This image from Grammarly today exactly describes the way I'm feeling. I'm thinking about enough different things this summer that I'm getting my brain tied into knots. Seriously, I'm in the midst of reading about thirteen different books, and that is simply too much. Here's what's on my mental agenda this summer:
- Anti-racism and diversity work. I'm going to a week-long diversity workshop for independent school teachers on Monday. I'm looking forward to it and also dreading it, because I know that it will be difficult work, both emotionally and mentally. There's no preparation work for the workshop, but I gave myself such homework. The five of us going from FGS all read Beverly Daniel Tatum's Can We Talk About Race?, and then on the recommendation of some of the folks I started reading Tatum's "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" Tatum is the keynote speaker at this workshop, and I'm glad I'm doing this reading, but it's been pretty consuming mentally. I also started reading Debby Irving's Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, which isn't nearly as good but may be my evening reading next week. I also need to just sit down and finish reading Lorene Cary's Black Ice, her memoir of being one of the first black female students at St. Paul's School; I'm not loving it by a long shot, but I've been halfway through it for over a month now and should just finish it off.
- At the same time, I'm doing some studying and thinking about teaching this summer. I'm reading Ron Ritchhart's Creating Cultures of Thinking with some colleagues, with both online and in-person discussions, and my 9th-grade English colleagues and I are making plans to completely revamp the grand finale of the course from a traditional exam to a portfolio and self-reflection that students would work on all year. We're excited about this, but the need to plan is causing me some mental weariness. Plus I decided to redo the books for my sections of the course, which will also need some planning.
- There's also my mental prepping for the South Africa trip at the end of the summer, which has me both reading about South Africa and thinking about student journalism.
- And then there's my ongoing study of Judaica and Hebrew. The Judaica piece I'm trying to combine with South Africa stuff so that I can sort of combine these two bullet points. But my rabbi also wants me reading in preparation for Tisha B'av, on July 25. So at some point I have to squeeze a reading of Lamentations in there.
- Plus, I have some writing ideas that I want to be exploring, but I've put those entirely on the back burner because I feel too overwhelmed by everything else.
This morning, as I was trying to concentrate on my Tatum reading and not worry about other stuff, I started wondering why I'm finding it so difficult this summer to have these different streams of thought going. After all, at my school we expect students to have at least five streams of thought going (one for each major course, plus potentially some minor courses). And when I'm teaching, I have multiple courses to think about as well as whatever else I'm thinking about at the moment. So why is this summer proving difficult?
Partly it may be that both the anti-racism and the South Africa bullet points have physical journeys associated with them, which adds some pressure. And the anti-racism and teaching bullet points are both about taking a hard look at how I do my work at school and revamping that work, so it feels like there's a lot riding on what I learn and what I decide to do in light of what I learn. And all of the items on the list are personally significant for me, which of course is good but also means that I'm not taking any of them lightly.
Anyway, this morning I decided to treat my mental overload in the same way that I treat my computer when I've got too many tabs open: I need to quit and restart! Last week I finished reading one book that had been on my bedside table for a while, and it was a real relief to finish it, to have one less thing that I'm thinking about. This coming week will be all about diversity work, and I need to just concentrate on that and not make myself crazy by also trying to read about Jews in South Africa in the evenings. And then a few days after the workshop, D. and I are hopping on a plane to visit her mother for a week; I think I'll make that week primarily about teaching and planning for freshman English and the new plan for the portfolio, plus reading Lamentations. And then I come home and have a couple of weeks before heading off to South Africa, so clearly that will be my primary focus for late July and August. One thing at a time!
(A former advisee of mine just finished her freshman year at Colorado College, and I've been interested in hearing about her experience with their block plan, in which students take only one course at a time and are fully immersed in that subject for three and a half weeks. She loves this system, and I think I might find it really helpful as well.)