I’m going to sound really silly (or so I feel) writing this, but about five years ago, I met someone that I never realized would impact my life in such huge ways. She taught me everything practical there is to know about teaching, and she has been there watching and helping me grow in my profession ever since.
I remember entering the school in December, right before Christmas break. I met a bunch of people whose names I could not remember. I walked around some hallways that I would never remember how to navigate when the holiday was over. And then I went on my merry way, to try to gear myself up for the anxiety I was sure I would feel about starting to teach in an actual classroom.
Many of my friends know that I have always wanted to teach. Fewer know that I never thought it would be possible for me because of my anxiety. There were so many obstacles to maneuver around, that finding some retail sales job or simply living with my parents forever seemed like good alternatives to college and a career in education.
Somehow, while skirting around the high anxiety of actually staying on a campus and attending classes in a lecture hall, I managed to fairly happily make my way through college. Until that December. I struggled for weeks if not months to find a school that would allow me to complete my required student teaching hours. I never ever thought that the school I would go to was the one that everyone in my town always “hated”. I mean, some of us attended there, but when it came to sports, we were rivals in everything!
But I had no other choice at the time and I did what I had to. Which meant working meeting a bunch of new people and (hopefully) surviving the next three months teaching in a foreign place to me.
The funny thing is I remember leaving that day and feeling so much better about the entire situation. I felt my anxiety decrease tenfold, but I just always assumed it would come back the day before I was supposed to start working. That’s just how my body is. There was something that day though, about how welcoming the people were, that gave me hope that maybe I could keep myself under control and survive through those next few weeks.
Ironically enough, I was right. But I didn’t just survive without panic attacks; I feel like I excelled. Within weeks, my proctor and supervisor was pushing me to focus on the more minor details of my teaching techniques. He encouraged me to circulate the room more, or work to stop repeating the same words over and over again (which unfortunately, I still do quite often). He, like many others who got me through my life so far, believed in me and saw the best that I had to offer. He pushed me to bring that “best” out of myself and really make some progress in my career.
And while my family was always there supporting me, I feel that the biggest reason I was able to remain calm, work ahead, and truly ease my anxiety throughout those weeks was not one of those people.
No. It was the somewhat sarcastic, often funny, openly honest person who taught me what a “career husband” was and led me to believe that I could actually make something of myself in terms of teaching. I never thought I would want to teach at a brick and mortar school, but she taught me that even that was pretty cool sometimes.
I remember making so many embarrassing mistakes because of my young mind and my oversight of how different words and jokes can affect others. She was there through that too, teaching me that everyone makes mistakes, but you remember your’s and vow to never make the same ones again. She taught me the best method for running a classroom was through open and honest communication, but that it’s also always better to have a plan that can be changed at a moment’s notice.
By the time I left those three months, my position at that school was well known. I remember the salad and lemon cup that I ate for my farewell party, hosted by none other than the person I have been discussing. I still have all of the gifts that everyone gave me for my own classroom (though I’m unsure what to do with my name plate once my last name changes in a few short weeks).
My co-teacher even helped to land me my first job. First, as a substitute in the middle and elementary schools. Then, a few short months later, she pushed me to make contact with another person who not only gave me a full time job but also pushed me even farther in my career. And here again, my anxiety took over, and against her advice, I didn’t reach out to him myself. I was worried about the long drive, the fact that I would have to teach Calculus (which I HATED), and just the overall idea that I would have a major career where I would be impacting other people’s lives. But you know what? She didn’t let me skirt around that opportunity. No, she contacted that principal herself and shared my contact information. Before I even knew it, I was starting the first big job of my life.
I hate to admit that I lost a little bit of contact with her after I started my new job. I was pretty busy and spent a lot of time in my car after all. But for those first few years, I always remembered to send her anonymous birthday flowers and to make sure she knew I never forgot all that she had done for me.
Sitting here today, I don’t know where my life is supposed to go or what’s going to happen as I start so many new adventures in my life. But I am more than happy to say that this friend of mine is now my boss, now my resource, and now the person who suggested I take over their classroom when they decided to make a career change. And though I know that this job may not last forever, I am again astounded by the fact that this one amazing lady (whom I call my work mom) has changed my life for the better again.
But more than anything, as I sit here reviewing her plans and lessons from previous years, I realize just how truly she impacted my own teaching. Her planner… looks exactly like mine from previous years. Some of our worksheets are exactly the same (though this could be attributed to the fact that we used the same textbook). Even our sense of organization and using binders for blank copies and answer keys are the same.
I’m finding that I suddenly don’t feel like I’m starting a brand new job, but that I’m returning to one after many years of absence. And while she won’t be in the classroom right beside me, I know that my work mom is just down the hall any time I need her and that she has saved me hours upon hours of work by teaching me her organization skills and teaching techniques so that when I take over her classroom (which in my mind will always be her’s), it will already feel at least partly like I am in control, know what I’m doing, and will not be bogged down having to recreate every assessment and assignment and lesson.
So to that person, who I truly hope reads this, I can never thank you enough. The progress in maturity and my career may not be solely attributed to you, but you’re the one who has always been there guiding me in the right direction. And even though I am determined to come up with another way to thank you, I hope for now just knowing how grateful I am and how much I am starting to take after you in terms of my career will help you to realize that every day I spend in the classroom is just another tribute to you and your amazing educational skills.
I’m excited to see what my new job is going to bring me this year, and I just keep praying that starting it in the same week as my wedding will not bring back that anxiety too badly. Here’s hoping anyway, right?