Three Things That I’ve Learned This Year

As the academic year has come to a close, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this has been a particularly odd and most challenging twelve months. The COVID pandemic has thrown my well-worn routines into chaos, forced me to redesign classes on the fly, made it impossible to continue my field work in Greece and Cyprus, and disrupted whatever thin boundary existed between work-life and home-life.

I’ve been thinking a bit about what I learned over the last year and figured that I’d offer three ill-formed thoughts here.

1) Field work, travel, and archaeology. For over 20 years, I had travelled to the Mediterranean to do field work. It was also a chance to build professional relationships, socialize, and, perhaps most importantly, think on site. The last two years, I haven’t been able to do this. 

It feels strange being disconnected from the Mediterranean. I certainly feel a sense of loss and a distance from our field areas especially as they appear more and more as datasets, GIS maps, and descriptions. At the same time, I find myself looking much more closely at the landscape closer to home. I’ve taken a few bike rides into the country and visited some rural churches. I’ve also looked more critically at the parks around me and as my legs get a bit stronger, I look forward to going for longer runs and walks (and rides) through the region and our community.

It got me thinking about how much a sense of place shapes my research and thinking. I’ve obviously read enough about a sense of place, placemaking, and the significance of being situated in a particular environment, but it was not until I found myself unable to go to Greece and Cyprus that I realized how much being THERE mattered in how I think. Conversely, being forced to engage my local space has made me much more interested in understanding my local landscape. I guess place matters. 

2. #FuckProductivity. I’ve really loved the #fuckproductivity hashtag that’s been appearing in my various social media feeds. I have no idea where it came from and who started it, but it definitely speaks to my own sense of aimlessness and exhaustion.

One thing that the COVID pandemic showed me is how much I relied upon things like travel for little breaks from my routine or rituals like leaving my laptop at work as a way to discourage me from getting RIGHT to work first thing in the morning. I have an amazing home office now that seems always to beckon.This has gotten me a bit worried about whether I work out of some misguided desire to maintain to achieve optimal productivity and this is some kind of internalization of capitalist work rhythms.

What I’ve discovered about myself is that I’m not particularly productive. In fact, I really don’t get much satisfaction from producing anything. What I enjoy is the process of reading, thinking, and writing. I know that I work too much, but I wonder whether what keeps me sane and happy is not so much the pressure to produce something, but the endless joy that the process brings? 

The COVID pandemic has made me realize how much breaks, like travel, changes of scenery, like going to Greece and Cyprus, and even the uneven rhythm of non-pandemic life makes the process of writing, reading, and thinking much more enjoyable and less exhausting. 

3. Teaching. I’ve been trying to be a more compassionate teacher of the last few years. This involves more than just trying to be more understanding toward my students and being more flexible in my teaching (and their learning) outcomes.

In particular, this year has encouraged me to listen more carefully to my students. I suppose that I never really realized how much many of them have struggled as they had to endure the uncertainty of the COVID pandemic, the isolation that came with “social” distancing (which is a term that actually describes the result of physical distancing), and the interpersonal (and intergenerational) challenges associated with increasing polarized political landscape. My students just feel down and distracted. 

To attempt to compensate for the challenging times our students are facing, I’ve had to rethinking assignments, move deadlines, relax my expectations, and work closer students to ensure that they were not sacrificing their own well-being to satisfy arbitrary (or even well-considered) “outcomes” for the course. If part of our goal as teachers is to impart life long habits of mind and love of learning, it seems to me a good idea to make sure that students don’t associate learning with arbitrary goals, deadlines, and anxieties especially during already anxious times.

~

I’m sure that I’ve learned other things this year and maybe as the dust settles a bit on the last 12 months, they’ll come to mind and I’ll share them here.

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