Learning to be a teacher Aka The emotional roller coaster Aka Choosing joy

Teaching is hard. It’s also amazing and fun and exciting and fulfilling. But it can just be hard, too. Also, teaching for the first time, with only 4 years of theoretical “experience” is pretty rough. Add to that being away from home, learning to exist in near-constant heat, and constantly battling internally over whether or not I’m “experiencing the culture” enough—then teaching becomes très difficile.

To give you better, clearer insight into my emotional roller coaster, as my sister and I have labeled it, here are a few categories of my life from the last few weeks:

Category 1: Reasons I’ve wanted to cry.

  • Mondays and Wednesdays have been pretty draining recently. I teach both English classes on those days. And when I have my 9th grade class, after lunch, sitting and reading for at least 45 out of our 90 minutes—it can get exhausting managing the chaos. Unfortunately, I’m still learning how to channel the chaos, using it for the greater good instead of allowing it to fuel my desire for a nap. Thankfully, Dietrich, my cooperating teacher, is very sympathetic and helpful in the brainstorming-for-ideas-that-will-make-this-class-more-enjoyable area. It’s a work in progress.
  • I’ve allowed the edTPA project that I need to do for Cedarville trap me with fear. It sounds so stupid, even when I say it to myself. But I’m so scared of skipping a step, or misunderstanding something, or just doing a bad job. Also, there’s a selfish, lazy, scared, sinful part of me (sidenote: I think there are quite a few of those sides within me) that just doesn’t want to do the project. Now, I know that this isn’t an option. Trust me. This achievement-driven, recovering perfectionist knows that “I didn’t want to” doesn’t cut it for missing a due date. I know that I need to do my edTPA. And I will. But first, I need to overcome this irrational fear. (Good joke. I need to listen to truth and allow Christ to eradicate my fears. Just sayin’.)
  • There are days when the last bell rings, my students escape from my sweltering, stench-filled classroom, I begin gathering my teacher-y stuff, and all I can think is this: “Did I actually teach them anything today?” I question my effectiveness as a teacher. Did I just babysit my students for 90 minutes at a time, giving them meaningless “activities” to keep them busy? Is my assessing actually influencing my planning that is truly turning into my teaching that is legitimately leading into another assessment? And the only logical answer I have at that point is: I want to nap. (Clearly, sleep is my escape. I already knew this, but it’s solidified now.) I don’t always have a happy-ending answer to those questions. All I know is that I need to keep asking them and keep responding to them as long as I keep teaching.

Enough of the depressing.

Category 2: Reasons I immediately praise God.

  • A box from my mother, packed full with not 1 but 2 new journals; mints so that I don’t kill my students with coffee breath; enough Mio flavoring to last me at least a year; and other various forms of encouragement.
  • My students send me to God with thanksgiving. Of course, at times they drive me nutty. But other times, one of them asks if I would meet with her some mornings before school to pray together. “I would love that,” I quickly respond. Another student offers me the beginning of a story that he wrote, “So that you can let me know what you think. But you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to.” “Oh please. I would love to read this. Thank you!” Another student asked me what I’m going to do after my internship: “Adjust to cold weather again.” “No, after that. Like, where are you going to work?” “I’ll probably substitute teach for a semester.“ “You could always come back here. Sahel pays real good.” The irony is funny. The sentiment is huge.
  • A letter from my boyfriend, the same week that the package came from my mom. Such a surprise and encouragement and blessing. And the pictures that he sent me are already on my wall. 🙂
  • Last week I went out to eat twice with different groups of friends from Sahel. It was so fun and so encouraging. And so yummy. 🙂 God has blessed me with such a rich community of my peers here in Niger. It’ll probably be harder to find this kind of friend group in Saginaw, Michigan, than it is to find it here. Also, I tried minced camel. It was pretty good!
  • I French-braided my hair, successfully. For the first time. In Africa. What more could I ask for? (Of course, I didn’t take a picture. But I swear that this event will be repeated, with photographic proof.)

In general, I’m realizing that I’m living in a paradox. Student teaching is really hard, but there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing right now. I miss my family and my boyfriend, but I don’t want to leave here. Sometimes I feel so anxious about teaching and my Cedarville assignments that I begin to use journaling and praying as an excuse to avoid work. Other times, I actually learn to dwell in the peace and confidence that God gives me, knowing that I am in this here and now, in Niamey, Niger, at Sahel Academy for this time to serve God and to draw closer to him. I just started reading in Esther yesterday, and you know what? Even though I can’t see the whole picture and I don’t have a wise uncle guilt tripping me into advocating for my entire people group, there is part of me that thinks I might be here “for such a time as this.”

That realization goes under the “Reasons I immediately praise God” category.

Thank you for joining me on this journey, listening to my woes and my joys. Thank you for praying with me and for me. God uses the church, His body, to encourage and edify and lift up in amazing ways. Thanks for being a part of that.

Ok. Enough avoiding lesson planning. And no more naps. At least not today.

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4 thoughts on “Learning to be a teacher Aka The emotional roller coaster Aka Choosing joy

  1. Beka says:

    Just so you don’t beat yourself up too much about naps, your body does need more of them here in the heat. I’m guessing you will notice a difference in December/January when our weather is cooler and drier. Drinking lots of OJ helps too. Student teaching and first year teaching is HARD, but we’re so glad you are here with us! I know God will give you everything you need as you ask Him!

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    • I do feel like I should clarify on the naps. 🙂 I will most likely be napping today, due to my late-night grading session yesterday. I appreciate all of the support and solidarity in the napping department! And thanks for your encouragement, Beka. It is so wonderful to be here and so good to learn to truly depend on God. 🙂

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  2. Leah says:

    Abby – What fun to read your thoughts on student teaching. I will say that the question of Did I teach them anything today? is one that I ask on a regular basis. I do not ask it everyday, but in some ways I think that only the good teachers keep wondering about their effectiveness. Take care of yourself and when your feeling down just take a look at all the wonderful things God is doing in your life.

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    • Thanks for the encouragement, Leah! It is good to constantly be evaluating my teaching techniques and strategies. It’s also great to take a step back and enjoy the reality of God working in my life and in my classroom. 🙂

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