You know how life in school ought to be Maslow before Bloom?
What if it is the teacher who is having a Maslow-type crisis? Okay, maybe ‘crisis’ is an exaggeration. As emotional storms go, this is not a supercell with severe, damaging weather threats, but it is at least a heavy downpour that seems to have stalled over the Confidence neighborhood, causing a flash-flood of self-doubt.
A few days ago while I talked with one of my students about friends and socializing, I quietly confessed that I know there are a lot of ways most people just don’t ‘get’ me. (I said it because he needed to hear that he was not alone, but the fact is, I was telling the truth. The sweet boy smiled and advised me to let my freak flag fly. #TeenWisdom)
When talking about at-risk students, we are often reminded that for some, school is their safe place. In ways, I was one of those kids.
My family went through stuff when I was young. Financial stuff. Health stuff. Emotional stuff. Just… stuff. Over time, I discovered there were things I could control when life seemed full of chaos, and those things were school and books. If I am genuinely honest, there are some stretches of childhood and adolescence I don’t remember all that well, because I was hiding from life, buried in books.
I never completely grew out of it, partially because some of those circumstances never changed. The biggest one was having a parent with a long, long-term illness. Dad’s Parkinson’s symptoms started when I was in middle school, but he did not die until I was nearly 40. It was an ugly and sometimes painful marathon. Consequently, I have always needed something to provide positive mental and emotional distraction. I needed to be able to feel success in something when I kept pushing the same elder-care rock up the same hill for years, only to be repeatedly flattened by it. It sounds almost absurd, but it was one of the primary reasons I enrolled in graduate school. Thursday night classes were my respite, and my ever-present school bag full of dissertation research was a trusty friend that kept me company in hospital waiting rooms whenever I was called upon to accompany either of my parents, both of whom were frequent fliers to the ER.
Television and movies just don’t work for me, and books often don’t last long enough. I need something that involves mental work, almost like I have to scale a wall so I can hide behind it for awhile.
After I finished the doctorate degree, I started feeling somewhat self-conscious about how I am perceived by my colleagues. I can trace this back to its beginnings. People – women in particular- asked whether I was going to “make” people call me doctor, said it was extremely pretentious to do so, and advised that it would threaten those for whom I worked. I probably could have ignored it had this been a rare event, but it happened multiple times over the course of four years. That still astounds me.
I have been blessed in my teaching situations the past half-decade to find myself surrounded by brilliant educators. I pay attention to what they do and set new goals based on what I observe. I can always learn from those around me and am more than willing to admit there are loads of things I don’t know.
It doesn’t matter.
Ever since those conversations that were focused on my title, I feel self-conscious after almost every exchange in which I say anything positive about my classroom, my ideas, or my teaching. More often than not, when the conversations are with people I see regularly, I end up wishing I had just kept my mouth shut.
I don’t want to be perceived as a self-promoting, full-of-myself snot. I just want to celebrate the things that make me happy– kind of like others talk about Netflix binges. Perception defines reality, though, so I sometimes wonder what people think and say after a conversation is over and I leave the room.
I’ve made myself focus on professional positives as I write for the Slice-of-Life challenge. It is a deliberate effort to try to overcome the fact that talking about what I love sometimes feels like I’ve trampled all workplace social graces.
Good thing there are still so many days left! I need them.