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Weathering the storm

I have always been someone who gets nervous when I’m not doing well. And the first few years of teaching, I don’t think I’ve done well. I tend to keep going at these times, and end up being okay, but having said that, I feel crippled while I’m scared, and constantly feel like I’m teetering on the edge of an abyss. And it’s been like this for these first years of teaching, when the threat, the unfamiliarity, the insecurity has been so constant that I’ve woken up in the middle of the night, petrified, that I’d never be good at this job. Maybe this is magnified in the school where I teach, where the kids are wealthy, and the weight of expectation is made larger, made gigantic, on the back of the sense of entitlement that some of these kids, these parents feel. Q: “I pay a lot of money to this school! Why isn’t my kid getting a 90?” {A: Because he didn’t get enough questions right!!”}

It’s been funny to watch wealth. It seems, in a small minority of cases, to almost entirely erode the children’s sense of personal responsibility, empathy and collaboration. The world owes them, and the sense of personal agency is so diminished that it becomes laughable, and then, petrifying. I am at pains to emphasize that this is not everyone by any means. It is not a straight or simplistic correlation between wealth and the dark side. There are kids in my classes, from the wealthiest families, that are upright and hard-working, with strong and embedded curiosity, who deliver because they should, and not because they have to. But it is the minority that are radicalized, if you want to borrow from recent political happenings, by their wealth, and are mutated. (On a side note: is it the vulnerable that tend to get radicalized? Those that have pockets of darkness in them, that search out the easy way through the weeds? Who knows. but perhaps. And it is they who, with this foghorn of wealth, shout the loudest when they don’t get what they want.)

And yet, it is against this background of being petrified of the “radicals”, the loose cannons, that teaching has ended up being transformative. The constant need to watch oneself has translated eventually into an ability to balance in stormy water, where a shift in the waves doesn’t threaten me as much anymore. A calmness comes with the constant level of stress, an inner stability and balance – because you HAVE to have that to stay upright on these waves. It’s like surfing, I’ve realized. You’ve got to be a dude. You improve in certain areas, and you get better at the job, and you suddenly realize that a precondition of success is calmness. “You’re going to throw THAT at me again? Ok, but it’s just going to make me laugh.”

Much of this has come from my leaders, peers, my friends. I’ve disappeared into panic, and I’ve been pulled out. There have been safe places to go at times of distress, where there have been safe havens, people who have understood, and who have had the maturity to calm me, to encourage me, to love me enough when I’ve felt at sea.. Sometimes, it even comes from a parent, who remembers to thank you. Sometimes, it comes from a student, who remembers that you are a human being. For this, to each of the people who fortify, I am grateful, and you change the way that I teach. Disappearing into anything dark can be reversed.

I am slowly learning to stand my ground. I have also learned that I need to have faith in myself to do this, and that faith comes from, as one very wise administrator once said, from “filling the holes.” What she meant by this, I think was that I needed to fortify my processes, my teaching, so people can’t pick at it. As it is with this growing sense of competence, not perfect by any means, and likely off by 5 or more years, that I remember my core, and remember to keep walking ahead, surfing ahead, and remember above all to keep it all in perspective.

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