Another frequent scenario that pops up in my dreams is walking into a strange classroom, with strange students, to teach a lesson I know nothing about. I have no materials prepped. I don’t know where the supplies are, and oh, I’m also being observed by my entire admin team. I put on a show, pretending like I know what I’m doing (isn’t that what adulthood is all about anyway?) for the full 47 minute period, and then walk into a brutal evaluation, sternly reprimanded for being unprepared for my lesson.
These things would never actually happen. I’m a relatively confident classroom manager, I’ve been doing this now for 9 years. I work in a school with amazing, well-behaved students (as middle schoolers go) and a supportive admin team who would most likely never walk in my classroom without some type of heads-up, and if they did and saw me deliver a lesson unprepared, would probably be more concerned about what went wrong and how they could better support me than berating me for unprofessionalism. So why do I have these dreams?
A few weeks ago, one of my friends asked me, “How do you teach with anxiety?” Here are a few of my go-to coping strategies:
- I think about what the worst thing is that could realistically happen in any given situation. (It’s usually not that bad.) For example, if a lesson tanks, the worst thing that can really happen is I have to re-teach the material. If I have a bad observation, maybe I need some coaching to make sure that my next lesson is stronger. If I put my foot in my mouth in a meeting, maybe I need to apologize, or do something to make it right. Usually these scenarios keep me from jumping to crazy, unrealistic terrible outcomes. These realistic worst-case scenarios also almost never happen.
- I have a post-it note in my desk that says “I am the adult here.” Though this seems silly, it’s one of the only good pieces of advice that my first student teaching mentor gave me. Sometimes, you just need that reminder that you’re the one in control, not the squirrely kid crawling under his desk or the girl snapchatting selfies during your class.
- I remind myself to focus on the things within my locus of control. When I start worrying about something that I have no power over, I try to shove that nasty thought out of my head. When I worry about something I can control, I try to prepare for or change that situation somehow, right at that moment!
- I write in my notebook. I write out all the things that are bothering me, and then I re-read it. Usually after reading the words on paper, I can see how silly the things are that are bothering me and talk myself out of those thoughts. The ones that are valid concerns, I try to address.
- I have a list of things that make me feel better taped to the front of my notebook. These things include: Walking my dog (or just talking a walk), eating something (healthy, if possible), drinking water, writing, taking 10 deep breaths, doing a yoga pose, calling a friend, watching a comedy, taking a shower, painting my nails… I add things as I think of them. I return to this list often.
Yesterday, my car broke down. I came out of my summer class into the parking lot at George Mason University, and it just wouldn’t start. This situation is one that could easily have triggered me into a full-blown panic attack. I could feel my breathing start to get shallow, my eyes started to burn, but I stopped, I used the coping skills that I have learned over the years and I kept myself from melting down. After I got home and was again alone with my thoughts, I felt the creeping thoughts returning. “I’m going to have to get a new car! All my savings are going out the window!” I stopped again, and instead of continuing to go down a path of doom, I went to my list of strategies, and then congratulated myself on continuing to make progress. I’ll battle anxiety forever, but I’m going to keep getting better at it. I’m going to survive, and thrive, and I won’t let my worries rule my life or my teaching.