Burnout and Rekindling: Summer Sabbatical

For several years, I have been adding to my responsibilities and saying yes to pretty much every opportunity that comes my way. I offered to teach an extra class this year, caught up in the foolish notion that I could do anything and everything. I juggled reasonably well until the end of March. Third quarter grades and comments nearly incapacitated me. It took me several weeks to recover my energy and focus, and in that stretch I had to back out of commitments and focus on what was essential. This blog was one of the casualties. I made it to the end of the school year, and I learned a lot about my limits. I feel like I was over-committed to the point that nobody was getting my best self – not my students and certainly not my family.

Summer began with a crazy four days to get ready for a trip out West. My school supports teachers with a summer sabbatical learning grant every seven years, and this was my summer. I was taking the family and heading to Montana and Wyoming. I teach US history, but I have not been west of Chicago, except for a conference I attended in San Francisco. I felt like there was a whole part of the country that I did not understand. We took ten days and visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, but we also spent time in the surrounding towns of Cody, Wyoming and Red Lodge and Livingston, Montana.

The trip was amazing, everything people told me it would be. I have become obsessed with geysers and bison, for example. Oh, and huckleberries – I really love huckleberry flavored anything. We have the pictures and the stories that will fuel memories for years to come.

What I did not anticipate was how incredible the journey would be. The journey started with the trip but continues. So much of what we saw sparked interest in learning more. I have read books on Montana mining, the history of Yellowstone, ways people have died in Yellowstone, and Coyotes in America. My Goodreads lists are pretty telling, as is the collection of samples I have on my Kindle. I have become interested understanding the moral issues underpinning the scientific and economic debates about the region. Each book I read leads me to another layer of thinking about and understanding the region currently and historically. I am so grateful to have the time to follow the threads.

There is something about walking the ground that enables us to feel deeply the history that we read. Maybe it was the timing of the trip or maybe something magical about the land. For whatever reason, the trip that sparked the journey has reinforced my love for history in a deeply satisfying way. I am hopeful I can convey that love and passion to my students next year.