self-confidence

Exit 176. Go do something else with your attitude, like crush a child’s dream.

I was always that kid who liked to build things out of common household items accessible to a kid.  Growing up, my room was always full of simple pinball machines made of cardboard, duct tape, and marbles.

As an adult, I still occasionally take on do-it-yourself projects that remind me a lot of the kind of things I would build as a kid, the kind of projects that I imagine someone like MacGyver would take on.  A while back, I used two long sticks and a tape measure to unclog the dryer vent.  When I posted a picture on Facebook of the huge pile of damp lint that had been clogging the vent, I said that I would like to thank Angus MacGyver for teaching my preteen self that there is always a solution using common household objects.

Which brings me to last week.  One of my current projects requires large amounts of scrap cardboard.  I thought of the perfect place to acquire this cardboard: Costco.  For those of you who do not have Costco in your area, this is a bulk wholesale store that sells large quantities of groceries and other common items.  Many of them are sitting on wooden pallets, with sheets of cardboard separating boxes that are stacked on top of each other.  So I walked around the store, grabbing as many of the sheets of cardboard that I could without making a huge mess of the stacked items.  I even checked with an employee if it was okay, and he said sure, we usually just throw them away anyway.  That’s what I assumed.

A few people asked me what the cardboard was for, and I just told them it was for a project I was working on.  I thought about what I was going to say if anyone asked me what the project was.  I didn’t want to be one of those snobs who gets all uppity when a stranger tries to make conversation, telling the other person that they have no right to talk to me.  But explaining exactly what I was doing didn’t feel right.  At one point, I considered telling the truth: “I’m sorry, but I’m feeling really anxious and self-conscious right now, because whenever I do a project like this, people always respond by telling me it’s stupid and it’s not going to work.”

For example, a few years ago, I got another clever idea, this time an electronics-computer-type MacGyver project.  I was telling some people about my idea, and one guy just sneered and told me why my idea was dumb.  Now this guy is just an asshole all around, and not just because of this.  We still cross paths occasionally, and I try not to say more than hi to him.  But it still hurt.  And I never did finish this project.

So… back to Costco.  No one asked me what the project was.  Four people asked me on what aisle they could find things; apparently they assumed that someone pushing a cart full of scraps of cardboard around the store must be an employee.  I hadn’t even foreseen that happening.  Apparently they didn’t see my case of toilet paper, bucket of laundry detergent, or four pound bag of chocolate chips in the bucket under all the cardboard.

When I finally got to the front of the line, I checked again to make sure it was okay for me to take the cardboard.  I said I wasn’t using it to hide anything I might be trying to steal.  And while attempting to make small talk with the cashier, I told her what the cardboard was for.

And she promptly told me why my idea might not work.

Really?

You’re not helping.  Just shut up.  Go do something else with your attitude, like crush a child’s dream or something.  But leave me alone.  I don’t need your advice.

Meanwhile, nothing about that experience has helped the way I feel about this.  Notice that I haven’t even explained here what the cardboard is for… and I’m not going to.  I guess I’m just better off keeping my bright ideas to myself.  Maybe that’s ok.

And it remains to be seen whether or not my idea will work.

Advertisements

Exit 162. Not the new guy anymore.

I told someone recently that the upcoming school year will be my 18th year teaching (not including 2005-06, when I was traveling for half the year and substituting the other half).  How is that possible?  The students who recently graduated from high school and are starting college this year were newborn babies when I started teaching.  Where did all the time go?

And more importantly, why do I still feel like a new and inexperienced teacher?

Part of the reason is because I haven’t been teaching in the same place for very long.  I haven’t been in any one public school or school district for more than four years.  Every time I have started over, I have felt new again, since students and their parents don’t know me, and I am unfamiliar with the school culture and the curriculum.  I spent seven years at a tiny private school, and that’s kind of a different world, not to mention that there were only nine teachers and many of them had been there for a long time, so I still felt new in some ways after a while.

But I think I’m finally starting to feel like I’m not the new guy anymore.  My school has had a lot of turnover since I was hired in June 2014, with several retirements, several others taking other positions elsewhere in the district, a few moving away for family or financial reasons, and one death.  Even though I’m only going into my fourth year at this school, I think I’ve been there longer than about half the staff, and among the six math teachers, I have been there the second longest, and I am tied for second in terms of how long I have been a full time teacher in the district.

I have started preparing for the upcoming school year, and I have gotten to meet some of my new coworkers.  And the idea of not being new anymore is finally starting to sink in.  I am able to help some of my new coworkers find their way around the school, get the computers to work, and, in the case of math teachers, learn how the curriculum works.  And this really seems to be helping my confidence.  I’m not quite as shy or reticent among my other coworkers as I used to be.  I feel more like I belong, and less like I’m always rubbing people the wrong way.

I have written before that my principal has told me that she could see me being a leader among the teachers.  Maybe she’s right after all.

(By the way, I missed another week on this blog.  Sorry.)

Exit 120. I know those voices because I hear them too.

Harry Potter has been on my mind again lately.  I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which for those of you who aren’t familiar with Harry Potter, is the script for a play set a generation after the Harry Potter novels, featuring the adult Harry Potter and one of his children.  The play is currently being performed in London.  But that is not the point I’m getting at here.

