From the outset of my professional career, I have contemplated how to handle the divide between my personal thoughts and my professional ambitions. I’ve always had jobs in direct contact with the public, where essentially my main obligation is to work with and help people. So in some respects, I am used to the need for a carefully sculpted persona. In a professional sense, it’s all about perception and how others perceive you–and you can take that one to the bank. But what happens when the divide between your true self and the reflection projected to others starts to widen?
As a teacher, I feel like my job takes up so much of my life–yes in terms of time and energy–but also in terms of capturing the very soul and essence of who I am. When you are truly passionate about something, it is so much more challenging to hide behind a persona and be who and what you are expected to be, especially when you feel differently inside.
In the high school, this meant infusing everything I did with positivity, even when things felt miserable. Whether it was another disappointing meeting, a required activity I didn’t see value in, administering another standardized test, or personally just a bad day–I acted as this shield, trying to protect my students from my own misgivings and outside negativity. I felt it was my duty to make every student feel their presence was not just noted as a check mark on the attendance record, but to make them feel appreciated and welcomed. The instant that first body sauntered into my room, I had to turn on my energy. And that alone can be draining in itself. What happens when all of the positive energy you are pumping out to those around you is stifled rather than returned?
In the collegiate classroom, my persona is more akin to my actual personality–a bit more dry, sarcastic, honest and forthright. I don’t feel like I am always secretly hiding the fact that I am normal, that I make mistakes, and that I don’t believe every judgement passed down is best for everyone…or anyone. But I still try to keep the cynicism to a minimum. And that isn’t always easy to do in this current economic and educational state.
Hello all you future teachers, yes, I know it’s rough out there, but just have faith that the system will rebuild and recreate itself. There will be jobs for you. You will be able to earn a comfortable living comparable to your friends in the private sector. You will fulfill all of your dreams of saving the world and making a difference one child at a time!
In this context, my energy and enthusiasm are matched and returned. There is something renewing in the very act of engaging with these students that was always harder to attain out there in the “real world.” Of course it is their blind optimism and carefully constructed dreams upon which this all hinges. Like new born babes, they are free from the disillusionment and cold hard truth lying in wait right around the corner. I now feel my responsibility is to protect that innocence while at the same time beginning to align it with reality–somehow without bursting the bubble all together. But that’s where it can get sticky….
How do you stay real when the reality is mostly negative and all you want to do is reinforce positivity and keep people inspired?