Sunday, 1 March 2015

Courage Can Be Contagious

I have been doing a lot of reflecting lately. Starting something new has re-energized me and brought back many memories of my first years of teaching. Recently I read a blog with some key learning anecdotes from a first year of teaching and I was inspired to do the same. 


How I came to work at an elementary school in a small rural town south of London is a post all its own. It was however serendipitous - that I, a self-proclaimed secondary English teacher came to work in this place of inspiration.

On the Friday of Labour Day weekend I packed up my dad's car and made the two-hour drive to London to start my teaching career. I had lined up a few apartment viewings for that morning and had planned to go and begin setting up my classroom in the afternoon. Upon arriving at my first viewing, the skies opened up and I waited out the seasonal downpour in the crowded car. When I realized the landlord was a no-show and decided to leave, the car would not move: it was the alternator.

Sitting in that car in the rain, waiting for the CAA truck I was in pure panic mode. I had packed, planned every minute detail, scheduled it to down to the minute. Although I did not know it at the time, I was learning my first valuable lesson as a teacher: to expect the unexpected.

The extraordinary CAA driver helped me unpack my car into a Tim Horton's and towed my dad's car the two hours home. My friend's mother picked me and my things up. She had agreed to let me crash at her place for a few nights until I found an apartment - and  The next morning - Saturday - I rented a car and drove back home to pick up my mother's car and made the long drive back to London that afternoon.

I remember standing in my 7/8 classroom - a portable - that Sunday, in utter disbelief.  What would I do on Tuesday? All I could do in that moment was take in my surroundings, arrange the desks and look over the welcome notes that my new teaching partners had shared with me.

On that first day, I survived the hour long commute, did my best to be inspiring (yet firm) as I outlined rules and procedures - and then I taught math. You see, the only student resources in the classroom were a stack of dusty old math textbooks and I found some comfort in their familiarity. I felt relieved to have a break at lunch. That was until my teaching partner burst into the room laughing, "which one of you taught math this morning - you're kids HATE you!" My quiet devastation was as harsh as you might imagine.

The next month flew by. There was little sleep, many teary phone calls home, apartment-hunting and the purchase of my first used car. There was also so very much learning. My students motivated my creativity, my colleagues - turned friends - guided me and my principal inspired me.

On October 2, 2003 (provincial election day) I had (what was at the time) the worst day ever. I woke up for the first time in my new apartment. My furniture was not arriving for a few days, but I had insisted on sleeping there (even if it was on the floor in a sleeping bag).  What I did not expect was to wake up with pink-eye. It was disgusting - and although Tele-health assured me I could work and my colleagues called it a new teacher "right of passage", I couldn't help but be mortified. That afternoon I headed straight for the small town clinic. Eye-drops in hand, I returned to my car only to find that I had a flat tire. One hour later, my car was towed to the local C-Tire and I was told it should be ready in a few hours. My stress-level was at a peak. I had made the necessary changes to ensure that I could vote - and now there was no way I could make it to the poll in time. Picking up my phone to make a call I realized it was dead.

From an old payphone I made a call to my then-boyfriend looking for some sympathy.  He was cold, uninterested and ended the call quickly. When I finally made it home to my new - dark - apartment, I was hungry, tired and deflated.  I should have expected what came next. We were both new teachers and in a relatively new relationship, but his arrival at my door that night to initiate the break-up was ill-timed and broke the last piece of strength I thought I had in me.

The next morning at school I was visibly shaken.  The cold hardwood floor was much less comfortable the second night and I had not slept a wink.  My perceptive principal arranged to have my first period class covered.  She listened - she did not judge - and in that moment I felt respected.
She said a lot of things that day, made me feel like I could quit and move home if I wanted to (I didn't) and let me know how much potential she saw in me as a teacher. But the thing I remember most about that conversation is what she said next:

My principal said, "move in with me".

Found on

She had a room in her home and welcomed me to come and live with her family. It was a tempting offer - living alone for the first time was lonelier than I had anticipated. Her offer was enough to awaken a new found courage in me. I did not need to live with her to be inspired by her. On blustery winter days we would share the commute and our car conversations always left me energized. Learning along side of her was and still is the richest opportunity I have had to date as an educator. When the time came eighteen months later to make the choice to move closer to home, I did so on my own terms.

In the process of putting these memories down in print, I have been thinking about how far that I have come since those early days.  As teaching professionals we need to recognize the trials new teachers are experiencing. How can we make their transitions easier? In what ways can we ensure new teacher wellness? I think that sharing our own stories is a first step - but we must also empathize and be willing to give of ourselves (maybe not our own homes-lol). Courage really is contagious!

No comments:

Post a Comment