Last September, I started a new job as an English teacher in a local secondary school. I had zero training and teaching experience, so I felt out of my depth with all three of my classes. My heart rate would skyrocket whenever I was on my way to class and I would feel the happiest when the bell rang at the end of the day. After school, I would work on designing my own teaching materials, activities and worksheets, just to go through the process again the next day. It was difficult to make time for rest, and if I did allow myself that time, I would feel guilty that I wasn’t working.
A month into the semester, I started to notice a pattern – I would spend the first part of the weekend working on materials for the next week, but on Sunday evenings, I would feel unsure about what I had planned to teach. I found myself scrambling last minute to undo my previous work and to come up with alternative lesson plans. Sunday evenings were always when I felt the most dread and nervous anticipation for yet another school week.
One Sunday morning, I woke up finally feeling calmer and more rested, which was a big contrast to how I usually felt. I was getting ready for church when I felt an intense wave of sudden anxiety. What if my classes tomorrow don’t go well? What if my students aren’t responsive?
At the time, I was holding on to a lot of fear and insecurity about how little experience I had with teaching. I had been praying to God about it but I was still struggling a lot. My friends kept telling me to “give yourself some grace” but I found it difficult to put into practice. I also noticed that my daily mood was very much tied to how my students behaved in class. If they were receptive and engaged, I would leave class feeling proud and upbeat. If they were apathetic (or worse, falling asleep), I would feel upset afterwards.
One of my friends was also wrestling with work-related stress, and discussing it with her helped me process some of my own thoughts. “Maybe we’re so anxious all the time because we’re trying to control what happens at work for ourselves,” she said. I thought about it and realized that I had been trying to control every aspect of my teaching. My constant planning (and re-planning) and my emotional responses to my classes were actually consequences of whenever I felt out of control. I was trying so hard to manage how my lessons would go, and if my students did not respond to me in the way I most wanted them to, I would feel inadequate and agitated.
[I] realized that I had been trying to control every aspect of my teaching. My constant planning (and re-planning) and my emotional responses to my classes were actually consequences of whenever I felt out of control.
I still do my best to prepare for each of my lessons and to come up with creative ways to teach my students what they need to know, but the mentality I have towards my lesson planning has changed drastically. Now, I know better which areas I need to surrender to God. When my familiar feelings of anxiousness crop up, I remind myself that I cannot control each and every one of my students’ emotions or how they behave in class. I can, however, control how I respond to it. I have the freedom to not be as affected whenever I feel like my lessons do not go the way I envisioned them to. Instead, I’m encouraged to keep striving for new ways to connect and relate to my students.
When my familiar feelings of anxiousness crop up, I remind myself that I cannot control each and every one of my students’ emotions or how they behave in class. I can, however, control how I respond to it.
Now, when I walk to class, I remember Joshua 1.9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Though teaching can be scary, I take comfort in knowing that He opened up this very opportunity for me, and that He is with me through each of my mistakes or difficult days.
Though teaching can be scary, I take comfort in knowing that He opened up this very opportunity for me, and that He is with me through each of my mistakes or difficult days.
It makes my day now whenever I see my students have an “aha!” moment, or when they look for answers themselves, instead of simply asking me for it. As we continue the rest of this school year, I’m looking forward to seeing how my students will grow and shape each other. I’m also really excited to get to know them even better, and to challenge myself to come up with more interactive and interesting lessons for them.