Nervous Excitement

I’m teaching at a new school this year. Now, there are a few things you should know about this before I continue:

  1. I was at my previous school for eight years and I loved it.
  2. This was my choice. I mean, I interviewed for this position, said yes & everything. On purpose.
  3. I have moved schools before – a lot. In my twenty some years of teaching, I’ve taught at seven schools (counting overseas; not counting my practice teaching). 
  4. I am nervous every. single. time. 

Number four begs the question of why I keep moving. Well… sometimes I had a one-year contract (overseas); once I got married and moved to a different continent; twice I was ‘surplused’ (had a contract, but no placement in that school). Only once before have I intentionally decided to move. Both that time and this one I was ready for a new challenge and sought out the right opportunity: I’m going to be head of a department that the Principal is calling “Global Citizenship and Literacy” – English, Languages, History & Social Sciences – how cool is that? Does it sound like I’m trying to convince myself that this was a good decision? Yup, here I am, nervous.

So far I’ve mostly been able to pour my nerves into cleaning. First, I threw away a bunch of nasty old books that no student should have to receive as a class book along with a few frankly racist books that we really didn’t need to keep as a class set. For the first time in 13 years I have my own room, so I’ve been cleaning (paper alone took one full day – the teacher in there before me retired & pretty much left everything behind). Today I started unpacking and organizing. My mother is visiting me and a 13-year-old friend of mine is an organizing genius, so I recruited them to help me out. We worked through the morning until our eyes were red with dust and we were sneezing into our masks. We worked until we’d drunk all the water we brought and really needed lunch. We worked until we were tired enough that we were spending a lot of time talking about the books we liked and less time putting them on the shelves. There’s more to go – I have a LOT of books – but things are starting to take shape.

Wait a minute. Truth: while they threw away the dried-up pens and White-out that seemed to lurk in every drawer and cubby, or decided whether to place a book in “realistic fiction” or “Canadian”, I was in and out of the room, starting to meet my new colleagues, chatting about summer, classroom assignments, course assignments, books and pedagogy. We’re all feeling each other out, looking for commonalities, checking to see how we’ll fit together. 

“Do you think that we should all teach one book in each grade so that students have a shared experience?” No, I don’t. 

Gatsby is one of my favourite books.”
Oh, how I love Gatsby, though I no longer teach it as a class novel.

“Don’t you think that Of Mice and Men will make a “comeback” some day?”
Nope, though I’ve taught it before and I loved it for a long time. 

“I know that the students probably need to build up their literacy skills after a year and a half of Covid. What will you prioritize in your classes this year?”
That one’s easy: joy. 

“Joy?”
Yes, and laughter.

Nervous nervous nervous. Will my colleagues like me? Will my pedagogy be too “out there”? What if I can’t teach these students? (Honestly, I have worried about this at every school. You’d think I would have learned by now.) What if this doesn’t work? What if… what if… what if…

A few years ago, when students’ final project in English was to deliver a TED Talk, I used to play Kelly McGonigal’s talk, How to Make Stress Your Friend. To be honest, sometimes if students are stressy enough, I still do. Over and over, I have listened to her tell us that stress can be energizing, preparing us to meet a challenge, that it can feel like joy and challenge. Joy. This is the message I keep with me. It’s okay for me to be nervous, stressed or even – gasp – scared. This is normal. This is good. This is why I decided it was time for a change. I need to be challenged; I am ready for something new. My task now is to remember that these nerves have an upside. My journey is to find the challenge and meet it with excitement.

When I came home from cleaning, after buying lunch for my amazing helpers (Thanks, Mom), my own children were hanging around, savouring the last days of summer. “How are you feeling, Mom?” they wanted to know. “Nervous,” I said, “Nervous and excited.” 

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8 thoughts on “Nervous Excitement

  1. In this slice you list, and use dialogue, and fragments, and very intentional punctuation marks in ways that bring the title into focus. This is a shared experience and I’m with you in the nerves. Whenever we move, either physically or pedagogically, there are nerves and excitement. I cannot wait to celebrate your achievements at the end of the year and I suspect they will be many! 🎉

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  2. Starting something new has always brought this same combination for me. Each year has it, too, as we transition some students out and some in. I love how you want to focus on joy. No doubt you will. Good luck!

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  3. I’m a bit change-averse, so choosing to make a change isn’t something I do lightly. I can definitely relate to those nerves! You really capture the push and pull of nerves and excitement so well in this piece. Wishing you the best of luck!!

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  4. I understand your nerves. My moves have been cross-country, and it’s quite an adjustment to move to a new state and school; cultures vary vastly, which I know you know. Those conversations reveal much. I hope your new colleagues get on board w/ your vision. Cleaning out those old books is a good start, and if I were still teaching, I’d prioritize joy, too.

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  5. Joy. Such a great priority. Your new community doesn’t know how lucky they are. Sending you a big hug. You’ve got lots of friends rooting for you…knowing you’ll makes waves and change…and find joy!

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  6. Every freaking year. The nervousness. It’s Year 29. I have one more September after this one to feel this jumbled, this antsy, this “what the bananas will I do if it doesn’t work?”. It’s ridiculous. But I always have to go to my spouse and say “Hi. I need a hug. I need you to tell me that I have done this 28 other times, and it will be okay. I need you to tell me that I know how to do this. ”
    I love that you drafted a 13 year old. I get it.

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