There are some things that come bittersweet; no matter how many times you experience them. For me, that is the end of the semester. Each semester, we start off in a slow shuffle as students and instructor figure out the rhythms of each other and decide if to stick it through and finish this dance or part ways somewhere along the way (sometimes willingly and sometimes reluctantly). But somewhere after midterms (and in particular in the Spring, after Spring Break), we shift gears are find ourselves hurtling towards the end of the semester; want it to "be over with" and finally have time to breath. Instructors feel it too. Remember that when your semester ends by taking or passing in that final; the instructor switches from wrapping up the class into an overdrive marathon of grading finals and calculating grades with often very short turnover to submit grades.
It's a flustering time and many instructors like myself run through their minds to figure out if they've covered all they could possibly cover; did they communicate everything as effective as possible; are ready for the onslaught of papers, and often, how to communicate those things that any teacher feels the need to communicate to their students regardless of the course (and this is totally projection here, but I'll take that risk--See other post).
But it can be sad. In many classes, the rhythm has been established, the growth in students is palpable, and you even seen genuine interest in the topic (something that can be hard with some courses like World History). And within the last 4-5 classes; that too starts to fall apart since students begin preparations for departure. They use up their absences; they skip homework readings; their impatience shows. In fact, it's much like the last five minutes of any class; those students wanting the most quickest departure start packing their things away including their notebooks, pens, etc (Yes, it's obvious from the instructor's side; and not in a good way).
Students sometimes are so quick to look to the end of the semester that they miss the course in a great many ways. They are thinking about the ride home from the movie theater rather than engaging in the climax of the film. I only hope their fixation on the ride home isn't so strong that in leaving the theater, they realize they have to revisit the movie at a later date having little recall or proof that they actually processed what they took part in.
The semester comes to an end in a jumbling mix of trying to prepare students for the final assignment which may or may not be cumulative and addressing the final pleas of students whose grades teeter in directions they would rather not see them go.
It's amazing how quickly it ends. In a given semester, we spend 40+ hours together; engaged in class discussion, corresponding through email; circulating comments through papers and revisions and then it's over. Some of my students I never see again. Others, I randomly run into and yet, others stick around. They take other courses with me (those lil sadomasochists!); they correspond with me via email; or drop by my class or office at some point. Moments many instructors enjoy greatly.
And yet, I too breathe a sigh of relief at semester's end. It's been a race for myself as well. However, I also feel a sense of vindication in that I have completed another semester of (hopefully) successful dialogue about things that I feel (somewhat) knowledgeable of and can help impart that upon my students.
I guess it's evident that this comes at the end of another semester; one I feel that went rather well overall. Hence the pleasure and reluctance.