Tag Archives: Teaching

#YourTurnChallenge: Day Six

writingdateYour Turn Challenge prompt: “Tell us about a time when you surprised yourself.”

I was terrified when I first started teaching. My very first experience — getting up in front of a classroom full of students, leading a session based on a lesson plan I’d drafted — was during my Senior year as an English major doing my undergraduate degree at Oregon State University. I was completing an internship at a local high school, working with a class of Junior and Senior honors students. I believed the myth that as an English major, your only career options were to teach or to write, and even though what I really wanted was to write, I thought the smart, practical thing would be to get a teaching degree.

I took the internship at the high school to see if that was the grade level I wanted to work with. I wasn’t actually supposed to be teaching, was supposed to be doing things to help, like making copies and grading spelling quizzes and helping students with their homework, but the teacher really liked me, told me I could teach whenever I wanted.

After giving my first lesson, a short session about writing short stories, she told me “You are a natural.” I really wanted to believe her. I couldn’t judge for myself because every time I got up in front of the class, I freaked out. It took all of my self control to keep from running out of the room.

I didn’t end up teaching high school, but went on to get an M.A. in English instead. I taught writing at Colorado State University, first as a graduate student while completing my degree, then as an adjunct, and then as non-tenure track faculty. I was so freaked out by my first semester teaching, I took a year off and worked in the Writing Center as a tutor instead before I could get the confidence to try again. For the first five years or so, I would make myself physically sick before each class session. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I had panic attacks. I felt like I couldn’t breath and I was sure my students thought I was the worst teacher ever, or at least one of the weirdest.

I heard someone recently say that for an introvert, teaching is an extreme sport. I’d have to agree with that. But I’ve surprised myself. Once I started teaching a Writing for the Web composition course, a topic I felt like I knew something about, a subject I was interested in, something shifted. I was able to connect with my students from a place of real engagement. I started to enjoy facilitating their learning, discovering their specific interests and skills. I still got anxious at the beginning of each semester — it’s nerve wracking meeting 24 new people all at once, not being able to just sit in the back corner of the room and observe — but I started to enjoy the experience.

staceysyogaspaceEven so, I worried that when I started teaching yoga, I’d revert to freaking out. It was an entirely different subject, style of teaching. I was a complete beginner. Being the body at the front of a class so focused on what it means to be a body, move a body, and my relationship with my body was so complicated, I expected the panic to return.

But it didn’t. Rather than being an indicator of what would go wrong, my past teaching experience helped me. I knew what to expect. I understood that if I showed up, just as I was, whatever happened would be okay. That if I stayed present, in touch with my innate wisdom and compassion, I could adapt to whatever might arise. It was totally okay to fail, to make mistakes, to screw up sometimes. As my friend Aramati says, “teaching is part preparation and part letting go.” I can trust myself.

 

Day of Rest

bedThis is something I originally posted on Facebook this morning, but just now realized I wanted to share it here too, that there would be some of you who wouldn’t see my Facebook post.

Woke up at 4:30 am like normal, but decided to go back to sleep, and you know how you have the weirdest dreams when you do that? I had one that I was teaching at Chemeketa Community College, a class about Finding Your Purpose, and I showed up for week three completely unprepared. We were in the Student Center, and it was busy and noisy — a spin class, the food court, all kinds of other classes and study groups and students just hanging out — and there was no privacy. I also realized that rather than a 10 week progressive course with the same group of students, the class was actually a drop in, which meant I should be doing what I did the first week over again, but I didn’t have those notes. I asked my students to put their chairs in a circle to provide a container of sorts, but I had to go find my own chair. All of the furniture was old and broken down, no good, so the chair I had to settle for was awful.

When I got back to the group, I was honest, told them I was struggling with the distraction, my own lack of preparation, was irritated and fumbling, but that I was doing my best and would keep going, was showing up, fully present. Then it came to me that it was the perfect teaching moment, and told them that it was just like that with Finding Your Purpose — it isn’t just about figuring out what you want, but dealing with the obstacles that exist, that you can’t control all the elements, there’s the environment, culture, other people, economic realities, potential health issues or physical limitations, and that you have to learn to work with them. I ended up rocking what was a messed up situation.

Take that subconscious — clearly if you want to give me an anxiety dream, teaching can no longer be your subject matter. Time to go back to the old standards of not being able to find a clean or private public bathroom when I need to poop, or the one where I’m out jogging and cars are honking at me and I look down and realize I’m completely naked and miles from home.