Teach Houston

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 11 2013

is it good to be afraid?

On the wall of the copy room (a room where I spend a lot of time, as it turns out) there’s a quote: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”


I’ve been thinking about this concept – fear – a lot lately. For a moment I want to set aside all the ways this quote could be analyzed (“Why does TFA use this?” “What are they trying to convey?”) and just focus on the words themselves.


My life here is certainly defined by fear. I’m afraid for my students – that I won’t be the teacher they need, that I will be just one more adult in a string of adults who can’t give them what they need/deserve. I’m afraid for my girls – that they’ll get pregnant soon, have babies when they are still essentially babies themselves, that they’ll grow to define themselves by their sexuality and their self-worth by their physical attractiveness. I’m afraid for my boys. I’m afraid they’ll wind up in prison or god forbid something worse. I’m afraid they’ll hit women in the future just like they hit girls now, except somewhere along the way it stops being a joking, playful thing. I’m afraid they will internalize messages about “real men” and become even less willing to show emotion or anything similarly “soft.”

I’m afraid because my class is still averaging a 35 on their exit tickets.
I’m afraid because we just spent four weeks of instructional time essentially spinning our wheels.
I’m afraid because I have to bribe them with candy, and I watch them throw away their fruits and vegetables every day at lunch in favor of sugary drinks and processed snacks.
I’m afraid because of the stories they tell me.

I’m afraid of what I haven’t done.
Home visits, Saturday school tutorials, more small-group tutoring.
I’m afraid of what I have done.
Was I too harsh? Too blunt? Too direct?

I’m afraid of what they hear about their life chances.
I’m afraid of what they hear about their life choices.

I’m afraid when they tell me my expectations are too high
I’m afraid when they tell me they can’t ever live up to the people I expect them to be.

I’m afraid I’ll look back with regret at all the things I may have done differently
I’m afraid I’ll run into a student in the future and ask, what might have been.


And though I’m only secondary in this, I had yet another cryfest with important TFA adults (I promise I don’t do this that often! Yesterday was actually a great day in my classroom!) and they told me all they want me to do is feel supported and feel confident in myself. I have a whole list of my own fears – about life, being in the classroom, etc. – but that is a separate issue.


I suppose that, just like anything else in the world, fear can be both good and bad. Sometimes I let it cripple me, but other times I let it drive me. I always shied away from fear in college. I only really did things I knew I was good at…and when I realized I was bad at something, I backed away quickly. Every risk I took was incredibly calculated. And here, day after day, I look my fear right in the eye and dare it to stop me as I live my life. I use it to drive me forward, to keep working, to think more deeply about the way I see the world.

It’s an exhilarating thing, really, to stare fear down every single day, to be able to go to bed at night marveling at how I won because I am still in the fight.


A blessed life is one risked well, they say, and as I move right past my fear I see I’m becoming the person I want to be.


One Response

  1. Fear is okay as long as it isn’t impeding your work — which it sounds like it isn’t right now. You’re a major force for one year, you do what you can, connect the dots, and try to be a resource in the future. There’s only so much you can do, but as long as you make the most of your time with your students I encourage you to be hopeful and optimistic about their future. Keep pushing them higher!

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Journeys, challenges, & writings of a first-year teacher.

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