Every August since then, I check to see if I’m nervous. Fifteen years into my career, I’m still anxious, but what I worry about has changed.
In my first few years, I worried the students wouldn’t respect me, or listen to me. I worried my classes wouldn’t be under my control. I worried that the students wouldn’t be engaged, wouldn’t turn in their work, wouldn’t learn from me. I worried about the students.
Now I worry about myself.
I worry I won’t have the stamina to come in every day and do this impossible job. I worry I won’t measure up to my colleagues, who are brilliant and never seem to sleep. I worry I won’t be able find the gentle souls under my students’ tough exteriors. I worry I won’t be able to help each human placed before me, in the unique ways each one requires. I worry it will take me weeks to learn all their names, when so many look like versions of students I’ve already taught.
I used to worry about the course content. The curriculum was so full, and I worried about fitting in the required essays and texts and doing close reading and color marking and poetry and creative writing and vocabulary.
I know now that the content is only the vehicle I use to teach the only lesson that really matters: how to love each other better. So I worry about how to be an agent of love in each day, in each moment, with each student.
And I worry about the numbers. I’ll have around 150 students this fall. With the allotted time, I’ll have about 90 seconds per day for each one. That’s not much time to do all that I want and need to.
Mother Theresa said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”
So I’ll show up on the first day, and I’ll take a deep breath and I’ll settle my anxiety. And then I’ll turn to the person nearest me and smile.