Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Final Question: Fearless Teaching . . . and Pottery?


A few nights back, after first reading the final question of TeachThought's 30 day blog challenge, I experienced another episode of my recurring nightmare cycle: I'd just found out I had to go onstage to play my role in some drama production. But I hadn't even picked up the script or attended a single rehearsal. 

This kind of performance anxiety plays out in other nightmares: I show up to a Calculus final but realize I've missed every class. Or, I've been sent back to my undergraduate college because cause Admissions and Records figured out I didn't complete enough units to graduate. Or I've been assigned to teach a lecture course for a three-hundred student class that begins in an hour. Sometimes, these ordeals, or some twist on the theme, are distinct, focused on a single scenario. More often, variant horrors merge and mutate into each other, commingling into a piling heap of angst, sometimes leaving me just as tired as if I hadn't gone to bed. 

Makes sense. The final challenge question has to do with courage: What would I do (as a teacher) if I weren't afraid? 

When I first read the question, I drew a blank. Upon waking, I still wasn't clear what I'd do differently. But waking up exhausted from the nightmare, I realized I'd have so much more energy if I wasn't afraid. 

I don't appear afraid when I'm teaching. I walk tall, speak loudly, and like the think I have relatively strong command presence. 


But I often feel like I'm hiding behind a facade. Some days, the act is more convincing to me than at other times. It's as if I've performed myself into being, "acting-as-if".  At my worst, though, the nagging fear takes a toll. I still take risks as a teacher, regularly revising how I teach, changing up my strategies to meet student's needs and to remedy strategies that didn't work. 

So where does the energy go? How does my anxiety morph into a energy/time suck? Here are a few obvious ways I can name right now:  

1) The Impostor Syndrome! I'm waiting for someone to discover my duplicity - as if I made it all the way through dress rehearsal without cracking open the script, or got through my undergraduate program without taking nary a science course. I may not be frozen in paralysis, but the impostor syndrome slows me down, and not in a thoughtful, zen way. 

2) The Humblebrag:  I find myself slipping from sharing what I do in class with my colleagues to being competitive, boasting about my achievements rather than giving and receiving in a reciprocal fashion. A sure sign of insecurity. And all the posting I do on Facebook.. . . to what degree is it boasting to bolster my ego? Fishing for compliments  . . . an indoor and outdoor sport. 

3)  Second Guessing Myself: I did say that I do take risks, trying out new things, refining and  experimenting with lessons. But getting to that point often takes time, well beyond the time of thoughtful reflection. After giving it my best shot, I often spend a hefty chunk of time playing and replaying  "I should have . . . " and "I could have . . . " tapes in my head, an internal Greek chorus. More like the punishing furies.

I know I'm overstating my fears - but it is kind of fun exaggerating - taking control of them by putting them on paper. Writing-as-therapy. 

Yet, I still draw a blank as to what I'd actually do if I had more courage. For sure, I'd have more energy. Definitely more time.  Like what Margaret Cho says about battling low self-esteem. She hypothesizes what it'd be like to be fearless: "How much time would I have? It turns out [I'd] save about ninety seven minutes a week. I can take a pottery class!"

Here's to conserving energy and time so I can throw some pottery.