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Late in a recent summer, I spent an entire day with my departmental compatriots working on Student Learning Outcomes. This is merely the latest manifestation of the assessment mania now gripping our college – and higher education as a whole. Naturally I came home with a crushing headache.

Meanwhile, many of us had seen each other only in passing for the previous few months, so we engaged in some pleasant chit-chat and catching up with one another: “How was your summer?” was the obvious lead-in to conversations, a question I’m never sure how to answer. And then, it struck me …


Rate each category on a scale of 1-4.

Maternal guilt mitigation

4 I was Super Mom, I tell you, with every minute scheduled chock-full of wholesome crafts, educational camps and jobs around the house; never a moment of bored whining!
3 Kids kept up with their practicing, went to a couple of camps, got a little exercise and hung out with friends
2 Kids engaged in a few moderately decent activities but also did plenty of goofing off; they might have forgotten how to do long division
1 Kids lazed around all summer eating junk food, playing computer games  and sleeping in till noon; might have been responsible for some vandalism

Yard and house projects

4 Completed all the major projects on my list, including building new back steps and repainting the front doors
3 Kept the lawn mowed, moved a few perennials around, hung up two pictures, painted one room
2 Dabbled a bit here and there in the yard, but the neighbors are whispering; drywall and paint repairs still needed
1 Hopeless; entropy rules supreme

Professional productivity

4 Awesome! completed several writing projects, engaged in productive research, planned out the next five years, prepared for the whole year’s classes
3 Got a couple things done; did a little research; ready for classes this semester
2 Puttered half-heartedly; nothing much to show for it; good thing there’s still a week before the semester begins to get classes ready
1 Hey, they don’t pay me enough to put in work hours in the summer

Guilty-pleasure reading

4 Completed all the books on the “must-read” list I keep all year on my smartphone
3 Reread some Harry Potter; tried a new author; read some self-help relevant to my current problems
2 Caught up on some quality TV shows
1 Watched a bunch of movies I’ve seen before because they happened to be showing on Lifetime


4 Went to the spa for a facial/manicure/pedicure, did P90X workouts five days a week, ate only fresh veggies from the farmer’s market
3 Went to yoga class most of the time; took a few long, vigorous walks; planted a tomato plant that is actually producing; picked enough blueberries to freeze for the whole year
2 Visited dentist; finally had cholesterol checked
1 Cut down on potato chip consumption


4 Took the children on a six-week, cross-country trip to all the National Parks; spent a few weeks abroad doing something impressive and scholarly; visited dear friends who are famous and live in a fascinating world city
3 Took a camping vacation up north; visited nonfamous friends in a humid Midwestern state; family reunion in some town with interesting attractions
2 Had some friends to town for a visit, managed to survive in-town family reunions, went out to the lake occasionally
1 made it to grocery store once a week, visited elderly parents

Sheer relaxation

4 So much fun! flawless beach days, state fair, baseball games, s’mores with happy children around campfires – making memories!
3 Had a few weeks of vacation free of family responsibilities, speaking gigs or research tasks
2 Had a couple lovely days at the beach; slept in a lot
1 Drank frequently; sofa now has deep impression from butt


Well, that was very revealing! (My self-scoring is in boldface.) I now have a great answer to the question “How was your summer?” The answer is “19.”

Of course, as with any rubric, there are problems. For example, under Self-care, I checked a 3, but I also went to the dentist and had my cholesterol checked. I did not, however, cut down on potato chip consumption. Also, there was no way to account for unexpected and significant events that ended up characterizing most of my summer, such as hospitalizations and major life transitions of loved ones.

At least I can now track my progress in the Summer Excellence Initiative. I’ll be setting some measurable goals next year and aiming for Continuous Quality Improvement.

Debra Rienstra teaches English at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. This essay first appeared on the Reformed Journal’s blog, The Twelve.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Debra Rienstra

I am a writer and literature professor, teaching early British literature and creative writing at Calvin University, where I have been on the faculty since 1996. Born and bred in the Reformed tradition, I’ve been unable to resist writing four books about theological topics: beware the writer doing theology without a license. Besides the books, I’ve written well over two hundred essays for The Twelve as well as numerous articles, poems, and reviews in popular and scholarly contexts. I have a B.A. from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and a M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers. I am married to Rev. Ron Rienstra, and together we have three grown children. Besides reading and writing, I love classical music, science fiction, fussing in the yard, hiking, and teaching myself useful skills like plant identification and—maybe someday—drywall repair.