“For this year, I fear nothing, fear is a lie.”
I get this from one of my eighth graders on the first day of school while they are doing an activity that requires them to write down their hopes and fears.
I wasn’t exactly scared about coming back home and starting this new school year—I wasn’t even as nervous as I thought I should be as I set up my classroom and finally greeted my students for the first time—but fear still stops me in my tracks. In all its forms—anxiety, terror, worry, panic—fear stayed with me through most of my three years teaching, and ultimately, drove me to take my hiatus from the classroom.
This past year, despite having rappelled down waterfalls, taken questionable motorcycle taxi rides, and shown up in multiple foreign countries alone, I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing is scarier than standing up in front of a vaguely organized mob of hormone-driven teenagers and trying to shove knowledge into their brains.
Because retrospect tends to do a great job of packaging up personal bad experiences into neat, unassuming anecdotes—the unexpected charity from strangers on the night my purse got stolen in Laos, the deep well of strength I found when I crashed my motorcycle in Vietnam, the contagiously optimistic attitude during the crummy packaged tour I overpaid for—but retrospect is never that generous to teachers. Kids will always remember their favorite teacher, but they will also always remember the teachers who failed them. The ones who tried too hard to be chummy with the varsity jocks and neglected the rest of the class, the ones who spent day after day sitting behind their desks while a textbook or a movie delivered the lesson, the ones who are labeled as “jokes” because they never seem to fully understand their own content area.
Even abroad, my biggest fear was that I am one of those teachers: a failure because no matter how hard I try, I can never push my students far enough. (One night in Thailand last winter, I had a nightmare about classroom management.)
I don’t think that fear will ever completely go away, but my student’s response reminded me that now, on this first day of the new school year, fear is not what drives me anymore—hope does.
I don’t know what my student wrote as her hope for the year, but I think she already figured out the hard part anyway. If fear is a lie, I think we can find truth in hope.
So for this year—for my students—I hope to be better.
And I have 179 days left to prove it.