Time has felt so strange this past year. I can hardly believe that I’m almost through my first year of teaching, yet is also feels like I’ve been at this vocation for years. When I look back through my lesson plans and all we’ve covered in class, it seems like a full years’ worth! But, time has flown by too. I suppose the old adage applies: “Times flies when you’re having fun!”
For the first several months, I had a constant, low-level of anxiety all the time. There was always something I needed to study and understand in time for an approaching class! Sometime around mid-March, I felt myself settle in and relax a bit. Even though there was still a lot of class content to study and master, I was now familiar with the process and could work smarter to prepare lessons.
During this school year, I’ve moved along a spectrum from perfectionism to surrender, over and over again. It goes something like this: I make a mistake in class or don’t feel as prepared as I would like, so I start berating myself. I then get anxious and try to understand everything before the next class (which is impossible); my mind gets jumpy and I feel disconnected from the process of learning. The feeling of being “in my head” and listening to my inner critique is a great indicator that I’m striving to do and be more than God intends.
So, then I pray… and pray… and breathe. I pray for a growth mindset and to accept my limitations as a human being. I pray to see myself rightly: as a first year teacher who is working hard and trying her best. I ask the Holy Spirit to guide my thoughts, my studying, and even specifically my lesson plan ideas!
It’s still typical for me to feel nervous before a class, but an amazing thing happens when I’m well prepared and my students enter the classroom. I’ll ask them how they’re doing and we’ll start chatting either individually or as a whole class, and I instantly engage and don’t feel anxious anymore. I love connecting with the students and getting to know them is the best part of teaching. As the year has progressed, my enjoyment and comfort has been directly related to how well I know my students. I’m not teaching a class of 14 to 16 random students, they are individual people that I know well.
Last weekend, I had about 25 essays to carefully edit and grade for my ninth graders. Before starting, I prayed a lot about the work ahead of me and the attitude I wanted to take toward this marathon of work. Each essay takes me about 45-50 minutes to edit and provide comments. I prayed that I would approach this task with a servant’s heart so I would give each students the feedback they needed to grow.
As I engaged in this work, it felt so different from my experience editing essays the first semester. It occurred to me that I know my students much better now than I did then. So, I connected more deeply to the feeling of editing Jane’s essay, Jonny’s essay, Logan’s essay, etc. My feedback was more customized to their growth, which made it more meaningful and inspiring for me.
Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week! Students and parents wrote sweet notes and gave little gifts all week long. I sat down to read through all my notes this weekend and they were delightful. My favorites were from students who told me how they experience class and me as a teacher! It’s hard to see yourself clearly, so this encouragement meant so much.
Once the school year is over and I have time to process it all (and time to write!) I will share my learnings from this year. I may be the teacher, but learning is a lifelong adventure and this year taught me abundantly.