Well, I’ve been back from the West Coast for a few days now. The sleep pattern is almost normal. Some of my routines have finally started to kick back in. The laundry has been done. I’ve got a few more days until going back to work (Tuesday instead of Monday, which is nice). Am I ready to go back to the classroom Tuesday? Yes and no.
This year has been difficult for me, the third quarter in particular. For the first time (maybe ever?), there was more outside pressure than inside pressure for me, mostly thanks to the five-years-now temporary vocational stretch involving chapel and things connected to it. I’m in the classroom more and in meetings less. It’s been different. And vacation gives me the opportunity to step away and focus on other things. Which hasn’t always been the case. In the past, I’ve spent chunks of vacation time doing work stuff: getting caught up, getting ahead, talking with co-workers about things. These last couple of years have moved me in the other direction, particularly in relation to travel. Travel is almost the only way I can NOT think and talk about work. Don’t get me wrong: I care enough about my work that I understand that thinking about it beyond the regular school year is okay. But it cannot be all-consuming (which it can be easily). So travel has become a way of shutting off that part of the brain to let other things have a chance.
What that doesn’t allow for, of course, is thinking through better ways of doing work. Of redeeming the difficulties and planning out a better way. Often the benefits of vacation and rest are quickly undone by the rush of the first couple of days back. And that’s not good. You want to do more than just survive a quarter or a semester or a school year. Too often the way of work, at least my work at this time, doesn’t provide for what it demands. It’s pragmatism and utilitarianism that ultimately must draw on sources that are neither pragmatic nor utilitarian.
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This quarter will be the final quarter of my “temporary vocational stretch.” It’s changed so much over the last five years, particularly with the onset of Covidtide. I’ve already explained that if a replacement isn’t hired that I can’t do it again. I know that if the position is filled, I’ll be spending some time (at least at the beginning) helping with the transition. Along with that, I’ve got to start thinking about other “next school year” responsibilities. So I’ll be trying to figure out some of the significance of the last five years while trying to prepare for whatever is next. That’s difficult when Covid has kept leaders of all kinds feeling one or two steps behind at all times. I’ve already expressed concern about what is next. Because, assuming that whatever happens next with Covid, the fall will be the closest things we’ll have to a clean reboot that we can either embrace or ignore. It’s a chance to put “lessons learned” into place and into practice. My concern, and this is true for lots of systems, is that things have become so complicated that those lessons either cannot or will not matter. And the last couple of years have showed me that I cannot live that way. And I fear that the power of the system will overwhelm the difficult reward of self-knowledge. I don’t just fear it; I know it. The question is what can actually be done about it?