Teacher to Learner
by LaVondia Menephee | 08.7.17
A few weeks ago, I was in the parking lot of a school where my colleagues and I had just finished up a teacher training.
I noticed a young man slumped over in his car as I was packing up mine, and I couldn’t tell if he was laughing or crying. Well, I’m Southern, so I walked right over and knocked on his car window to see if he was OK.
It turns out he was overcome with emotion – he’d just gotten his first teaching assignment. I knew all too well those feelings of happiness and fear all wrapped into one, so I said to him, “Why are you in your car? Come on out, we need to celebrate!” I called my colleagues over to him, and we made sure he had fellow educators around to support and celebrate with him in that scary but exciting moment.
Both my parents were educators in the school district I’m in today. When people ask me how long I’ve been an educator here, I get to tell them it’s ever since I was born. But even though this district felt like a second home to me, as a new teacher I had my fair share of those moments of fear and anxiety, just like that man in the parking lot.
As a new teacher I was terrified of being found out or getting caught not knowing something. And I was equally terrified of my students reenacting a scene from Lord of the Flies because I didn’t have enough control over my classroom. I hid the fact that I didn’t have every last lesson plan memorized. I wore panty hose every day because I thought it made me look like a “real” teacher.
But after enough “failed” lessons that didn’t make the world end, enough unexpected classroom moments that didn’t turn my students into a mob against me, I grew to realize that being a teacher isn’t the opposite of being human. It turns out we’re in the business of humans.
Fast forward to today: I’ve ditched the panty hose and look for ways to celebrate moments when I don’t know something, because those moments are opportunities for growth.
My advice if you’re feeling like an imposter? Say you don’t have the answer. Admit you’re afraid. Ask for clarification. It’s OK to be authentically and unapologetically you: a teacher and a learner. Our anxieties tell us to cover up our weaknesses, but it’s our weaknesses that humanize us for our students and colleagues.
I’d also say how important it is to celebrate what you do. Celebrate the hard moments, because if you don’t, they look more like problems and a lot less like paths to victory. It’s exactly why I told that young man sitting in his car to get out and celebrate with me: For teachers, victories are everywhere if we look for them. Did you make it through some of the lesson you had planned? Wonderful. Did you encourage one of your students? That’s important. Are you ready to start another day and do even better tomorrow? That’s what matters.
I could go on and on about how much I love this profession and all the ways we can celebrate the important work we do, but I’m much more succinct on my Twitter page. So come find me and we’ll celebrate together, 140 characters at a time.