Groundhog Year

If I am asked to deliver a graduation speech I am likely to expound on Groundhog Day as a metaphor for teaching. Bill Murray plays a weatherman who lives the same day countless times. He wakes at 6:00 AM to the radio playing “I Got You Babe”, has the same conversation with the proprietor of the B & B, runs into the same insurance salesman, again and again and again. It is a fresh new day for everyone but him. He relives the day until he gets it right, becomes a better person and wins Andie MacDowell’s heart.

It’s just like teaching, minus Andie MacDowell and the groundhog. Every semester we relive our courses, discuss the same concepts, ask and answer the same questions, travel the same path, always trying to get it right. I do, sometimes, for a question, a discussion, even an entire class period, but it is hard to maintain. I have too little coffee or too much, I’m distracted by a pencil rat-tat-tatting on a desk, students are flat from the previous night’s brutal accounting exam. By April I am deconstructing the academic year and by May I am eviscerating my syllabi and rebuilding. If I come closer to getting it right for the year than I did before I am not too hard on myself. I don’t know the payoff if I get it right. Bill Murray’s payoff was waking up with Andie MacDowell on February 3rd. Mine will be waking up in September with 50-odd students waiting to discover the law.

I thought about this as I drove to Maine this evening. I wanted to be on the road by 2:00 PM but missed. I left home at 4:30, sailed north five exits on Route 95, then hit traffic that crawled all the way to the 95/128 north split. What should have taken 22 minutes took an hour. I was eager to arrive. Our Massachusetts home, in the midst of a complete kitchen overhaul, is dusty, gritty, and disordered, any of which by itself would make me cranky. Judy is in Italy for two weeks, I’m eating microwaved food, and I’ve been at my desk for weeks grading papers and wiki projects. Leaving at 4:30 it was likely I’d get stuck in traffic but the alternative was to leave later and review wiki projects for another couple of hours. I chose the traffic.

I arrived shortly before 8:00. I let the dogs out of the car, as always, when I opened the driveway gate. In the time it took to drive the final 150 yards Cleo located a stick and Chelsey a tennis ball, both buried by snow since last December. It was light enough to walk along the lake and inspect winter tree damage, nothing significant. The dogs retrieved from the lake, close-in tosses only. Every day is Groundhog Day for dogs. Rise, eat, poop, sleep, bark, run, sleep, bark, eat, poop, sleep. They always get it right.

4 Replies to “Groundhog Year”

  1. WS_Hustler

    What a somber post. I’m inclined to swing by some time while Judy is away and make sure there are no sharp objects around…while I’m at it, i am going to take away your car keys too – remember the scene where Bill Murray and the groundhog drive off a cliff? I’d like for that not to be DRandall and his dogs.

  2. Anjoli Jagoda

    You say everyday is Groundhog Day for dogs, I would argue everyday is Groundhog Day for most humans. I am entering the real world in September, and what I’m most nervous about is the routine aspect of work. College has been such a dynamic and ever-changing experience for me. I can’t imagine doing the same thing everyday!

    With regard to teaching… My mom is a teacher, so I grew up helping out at her school. The one thing I found disillusioning was watching all the little individuals go off to the next stage of their lives when they were of kindergarten age. I guess at least you have the advantage of keeping in touch with the students. It is the weirdest feeling to wonder what little innocent children with a barely written past will make of their future.

  3. Finn

    Funny professor Randall writes about this movie since I have analyzed my education and its outcome analogous to the movie Groundhog Day. I wake up, workout, go to class, study hard, turn in work, study some more, enjoy the college life, go to sleep, and do it all over again. Kind of like Cleo and the other retriever right? Except, unlike the dogs, and more like Bill Murray I wake up annoyed. I wake up annoyed because of the results that occur from what I believe is doing the right things and working hard. Time after time I keep receiving low grades. At the beginning of the semester we wake up in bewilderment, just like Murray. Yet, by the end when I keep working harder and the average grades keep rolling in I am in a state of desperation, once again if you have seen the movie just like Bill Murray. Now, by the end of my college career I begin to accept the outcomes and realize I am studying for a much bigger picture. The movie is irritating, but powerful because it lets us experience what it would be like to make a breakthrough, like Murray, but in our own lives.
    I have come to be unhappy with the results, but still accept my grades. Whether it is tough love from my professor, bad luck, misunderstanding, or I am just a horrible writer; I realize, and it is funny to say this, but I have come such a long way these past four year. My brain has been challenged. I really feel so much smarter and even though my buddy next to me has the one A in the class and I of course still have that C, overall I still have the self confidence to believe that I have learnt and understood as much or more in class than anybody else. That is what makes me happy. Of course, it would be nice to have that A.
    The bigger picture finally after four years has hit me. The results will come in one way or another. The fact is if we keep looking for self growth and if we can be satisfied with ourselves life becomes a little less complicated. More so, when we get over the details that Murray gets over in Groundhog Day we cease to have as many troubles in life, and become authentic and happy.
    Not to be a brownnoser, but besides the law these are some of the lessons I have learned in Randall’s class. Today he is up in Maine; I assume he misses Mrs. Randall, but overall he is satisfied up there with the two dogs doing his thing grading my paper. Now if that does not make you happy, I do not know what does. We may always not get it right like his pups, but at least we are trying. And like his dogs we proud to be his students.

  4. Howe Lin

    Even though dogs live every day as a Groundhog Day, why is it that dogs (or any other animal besides humans) are still seemingly happy about a life that involves nothing more than eating, pooping, and sleeping? I think dogs and animals live to survive each moment, not for some far-ahead purpose. They find excitement and pleasure in the simple things because they can’t instinctively take for granted the possibility of always having a tomorrow. Humans, however, easily get loss in their robotic lives, waiting with patience and some deceptive hope to live life for some meaningful end. The point is not to expect or worry about the future payoff, but to find contentment in the present–to simply live.

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