This is a guest post by Amy Bernier of ‘Say Yes! Coaching’.
“You’re on a path towards becoming an ineffective teacher. We are putting you on an action plan.”
Huh? I’d been a first grade teacher for a total of three months, and they’re already deeming me on a path to being ineffective? I just sat there. Moments ago, I had been proudly sharing my math and writing data, noting that all the kids had improved since the very beginning of the year. Yay!!! Now, what the fuck was happening here?
“I don’t understand.” I replied, “the data has gone up.”
“It seems that your evaluations show a basic rating in classroom management and routines and other domains.”
“I’m confused. You sent me to a professional development that said getting basic and proficient ratings in the first couple years is normal.”
“No, it’s not. Not here and not for teachers that have experience.”
“My experience is in fifth grade science and middle school.”
“A good teacher is a good teacher is a good teacher.”
“I take offense to that statement, you are telling me I’m NOT a good teacher.”
“That’s not what a mean, and I don’t understand why you’re having a hard time here.”
“First grade is a different planet than fifth grade and middle school.”
What the hell is happening here? What logic states that if a person can teach older kids, than the transition to younger kids should be a breeze? I have taught for six years over the past fifteen years, and in those years, I taught middle school for three and fifth grade science for three. I can say with 100% certainty, fifth grade and first are different planets.
“I disagree. Your co-worker, Mrs. Jones is doing a fine job, and she just moved down to first grade from fifth grade.”
At no time was it acknowledged that Mrs. Jones had previously taught preschool. At no time was it acknowledged that it is extremely poor form to compare two co-workers in this manner.
I am speechless and flabbergasted. I went into this meeting full of pride in how far I’d come in three months, how much I loved my students and their creativity and growth and left filled with anger and upset, tears streaming down my face.
The demands of the job were overwhelming from the very beginning, as is everything that is totally new. I am practiced in jumping into totally new situations, feeling overwhelmed at first, rolling with an intense learning curve and then balancing out as new routines become familiar and automatic over time. I had no idea how challenging this new job was going to be. In fact, there were so many new aspects in the curriculum for everyone, it appeared as though all of the teachers were just as overwhelmed as I.
The stress was so overwhelming that I literally could not turn off my brain. Enter my new Crossfit and kickboxing practice. The workouts were so consuming, I was literally not able to think about anything other than my body and what it needed to do next. Freedom from thought, what a joy. I took it one day at a time and made sure to get to the gym everyday. From the outside, I was getting in incredible shape and keeping a fantastic attitude despite the challenges. On the inside, I felt horrible.
As I was making it through my life as a new first grade teacher, I realized making it through is not how I wanted to live my life. This didn’t really hit me until spring break. Spring break was when I got sick enough that I couldn’t go to the gym on a regular basis, so I was sitting at home with myself and emotions that I had fended off through extreme exercise came up as I was lying in bed and while I was packing up all my stuff to move to a new home. I don’t know how it came to me exactly, but it made itself known through a conversation at the gym.
“What if I never went back?” I said cavalierly to my friend, which quickly descended into, “I don’t want to go back.” And as the words sunk in further, “I can’t go back. Oh god, I can’t go back.” Stunned, I realized this was the truth. I am sick, unhappy and in a constant state of distress. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, my back hurts constantly, and the only thing that makes me feel better is physically exhausting myself to the point that my brain shuts down. Oh crap, what now?
No matter my life circumstances, it is imperative for me to take care of my body and manage my stress. I choose daily meditation, mindfulness practices and physical fitness to maintain my balance. The state of being overwhelmed leads me to intense back pain, headaches, a sick stomach and a loss of appetite. These symptoms are indicators that something is wrong. I have learned this the hard way. In fact, I’ve been having physical responses to what’s happening around me my whole life, and I just realized it a few years ago. Why is it that things have to get so extreme before I’ll realize that there’s a problem?
I teach, and what exactly was I teaching? At that very moment, I was teaching my six and seven year old students to be afraid of their bosses, to define their worthiness based on someone else’s opinion of them and to change who they are in order to fit in to expectations set by a system. In choosing to buy into the story that I was an ineffective teacher, I was sending a message to my students, and even worse, sending that same message to myself every single day. You are not worthy! I made someone else is in charge of my value, I was giving all my power away.
Finally, something deep inside of me emerged to say no more, no more, no more! It wasn’t a voice, it wasn’t a thought, it was a calmness that existed that halted me and my old way of doing things. This experience was nothing like anything I had felt before. It was definitive. Oh my god, I’m going to resign and I’m going to do it soon. Fuck.
My old ways are full of people pleasing, asking others what they think before making a decision, going with the flow that others determine, keeping the boat from rocking and not speaking up, not trusting my own thoughts and feelings. Confrontation? Going against the grain? That is not how I rolled. I considered anything else too dangerous, too risky. What if people get mad or don’t like me? What if my family is disappointed in me? What if I actually am a bad teacher? What if I’ve been a bad teacher all this time and just didn’t realize it? What if they’re right.
Who am I if I’m not a teacher? I don’t know… Except I do know, or at least I’m starting to know. Ever since my back pain adventure from a few years ago, I know that if my back hurts there is something wrong. It’s my body’s way of saying, pay attention, this doesn’t feel right or good. When I pursue things that make me happy, that are filled with joy and ease, my back pain magically slips away. Follow the happy, you can be free.
I’m not practiced at joy, ease and happiness. My personal experiences have led me to believe that hard work and struggle are the only way that exists. Hard work is the way in relationships, jobs, everything. If you’re not struggling you must be doing something wrong. My back taught me that struggling was slowly killing me. Killing my dreams, killing my body, killing me. It’s time to take my power back. It’s time for me to define who I am and what my life looks like. I get to decide who and what enters my life and gets to stay.
I am 38 years old. I’ve spent too long allowing others to tell me who I am and what I am capable of. I have other’s voices in my head, parents, boyfriends, old bosses, friends, telling me what I can and cannot do. Well, no more, no more, no more.
In standing up and saying no to my job, I’m saying no to a lot more than that. I’m saying no to the pattern of life I have been stuck in. I’m saying no to doing what’s right and good by someone else’s definition.
By saying no, I’m really saying yes to me. Yes to feeling good, yes to feeling happy, yes to things being easy and fun. Yes to being brave, and yes to being strong and yes to getting help from the people around me that love me. Yes to trusting that the universe will support me in me choosing me.
Transformation is as easy as the deciding to be happy.
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