I am not sure if this concept is used internationally – or if there is an analogous label for the issue I hope to describe in various regions of the world. I also acknowledge, as I’ve noted in many previous issues of TIRF Today, that in terms of weather and climate, I am writing from a northern hemisphere perspective. What I want to talk about in this Chair’s Report is the idea of “Indian Summer.”
I also hope that my use of the term “Indian Summer” in this report is not offensive to indigenous peoples of North America or anywhere else where the label “Indian” has been historically misapplied. Instead, I want to write about a time of year that is incredibly beautiful to me – beautiful, in part, because it is so improbable and largely unpredictable.
Indian Summer is described as unexpectedly warm weather – sometimes after a period of colder weather that seemed to signal the expected and inevitable coming of fall and winter. The phrase thus has the connotations of an unexpected blessing – almost a reprieve. You can read a history of the term by clicking here.
There are many songs devoted to this notion of unseasonal autumnal blessings, and their lyrics often convey a touch of melancholy. I have two favorites: The old stand-by “September Song” by Kurt Weill (sung at this link by Willie Nelson) is one. The lovely “Try to Remember” by Tom Schmidt and Harvey Jones, is performed at this link by Jerry Orbach – the first actor to play the role of El Gallo in the long-running off-Broadway show, “The Fantasticks.”
To return to the present, during the month of October, we have had unseasonably warm weather in Central California. In fact, some days temperatures reached above 90°F at the coast. That warmth is not completely unusual for our central valleys, but it is atypical along the Pacific. The afternoons have been lovely – warm and breezy – more like summer than autumn.
Of course, warm weather in October is not always a blessing. California is currently experiencing another season of disastrous fires – fueled by dry vegetation from years of drought, and accelerated by the warm temperatures and the quixotic winds of October. Thus, Indian Summer can be a great blessing, but it can also exact a price.
I do not think that TIRF is experiencing an Indian Summer, since the phrase seems to carry notions of temporary blessing and impermanence. In fact, it seems to me that the Foundation is turning a corner in terms of its financial stability with the addition of its speaker series and grant programs.
However, I do feel, in a way, that I am enjoying the “Indian Summer” of my own career, since I am nearing retirement age. After decades of teaching graduate courses on language pedagogy, research methods, second language acquisition, sociolinguistics, and language assessment, this semester I have had the opportunity to teach a course on giving professional presentations in English. My students are an amazing a group of highly motivated non-native speakers from various home countries who are completing graduate course work in a range of discipline here at MIIS.
I taught this course for many years many years ago, and now, due to a staffing issue, I have had the chance to teach it again this semester. What started out to be an administrative nightmare has become one of the greatest blessings of my professional life: What I thought was the beginning of autumn has become an unexpected blessing – almost a spring – in terms of my teaching self. I remember now why I wanted to be an ESL teacher – what I thought I could accomplish, and what I might possibly help my students to accomplish – by assisting second or foreign language users achieve their own professional goals.
Let me extend my heartfelt thanks to Akhmed, Alex, Eleanor, Grace, Jenna, Jing, Joseph, Lotus, Madhav, Shakil, Xiaying, and Yuri – and to Mari, our wonderful student teacher – for reminding me in October why the choices I made in my professional spring were the right choices for me. Through sharing this view, it’s probably easy to understand why I would want to serve voluntarily for an organization like TIRF that seeks to help professionals in our field, and why I enjoy so much curating TIRF’s free resources.
So let me end this Chair’s Report with something less straightforward than my usual plea for contributions to TIRF. Please, as the seasons change (or are slow to change), let us acknowledge the incredible importance of language teachers and language learners everywhere. The work they do, at whatever season of the year, should help to make our world a better place, regardless of the hemisphere in which we reside as individuals.