Especially now, since it appears there is more momentum happening. Things are picking up speed. Signs are being thrown at me, but I am still not the most adept at reading them for their truths. At least not in the moment.
I began my part time teaching contract at the college last week. I was pretty excited. I spent a few hours going over the program and curriculum material that I had been given, and made my own custom lesson plan from it. I may have dorked out a bit while lesson planning-for the first time in a long time I felt like I was back in my element. As a lover of plans AND teaching, lesson planning gets me pretty giddy.
The first class last Tuesday went well enough. I have a small group of learners that I am working with. While I had been handed a program from which to work, I took the time during that first class to ask the learners what they wanted to get from the course specifically. The course has a short shelf life, so there is limited time-I wanted to make sure though (and still do) that these people who were showing up, often after an 8 hour day of work, were getting the most from the course that they could.
I was in large part met by the sound of crickets, when I queried the specifics of what they wished to learn, but that was okay. I had a few ideas myself, and like any good teacher, I was more than happy to invest a bit of my own time to think outside the box so that lessons would be rich, informative and fun.
This is also when People Pleasing Olivia appeared to take a seat at the table.
After Tuesday’s class, I went on to prepare for Thursday’s class. While I love teaching, teaching ESL to adults is something I don’t have a tremendous amount of experience with, so I was scouring the net for ideas, and also reaching out to others for ideas they might have.
Ian and I brainstormed a few things for Thursday’s class, and by the time I had completed my plans for that day, I was pretty pumped about the lesson I was about to deliver. I had incorporated a few external activities and had strayed a bit from the program I had been given – something my supervisor had encouraged me to do: think outside the box, and incorporate anything I thought would benefit my class. When my supervisor told me this, some 3 weeks ago, during my interview, I was beyond blissful. To have someone have that much trust in your professional discretion and your experience was new to me. I took it for what it was: encouragement to do an amazing job, and ran with it a bit further.
I won’t get into the details, but suffice it to say that Thursday’s class tanked a bit-for a number of reasons, but primarily because I didn’t come in equipped with a baseline understanding of where my learners’ English skills were, upon registering for the class.
I walked home thinking of how I could have done the lesson differently, and my mind eventually closed in on the now all too familiar refrain that I Had Failed. I had done something wrong. I had over-estimated my learners and delivered a lesson that was far too many steps ahead of where they currently are.
I got home and texted back and forth with Ian a bit, who listened to my repetitive ravings of frustration at and with myself, before he told me to take a step back and breathe.
Ian made a few suggestions for possible steps forward after Thursday’s class, but when he tried to share them with me, just an hour after the lesson had tanked, I wasn’t open to hearing it. I was beyond upset with myself, and went to bed feeling disappointed and moody. Guess how I slept that night?
Before we said our goodnights, Ian mentioned that what had happened on Thursday had happened for a reason-I obviously wasn’t seeing it at the time-and as we had plans on Friday, he would share his insights with me then.
As I am finding is always the case with Ian and his insights, it isn’t as though he takes a small match or flashlight and shines them on what is really going on. Ian seems to come in with giant strobe lights which highlight a great number of things. It’s a light that captures everything, and sort of forces you to see things, even if you don’t necessarily want to. I am usually left, in these situations partly dumbfounded by what he sees, and also a little awe-struck. Maybe a bit frustrated that I didn’t see whatever he has shown me for myself, as the revelations are sometimes so incredibly obvious.
This particular teaching contract that I have picked up, and indeed a new one that has recently been presented to me as well, are a pretty perfect means by which I can take my power back. Power that I have freely given away for a long time, but more specifically power that I have given away in the last 3 years.
One of the positions that greatly contributed to my burnout was a position where a lot was promised to me: support, creative supervision over the program I ran, the ability to make modifications where needed, etc. Due to funding though, and some other issues, those promises were never fulfilled. To add to this, it was a position where I felt a great lacking of professional support. Again, I will reiterate that responsibility fell on me, but there were some instances where I was clearly flailing and I didn’t have much of a life-raft or preserver thrown my way.
As I walked home from the college following a meeting regarding a new contract this afternoon-a contract where I would have to essentially design the program myself, and draft a detailed plan to submit to the college, it really hit me.
3 years ago, before I took the position I referenced earlier, if a contract such as the one I have just been presented with had come my way, I would have been ecstatic. The possibility of designing my own course and implementing my own lessons-with professional oversight of course-would have been a dream. Limitations and doubts wouldn’t have crossed my mind. I wouldn’t have second guessed myself. I would have come up with a great program, and delivered it with passion and enthusiasm.
While my initial reaction at this new contract was really positive, on that walk home I suddenly wondered if I COULD come up with a course on my own. Do I have enough of a skill-set to design and implement a language course? What if I couldn’t come up with enough content? What if the learners didn’t understand me? What if I overshot again and ended up delivering something the complete opposite of what would be useful and beneficial to them? Does the college really want to hire me as an English professor? Like really? I know they read my resume, as I sent it in, but seriously?
The crippling self doubt and lack of confidence I experienced, not only on my walk home, but countless numbers of times now over the last 3 years, is in large part a result of my experience with the position I left earlier this year. I came into that position some three years ago with confidence and a keen desire to help and try to make a difference in a few lives, and I left a shadow of my former self: someone afraid; someone anxious. Someone who didn’t believe I could offer much as so many of my ideas and suggestions had been shut down before I could even try them out.
It’s one thing to be told that you have been trusted to make the changes you best see fit to a program, or to anything for that matter. It’s another to then have that trust continuously dangled in front of you like a carrot, and then taken away from you. Some 2 years of that, and it’s really no surprise that I am now someone who doubts my decisions, my abilities and my contributions.
I return to Ian’s insight. These two positions that I have now been offered-ones in which I can truly tweak, modify and add my own flare; ones in which my professional judgement and my experience and education are genuinely trusted and valued, are positions in which I can get back much of what I have lost in the last 3 years.
They are opportunities for me to re-instate my self-confidence and exercise my teaching muscle-a muscle that makes me want to go the extra mile for my learners, and supplement lessons with exercises that they will find not only beneficial but interesting.
Since I left teaching in 2011, I have always wanted to return to it. Those who know me well know that I am not someone who puffs my own tail-feathers at much. Teaching though, and being a teacher-is something I love, and I know deep down, it is something I am really good at. The last 3 years have unfortunately stuffed that pride and love down to a place where I questioned my ability and my worth.
I believe these two opportunities that have now come my way are an excellent means by which I can bring that pride and love back up to the surface and begin to trust in myself once more.
I know that now. I needed Ian to help me unpack all of that a few days ago, and again, it’s one of those truths that he illuminates that seem so obvious after the fact.
Sometimes, I can be a bit slow on the up-take. But that’s okay.