That's my mantra for the upcoming school year.
The Polish proverb "not my circus, not my monkeys" was floating around Facebook this summer. I was trying to tell a friend about it, but couldn't quite remember how it went, and what I came up with was "not my crazy monkey parade." And now that's my motto.
I bet a crazy monkey parade would be totally engaging and fun for about five minutes and then would get tedious and messy and distracting pretty quickly after that.
And that's often how things work out for me with various dramas, personal and/or professional, at school. I get pulled into a situation, or more often I dive in of my own accord, and it's exhilerating right at first, but then it starts feeling crappy and pulling me down emotionally.
And let's be honest: there are a heck of a lot of crazy monkey parades at FGS. It's a great place to work, but one could be het up pretty much all the time if that were one's inclination. And I think that has sometimes been my inclination, especially last year when I was department head and felt that I had to have a voice in everything that affected anyone in the department. And it wore me out and made it hard for me to love working at FGS.
But not this year! I am in the remarkable position this year of not having to coordinate with other adults beyond a bare minimum, and I'm reveling in that freedom. It's all teenagers for me, and I'm excited! I have great colleagues, but they are the origin of the crazy monkey parades I get swept up in, and so I'm looking forward to a year in which I'm not in charge of anything that involves adults.
My hope is that this year I'll be able to observe moments of drama, say to myself, "Wow, that is one heck of a crazy monkey parade. Thank goodness it's not my parade," and then walk away.
Now, there may be times when the parade IS mine. That is, I'm not taking this new motto as a license to not give a shit about my school or to opt out of responsible citizenship there. But in the past I've assumed that ALL of the parades somehow needed my participation, and I want to get in the habit of checking myself and asking the relevant question -- "is this a parade I need to be part of?" -- before automatically diving in.
I had a chance to put this into practice just this week. We go back to school on Friday, but the emails about school started circulating last week. After much thought, I sent a deliberately brief, friendly, and light email to my department head (who really needs a good pseudonym) and the history head, making a suggestion about a very minor but persistent issue that's affected both departments. And the history department head sent back a truly snarky and dismissive email, clearly putting me in my place, saying that the issue had already been resolved, and telling me to shut up about it already. (He didn't say that last part about shutting up, but it was the clear undercurrent to the email.) He and I have had a friendly but sometimes complicated relationship, and the complications are mostly due, I think, to his feeling threatened by my Ph.D. and publications, since he has styled himself as THE humanities intellectual. And the way he responds is often to try to exert authority over me, as he did in this email.
And I sat back and thought, "wow, that is one heck of a crazy monkey parade. But I think this is mostly HIS parade, and clearly those monkeys are driving him crazy. Not my parade!" Because, really, he has no authority over me at all. We're in different departments, I'm no longer on the department heads committee (thank goodness), and see above re: not having to coordinate with any other adults this year. So who really cares what he thinks? So I sent back a quick reply saying, "Super. Glad we're all on the same page. Here's to a great year ahead for all of us!" and left it at that.
Okay, that's the success part of the story. I'll confess that the interaction did start bugging me that night, and I got myself a bit emotional by thinking about various folks with whom I'd had interactions last year and wondering whether any of them would be unpleasant this year ... but then I pulled myself together and reminded myself of my new motto. And I've been fine since then.
And I get to put the new mantra into practice again tomorrow. Academic technology and our rhetoric around it has been a Big Friggin' Deal at FGS in the last couple of years, and I will confess that I've been a regular participant in that particular monkey parade. Not that I'm a Luddite who's against academic technology -- far from it -- but I've been really disturbed by the way it's getting talked about as a measure of teaching proficiency and as a marker of being engaged in "21st-century education," a phrase that the technology folks have taken over.
But this summer I reminded myself that its current incarnation at FGS will go the way of other trends. When I started at FGS, everything was STEM, and it was talked about in a way that really left humanities folks feeling undervalued. But that fad faded after about three years. The school still values STEM fields, but the over-the-top rhetoric about it went away as something new took its place. For the past couple of years, that bombastic rhetoric has been all about academic technology, and those of us who still write on a white board instead of projecting from an iPad have been dismissed as "20th-century thinkers." And all of this has really gotten under my skin.
But really, how much longer is this particular rhetoric going to last? There's been some push to make "global studies" the new fad, but I'm not convinced it's going to take. If I were a betting woman, I'd put money on teaching entrepreneurship and creativity as the new hot thing that will get much of the time and resources in another year or so.
All of which is to say that I need to remind myself that the school's current hype about academic technology is just another crazy monkey parade, one that I don't have to engage in. (Just to be clear: I don't think that such technology itself is the parade, just the FGS rhetoric around it.)
And so I decided this morning that I'm not going to attend the optional iPad project-based learning workshop tomorrow. I might learn something useful from it, but I've got enough on my plate pedagogically for this year anyway, and the colleague who's leading the workshop is someone who clearly was resenting me last spring for some of the questions I raised about technology. I had thought about going just to make nice to her, especially because her office is going to be right next to my classroom this year, but I finally decided that spending three of the last hours of summer in an iPad workshop was far more engagement with the crazy monkey parade than I was willing to give. I'm just going to let that parade go on by.
After all, it's not MY crazy monkey parade.