As I watched one of the US Olympic figure skaters give her post-routine interview, her words struck me. “I used to be scared. But once I let go of that fear, I really fell in love with this sport.” I’m usually not one for over-analyzing already over-analyzed sport metaphors but something about that idea struck me. I think fear is easy (easier?) to define in sports. Fear of falling – literally or metaphorically. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of losing/looking foolish.
Fear in teaching, or at least my fear, has been a little tougher for me to understand.
The overwhelming, suffocating, seemingly-all-consuming fear for me this year has been a fear of being seen as a failure. Not of being a failure. Being seen as a failure. It’s an important distinction that I will publicly make – as narcissistic as it makes me seem – because if I’m being honest with myself, it drives a lot of my decisions.
Take the upcoming district assessments, for example. I want good scores because I want to be validated in the instructional risks I’ve taken. No more guided notes. Student-driven discussion. Annotations. Notebooks. No more hand-holding. Real, authentic, engaging, rich discussion. No (or at least minimal) multiple-choice practice. Lots of essays. Lots of writing. I know it sounds like a “duh” moment for many of you but it was a huge risk at my school, a risk where every decision is pored over by everyone else.
And I worry that if my scores aren’t great, or if I’m below the district average again, or if students didn’t achieve their projected growth, I’ll be viewed as a failure.
I try so, so hard to push this away. I wish I could scrape this thought away and never let it worm its way into my insides again, yet there it is, always lurking, just beneath the surface. One beautiful spring afternoon I let my kids play a vocab game outside. It was wonderful, and I loved it, and they loved it, and yet I was constantly worried about who was watching me. Would I get in trouble? Would I be punished in some way? As I think about it now, it seems ridiculous; literally the worst that could happen is that I have to have a difficult conversation with someone. But that fear still stopped me in my tracks.
I want to love this profession. I want to love my job. I already love many parts of it. My students – two girls wrote me separate thank-you notes today, and my mom cried when she got the pictures of the notes via text message. “You are the only teacher that we can trust. Thank you for remembering what it’s like to be a girl nowadays and always being so understanding. We like the way you dress.” hahaha. I love my mentors – my MTLD, my instructional coach, my GLC. I love my fellow teachers. They – more than anything else – they are the people who keep me going every single day. The laughter, camaraderie, outside-of-school friendships, drive, push, support, and warmth they bring to my life is absolutely irreplaceable.
I want to love it all and yet this fear of being seen as inadequate/a failure/lazy/not hard-working enough seems ever-present.
I want to be like that skater. I want to just let go of the fear, once and for all. But I do not yet know how I can do that.