I was intending to write a lot last summer and even planned a part two post for my reflection on my third year. That never happened.
The more I thought about last school year over the summer, the more I began to doubt my abilities as a teacher. Combined with the freedom of summer from the daily stress of planning, grading, email, classroom management, and everything else that a typical school day can stir up in my mind, I seriously began wondering if teaching was something I should be doing as a career. It was a negative cycle.
I avoiding thinking about school and the end of summer because thinking about it only made me frustrated or feeling inadequate. I avoided talking about school because I didn’t want to dredge up the internal struggle I was having about teaching. Coworkers, family, and friends mentioned here and there things about how I was a decent teacher, but I always thought when I heard those compliments, “If I’m good at teaching, why does it seem like each year gets harder? Will the next year only be more of a struggle?” Instead of asking these questions to the people who cared about me, I just dismissed the compliments and changed the subject.
As you can imagine, my silence and thoughts caused last August to be pretty rough. I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest from the moment I realized that a new school was only two weeks from starting. I had trouble sleeping. When I went in to set up my classroom, I did my best to hide the fear from my coworkers and keep a calm, almost unemotional state about the whole thing. Meanwhile, my stomach felt like it was in knots. For the first time in my career, the thought of a new school year was terrifying. I as freaking out.
When I was setting up my classroom, I found a book in my desk that I bought on a whim the other year – The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember. The book is a collection of quotes from Fred Rogers about anything and everything in life. I left school with the book, thinking I would read it before the school year started to calm my nerves.
That night I was reading the book and balled my eyes out at the important truths I had forgotten over a year of external struggles in the classroom and a summer of internal conflict.
Consider all of these quotes from Mister Rogers:
“The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
“Listening is where love begins: listening to ourselves and then listening to others.”
“Who we are in the present includes who we were in the past.”
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feeling, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
The last quote was prompted the tears. Instead of talking about my fears, I was attempting to avoid them. Instead of remembering that I’m enough as long as I’m doing my best, I was focusing on all the negatives. Instead of considering the good with the bad, I was allowing only my failures of the past to shape my present. Rather than considering that the people who love me will listen and want to listen to my struggles in order to help me, I was trying to deny anything was wrong. Rather than recognizing that the reason teaching felt hard was because I was trying over and over to love my students, I was looking for an easy way out. In short, I had been throwing a royal pity party for myself without realizing it.
With this newfound clarity in mind, I took Mister Rogers’ advice to heart and began talking about my conflict. I talked to my family, my friends, my coworkers. It was hard, but definitely helpful.
When I talked with these loving people, many mentioned they had experienced a similar season at some point in their lives. Some people provided advice about learning to relax, disconnect my situation with my identity, and focusing on what was going right. Other people admitted they felt just as lost in some area of their lives, but how they are trusting God with it. Most importantly, some people just listened and let me know it was okay that I was not okay. As long as I was doing my best, it was enough for me and my students.
The first day of school came and the world didn’t end. I was still doubting myself, but I got through the day without feeling like a complete failure. The second day came and went with similar results. So on and so forth this pattern continued throughout the semester. On the days that things felt terrible, I thought back to the conversations I had with people earlier or I sought out trusted friends to discuss the matter. On the days when things were great, I made sure to thank God for them and write it down somewhere to remember it in the future. Most importantly, I remembered the importance of listening. I took time to listen to myself and ask why I was feeling a certain way. I trusted that people who I was comfortable sharing with would truly listen and allow me to be unreserved in my emotions without passing judgment. I took time to listen to others to hear the emotions behind their words, so I could respond in a way that communicated that I cared about them.
I’m still not 100% confident in my teaching, but I’m fine with that and learning to remember that my job does not determine who I am as a person. I’m doing my best to remember what Fred Rogers told his viewers at the end of each episode:
“There’s no person in the world like you, and I like you just the way you are.”