleasure, delight, joy. During the semester, students typically have so much to read for class that they don’t often have time to read whatever they like. Well, now’s the time! Have you been waiting to read that Agatha Christie mystery? Go for it? Maybe you’ve heard a lot about the latest Tim Keller book; take up and read! Crazy English professor got you excited to read Toni Morrison? You know what to do! The trick of reading at whim is that if you get forty or so pages in and you’re just not feeling it, well, set it aside and pick up something else. You can always come back if you like, but find something you enjoy and read it through.
We don’t worship exclusively at church, and neither do we learn only at school. Thinking of yourself as a student during the breaks between semesters is great practice as you cultivate the attitudes and habits of a life-long learner.