By Denise Rauda (she/her), TTOC, Richmond
After a long year with the weight of the pandemic on our shoulders, I have worried about what starting my teacher education and then my career would mean for me. The work is there, and we need teachers, but will I be able to live up to the expectations I have set for myself? Am I ready to be what my future students will need after feeling so frayed and like an impostor for so long?
When I received my acceptance letter into the teacher education program at UBC, after the first lockdown, I remember thinking to myself that hopefully things would “go back to normal” by September and I would get to start the term on campus. As the summer rolled on it became clear that my program would be entirely online and soon enough, we had that confirmation. I was worried: I had never been very good at online learning.
My experiences with online learning had been well before the Zoom era, and after taking my last online course for my undergraduate degree I vowed never to do it again. But given our unprecedented circumstances, I accepted that this is how things would have to be for now, and that I needed to shift my thinking from “I can’t do online courses” to “I will learn how to do online courses.” Growth mindset, after all.
Getting over that fear was my first big hurdle, and if I could get over that, certainly I could overcome whatever else the unknown future would bring, right? The short answer is yes, but like most journeys, there would be a lot of ups and downs, sleepless nights, running on fumes, and endless second guessing of myself and my abilities. Thank goodness for caffeine and community.
The first few months of the teacher education program were a challenge. Every teacher knows that embarking on that first stage of your career and teacher education is hard work and can be very intense. Add to this our collective stress and anxiety over the uncertainty of what was going on with the pandemic, it felt like we were headed into a very long winter that had no real end in sight. What would this mean for teachers working in schools, what would this mean for our families?
There were times when I really didn’t feel like I was going to be able to make it through, and a couple of times I found myself saying, “I don’t think I can do this,” and truly believing it. I found myself wondering, if I can’t keep up with this program, how will I ever be able to teach a classroom of kids? Being vulnerable about these moments to my peers and colleagues was scary, and so important. It’s not the kind of thing you want to carry around in your heart, and talking to someone about it reminds us that other people have struggled with those feelings too. You’re not crazy! You’re just tired.
In the last year, the importance of community has been emphasized to me time and time again. First, through finding understanding and solidarity amongst my peers in the B.Ed. program. Then, with support and encouragement from colleagues and mentors during my practicum. Finally, through my community field experience working with the BCTF. I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a women’s wellness event where I got the chance to meet, talk with, and listen to, some very strong and inspiring women in education. I have witnessed how crucial it is to find a strong community, learn to contribute to that community, and lean on them for support when you need it.
With the support of the different communities that I have become a part of, I was able to get through the hard times. I felt a lot of gratitude for being able to continue working toward my goal to become a teacher when I knew that so many people’s lives had come to a halt. And at the same time, I had to work on being more kind and patient with myself.
One of the First People’s Principles of Learning is “Learning involves patience and time.” Working in a Grade 1/2 split class for my practicum, I found myself reminding the students of this a lot. Sometimes kids get stuck on this idea of “getting it right,” especially when they are first trying something new. I hate to admit it, but I have been this kind of student many times in my life. I have struggled with accepting the possibility that I won’t be good at something right away—and dare I say it?—that I might even be bad at it sometimes. To me that was always completely unacceptable, but if I wasn’t expecting perfection from my practicum students, and no one was expecting perfection from me, why was I being so hard on myself?
I remember one day during an art lesson in the fall, I had the students follow along in a guided drawing. One student, we’ll call him Caleb, asked, “Ms. R, what happens if I mess up?” I responded and said, “Nothing happens. Mistakes are okay and sometimes in art cool things can come from what you think might be a mistake.” At the time I didn’t think what I had said made much of an impact. I was just trying to get the kids to let go of their fear and practise taking risks in their work.
Fast forward to late May, when the students and I were doing one of our final art lessons before the end of my practicum, and one of them exclaimed, “Oh no! I made a mistake!” I barely had time to figure out where the voice had come from when I heard Caleb say, “Mistakes are okay because sometimes good things come from them.” At this point in my practicum, I was struggling with a lot of self-doubt about what my future in teaching would look like. A lot of the time, I felt like every move I made was the wrong one, and I was worried about whether I would be able to be the kind of teacher I had always hoped I would be. When I heard Caleb offer this reassurance to one of his peers, I felt like he was talking to me. It was a big reminder that I must stop being so hard on myself and practise what I teach.
People always tell you that when the road ahead looks full of too much uncertainty and too many obstacles, to look back and see how far you have come. After some much-needed rest and self-compassion, I took some time to reflect on my journey so far. It’s hard to believe how fast the last year and a half went by. It feels like a lifetime ago that I started this first leg of my journey and it is incredibly empowering to look back at everything we have faced and overcome.
Even though sometimes I still feel like I have no idea what I am doing, I know that’s okay. I’m still learning, and perfection is not what matters—showing up and being committed to doing your best does. We have the support of some amazing communities full of dedicated and caring people. If we can get through such a difficult year, then surely, we have a lot more strength than we may give ourselves credit for.
Patience and time.