You’ve trained for this. You’ve studied, passed the state required tests, secured the credential, survived your year of student teaching. And yet…And yet…the questions swim through your brain, unbidden, unwelcome, ever present.
Can I do this? Do I know enough? Will the kids like me? Am I too young? Should I be strict? Easygoing? Do I have enough life experience to teach teenagers? What if I don’t know what to do? What if I don’t know the answer to a question a kid asks? What if a kid moons my class through the door window? (Oh, that last one actually happened to me when student teaching. Cringe.)
I have been there. Every once in a awhile, 5 years in, I’m still there. Because teaching is a wild, miraculous, scary, wonderful journey. It will challenge you, force you to grow, adapt, learn. And some days it feels beautiful like we’re Marie from the Sound of Music and other times…it’s the worst. Truly.
When we sign up to teach for the first time, in a new school, with new students, it’s always scary. Exciting, yet profoundly frightening. I believe that’s normal. And I also believe it’s good to let the fear fuel your preparedness. To a point. We, as teachers, must walk that fine line between allowing a little fear to fuel us rather than allowing it to become debilitating, all consuming.
And there is a balance. A healthy amount of fear allows you to imagine a few scenarios you might want to address and think through ahead of time. Debilitating fear shuts you down and makes your mind seem like a scene straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
Today, I want to address some of the less healthy fears, the scenarios you can’t prepare your way around. They’re unavoidable. So let’s face them straight on and allow peace to replace that unhealthy fear.
Scenario #1: What if I look too young and students won’t accept me as an authority? Oh friend, I get this fear. I mean, I really get it. As someone who looks like a high school student at 27 years old, I get comments from parents, adults, random strangers who ask me what I do. It’s almost always their first response: “how can you teach teenagers when you look like one?” Now, a few years in, I can laugh it off. Because as it turns out…teenagers don’t really care. Sure, they might talk about your youthful appearance here and there. They might be surprised the first day of school. But after the first week, they’ll get used to it. Seriously. They will. Often, they even like having a young teacher because they feel like you can relate to them. And that’s a gift. So don’t waste your time worrying about this one- it’s not something you can change. Embrace it and let it work to your advantage. More here.
Scenario #2: What if I don’t know enough about the topics I teach and students ask questions I can’t answer? You know, I majored in history. I was on the quarter system so I took a ton of different classes. And yet…somehow I was still completely unprepared to teach the content of World History my first year. I scrambled every week to keep just a day ahead of my students content-wise. I read the textbook and created lessons once I understood the material. I sometimes googled the topic 5 minutes before class just to make sure I understood. So I’ve been there. It’s not always a fun place to be. But here’s the dirty little secret: it’s where we all start. Almost every teacher started off not knowing their subject matter all that well. But you learn it. And if a kid asks a question you don’t know the answer to…google it. Or have the kid google it. Tell them it’s an amazing question and you can’t wait to learn alongside them. It’s okay. You’re learning too.
Scenario #3: What if I’m not a “good” teacher? To address this, let me ask you something. What is a good teacher? Think of 5 good teachers you’ve had. I’m guessing they were all different in their styles, personalities, and methods. Being a good teacher looks different to everyone. I think that at their core, good teachers are always reflecting, growing, and learning. Are you willing to try, fail, learn, and try again? If so, you’re probably a good teacher. It’s not about doing a certain amount of simulations or fun activities. It’s about growth that comes from honest reflection. So if you’re willing to do that…let this fear go. It’s not worth your time, especially if you’re comparing yourself to strangers on the internet that seem to have “ideal” classrooms with “perfect” students.
I know you might be wrestling with more thoughts or fears. That’s normal. But I also want you to know there are plenty of resources for you.