Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Cognitive Stack Overflow: Unpredictable behavior

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I’m at my breaking point here. Seriously. Right at the edge of overflow.

Been teetering on the edge of this for at least a week and close to a month possibly. 

Sometimes I think I don’t even have any more room in my mind to THINK.

Partly it’s somewhat that I somehow am involved in a big bunch of committees on campus. Ending up in so many meetings I don’t have time to do any work while I am at work (if you know what I mean) or to even prepare for those meetings. I currently prepare presentations and documents for work in like 15 minute bursts because that’s all the time I literally have that day. Then I see a document from our university outlining what everyone should be doing (faculty) of which I am the exception to everything. Teaching load? Not required of me as I am admin faculty but I do workshops and additional teaching which is good. Research? Not required of me as I am an associate professor of practice. Service is most of my job but of different kinds. But usually ur expected to be part of two committees at a time and (wince) I am part of something like 6?

And I just said no. Several times. To two important things. I actually withdrew from an edited book I was co-editing and had been planning on since I finished my PhD (Nov 2013), because publisher took SO MANY iterations on it until they approved it that many of the authors by then had moved on (but my co-editor and I offered to publish as articles in journal he is editor-in-chief of and I am editorial board….so at least there’s that). 

And I withdrew from a sub-chapter for my mentor’s edited book. Because i had I really said yes coz I love him but it really isn’t my field of specialization and even tho i write crazy fast I can’t write or read fast when it’s something that isn’t my field at all, yeah?

And lots of personal stuff related to health of loved ones. But that’s just stress on mind and body but not… Proper cognitive load?

And then..omigosh i am about to start teaching. This Thursday. Thank God I have a long list of things I wanna do so I don’t have to think from scratch. But I will probably go on overdrive once I start teaching also.

And OpenEd is coming! This was really complicated to organize w 11 sessions and something like 30 guests and 10 onsite and 6 virtual buddies (at least). Join us for that. Ha. I didn’t even write Virtually Connecting. I didn’t organize the entire CONFERENCE of course. Just VC aspects. 

And our CLT Symposium is coming. Sunday Nov 6

And International Games Day is Nov 21 and need to work w colleagues on that escape game thing. Woah. Big story there.

Gave so many workshops this semester which I love and energizes me but so many were new and co-facilitated so loads of work. But fun.

And the evolution of parenting as my kid grows up is interesting. I really need to write an activist mom educator article on homework and how Egyptian got it all wrong when they thought giving kids homework at age 4 and 5 was a good idea. It really isn’t. No really. I try to make homework (on weekends) a fun thing for her. Colors instead of pencils. Games instead of seriousness. Music while whe works (coz she’s like me that way). Making jello together coz this week we are writing the letter j. Opening our front door to see our house number coz it is a number we just wrote. Promises to go out and buy something like an egg surprise. Promises to go out and have fun w her friends later. Stuff like that. And still we get frustrated with each other because that’s not how I used to spend my weekend w my child. We used to paint. Or make colored eggs. Or danxe and jump in her room and play legos and play doh. Or sing and read. We still do but even the 30-60 mins it takes to get homework done just drains me and then I wanna make it up to her by making rest of the day extra fun. Which then drains me physically. 

Just finished yday doing 41 reviews for a conference. 41! And they only accept like 12, and I learned a heck of a lot but those were LOTS of reading and judging on par with grading. Really. Woah.

And so much else, really.

Excited to be doing a webinar on Self as OER with Suzan Koseoglu again. This is via the Global OER Graduate Network. Same day as Open Ed which is cool. Last week was open access week, so 🙂

And so much more really. Writing this all down helped a bit but not really…doesn’t really capture what it is. Tho obviously the little homework thing is frustrating me. I was about to get into another rant. But i should write a rational post on it and do some activism and make a difference in this world instead of complaining. I will feel better then. 

Maybe

13 Comments

  1. I feel the problem with a breaking point is that while we are still talking, writing, we haven’t reached it.

    And then we do and there’s no way back and it’s very scary.

    I know break down, disintegration, (call it what you will) may be a salutary, life determining, epiphany but I wouldn’t recommend it.

    The systems in which we work and live will break us. They are insane.

    Activism also includes inactivity, peace, play, silence, sleep.

    Take care.

