Monday, August 16, 2010

Lesson Learned: Rachel Learns to Kill Vampires

Contest entry #7 by Rachel Slough. The contest is now closed, but we're glad we extended it, because more of you responded (including some right at the wire)! (Don't forget that you can alway send us guest posts too - even when there isn't a contest.) Look forward to another week and a half of essays before we vote for a winner! 

I love teaching and get a thrill from the surprises and constant variety, and the energy when students make new connections. While teaching one-on-one has always been fun, teaching a full classroom was absolutely terrifying for a long time. All of those eyes on me, the expectation that I keep a room of people engaged and learning; everyone silently, or not so silently, judging my words and actions. I had nightmares about all the horrible things that could happen in a classroom, yet I couldn’t shake this gut-level feeling that teaching would be worth any of these challenges. I knew that I’d have to get over this fear of teaching full classes, so I forced myself to teach as often and in as many settings as I could throughout high school and undergrad. I asked people I trusted for suggestions, I read books, I had others critique my teaching, I learned yoga and breathing techniques. I even spent a year abroad on a teaching grant, which allowed me 30-40 hours of teaching each week and seminars each month related to education and the art of teaching.

But the terror remained and, no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop the rising panic that started every time I began a class and the rushed pace and frantic atmosphere that resulted—exactly the opposite of the safe, comfortable learning environment that I wanted to establish for my students. After all this effort, I still loved teaching, but I was beginning to doubt if I was really doing myself, or anyone else, any good by keeping this up. Maybe it was time to accept, move on, and find something else that I’m better suited to do.Stubborn as I am, I gave myself a mental deadline of just one more semester of effort and kept asking experts for ideas. My graduate supervisor suggested a zen-like approach of just accepting, ok, I get panicky when I teach. That’s just what it feels like. Accept, embrace, go with it. While this helped somewhat, it wasn’t enough to help me slow down or eliminate the panic. I asked another friend, who advised me to Just Kill Those Vampires, explaining that the song “Die Vampire, Die” from Title of Show says it all (warning that there is explicit language).

In other words, identify the demons and thoughts that are keeping me from doing what I need to do, and show them no mercy.

In teaching, it was helpful to be able to name specific vampires: I’m afraid I can’t do this, I’m afraid the students will hate me. Okay, DIE vampires! I can teach; if the students hate me, it doesn’t matter.

Or something like that.

Once the fears had names and identities, eliminating or minimizing them suddenly became easier and made the classroom much more enjoyable. It allowed me to slow my pace, just a little, and to laugh more.

I’m not claiming that this song, or this attitude of trying to identify and kill life’s vampires, has transformed me into a perfect teacher or human being. I still have a looooooong way to go, and, if you were to watch me teach, you’d notice that my pace is still faster than most, and often faster than advisable. I think I may always have a moment of panicked energy right before I teach or face any situation that seems scary for whatever reasons. But being able to notice, name, and kill my vampires has allowed me to find more joy and peace in what I do, both inside and outside the classroom.


Melissa said...

Teaching is a very scary experience! The worst part for me was going through my practicum courses and being evaluated by peers and teachers. I'm sure you are a fantastic teacher--you persevered and didn't give up on what you felt you should do. Perhaps the panicked energy you talk about is supposed to be there just a little to help focus you on what you are supposed to do, so you are more alert and aware of the task. You kill those Vampires :)

Meg said...

Rachel, I love watching you teach - and killing vampires was clearly helpful, since you then taught me a lot about how to teach and be confident. I love it when confidence finds us in unexpected places and then stays. :)

Miri said...

For me, the hardest part is identifying and naming the fear (or whatever emotion it is--sometimes even identifying THAT is difficult). There are times when I have a really strong feeling and can't even figure out what it is, much less what it's being caused by. But just the act of focusing on it and trying to identify it helps to begin the process of overcoming it. Love the essay, Rachel!

annily said...

this is exactly how i felt yesterday teaching at church....rushed and frantic and saying weird things. i could feel myself ruining my lesson, but i couldn't stop myself! i wish i'd read this earlier. :)