I… am a teacher. If you let some people tell it, I have been a teacher my entire life. I finally accepted this truth and joined the profession of teaching. (And I’d just like to say that it was the best decision ever! YAY for YES Prep! #EastEndLove). Opening myself to the possibility that “maybe…just maybe, this is what I am supposed to do” was slightly unnerving, but highly comforting.
For a while, I’d known that I would work in education, but because of the horror stories I’d heard about the classroom, I just knew I would never teach, so I had no idea how I would get into the field. After several conversations with people who either knew the field, knew me, or knew both, I took the leap of faith and applied to be a teacher. Even though the entire process made me feel like a ball of nerves, I had a sense of peace in my spirit and in my life that I only experienced when I was in the place or completing the mission that God Himself had created for me. In November 2013, I was hired; in January 2014, I began teaching high school special education; and to this day, there is nothing that I would rather do. Being a teacher has given me innumerable and invaluable lessons about humanity and myself that I wouldn’t have received or learned elsewhere.
Being a teacher has taught me the necessity of learning myself. We all “know” the importance of learning who we are and what we value, but knowing myself has become a consistent, intentional practice. When I became a teacher, I kept hearing this phrase, “Know yourself to grow yourself.” Over the last eight months, I have learned (among a thousand other lessons!) how to:
1) work from a place of value by understanding the strengths that I bring to the table, and
2) be honest about when and how I work and function best
Your strengths matter! It is important to be aware of strengths and weaknesses; however, enhancing your strengths is less taxing, more rewarding, and more fulfilling than filling in the gaps of your weaknesses. (If you knew how to fill in the gaps of your weaknesses, they wouldn’t be weaknesses in the first place, right?) Learning and emphasizing your strengths makes you more self-aware; attempting to fix your weaknesses, especially without guidance, makes you self-conscious. The more self-aware you are, the more engaging you are in all situations — and when you don’t engage, you understand why.
Being self-aware forced me to be honest without hesitation or apology about the way I function and work. For instance, I am an early bird, and I am most productive in the mornings and early afternoon. (Working productively after I get home is a complete bust most days.) I’m that one opening the building with the maintenance team, so I can have a quiet 60- or 90-minute work session. So. Much. Gets. Done.
Learn yourself: strengths, weaknesses, optimal work hours, needs for a productive environment, values, non-negotiables. It makes you take ownership of who you are and how you are. Owning yourself is one of the best gifts you can give to yourself and to those around you.
As a teacher, I’ve also learned that passion and purpose are meant to comfort you. Purpose is the vision; passion is the fuel. Having a purpose encourages you to work even when you don’t have the nitty-gritty details; you have an end goal in mind. You may not know exactly how you will get there, but you know where you are going. Passion gives you the drive to figure it out along the way. You don’t have the details; you don’t know exactly how, but you know that you will because “there’s this thing that just won’t let you give up. Purpose and passion don’t prevent hard days. (Nothing can do that!) They do make them a little easier to bear.
Aligned with passion and purpose is a positive perspective. As a teacher, a positive attitude is a non-negotiable. With my students, I not only fill in academic gaps, but I also help them identify and fill in emotional and social deficiencies. A lesson that I consistently repeat to my students and myself is that perspective affects everything. It matters more than almost anything else in the situation because it is directly related to you.
Control your perspective; manage the outcome. This doesn’t mean that situations and problems will always turn out how you think they should; searching for positivity in any situation, however, directly affects how uplifting or draining the outcome is. If you approach the situation positively, your attitude becomes a catalyst instead of another hurdle to surmount. Your energy is a little higher, your vision is a little clearer, and you are a little more ready to move forward.
Teaching my students (and sometimes the teachers that teach them) taught me that “chunking” is not just a teaching technique; it is a life skill. Life presents complex situations — sometimes several at one time. Chunk it! Break. It. Down. I tell my kids all the time, “Tell me what you see in here that you have seen before.” It makes immovable mountains look and feel like manageable mounds of rocks; great difficulties become tiny tasks. Piece by piece is the way to go.
In spite of more lessons I could share, I’ll end with this one: every day is a leap of faith. If you are to live in your purpose as ordained by God, every day, you will do something that requires you to be faithful. No day looks the same; many parts of most days will be out-of-the-box. Some challenges that you must conquer will look and feel like nothing you’ve ever seen. Take the leap, and trust that God and your experiences will carry you. You’ve learned something from every situation you’ve ever faced. Get quiet for a moment, collect your thoughts, and go for it.
To quote Brene Brown, feel your fear, but “realize that doesn’t mean that you can’t also be brave.” Fearlessness is a misnomer. Those who are “fearless” have just decided to feel the fear, understand what sparked it, and then harness its energy to accomplish greatness instead of letting it bury them. Accepting my passion and stepping into my purpose has made it easier and simpler to live “fearlessly” because I have a purpose that refocuses my attention.
Each of the lesson mentioned contributes to my ability to be courageous in all parts of life. I have learned time and time again that “fear kills everything. Your mind, your heart, your imagination” (Cornelia Funke). Open your mind, heart, and imagination to real life. Live passionately and purposefully.
Feel the fear, and do it all anyway.