I’ve been wanting to write a series in establishing self-confidence for awhile. Since I received a number of comments and emails around teaching and the experience, I decided to start what I hope as a number of posts dedicated to this topic and the evolution it has had over the past few years.
Many throughout their lifetime identify that “thing” that challenges them the most. What comes easily for one may be an endeavor for another. Throughout high school and college, I saw many things thankfully come easily to me, and I would shy away when they grew increasingly difficult. I’d say that I would get involved just enough with something to feel a slight push out of a comfort zone, but never to the extent where I felt a transformation due to an experience per say.
Teaching has been that “thing” and I think you probably get the impression that I would never trade the past few years for anything. Yes, my sanity waxed and waned. Yes, many tears emerged and phone calls home stating I hated it and wanted out. And yes, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing (and sometimes still don’t) or why I was doing it.
I never realized how much baggage I came to Teach for America with. And although I did come with as much as I could fit in my car, literally baggage wise, I came with a lot more bottled up inside of me. My baggage was myself. All those years of bowing out right when things would get tough, never thinking I was “good enough”, and always criticizing every once of myself appearance wise have been the basis of all the self-reflection that has existed since moving to California.
All of my (mis)perceptions would be my biggest challenges, not the mere 400 students that I’ve taught nor the conditions in which I teach. I’m sure the outside conditions did not help the situation. Or did they? Perhaps having the outside conditions as crappy as the self-confidence (or lack thereof) that I had inside shed light that I could not hide out in any sort of avoidance and had to face the facts. Broken on the outside. Broken on the inside. There was no escape. I had to deal.
Throughout my first year, my main concern was survival. Gosh, I probably wanted to quit every period of every day until the end of the year. Everything boiled down to the fact that I was not naturally good at it and felt I never would be. If I had left after my first year, which some do for legitimate reasons, then there would have been no change or transformation in myself. I was trying to adjust to a new life in california, a new life as a post-grad, a new life as a teacher without the familiar supports of family or friends a drive away. (what the heck was i thinking?!)
Teach for America is a two year minimum program. As I entered my second year, the learning curve took place exponentially. I used my summer to change some of the main issues of my classroom and I knew what to focus on during my second year. I still faced many challenges, but I had troubleshooted how to combat them. Confidence began to increase slowly. As my time in the classroom grew, I had more patience for myself and for my students. I understood their momentary limitations and even my own. For one reason or another that is hard to pinpoint at the moment, I accepted that I didn’t know the answer, but I knew how to find it. I began talking to teachers with less experience than I and reassured them that I could empathize what they were feeling, and more importantly, that it.gets.better.
The skills and interactions that I’ve had in the classroom have flooded into my everyday life.
How I deal with an unpleasant person? Wait, I’ve done that a few times in each class each year with certain students.
How do I tackle a huge goal? Wait, some of my 11th grade students could only read at 7th grade level and they learned anatomy and physiology.
How do I time manage? I think I have that covered.
How do I suppress the first impressions my mind jumps to when meeting an individual? Wait, remember those times when a student with an ankle bracelet would walk into your room, or a student who took longer to articulate a question, or a student with multiple piercings and tattoos would blow you away with their participation and answers in class.
How do I recognize my short-comings and accept that things take time? Try teaching.
How do I show sympathy for a situation you have never yourself experienced? Wait, students whose friend was shot, or whose mother was deported, or just being a teenager in Oakland, all you could now within your power was listen and that’s what they needed.
The person that someone will interact with now is not that same person from before teaching, that is for sure. Although I am no where near perfect, that feeling and accepting that is much different than the feeling that one is inadequate.
I do not write these posts to say look at me, what I’ve done, nor list the accomplishments of me or my students. What I do hope to provide is to give hope to those who do feel inadequate in who they are, what gifts they have been given, and how to best utilize them, that there will be something that you will find yourself involved in that will transform who you are into a more confident individual.
But you have to let it. And you need to stick with it.
My career has given me the encouragement I need to tackle the next phase of my life. I honestly feel like I could attempt anything in my life and that is a very rewarding feeling to have. I mean, after feeling like you’ve banged your head against a wall for a year (or two or three) you start to develop a tough exterior 🙂 and feel more at ease with other pursuits you want to accomplish.