“Good afternoon Grade Ones. I am Mrs. Smith and I will be filling in for Mrs. B. this afternoon. My grade sevens and I will be helping you with your math. I looked over what you have been doing, and decided it would be fun to try out some grade two math instead, as it will help prepare you for next year. We will be looking at multiplication.”
There is a mixture of excited and confused murmurs following this announcement. Many of us had just gotten the hang of subtraction, and others were still struggling. Suddenly Mrs. Smith’s voice pierces the air.
“No talking please.” She continues to explain how multiplying is actually just adding groups of a number, and how it is easy if we know how to add. She continues with several other vague explanations that make little sense. The grade sevens begin handing out multiplication worksheets, which are to be completed before the end of class.
I look at the confusing mess of equations in front of me, and give it my best shot. Unsure, I head to Mrs. Smith’s desk to have it corrected.
She frowns and circles the first one. Her frown deepens as she continues down the page, and I feel myself shrinking inside. Finally, she circles the whole page and puts an ‘X’ through it.
“Go back and try again. Look at the board if you don’t understand.”
I slowly walk back to my desk and stare at the sheet. There’s no way I can do this. The confusing jumble of numbers and symbols on the board is no more help than it was last time. I bite my tongue, bend over my sheet and try again. Finally, after I’ve redone every question, I head back to her desk.
She frowns, sighs, and says: “This is no better than last time. Try harder or you’ll never pass Grade Two.”
I’ve never felt so small. I look around, and see my friends watching this exchange. Some look sympathetic, others look like they’re trying not to laugh. I feel my cheeks burn with shame as I shuffle back to my desk, head down.
Math, something that I had previously enjoyed, suddenly has taken on the shape of an impossible to scale mountain. Even after Mrs. B. has returned, math class becomes something to dread. It no longer makes sense, and each new concept seems impossible to tackle.
I am standing in the middle of my classroom. My students are sitting at their tables, working on the group assignment, while a few come up to me for help. As I bend down to help them, I feel a sense of pride in making it this far. As a child, I never thought I would choose to become a teacher, although my parents always suspected I would. And here I am, in a grade 2 class, teaching. I am happy in the organized chaos that fills my days, with watching children have their “aha!” moments after struggling for so long, and knowing that I am the one that helped them have that moment. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel isolated or invisible in the classroom. I make an effort to connect with every student, every day, even if it’s just a quick “hello.”
While I am caught in this moment, everything seems to go silent as I reflect on how far I’ve come. Now, returning to my class, their happy chatter and joyful laughs fill my ears. I let them continue talking, savoring the feeling of accomplishment. The atmosphere is happy and carefree with the coming of spring. Sunlight streams through the windows, warming the room and driving out the winter chill. Outdoor recesses, puddles, and Easter egg hunts are promises that are within reach, and they talk about what they will do over their break. Perhaps when I teach about wind movements and weather patterns next week, I’ll have a day of kite flying for them. Most of them understand content better with hands on experiences anyway, and they would love to be outside in this weather…
I am going to university, studying education, but with a focus on English. I love to write and am finally choosing to pursue that passion. After receiving the letter asking me to join the English program, my confidence is bolstered, and I believe I can actually make something of myself through writing. I am no longer afraid of failing, or of the idea that I can’t write well enough. I will learn what I need to know in order to be successful through the classes I can take through my electives. I lose myself in my essays, attempting to convey abstract ideas through words, forgetting about my surroundings. This feeling transfers to other writing assignments when it is something I am passionate about, but never as often as when discussing children fantasy literature: the topic of my English 110 class.
My desire to be a teacher has never been stronger, though, despite my wish to follow other dreams as well. Coming to the end of my first placement, I am surprised that I am going to miss it so much, especially the kids in my class. The chaos that filled the first few weeks has taken on a sort of order, one that took a while to understand. Now that I do, other jobs seem boring and repetitive, and I am even more eager to finish my degree and begin teaching my own class. This experience has been the first in which I do not feel completely invisible in the classroom. I don’t get lost in the crowd or ignored as the teacher talks to a wall. I interact with the kids, helping them with their lessons, explaining ideas in different ways and demonstrating them in order to help everyone to be able to understand. No two days are exactly the same, and as such, each day brings new challenges and adventures, making each day seem all the more important.
In the past, my fear of failure defined me and what I could do. My experience with the one teacher in grade two caused this fear to develop, and I let it continue to govern my life for years after. Because of this, I missed out on many opportunities, even friendships. But stepping outside of this fear seemed impossible.
In the present, I have been able to acknowledge this fear, and I am finally willing to move past it and take part in things that I love, even if I find them challenging. I embrace many opportunities that come my way, even if they make me feel a little nervous or uncomfortable. A few years ago, this would have been an impossibility, as I would have been too afraid of failing my dream to pursue it. I believed that by leaving my dream as a dream, it could remain an option, but if I pursued it and failed, I would never have another opportunity to succeed at it. I now know that I can only fail by choosing not to follow my heart. Yes, I may fail an essay or two or three, but I can get up, brush myself off, and try again. That is the joy of the here and now: you can always fix mistakes, but you have to make the mistake in order to fix it and learn from it.
In the future, I see myself stepping even further outside of my comfort zone and embracing my fears. I see myself as confident and capable, two things I still am currently struggling to be. The future me has shaken off her fear of public speaking, her fear of failing and being unable to teach concepts to others and has embraced every obstacle that comes her way. I see myself as not hiding in the shadows of the classroom anymore, but instead standing at the center and leading the discussions I used to hide from. I picture my future self as everything I have ever wanted to be but was too afraid to become.
Seeing these pictures side by side has helped me to realize how much my past has influenced my present and my (hope to be) future. I never realized how driven I was by fear until I wrote about it and about how different my future would be from past me. Fears that once controlled me seemed to disappear in my progressive writing, making me seem confident and self-assured. However, it was when I wrote my present that I got the biggest shock. I had been looking at the future as if it were some sort of unattainable ideal, still imagining my current self the same as my past self. However, once I began to think about it and “put my pen to paper,” I realized that I have already begun to change. Writing it down helped to make it clear where I currently am, and what I still need to work on. The present provides a middle ground between what I was and what I hope to be, which makes the future seem more attainable than it did prior to writing about the present.
Additionally, my experiences in my placement, as well as what we learn in my various classes, has helped me to realize that teaching is not an impossible task. Everyone makes mistakes, no matter how long they have been in the profession. But it is from these mistakes that we learn the most, and we become better for it. For example, I let my fear of failure control me for years. When I realized this and attempted to change, I learned just how much I was actually capable of. I also learned what a huge impact teachers can have on students, and as such know what I should and shouldn’t do as a teacher. I want all my students to feel loved and welcome in class and be willing to ask for help without feeling afraid that I will judge them. Without my past experiences, I would not know how a thoughtless statement or action can be so damaging, and as such could have made a similar mistake. My present allows me to acknowledge and learn from the past, while setting further goals for my future. Looking at what I want my future to be allows me to have something to strive for, and as such will help me to become a better teacher than I could be at the present time. Writing theses reflections has helped me to see just how interrelated these areas of our lives are, and how we need to look at them in order to grow in our abilities.