I want to be real.
I’ve been having a really hard time with student teaching. By far it has been the most difficult experience of my academic career, and possibly my life. I didn’t go into student teaching 100% sure that I actually wanted to teach, and I feel like this uncertainty has made my experience even more difficult emotionally than it would be otherwise. I’ve cried more in the past few months than I have my entire college career. I’ve just felt incredibly, paralyzingly inadequate at everything I do–like I’m bound to fail, no matter what I try. That my lessons are boring and pointless and contrived. That my classroom management is shoddy at best. That my organization and ability to plan are worse now than they were months ago. That I’ve hardly improved. That I’m not good enough or smart enough or strong enough. That I will never be. That I am weak. Less than.
These are the stones I throw at myself.
I’m normally a positive person, but the past few months I haven’t felt like me. People tell me I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, because I’m just starting out, but it’s been so impossible to give myself grace.
That being said, tonight I came to to the realization that part of the reason I’ve been so hard on myself is because of comparison. Comparison is a huge aspect of the culture here at Northwestern. Sadly, it’s a concept that fuels so much of both its curriculum and social culture. It’s so easy to compare myself to experienced teachers, to how other people *seem* to be doing well (I say seem because I know how easy it is to pretend everything is going fine when it’s not), or to people who are actually, legitimately doing alright and enjoying student teaching.
This is so unhealthy because when I compare myself to others, I’m basically trying to manufacture my own self-worth based on either A) unfair expectations of my own abilities, B) false appearances or C) other people’s gifts/callings that are different (but no more or less valuable) than my own. And none of these things are fair measures by which to judge myself.
Of course, I know intellectually that it’s silly to compare myself to experienced teachers. I’ve only been teaching for a couple of weeks. Before this I planned like, five lessons ever. And I also know that there are other student teachers who are having a hard time and dealing with far more difficult students and less-expert mentors than I.
But personally, I think I have the hardest time with the last one. This is the sharpest stone, the one I can’t seem to stop throwing at myself: not only are you incompetent as a teacher, but you are a bad, selfish person for considering not teaching, and you’re giving up on these kids.
Teaching high school English might not be the plan God has in mind for me. I am not a naturally organized person. Planning is not my strong suit. My head tends to go off into the clouds and I am easily distracted. I am not tough emotionally. I hate waking up early in the morning. I am not a neat person. I am terrible at multi-tasking. I don’t like performing under pressure. Do these traits help me teach? So far, definitely not. But are they traits that I need to feel ashamed about or compare to others? No. (Not that I don’t need to work on some of these things. I’m just saying–when choosing a career, there’s a need to be realistic about what you’re not good at. I do not enjoy science or math. Does that mean I shouldn’t try my best in math class or work to improve? No. Does that mean I should become an engineer? No.)
It’s so hard to remember that God made me exactly the way He wants me, with unique flaws that my other colleagues might not share. More difficult is to remember at this point in my life that He also made me with unique gifts that others don’t share–gifts that, while they might not be enough to make me a great English teacher, might make me a great something-else. God made me a dreamer, a big-ideas person, a talker, a writer, an artist, a singer, a talker, an idealist, a counselor, an encourager, a nurturer. My vocational calling, whatever it is, is no more or less valuable than anyone else’s, no matter how much money I make or how “noble” my job seems to others or how many degrees I needed to attain it.
If I truly believe that God is who He says He is–that He is a good God who has good plans for me, that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ, that my first and primary calling is to know and become more like Jesus–then I have no reason to despair over student teaching or to compare myself to others. I have no reason to tear myself down when I give a terrible lesson and other people’s lessons go well. I have no reason to withhold from myself the grace He has already given me so freely.
With God’s help, for the rest of these next few weeks, I’m going to try to stop seeing my fellow student teachers and mentors as better people, better teachers. Rather, I’m going to try to see them as people to learn from, to laugh with, to love. I’m going to try to see my failed lessons and personal weaknesses as places in which the victory and perfection of Christ shines most fully. As the saying goes, I’m going to try to hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection.
Lord, help me celebrate the small victories. Help me refuse to give into self-pity. Help me to work hard and learn and find joy and love others.
And Lord, let me put down the stones.