The realization that the turn lane looked a tad icy came just a moment too late. Instead of executing my usual smooth turn from one country road onto another on my commute down to school, my car clumsily skidded from one country road onto another.
My instincts from years of driving on slick snowy and icy roads kicked in, and I quickly righted the car. No harm, no foul.
After the initial adrenaline died down, the anger kicked in. Which, frankly, surprised me. Usually the emotions sequence is adrenaline (whoa!) – relief (thank goodness I’m ok) – self-admonishment (jeez, drive more carefully next time!). But this time I went from whoa! right to #$*%!! And not #$*% the road is icy! but #$*% why is this happening and why can’t I get a break for just one darn minute?
I’d been in my usual peripherally aware driving state — that state of mind where you’re obviously paying attention to the road and the other drivers and such but you’re still free to think about other things, like what that podcast guest just said or how pretty the sundogs are this morning or I wonder what kind of soup the cafe will have today? And the road conditions changed to the point where I had to shift awareness from peripherally aware to hyperaware. Not usually a problem; that’s winter driving for you!
But I realized I was angry because I really needed to not be hyperaware for a hot second. I’ve been operating in hyperaware mode almost constantly since the term started, and it’s exhausting.
When all of my students are in the same room with me, I’m aware of what’s happening on multiple levels — reading body language to sense how well they’re understanding the material, monitoring the room for questions, paying attention to how well students are working together or who’s on task. Most of this time I’m highly aware. Years of teaching experience mean that I can take small peripherally-aware breaks — freeing me up to think about the transition to the next topic, or assess whether to skip the next activity so that I have time to introduce the next concept.
But when I have students in front of me and students on Zoom, I’m now hyperaware all of the time. I’m monitoring students in the classroom with one set of visual and emotional cues, and students on Zoom with a different set of visual and emotional cues. I don’t have time to downshift, even for a second, to any state less than hyperaware.
This hyperawareness extends outside of the classroom. How do I structure this sensitive conversation in a meeting when everyone is on Zoom and I have to both manage the conversation and try to discern body language? Should I make this particular ask of this particular person given how overburdened I know they are? And in the past few weeks, with a non-COVID sick kid and a concussed kid at home, I’ve been hyperaware there too (how worried should I be about this kid’s headache? is this too much screen time? do we need to figure out if concussed kid needs accommodations for finals?).
Even just walking around and existing in the world requires hyperawareness. How many people around me are not wearing masks? How many people are in this space? How risky is being in this space?
The need to be hyperaware is, sadly, not going away anytime soon — and part of the issue is that I have no idea how long this hyperaware state needs to last. Will the COVID situation get better in a month? Will I get to a point where I don’t have any students on Zoom, even for just a day? But just being able to put my finger on the fact that I am hyperaware the majority of the time is helpful. I know now to be hyperaware (ha!) of scheduling downtime and breaks, and to honor my limits more strictly. I have a name for part of the cause of my seemingly constant exhaustion, and while that doesn’t change the situation, it does provide a small bit of comfort. It’s not much, but it’s not nothing.
What I’m reading: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein.
What I’m listening to: I’ve been enjoying the “between-isodes” of The Agile Academic podcast, with the focus on reflection and intention-setting for the new year.