Before I stepped foot in the classroom, I had this picture of the kind of teacher I wanted to be: kind, loving, gentle, patient, student-centered and caring. However, the source from which I was deriving the ability to live this out was misplaced. I was trying to achieve it myself, so what came out in the classroom was the complete opposite.
As the year began in August, I overflowed with excitement and energy. Fast forward to the week before Spring Break, and I deeply considered quitting at least once a day. I was living in this dark mindset. I really didn’t like my job, and I definitely didn’t love it. I was discouraged by my mistakes and failures.
I was especially tough on myself when it came to making mistakes—my own biggest critic. I used to say to myself, “It’s your first year. It’s okay to make mistakes.” But I never really believed it. I never actually heard myself. Why? Because of pride.
Here’s what I mean. I grew up in a classroom. My mom and dad are both teachers. I grew up surrounded by people who affirmed my career choice left. As a result, I set this expectation on myself to be the most amazing teacher possible and what people told me I would be. When I didn’t achieve that, I was hard on myself and my students. I started over-correcting or feeling ashamed because of the pride I was living in. I knew I had made a mistake and had to do everything possible to fix it.
The picture of perfection I had built through pride was crumbling because I made mistakes. During my first year, I wasn’t living up to the expectations I had set for myself. I now lacked the confidence to be the amazing teacher I wanted to be, but I didn’t see that. I was living in complete darkness to this lie. So, to remedy this lack of confidence, boost my pride, and avoid the shame that would follow my failures, I searched for validation and affirmation from parents, students, and my co-worker.
I would always ask for feedback from them and take all their comments to heart. I wanted to correct all of my behavior, so I could meet the expectation I set for myself. But really what I was doing was acting in fear. Fear of the shame and condemnation I thought I would get from all the parties involved, including myself, when I made a mistake. I wanted this persona of “the perfect teacher” to stay intact. I wanted to keep my pride intact.
I had a lie-based mindset which led to darkness that overshadowed my job. But then, the light broke through. God used my mentor to speak truth into my life and to reveal this lie of pride I was living. Graciously, I was given the chance to shadow my mentor in his classroom, and what I saw was what I wanted to be. It was this picture that I had built for myself from the very beginning. I saw his relationship with his students, how safe they felt, and how loved they were. I saw that, I felt it, and I wanted that.
Right before I left, he asked me for any thoughts, comments, or questions, and I just started crying. He said, “Good. This is good.” All I could think was, “Wow. You are the worst.” Then he replied, “No. Really. I think what you needed to see was that the teacher I am today is not the teacher I was in my first year. It’s going to take time. You’re going to learn your craft.”
At that very moment, I truly deeply received that statement. I realized that pride had been telling me I had to achieve a certain expectation set by myself before I even started teaching. I no longer believe that lie. Now I am excited to be on this journey of teaching. I know that God says He’s proud of me and that I am a great teacher at this very moment. And I know I will become better at my craft as time goes by. I know I have room to grow.
In the classroom, I now physically notice a difference in my countenance and attitude. I went from being a teacher of harsh expectations and rigid discipline to one of love; where there’s no record of wrong or unruly expectations. I can see that the teacher I wanted to be is naturally flowing out of me. I am growing into the kind of teacher that is loving, kind, gentle, patient, student-centered and caring. I am not doing anything special except living in a new reality, no longer under the lie of pride. I am gentle and relationship-focused, and furthermore, I am sourcing my confidence correctly. My source is God. I have surrendered to His good work in me, and it’s all because I no longer live under the lie of pride.
I love this journey that I get to be on as I grow into the teacher God created me to be. I now have a mindset of encouragement, rather than discouragement, and I have been transferred from darkness into light.
Annabelle Harper teaches upper grades at Rapid City Adventist Elementary School in South Dakota.
To learn how you can inspire others and become a teacher in the Mid-America Union or what positions are available, visit the Mid-America Union office of education website.