Each week, as Thursday morning draws near, I feel my heart beating faster. My breath coming shorter. My palms sweating. My mind racing. I had two dear summer staffers at Westminster Woods who dealt with these same symptoms, in a much stronger and more forceful way too. I remember a few instances of sitting with them, holding their hands. Talking softly. Offering encouragement. Stroking the hair off their foreheads. Giving them chips of ice. Talking them through taking one breath at a time. Slowly.
In the moment, I felt strength coming from a place other than inside of myself to help others. I might have my OWN anxiety attack afterwards when my body caught up with the scenario I just walked through with someone else. Usually, though, in the moment, I was fairly centered and calm.
Unless it’s ME that’s feeling these emotions.
And my confession is that my current teaching placement leaves me in this state of anxiety each and every week. Usually once I’m there, in the moment, I’m fine. My breath slows. I move 100 miles an hour, teaching, grading, managing, lining up, shh-ing, encouraging and working alongside the kids. But there are many moments where I feel so very inadequate. Times when I wonder, as I often do as a parent, who thought I’d be enough?….that I’d be capable to do this job? Many days I wonder what took over my thoughts, just 4 years ago, when I thought teaching was “my thing”. That I had slogged through the especially challenging first three years, and now, had been given the title of “master teacher” while working with student teachers. I sat on committees. I worked as a BTSA mentor. I was able to expand on and engage students with higher level thinking discussions and share such special moments.
Now, I feel like each day is a practice in hanging on for dear life. A moment for re-framing everything I held dear, each truth that previously felt “tried and unchanging” seems to be thrown out the window. I was optimistic just months ago and so dearly love the 28 students that enter that sacred space each day. They seek to encourage me with misspelled notes and cards regularly.
They hug me tightly at the beginning and end of each day. But there are a few that are so very tough. I feel deep fear for their future. I have moments of thinking I can help or save them. I want to encourage them, rather than expect the worst. I seek to wear my fancy “princess” shoes, as Alex calls them, hoping their shiny goodness will make the harder days easier. And yet, each day is often a hard slog.
Vocation is a tough nut to crack. I have written about it often in this space over the last 18 months. Some days I was longing for vocational fulfillment. Other days I was wondering what vocational fulfillment might look like for me. Sometimes I feel guilt over not being home with the boys full time. Conversely, there are days where their antics and crazy shenanigans lead me to want FULL TIME, in fact OVERTIME employment, figuring it might be the least draining option!
Deep down, the grass will always be greener somewhere else. Or maybe not greener, but at least a different shade. Often a more desirable shade of green. On the hardest of days, where the classroom feels like a battlefield, I often feel, palpably, the lifting up of my needs and emptiness by friends and family. I feel the prayers. I feel the support. I feel the chocolate offered as balm. Even typing this now, I have tears in my eyes. Not tears of fear or despair, but of memory. I could post email after email. Facebook post after post. Trail mix and chocolate offered. Phone calls where the person on the other end of the line only rang me up to listen and give a space for venting. Vocation, and for me currently, teaching, can be a moment by moment opportunity to be humbled. You can’t hide. When things are hard, there are usually 30 others in the room, witnessing each and every move you make.
What keeps nagging at me, tugging at my heart, though, is the knowledge that many of my students don’t have that lifting up crew of cheerleaders to go home to. I find myself brought to tears as snippets of their stories come out in conversations or things they write. When I think of the gift of comforting summer staffers going through anxious, chest gripping fear or overwhelming expectations, or the times I’ve just held my own crying boys as bad dreams wrack their sleep, I realize many of my students don’t have that support.
I know I can’t save them from that hole. I know that my worth isn’t bound up in my vocation. I know that I will make it to the end of the school year, even when some days, that seems impossible.
But, knowing these things doesn’t take away my human responses. My anxious thoughts. My sadness over the disrespect many students display to each other and to teachers. My fear of the “not knowing” how things will unfold each day.
So I offer the unresolved thoughts here today. I offer my desire to control it all. I give up my attempt to display a slick veneer. And instead speak with honesty. This specific teaching placement is hard. I am anxious. I need support. I often cope by pushing the realities out of my mind and burying myself in Pinterest.
And more importantly, I want to offer a place for you to share those places of anxiety and fear. Are we not often stronger when we admit our weaknesses and angst?
My friend Gail posted this quote today on Facebook. It’s a quote from Henri Nouwen and maybe it speaks to you too, especially in the midst of feeling anxious and inadequate….
“Patience is not waiting passively until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.”
– Henri J.M. Nouwen
And just because Nouwen is so amazing and wonderful and thought-provoking….here’s three more for you.