For my first teaching experience I was fortunate to be placed with a year 8 enrichment class.
As you can imagine the students were thoughtful, intelligent, interesting and highly articulate. In short they were a dream class.
There was just one small problem, I was absolutely terrified of teaching them.
For the first few weeks I was utterly convinced that these brilliant children were seconds away from working out that I had no idea what I was doing in the classroom and chaos would ensue all in front of my associate teacher’s eyes.
Now throw in how to work the photocopier, find resources, connect your laptop to the schools wifi while navigating the school’s staffroom and trying to remember everyone’s names and you have those first few days of Teaching Experience.
Does any this sound at all familiar?
I’m guessing a lot of people, student teachers or otherwise, go through the ‘ZOMG what on earth was I thinking when I decided to….’ phase when they do something new and starting doubt themselves and their abilities. And it seems that higher the stakes, the more inadequate you start feeling as you take that intial leap into the unknown.
Although I’ve already been on teaching experience, in just over a week I’ll be in a new school with new students and new teachers. I’ll also be taking a big jump in age levels going from a year 7/8 to teaching year 1/2 and woah how did it get to be term 3 already? Time is ticking by and there’s that constant background worry of finding a job next year.
As student teachers we have it drilled into us how important these teaching experiences are for our career. In the briefing about the upcoming TE one of the remarks made was that our practicum was in essence a 7 week long job interview. At a time when rumours of up to 70% last year’s cohort were not able to find teaching work are flying through the student body that pressure to be perfect just went up a few more levels.
Then there’s the thought next year I am going to be doing this teaching thing for real and the huge responsibility that this entails. In general the theme across my diploma is that teachers are these all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present people in the lives of our students and I wonder how I can ever match the standard set down in these textbooks? Especially since we know that bad teaching can have a massive negative effect on students’ journeys through the education system. Right now there are 120 Auckland students whose concepts of level 4 probability have now been determined by my teaching and I can’t help but wonder did my teaching help or hinder their learning?
When I mention any of these doubts out loud I often hear the same responses ‘Don’t worry’ or ‘I’m sure you’ll do fine.’ These sort of platitudes might work for a few hours of feeling better but eventually that self-doubt drifts in again and I’m back to feeling like an imposter.
So what to do?
Do I keep up with trying to keep up with trying the bestest student teacher there ever was on the outside while spending another TE quaking in my boots that I’m just a few seconds away from being outed for incompetence? Or do I admit that there’s a scary monster lurking under my bed right now that goes by the name failure?
Our society doesn’t do well with failure, it’s an ugly beast that is something to be avoided at all costs. So we stuff our failures into a closet or under a bed somewhere so that nobody can see it and we can pretend failure is something that happens to other people. But the problem with failure is that eventually it will catch up to you with some harsh lessons for not paying it enough attention.
Perhaps what is worse than being the student teacher who goes into Teaching Experience thinking they know it all is being the student teacher plagued by self-doubt and the fear of failure that they miss the most important lesson of all; making mistakes in and of itself isn’t bad, not learning and reflecting on them is the problem. After all if you’ve gone through life without failing at something, then your life has been lived so cautiously that you have failed by default.
I’m going to put my hand up and say that I spent far too much of my last TE trying to be a good teacher with excellent evaluations when what I needed to do was focus more on the learning, both mine and also that of my students.
As a result of this failure I am giving up on the idea of setting myself impossibly high standards then finding myself overwhelmed by the task I’ve set myself to accomplish and will go into this teaching experience with a different mindset.
I’m here to learn.
But to do this I’m going to embrace learning for all of its flaws. Because although most of the time learning is interesting and exciting, it is also messy, frustrating and, at times, utterly terrifying.
So the next time I find myself feeling like a great imposter I will mutter three times under my breath, ‘a fail is a First Attempt In Learning.’
Perhaps that will make that failure monster just a little less scary but I’m not sure if it will help make me feel like less of an imposter those first few
days weeks at school.