Through most of this past week, I think I was at an eleven.
This would be on the “scared” scale of 1 to 10.
Sure, it’s3 perfectly normal to be nervous about opening day. Usually however, it’s the sort of an “I know things are going to go well but I’m just excited and anxious” type of nervous.
As in, I feel a little nervous, but really I know I’m going to be fine.
As in, even if I’m not perfect at the start, I’m established, and if all heck breaks loose, the principals and teachers and counselors4 who know who I am will have my back if need be. So I know everything will be okay.
For most of this past week, it was different. It was more of a “deer in the headlights”, absolutely terrified and frightened type of nervous.
Every year at this time, it is routine for the following two thoughts of self-doubt to be creeping through my head:
- How do I know that I’m going to be any good this year? What if I completely strike out with my new students? What if this is the year that make the last seven-and-a-half out to be a complete and utter fluke, and I discover that I’m not actually any good at this?5
- Then I think about the sheer amount of emotional energy that it took for me to make it through last year.6 And I’m just not sure that I have that kind of magic in me again this year.
As for thought number one: I’ve thought that every year going back to season one.
Thought number two is more of a recent thing.
About a year ago, I stumbled upon a fellow teacher’s blog, Petals of Joy, when one of the author’s posts from that month went “viral” on social media. The title of the post was “What I want the Parents of My Students to Know”, and there was one particular excerpt that resonated with me, emphasis mine:
I want you to know every year is a make-or-break year for me. It could always be my last. Because this is not just a job. It’s a calling. And there are some days I wonder if I’m still called.7
When I look back at any of the past seven years, I think of the incredible amount of complexity involved in playing a piano piece properly. If you actually stop to think about the individual finger movements, it’s impossible. Like, literally8 impossible.9 But when you let instinct take over and stop focusing on any singular sequence of notes, and when you stop thinking too hard, that’s when things just start to flow… and that’s when things start to work.
In our line of work, it is far too easy to get hung up on any singular detail of the journey, to the point where it just all seems impossible.10
I found a moment of calm today when I found some time to put labels with my name and room number on my class set of yellow calculators. And put numbered sticky notes on the corner of each desk for first day intros. And rewrite a question on our first review and group quiz. Little routine things like this can be oddly therapeutic.
The electricity of tomorrow11 will be matched only by May 1312 and I trust that by the time 1st period opens up tomorrow, I’ll have found my rhythm and realize that there’s no reason to be skiing scared.
As ready as I’m going to be.
- I’m thinking of the greatness of Weird Al’s “Word Crimes” video, and although it’s not discussed specifically, I am aware that it is not appropriate to start a sentence with the word “and”. [↩]
- I’ve said it before, but for clarification: I started teaching full-time in January — mid-year — so while on paper this is my ninth year of teaching, I have at this moment been teaching for 7-and-a-half. Which is why I will refer to this upcoming campaign as Year 9… but Season 8 (that first half year is what I refer to as “Season Zero”). [↩]
- this is a contraction! so it’s correct to use an apostrophe! Thank you, Weird Al! [↩]
- well, maybe I’m not so sure about that one, now that I’m hearing McNeil has five new bodies in the counseling offices [↩]
- Sometimes I wonder why it’s important for personalities like me to need to feel like we’re good at what we do. Apparently that’s not a universal thing… [↩]
- I think that to myself every year. But last year — Season 7 — was special. And yet, when I look back on my thoughts from one year ago, everything I wrote back then is still valid today. [↩]
- I should make the point — as did the author — that teachers are not the only ones with difficult jobs in this world. As a buddy of mine pointed out last summer in Westlake over a Carl’s Jr. bacon-heart-attack-burger: “Every job is stressful.” [↩]
- or is it “figuratively”… [↩]
- Anyone who has stopped in the middle of a piece — breaking the flow of the moment — and failed to recall what note to play next knows what I mean. [↩]
- And I can’t even begin to describe the mountainous hordes of our job that don’t directly involve teaching your subject matter. Even if I could, I wouldn’t — it would just depress me [↩]
- and I actually really look forward to the first day of AP Stat, more so than any other course I have taught [↩]
- AP Exam Day [↩]