—by Jennifer Chavez-Miller, Golden Apple Fellow—

Last summer, I read 19 books.

Before you reach for your device to send me a message imbued with incredulity, annoyance, or even congratulations, let me say this….for me, it was an unprecedented summer.

After two decades of summers taking classes or teaching summer school or writing curriculum or painting classrooms, I found myself in a novel situation. While I had a few obligations for sure, I had the opportunity to take the summer for myself.

It was a very good summer.

Summer reading. I can smell the freshly cut grass, I can hear the birds chirping. The tall glass of iced tea is close by and I’m transported into the lives of others through the alchemy of words artfully arranged across a page. I’m reading what I want to read; I’m reading for pleasure and enjoying the now.

Summer reading for teachers. While the grass, birds and iced tea might still be there, this kind of reading feels….different. Don’t get me wrong, I love digging into a professional book to spark creativity, to ground my practice in research, and consider alternative perspectives. While this type of reading often sets off the butterflies in my belly fluttering with new ideas, it also catapults me from the now to then – back to school.

To both types of reading, I say, “Yes!” Masters of multi-tasking and multi-thinking, we teachers can find the balance we need.

Which brings us to Summer 2020. Unprecedented takes on a whole new gravitas. I feel like a stuttering robot whose wires are glitching trying to make sense of the new information being downloaded at a record pace. Things don’t quite compute.

We teachers are processing alot in the now. We’re navigating collective grief over not ending the year with our students and colleagues and are overwhelmed trying to recreate school in virtual spaces. We’re worried about our students, our families, and humanity. And, I don’t know about you, but I’m really wanting a crystal ball right now to get a glimpse at what going back to school in August will look like.

This stress manifests in all sorts of ways, the latest being “coronabrain.” Symptoms include fuzzy brain, an aversion to tight waistbands, difficulty concentrating, sadness, interrupted sleep, creating unrealistic to do lists, and celebrating the little things like combing your hair before a Zoom meeting.

Over the next couple of months, organizations like Edutopia, ASCD, and the NEA will publish their 2020 summer reading recommendations for teachers. I can’t, however, in good faith, put forth a list of recommended books for reading with coronabrain.

Instead, I’d like to offer a few ways we might engage in reading this summer.

Read for connection – While living through a global pandemic is new to us, humans across history have weathered global, community, and personal traumas. We might find reassurance and hope in making connections with other people’s stories.

Read for comfort – I have heard many friends say that they can’t concentrate to get very far in a book. The will is there, along with the aforementioned fuzzy brain. What are those books or parts of books that you love? That give you comfort? Rereading our favorite books takes the pressure off of not wanting to miss something.

Read with curiosity – Reading might be your way to escape to a new place, a new reality. Our curiosity has the potential to spark creativity and courage, or it might just help us figure out how to embed a talking-head video into a Google slideshow. Lifelong learning is born out of our insatiable curiostity.

Read for change – We know that Normal is gone. Our challenge is to embrace the potential for reimagining our classrooms and learning communities. The pandemic has illuminated the cracks in our system that are not new. Those feelings of anger and grief from the inequitities that are playing out now…. I believe we can harness that energy and desire for something better to promote systemic change.

However your reading takes shape this summer, I hope those pages inspire resilience, hope, and courage to be bold in love going forward.