The bell rings, and as I stand in front of the class on my first day of teaching, I remember having two very distinct and paralyzing feelings...I’m terrified, and I’m a phony.
I wasn’t sure of too many things during that awkward time as a beginning teacher, but I was sure that I had no business trying to teach these kids how to read and write. I was also sure that they could see right through every insecurity and imperfection. During that school year, as I worked to get better and gained more confidence, one of those feelings eventually left. I became less nervous and realized that I did have both the ability and the right to teach reading, writing, and many other valuable skills. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was still a phony. I came in every day wearing my teacher tie, using my teacher voice, and performing my teacher tricks. It was like a mask that I put on every day before school. I tried hard. I tried different teaching styles. I tried to make jokes, yet there was always something stopping me from feeling like I could reach the majority of my students.
During that first year, the “feeling like a phony” never left, at least not until I finally recognized it for what it was...
I was afraid of being wrong, or not knowing the right answer, or not giving the right advice, or not being liked, or just looking stupid. This list that I constructed could go on forever, but eventually the sum of all these fears could only be knocked down by a superman. I was too worried about answering questions, not asking them. I wanted to hand the students skills, not let them develop. I wanted to correct their mistakes, not push them to overcome a struggle. Want to know the worst part? I discovered that the kids really did see me as a phony because I wasn’t being true to who I was and what I believed. My “teacher mask” kept me from making real connections with my kids.
From then on, I taught without my mask. I started saying, “I don’t know.” I started to ask more questions that didn’t have answers. I started to value what my students wanted, and most importantly, I started to look at them as people, not pupils. I still wasn’t perfect. l still struggled, but I made connections. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel so phony. I still wasn’t superman, so no matter how hard I tried, I still had fear. But, you know what? I soon realized that teaching without fear didn’t mean not having any fears. It really means being comfortable with showing every ugly fear to my students and being able to overcome them together. Teaching without fear really just means not hiding it.
Tips For Fearless Teaching
- Understand we are all learners and teachers. Enter your class each day knowing that you will help someone to grow and that you, yourself, will grow. Make an effort to have your students teach you and each other. Read about and promote a growth mindset in your classroom.
- Study Learning. Notice I didn’t say teaching. We all studied teaching, and honestly, it hasn’t helped my teaching at all. I will say it again. Study learning. Find everything you can about motivation, how we learn, and why we learn. This will change your classroom more than anything. I don’t care what your teaching philosophy is, but please have one. Doing things in your classroom because it was the way you were taught isn’t good enough. Start with Daniel Pink and Ken Robinson.
- Value Your Students’ Opinions. Don’t fail at this. Seek feedback often, and don’t dismiss. Transformations come in amazing forms when individuals feel as if they have agency in their own journey.
- Value Yourself. You are important, and despite what some may think, technology and devices don’t change that. Embrace your imperfections and your fears, and I promise others will, too. The thing that makes you most valuable to your students is your willingness to always try and be better.
- Celebrate Your Failures. You can help change the direction of education and your students’ lives by encouraging them to fail. If you model failure and celebrate it, I can promise growth will happen. Learning can only occur with failure and until we recognize that as teachers, we are going to be stuck. Finally, if you have given a lesson over and over again until you have it down perfectly, it’s time for a new lesson. Teachable moments come when things get messy, and teachers need to get more comfortable with the idea that learning is messy. Check out Kathryn Schulz on Being Wrong.
What does teaching without fear mean to you? We'd love to hear your ideas, so please share them in the comments!