Nathan Levine, 2020 Teacher Education Program Graduate, UOttawa
For many people, the aspects of teaching come naturally. Similar to other professions, some individuals are simply born with the skills necessary to be excellent at teaching and as a teacher. For me, this was not the case.
My process of learning how to be a good teacher (and a process that continues today) came with many moments of internal and external adversities: self-doubt and anxiety being two key elements. But before that, I should tell you how I became a teacher in the first place.
As part of one of my courses in high school, I had to do a placement in an area that interested me. Perhaps subconsciously, I was interested in education in some capacity, so I chose to do my placement at my old public school. Although I wasn’t responsible for teaching in any way, being in a classroom sparked my passion and interest. I wanted to be in that environment more often.
The year after, in my senior year of high school, I went back to another one of my former public schools to volunteer, this time in a teaching capacity. I fell in love with my students and the overall experience, and that’s when I decided to study teaching in University. I took four years of English as an undergraduate degree, the whole time knowing the plan was to study at Teacher’s College after. I received an offer from uOttawa and started studying there.
Now up to this point I had felt confident and happy about teaching. My volunteering had gone well, and I had only had positive experiences while educating. However my first year placement at uOttawa was the first time I was responsible for real teaching: standing at the front of the classroom with twenty pairs of eyes waiting for you to speak.
My first lesson was a read aloud, and like me and I’m sure like many others, I remember not knowing what to expect. Part of having situational anxiety is thinking for the worst; expecting everything to go wrong. Maybe a student would tell me I was a bad teacher, or maybe my Associate Teacher would tell me I don’t belong in the program and ask me to leave. But in reality, as is the case nine times out of ten, the lesson went well, reaffirmed by the feedback I received from my Associate Teacher.
I finished that first-year placement with more confidence and happiness about teaching and about myself. I had a glowing report from my Associate Teacher, who provided me with a reference letter and who remains a close contact to this day.
I entered my second year with more experience, more friends, and more eagerness. My first-year placement and first year of studies went well, so I expected more of the same. I was in line for a great second year and with that, a great end to my Teacher’s College experience.
This placement was totally different for me than my first-year placement. My mental health took a toll. There wasn’t the same level of communication with my Associate Teacher as there had been in my first year. I was losing the same eagerness and confidence to teach that I once had. It felt like my first lesson all over again, except in this circumstance I had the same feeling that everything wasgoing wrong every time I stepped in front of my students. It got to the point where it was affecting me outside of my placement. I would be at home and have that sinking feeling of dread as I watched the clock tick by, getting ever closer to having to sleep, and then wake up and get ready for somewhere I had no interest in being.
So, I started to just, not go. It seemed easier to avoid that feeling rather than tackling it and communicating with my Associate Teacher. The lowest point of the whole experience came when I returned to the school one day to find out I was failing the placement. I remember my Associate Teacher’s first words to me that morning, “Your supervisor is coming in 20 minutes. We need to talk.”
Her words during the meeting were the first time I had heard them. I had felt like this, but it makes it more real when you hear someone else offer the same perspective, “You don’t look happy or excited to be teaching.” I started crying immediately, from the culmination of everything I had experienced. I wanted to leave, I wanted to have the people who I knew loved and supported me there. I felt like I was being ambushed, like both of them were saying the same thing and had plotted against me.
After the meeting I had decided that rather than end the placement and trying again later in the year, I would try to right the ship and turn what was currently a failure into a success. But what I really wanted to do was run away from the school and never return. All of those days walking to the school in the morning and away in the afternoon had taken a toll. But I was naive and alone, if I had my support system in the meeting with me, I would have chosen to take the failure and with it, some time to relax and reflect.
I ended up meeting with the Director of the program and we decided it was for the best to end my time at the school and with my Associate Teacher. Another set of words I’ll never forget hearing came from her mouth, “You don’t look like yourself.” If I could have used any five words to describe that experience, those would have been it.
During those months, I lost myself. I lost sight of what teaching is about. I lost control over my mental health. However, I was able to reflect on what values are so important in teaching. Your determination and ability to be your best self on days where you are not. Communication with your EA’s and other staff in the school, your ability to be vulnerable and to be honest with your community and systems of support.
I was lucky enough to be able to receive an offer for a teaching position in Mexico. I am currently here now teaching Grade One virtually. Seeing the power I have to inspire my students while educating has made my journey worthwhile. While there are many reasons I chose to pursue teaching, it was always about getting to realize that moment. To make your hard work and your dream a reality, and to be in that position of such importance and influence. Although I am extremely anxious for teaching physically again in a classroom, I have also had the time to reflect on my strengths, and it is those strengths that can cancel out those moments of anxiety and self-doubt I have even now. Never lose sight of your abilities and your strengths, and never take them for granted. When you are facing adversity and/or self-doubt like I did, remembering the things you are good at will help you stay afloat in life, personally and professionally.