Facing our fears

The Beginning- Taking risks

When I started teaching, I was scared out of my boots. I was scared of making a fool of myself, of what the students would think of me, scared of making a language error or teaching something incorrectly.  My mind was racing with everything that could go wrong.  On the third day of the training course, I was told I would have to teach for 15 minutes. That time felt like a year when I was going through it.  I had every minute planned thanks to my trainers but my heart was still racing a hundred miles an hour.  To get where I am today I had to experience that feeling multiple times during the training course, and each time, I was taking deep breaths just before the class to avoid hyperventilating or having an anxiety attack.  I still get nervous from time to time, especially when it is a new class.  I mention this because it’s that fear that keeps us from doing stuff, striving to be better, accomplishing a goal, finding our passion, a romantic partner, a job we enjoy.  I see it all the time in education.  I see scared teachers, who just want to do what they are told, follow the rules/curriculum and get on with it.  That fear can be all-consuming, and prevents us all from reaching our potential. We can overcome.

Some teachers in the training course walked out, but a select few stuck with it.  Looking back, it was those first experiences with teaching that really tested me more than anything else.  After receiving my certification and getting my first teaching gig, I felt that fear again.  This time the circumstances were a little different.  Someone had paid for lessons, my employer had hired me to deliver a service and there were expectations that needed to be met.  Pressure, fear, doubt were all there.  To top it all off, I realized quite quickly that I was given the scrap of the litter as far as classes were concerned.  The ones nobody wants. Ouch.  Double whammy right there.  It was tough; I was scared of failing, scared of letting my boss down, letting my students down, making enough money to pay my rent, to eat etc.  Heart palpitations, sweating, shaking, trying to get through the lessons, one at a time.  It isn’t easy, but the only way you grow, improve, and make progress is to persevere through these moments.  I mention this, because we are at a crossroads in education, and steps need to be taken to correct the system and make progress, improvements and evolve.  So what are we waiting for?

Getting out of our comfort zone

As teachers, we need to get out of the comfort zone and just take some risks.  Use some more innovative approaches and try something new.  I don’t want to advocate any specific approach, so early on in my blogging endeavor, but whatever suits a person in any field can be undertaken.  Switch it up, change the routine, do something fresh.  If not for the students, then for yourself.  If we are stuck in a rut and a curriculum that we’ve covered over and over again, aren’t we going to get bored? We will indeed, and once the boredom sets in, that is when we get disenchanted, demotivated and our teaching quality dives.  Our students notice our body language, our misery and lose respect or tune out. It’s that simple.

Do not let fear dictate your future.  For us teachers, it is an absolute necessity to go off the path and explore.  Use a new technology(tablet, smartphone), try a website(padlet.com, Twitter, TEDtalk), a new approach, or go for some new materials.  Add a topic that might not be in the curriculum that you think is important for students to know.  The first step is the hardest but it’s the beginning of a journey that will have a lasting effect.  As educators, we shape the future, damn what others might think.  If we want our respect back then we have to take it back, one-step at a time, through actions we take in our classrooms. We are all so scared of asking for help, for advice, for suggestions.  When I started, I asked questions all, the freaking, time.  I listened, and listened some more. I asked more questions. By the way, I still do that when I’m around my peers. Ideas, ideas, ideas, give me ideas.

I watched a great TED video yesterday by Brian Rose here. Wow, what an inspiration.  Getting your students to watch excerpts of TED talks for discussion or listening comprehension is just one way you can help them open their minds on issues and topics in society and our world. I’ve posted on my site another fantastic TED talk on how to have a good conversation, here. Look at the bottom right corner for the link to the video.  This is important for my students and all people in general.  I tell my students, if you can’t have a conversation in the classroom, how are you going to manage in the real world?  It’s all about your mindset, and it starts in the classroom.  I make a point of setting my expectations from the start. Tony Robbins just posted yesterday: #raiseyourstandard That’s damn right.  Raise your standard when you teach, tell your students to raise the standard, expect a higher standard from all your students, all the time.  You want to be able to communicate in English? Then show your speaker that you are listening, ask questions, pay attention…these skills are just as important as learning the actual language and as language teachers we should instill that attitude in students, of any age.

Success and Failure

12 years on, I am about to take on a new teaching endeavor that is completely new and that I’ve never taught before.  It’s a class called ‘Global Youth Leaders’.  I am nervous but excited.  I’m excited because this is a chance for me to learn and grow, make progress and improve.  At the same time, if it goes well, then the students will grow and make progress as well.  These students have signed up for a summer course they know very little about, so they are taking a chance. It’s their summer, a time to relax after a hard year of learning in school. Nevertheless, they are taking a risk and trying out this brand new class our summer camp is offering.  As teachers, we can take risks too.  Taking a risk can show our students that it is worth doing so, because it’s only through risk that we learn, it is only through failure that we can emerge as more experienced and better prepared for the next time.  Don’t let our school system teach our students that failure and risk are bad.  Let’s show them that through failure and risk we overcome, grow and become better, at whatever we do.

We can overcome our fear. Don’t activate your survival mode. You don’t need to be scared of anything, we just have to explore new approaches, try innovative solutions, take a risk, get out of our comfort zone and that’s when we realize that the magic happens and growth takes place.  Not just for us but for our students as well, and they see it.  That’s the magic, right there.

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