Two years ago, I was entering my last year of college.
At the beginning of the semester, I was told that at the end of the semester I would have to turn in my teaching philosophy. Of course, me being me, I put it off until the last possible moment.
I convinced myself that my procrastination was the main reason why it had taken me so long to get the project done. But I was also struggling with the main concept of a teaching philosophy:
Why did I want to be a teacher anyways?
It’s a question that has always been hard for me to answer. I have never been able to consistently express my thoughts concretely. Sometimes, my mind is a maze of wild thoughts with no clear form, they buzz by so quickly and then are gone until I can lay hold of them later. Some never really become clear to me at all.
But this assignment required that I do my best to answer The Question and in my grappling, I produced this post.
Looking back, I was so idealistic. I think I knew I was laying on the optimism a little too thickly, even if I tried to throw in a spoonful of realism. But I’ve always had a tendency to “fake it until you make it” and I was going to get through this assignment and come up with the best version of a teaching philosphy that I could. I genuinely wanted to be that teacher and I would be that teacher come hell or high water.
As it turns out, hell and high water are greater forces than I originally gave them credit for.
I tried to carry that mindset through my student teaching the next semester, but I never quite felt like I got there. I doubted I was making the right decision. Everyday I doubted my ability to make decisions. I wanted someone else to tell me what to do. And if I was so sure I couldn’t make my own decisions then should I really be a teacher?
After all, when I wrote that silly philosophy I struggled to know what to say. Maybe it was because I wasn’t meant to be a teacher. Maybe I was just fooling myself.
Every day I felt an anxiety that crushed and twisted me up inside. It didn’t help that I was also dealing with things in my personal life that were twisting and crushing me in other ways. It brought me down and triggered my depression, the worst I had ever experienced. Everyday turned into me figuring out how to appear alright, to appear that I was functioning just fine. Perhaps it’s pride, but I’ve always hated for people to think that I’m anything but okay. This is an area that I’ve had a great deal of growth in, but there’s still a long ways for me to go.
After graduation I focused on the only thing I could focus on, finding a teaching position. I was still unsure about my career choice, but there was still something pushing me forward. I also had wonderful people around me who encouraged me every day. Eventually, I found a position at the school I work at now. It was time to start the next chapter.
My first year of teaching was a trial, as I’m sure most first years are. I had been told that my first year would likely be hard and I had prepared myself for it to be, but that was before my depression got the best of me. There were days I would go home and cry. I contemplated quitting. I wanted to quit my job. At one horrible point, I wanted to quit life. I felt I had officially taken the whole “fake it until you make it” thing entirely too far. I wasn’t making it.
And yet there was nothing else I wanted to do more than what I was doing.
There were days where I would look at my students and I would want to cry because as frazzled as I was, I loved those kids and I loved being their teacher.
But I was no where near the teacher I wanted to be. The teacher I said I wanted to be in my little assignment I had written just the year before.
Which is silly, if you think about it. I knew when I wrote my philosophy that I had mixed in a level of idealism that I could never hope to achieve, at least not my first year. But there I was, holding myself to the standards of my rose colored ideals. I was convinced I had let myself down, I had somehow lost sight of myself. I was toxic. My thoughts a jumbled mess of doubt and self-loathing.
And to be honest, not all of this was because of my job. There were, as I mentioned before, other reasons why I was struggling with myself. There were also good things and good moments. It was a rollercoaster of a year, 2015.
But, to use a time honored cliche, the night is darkest before the dawn. Small glimmers of light found their way through. It wasn’t that I suddenly became a “better” teacher, I just learned to be fine with being an “okay” teacher. And once I embraced my okayness, things got better.
Yes, I still struggled. Yes, I still had bad days. But it didn’t get to me the same way. I started to let myself grow, and adapt. Again, I found I was surrounded by wonderful, encouraging people and I relied on them more than they realize.
My last day of my first year was a bittersweet one. I was glad to see the year done, but sad nonetheless.
I had survived.
I had survived the tears and the long hours. I had survived the doubt and self-loathing. I had survived the worst of my depression, the minefield that my mind had created for myself. I had survived the desire to quit.
And here I am. I lived through hell and almost drowned in the high waters. But damn it, here I am.
I started my second year of teaching a couple weeks ago. There has been some anxiety and reasons to be melancholy or unsure already. But I know I can handle myself. I’ve learned the secrets of my minefields.
I have decided to let go of the idea of being a “good” teacher and just be a more “okay” teacher than I was last year. A better version of okay. Someday, if I am lucky and work very hard, I can be the best version of okay. And maybe by then, I can look at my philosophy and say I have arrived. Or I may never arrive. My philosophy may evolve over time. It may take me years to be a “good” teacher, or just the best teacher I can be. And that’s okay.
One of my students from last year stopped by my classroom this week. I was working on getting ready for the next class and she made the comment that I seemed like “more of a teacher” this year. She wasn’t implying that I wasn’t a teacher last year, just that I seemed to have new purpose this year. I told her I had learned a lot my first year, and I was starting my second year with a whole new perspective.
As for my depression, I can genuienly say that I’m alright. I’m not always good. But I’m mostly alright and I’ll take that over the alternative.
“Writing is thinking.”
It’s something I wrote in my original post. I even included it on my syllabus this year, along with the O’Connor quote, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” When I started this post, I thought it would be focused on what I originally wrote, not a memoir of my life the past two years. But now I see, this was what I needed to write. I have been collecting these wild, abstract thoughts and feelings for a long time. It was time I finally put them into order and see what I think.
I’m still not entirely sure why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place. But I do know that the reason I want to be a teacher now is because it’s who I am. I’m a teacher. It doesn’t really matter what compelled me to become a teacher. All that matters is that I am a teacher and I know that come hell or high water, it’s what I’ll be doing for a long, long time.