I spent a lot of time in the car this weekend, and at one point I was thinking about other parts of the Harry Potter story.  I was reminded in particular of a scene that always felt particularly intense and poignant to me, and I’ll try to share my thoughts without giving away any crucial spoilers.  In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series, 17-year-old Harry and his friends are on a quest to find and destroy a group of objects that Voldemort (or, as I called him before, Wizard Hitler) has enchanted with some very dark magic, in an attempt to make himself immortal.  About halfway through the book (chapter 19, specifically), Harry and his friends have one of these dark objects, and after carrying it around for a few months, they have found a means with which to destroy it.  While carrying it around, however, it seems to bring out all sorts of dark and negative behavior in whomever is carrying it, at times leading to fights between Harry and his friends.

Harry feels that Ron should be the one to destroy this enchanted object.  But as Ron is about to do so, the object suddenly speaks to Ron, saying that it has seen all of Ron’s greatest fears, and speaking and reenacting these fears in full view of Ron, Harry, and Hermione.  The object reminds Ron that he is always overshadowed.  In his family, he has his older brothers and younger sister, and at school, his best friends are Harry, who is famous within the Wizarding World because of the prophecies made about him, and Hermione, who is a super genius.  The object makes Ron feel like he cannot do anything right, that Harry and Hermione would be better off on their quest without him.  The voices coming from the object mock Ron by saying that no one wants him, and that no woman would ever be interested in him when they could have Harry Potter instead.

I know those voices.  I know those voices because I hear them too… at least in a metaphorical sense.

Of course, I am not carrying around an object that contains a piece of Wizard Hitler’s soul.  This is because Wizard Hitler and magic aren’t real, a fact that Church I With The Problems and many other legalistic conservative churches never fully grasped, but that’s another story for another time.  But all of those fears were already inside Ron’s head; the dark object just saw Ron’s fears and manifested them in front of him.  And some very similar fears are already inside my head.  Those fears become manifest whenever I feel excluded from something my friends are doing or talking about.  They become manifest whenever I see my friends in new romantic relationships while the months since my last date slowly turn into years.  Sometimes I can distract myself from those voices, just as Harry and Ron and Hermione did by taking turns who would hold the evil object, but they cannot be easily destroyed.

But I have to find a way.  I am a Gryffindor, just like Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  I can be brave and silence the evil voices in my head forever once and for all.  I must.

But I’m still searching for a way to do so.  And it won’t be easy.

Exit 90. Am I really qualified for that?

A few days ago, I had an observation and evaluation at work.  (This is perfectly normal; I’m not in trouble or anything.  All teachers get evaluated periodically.)  In my school district, some observations are planned in advance, and some are unscheduled.  This one was unscheduled, and I felt like it couldn’t have come at a worse time.  The day before, I had missed half the day because of a meeting, and I felt unprepared because of this.

However, the meeting with the principal afterward went well.  She had entirely good things to say about what she saw.  She also said that she could see me being a leader among teachers eventually.  I’m not sure exactly what she means, but I’m thinking either she means that she could see me being involved in more committees around the school eventually to make decisions about the school and the curriculum.  Or maybe she could see me being the department chair someday, if the current department chair steps down.  The principal also said that she would want her own children in my class someday.  I feel like this is a huge compliment.  I’ve spent enough time in difficult teaching situations feeling like I’m just barely keeping my butt out of trouble that it’s nice to hear these kinds of things from my supervisor.

Her own children are younger than the students I teach, so it is entirely possible that I may in fact have her children in my class someday.  That’s going to put a great deal of pressure on me if and when it does happen.  I’ve taught the children of coworkers several times, including twice this year, but never the children of my principal or vice principal.  But it was her other statement that really struck out in my mind, that about being a leader.  I have a really difficult time seeing myself as a leader.

This came up another time recently at work.  I was in a meeting with just four other teachers, and some of the district math coaches, to discuss some issues related to the advanced 7th grade math class.  There is only one teacher at each school in the district who teaches this, and I’m it for my school.  It felt kind of weird being at this meeting without anyone else from my school.  I was the only one there to offer specific input from my school, and I could potentially be influencing decisions without anyone else to represent my school.  I think I did fine, but it still was not a position I was used to.

This isn’t just about work.  I have a hard time seeing myself as a leader anywhere in life.  I have a hard time picturing that I might actually have a wife and children someday, like being the leader of a family isn’t something I’m capable of.  I’ve had multiple friends suggest that maybe I should deal with my difficulty in finding a church group by starting a group of my own.  This is scary.  Am I really qualified for that?  I have a lot I should probably clean up in my life, and I don’t know the Bible as well as some people I know.

Part of this is just the usual self-confidence issues that I’ve dealt with all my life.  I feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing in life.  Sometimes I feel like I’m still a scared little kid who should be doing what he is told.  I’ve experienced so much rejection, I’ve had many ideas shot down, and I’ve been neglected and ignored many times.  Because of this, I’m just used to seeing myself as insignificant.  But that is really no excuse.  I’m just selling myself short.  I shouldn’t let that kind of fear and negative self-image stop me if there is really a way I could be using my gifts to lead others.  God did not create me the way I am so that I could hide from the world.

Someone also pointed out recently that some of the best leaders are the ones who don’t necessarily think of themselves as leaders.  Many who confidently work their way into positions of leadership care more about themselves than the group they are leading, and their leadership style becomes arrogant and self-serving.  A good example of a more reluctant leader would be Moses.  God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and called him to lead the people of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt, despite the fact that Moses repeatedly told God that he would not be a good leader (Exodus, chapters 3 and 4).  I don’t know that there is an opportunity to be a leader staring me in the face right now, but maybe it’s something to think about and watch for.

After all, I have to grow up sometime.