- A New School Year: Here Comes the Fear Again - August 20, 2013
- Jeff Bliss: Ignorance Is Bliss Or Is Bliss Just Ignorant? - May 17, 2013
- Five Lessons For Everyone Who Works in Education for a Living - April 30, 2013
- Teaching Through Trickery: A Snapshot of Theory vs. Reality - February 28, 2013
- Kill Your Idols: A Case for Contemporary Literature - February 6, 2013
- Based on a True Story: A Critical Look at Teachers in Movies - January 24, 2013
I’m starting my fifth year as a high school English teacher. I have a M.Ed. in Educational Psychology, I’ve established myself as a solid member of a department that could give the X-Men a run for their money, and I’ve gained enough political clout to be relocated from a small, windowless classroom (which I affectionately called “the chokey”) to a much more coveted piece of real estate.
So why does the prospect of staring down six classes of students and a new school year make me seize up with blinding terror?
I suppose that, regardless of the person, being placed in a situation where you have to capture the attention of thirty-five kids who are still clinging to the edges of a rapidly disappearing summer is terrifying in and of itself. But I’m a professional. I should be able to go into a room of young people and blow them away without even trying—right? I mean, a lawyer who has been in the game for four years wouldn’t approach a deposition with nail-biting, white-knuckled terror gnawing at his/her mind. What’s the difference between that lawyer and me? I’ll tell you what the difference is: Remember those thirty-five kids? Well, thinking mathematically, they represent thirty-five different variables. In order to solve this problem, I would need to exhaust every letter of the English alphabet, and make up nine more algebraic symbols to represent the excess. Since I really suck at math, I’m not even going to begin to put that into an equation, suffice to say that it would be really complicated. With lots of numbers and letters. And probably some squiggly lines, you know, to make it math.
As a person who has grown quite comfortable with predictability, this legion of adolescent variables freaks me out. What if this is the year that I am confronted with a parent who goes straight to the superintendent because I’ve failed to properly educate their child? What if this is the year that a student makes it his/her personal mission to destroy me? What if this is the year that it all simply falls apart like a slice of bread floating in a pool of water?
Since this fear is something I’ve felt at the beginning of each school year, I’ve developed a few strategies to help ease myself back into the process:
1. Batten Down the Hatches: It’s important to maintain quick and easy access to things that you love and make you happy. For example, when I learned that our back to school policy meetings actually began a day earlier than I had planned, I immediately traveled to the local Taco Bell and got myself a beefy five layer burrito (which I call the meat thing). It’s not something I eat all the time, but in moments of crisis, it’s a necessity—like breaking the glass case around a fire extinguisher to contain an aggressively spreading fire.
2. Keep on the Sunny Side: Optimism is the key to the teaching profession. I’m a big believer in the fact that a person has to maintain a healthy sense of optimism to even be a teacher. Take the optimism that fuels your belief that teachers can make differences in the lives of young people and set it free. This will be the year that I turn my students into full-blown book nerds. This will be the year that I pitch my ideas to my department. This will be the year that I help get parents more involved in their child’s education.
3. Haters Gonna Hate: This is more of an extension to suggestion number two, but it’s important to acknowledge the fact that there are people who don’t want you to succeed. It might be a parent, colleague, family member or that nut of a politician who wants to pin all of society’s ills on educators, but it’s a demon everyone faces. In my experience with haters, I’ve come to rely on a quote from Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods: “One thing he had learned early. You do your own time in prison. You don’t do anyone else’s for them. Keep your head down. Do your own time.” If we can just overlook the fact that our narrator happens to be in prison, it has a profound influence on other aspects of our lives. Whenever I’m confronted with a so-called hater, I tell myself that I’m doing my own time—not that of the hater.
There’s no doubt that the weekend before I actually see my students will be long and filled with a debilitating cocktail of anxiety, neuroses and fried food as I await Monday morning. But then, that weekend will be over. I’ll meet my students, they’ll be perfectly normal teenagers, with a few oddballs, as always. Before I know it, a year of discussing Shakespeare and recommending books to one another will have come and gone. Until that point comes, however, I’ll see you at Taco Bell.