My B+ Attempts at Being All That

I'm funny. I promise. If you don't believe me, ask me; I'll set you straight.

Worst Teacher in the World

on August 1, 2018

Yep, that’s me. I got that award from my paras at the end of a year I didn’t think I would survive. And it was one of the most beautiful moments of that year. Made me cry. For all the good reasons.

Years ago when my youngest broke my heart by being old enough to be in school all day, I searched for a purpose. One that didn’t involve me devolving into the lady who resorted to making costumes for the dog to feel needed. And substitute teaching seemed perfect. And was. I was a good substitute. A great substitute. Teachers loved me. Kids loved me. Parents loved me. I was loved by more than my non-costumed dog. And it was good. My overly needy ego was being fed. Stuffed. I had trouble going anywhere in my hometown without being recognized with a gasp. It’s always shocking to kids when they find out teachers don’t live at the school. And I loved it. All of it. I had my favorite spots, but I still made my way into an assortment of classrooms in an assortment of schools.

That gets us to last year. I was asked to cover a special education classroom until they could find a teacher. They played on my needy ego. I had come with glowing recommendations. They had confidence that I would fill the spot nicely, if only temporarily. I hemmed. I hawed. Terrified because I knew NO ONE at the school. Had never done the paperwork piece of the job. Would kiss goodbye the idea of seeing all my little fans at my “regular” schools. And so, I did the logical thing. I accepted. It was only for a few months, right?

So, there I went, knowing a little, not knowing a lot. Needing to be liked and knowing no one. Not being able to shout that “People like me; I promise!” no matter how much I didn’t fit in. Forgetting just how hard it is to cultivate new relationships. I felt like the new kid at school, not knowing where to sit at lunch. Add into the mix the fact that the teacher I was following was loved. Oh, so loved. I found myself in the role of counselor, guiding a staff through a heart-wrenching professional breakup. And I wasn’t great at it. And so, I cried.

I tried so hard to figure out how to approve time sheets without asking for help. I wasn’t great at that. And so, I cried.

I got overwhelmed and forgot to let teachers know when we were short-staffed (which seemed like every day). I wasn’t great at that. And so, I cried.

I stumbled through handling behavior situations I had never handled before. I wasn’t great at that. And so, I cried.

I spent nearly 14 hours doing paperwork that should have taken about 2. I obviously wasn’t great at that. And so, I cried.

I cried. A lot. And started counting days. Praying for a teacher to get hired so I could go back to being comfortable and loved.

I did what I knew how to do. I tried to be friendly. I found a safe haven in friends who listened kindly and gently suggested I should leave and a teaching team that has since moved on, breaking my heart yet again. I sent pictures of kids to their parents. I kept a smile on my face. I got to know – and love – the kids. And I was great at that. That helped. And so, I cried a little bit less.

And then, something happened. Someone asked me how to adjust a time sheet. And I helped. I shaved hours off the paperwork. I handled some tough behaviors. I remembered to talk more to the teachers. And I started to wonder what it would be like to stop counting days. My boss, who knows so much more than I do about the job and what it entails, asked me if we could talk about the rest of our careers instead of the rest of the semester. A dear friend who counseled me through more than a few of those meltdowns listened when I dared to dream about what it would look like to stay and oh, so wisely said that she believed my path was being laid out for me. Three months later, my grad school application (the path that lets me stay in the spot I was trying to hard to get out of just a few short months prior) sat on someone’s desk, awaiting approval.

But back to my award. That team of adults? They didn’t like me at first. Had no reason to. I was coming in on their turf, replacing their beloved teacher and friend. They didn’t know that I am more fun than fat, that I am a giver and a nurturer, that I truly do care about people. They didn’t know that I would be respectful of processes that shouldn’t change or that if I did offer up a different way to do something, it was because I had seen it work before. They didn’t know that I would defend them fiercely if the need were to arise and I would listen if they needed a sympathetic ear. They didn’t know me. And oh man, was that ever hard. I spent nearly a decade with people who knew me and who loved me because they knew me. It’s not work if you’re being fed. And there I was, emotionally starving, while I fought to teach kids how to identify letters, teach parents how to know me, and teach a para team how to trust me. If only that burned calories.

We held a fun award ceremony at the end of the year. A year that was nothing less than an ugly fracture that got a really uncomfortable cast and then came out pretty well bonded together. My para team awarded me with the most beautiful certificate that named me the Worst Teacher in the World. It’s lovely because it’s an inside joke. And people who don’t like other people don’t have inside jokes with them. And people who don’t respect someone typically aren’t going to call that out in a certificate. And my team, my lovely team, respected me enough to call me the worst. That reminder makes me laugh, warms my heart, and keeps me humble. Helps me remember that my path to get where I am today was filled with ridiculously deep potholes and incredibly sharp nails. Helps me remember that even if we are great at what we do, we will still have moments that are the worst. We will have times when we are the worst. And we will cry. And then learn. And then be okay.

I can only hope that I will never forget what can happen when I am the worst something.

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