    Simon

  2. Maha, I’ve been thinking about overwork so much this semester…I’m on sabbatical but because I am both admin and faculty, the sabbatical means I am not teaching but there’s no break in my admin role. And I agreed to be part of president’s strategic planning task force because it’s important…but I keep thinking there’s no sabbatical from the feeling of being overworked and under-rested. I do have more time than in a typical semester to help with my children’s homework (make sure they have good snacks, a well-lit space to work, etc.). And though my son and daughter are older than your daughter (9 and 13), I find the homework agony doesn’t improve as they get older (though I don’t have experience negotiating homework for a preschool or pre-kindergarten age child to compare to. “Play is the work of childhood,” writes Vivian Paley, and is a line I’ve often repeated to school administrators and teachers who claim that most parents think their kids don’t have *enough* homework…I have not met these parents 🙂 On the one hand, the hours they have to spend each day after a full day of school on homework allow me to work on the things that don’t get done while on campus (because meetings), on the other I see clearly that all of us are overloaded with unnecessary amounts of work that probably do not contribute to our cognitive, academic, or emotional well-being. I worry about modeling for them how to weave a balance between work and play and most times realize that what I’m modeling is the struggle of working towards anything like “balance.” In the last few weeks, I’ve been sharing this talk with the people I love and care about at work and who I know care about the well-being of our students, and each other. I’m linking to the interactive transcript here: http://bit.ly/1G0Ww2M and you can track back to the video. Maybe it doesn’t relate at all to your local context, but I am finding it a helpful analysis for understanding the current higher education system in which I work–and work culture more broadly in the US. Systems that breed competitiveness generate huge amounts of aggression, dysfunction, and waste–which is *counter*productive. Social connectedness, it turns out, is the key to productive work cultures. And helpfulness. The speaker, Margaret Heffenan, also has a recent piece in the Financial Times here https://www.ft.com/content/b4ae605a-99ce-11e6-8f9b-70e3cabccfae but I acknowledge that I could open it once as a link from Twitter and after that it was behind a paywall. She writes: “it is very hard for most people to accept that thinking is a physical activity, performed by the brain — which, like every organ, has limits to its capacity. We can see machinery break down, we notice broken arms and legs. We do not see broken minds — until it is too late. A proliferation of supposed antidotes to overwork — mindfulness, resilience training — may promise some respite but few of these programmes are any kind of a cure. Designed to increase endurance, they perpetuate the problem. We know machines have limits; we like to imagine that we do not.”

  3. This is what happens when you are interested in so many things which include activism! And then want to make sure your daughter’s learning journey is not compromised (with homework – ugh!) How do you switch off, say no? I don’t have this problem because I need a lot of time on my own, and even if I want to get involved my instinct tells me not to. I feel like I miss out! But the balance would be nice…

  4. I second Simon’s comment completely and add that the personal stress is not ‘just’ stress on mind and body – cognition is mind, and that mind is housed in your one and only body, and you are too lovely to suffer. I can relate to taking on too much, and for me I never see it myself – it takes someone else to say- whoa. If you have seen it, listen. There will never be another you, and children grow so fast (my big one is just 18!). Keep whole, I have yet to meet you f2f.
    Hugs x

  5. This isn’t a well-formed thought – more of a musing. I wonder if homework isn’t a way of schools trying to control what children do away from the classroom by making it visible. The technical ease of publishing in books, blogs, comments, virtual sessions might suggest just ‘capturing’ what is happening but of course it involves additonal ‘work’ in preparing , choosing, responding. It can also make us more visible, attracting more demands on our time. All of this can crowd out some really valuable things like listening (to others and to ourselves in reflection) and taking care of our bodies, as Laura says. Maybe we need a long soak in the bath, and its mental equivalent – whatever shuts the door on the rest of the world and lets the busy irrelevant stuff float away so we can see what’s important.

  6. Maha, please keep writing (not necessarily publicly) to help untangle what probably feels just now like an overwhelming set of demands and be kind to yourself. You were right to step back from some things just now. Make space in your life for down time, as they say “life is a marathon, not a sprint”. We all wish you well because we know you are a great mum, friend and colleague.

  7. Job #1 is not selfish, but care for yourself. All the things you want to accomplish especially parenting hinge on that. #obvious

    You are doing that by getting this post out of you head. Most people you see looking “normal” have this talk in their head.

    You are doing that be saying “no”.

    You are doing that by the care and attention and rage at the system in your daughters name.

    We use the word “balance” like it’s a simple teeter-totter when it’s more like juggling flaming bowling balls.

    Carve out your own space too is my recommendation. My time the last 6 months walking my dog have eaten into “productivity” but my body, mind are much better off.

    Take care in the most literal sense, Maha

    • And in addition to these elements that Alan notes you are also sharing it openly so that others benefit from the conversation and the chance to reflect on our own attempts to “juggle flaming bowling balls”…while riding a unicycle through a crowded space.

  8. Maha, this is a rich conversation you are hosting, thank you.

    Activism is just this: opening doors to ideas that others can share with you. The protest we are making together against the pace of life in the 21st century, we are making this for our children, our selves, each other. Activist writing is not some failed effort: it is the voice raised.

    Take care.

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