When I was first introduced to the work of Brené Brown through her amazing TEDtalk and her first book The Gifts of Imperfection, I kept thinking of its application to my students. Like most teachers, the classroom is never very far away from my mind and I am always collecting ideas and artifacts to bring back to them to help them make sense of their world. However, ever since she inadvertently entered the den of defensive teachers (rightly defensive in many ways…it’s been a tough few years) by saying that teachers sometimes use shame against students, I began to think her work would be much better applied to the adults in the classroom. I hope you will stay with me long enough to explain…
Some teachers have made teaching a job, they clock in and clock out. They do their job and go home. There are days when I deeply envy these people and wish this were just a job for me. For me and many others, it is a craft, a mission, a way to learn about ourselves…and so much more. Because of this, our ability to close off and compartmentalize is limited. Some teachers have told me that this is my greatest weakness as a teacher. A sure fire way to burn out and leave the profession.
This is the first year I have wondered if those naysayers are right. This is the first year that I wonder if my soft heart and passion for creating and sustaining a quality school will lead me to feel like a broken failure in the very career that I have given my life to. If it’s not obvious to you by now, I am really struggling this year. I love my students and still get excited when I see their love of learning emerge from their circled wagons of adolescence. I have some colleagues that inspire me daily to be both a better teacher for my students and better friend to myself. I have an immense passion for my course subjects (Human Geography and Women’s Studies) and love to learn more every week even if that learning never makes its way into my lesson plans. If I spoke this list to anyone, it would seem that I am full of joy and inspiration for my work. Yet, for some reason that isn’t true.
My heart hurts daily and I have a constant stream of fatigue and anxiety that at once puts me to bed before 9pm and wakes me up in the middle of the night. I am just now starting to talk about this to others. I am just now finding the courage to tell this story despite my fears of bringing those who care about me down and hearing “I told you so” from those who have been anxiously awaiting my fall. I had to start talking about it because I was stuck. I could name the emotions but could not find the roots on my own. I needed help…this acknowledgement is the first step of being vulnerable.
Which is what brought me back to Brené Brown’s work and its implications for sustaining teachers and building more wholehearted classroom communities. I think at the core of my anxiety are feelings of shame and a fear of naming those feelings out loud. I am going to spend the next blog posts exploring this in more depth and trying to find the words and the courage to write the words in hopes that I may find my way out of this by going through it. Perhaps it will be helpful to others as well.
The Gifts of Imperfection starts with this opening:
“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth than I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
I am more than a little overextended these days. Though I have stepped down from various leadership roles at my school, I have taken on more challenges outside of the classroom. I have dropped so many balls in the last year (something that only used to happen rarely) that I am feeling like I am letting people down and representing myself poorly. The line above, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough” particularly resonates with me right now. I am also struggling with making connections to some students in my classes. In some ways, my students success last year on the AP Human Geography test has made me afraid I might not be able to do it again and I am pre-embarrassed about it. I am afraid of not being enough.
And yet it is my students who model drawing deep on their courage to tap into their vulnerability at an age where it is most terrifying. My poetry slam team wrote pieces last week on a moment when they felt vulnerable. The Gay-Straight Alliance students have pestered me endlessly (in a good way) to find a time and day to meet to champion issues we face at our school. My 4th and 5th periods are doing a poetry unit on identity and place and are sharing deeply about their pain. One amazing student wrote an op-ed that was published in the Huffington Post about the Illinois Gay Marriage bill. When I just stop thinking I need to be in charge and I just shut up and listen and watch the incredible young people who live with their hearts inside out, I am reminded that I have a lot more work to do to be their equal.