Loss of confidence and faith


I write this with tears in my eyes, and a feeling of terror and failure in my heart. Today has been incredibly challenging, and I do not think I am any good as a supply teacher. I don’t seem to have the requisite skills: Am too confrontational (through fear, mainly) and panic when behaviour slips out of control. I fear I have lost the ability I once had, that I am too old and have left it too late to go back into the profession, even on a part-time basis.

I am having to face up to my utter fear of being laughed at – and it is proving to be very very hard. I cannot go into details because it would be unprofessional to do so – but I am scared and unhappy, and my belief in myself – never the strongest part of my character – is wilting and waning.

Part of the problem is that I have stupidly high standards – of the kids I teach, but mainly of myself. I beat myself up at any opportunity, and am incredibly critical of my own faults and failings. I know that the problems I have faced have been of my own making in the sense that my handling of these difficult situations, and volatile adolescents, has been crap – and there is no excuse: I am a highly-trained and very experienced teacher; I should be able to adapt my approach, to avoid shouting, to deal with the bolshie kids in a better way. It is no good blaming them. They are teenagers. I am an adult.

I feel deeply ashamed of myself – not for the first time – and am thinking, ‘What if I can’t get this right? What then?’

I am trying so hard to be positive, to get my life back on track, to carve a new path for myself – and tears trickle out at the thought that I could so easily fail; that my own anxious and fleeing nature could already be jeopardising this second bite at the educational cherry.

I have to learn not to react, not to over-react; I have to learn to still my over-active amygdala. Trouble is, I feel intensely threatened by aggression and loud naughtiness and refusal to co-operate. I am terrified of losing control, of being abused and hurt and attacked, of not being able to wrench a deteriorating situation back. So I tend to go to the opposite extreme and shout a lot – which, as anyone with any experience of teaching will know, rarely works and usually simply puts the kids’ backs up and makes them even less inclined to co-operate.

So, here I am: 59 years old, with thirty years of teaching experience behind me – making the kind of mistakes Newly Qualified Teachers are prone to making; digging a trench for myself to fall into; failing to calm down and breathe; failing to remember that it doesn’t matter of they don’t do all the work.

This has triggered a very deep fear – of failing, of being helpless, of a whole class turning against me (when I was eight, not as a teacher), of not being able to stand up for myself, of being small and unprotected in some odd way.

But I also realised, as I started this piece, that I have kept an awful lot of emotion under wraps, inside; that I have been very busy – deliberately so – since moving here and that this, in part, was a way of putting my grief or stress (or the cumulative horror and distress of the past two years) on hold, for a more convenient moment. Hoping, perhaps, that it would go away so that I didn’t need to feel that vulnerable and fear-frozen again.

Perhaps I needed the trigger. Perhaps, at some level, I sought it in teaching – unconsciously searched for a wall of fear to confront.

I write this with tears in my eyes…

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40 thoughts on “Loss of confidence and faith

  1. Hi! I just started reading your blog and have to say that I am inspired by how brave you are to be getting back into teaching. Please don’t let a couple bad days impact your self-worth. Just the fact that you’re out there doing your best is an excellent start – soon this will just seem like old hat and you’ll laugh at what will seem like small incidents. Hang in there!

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  2. doodletllc

    I understand, Alienora…I too was a teacher…6th Grade Language Arts, Literature, Religion (Catholic school…oh my…the Old Testament was the text book…the Old Testament with 12 year olds…really?!)…I do so understand…it is not easy. My husband says that teachers should be treated like athletes and get all the praise (and salary) because they are on the front lines every day. You are tough and brilliant and will get back on the horse for another day…just a bump in this road. Love your writing!

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  3. Julie

    So it seems to me that the question you may ask yourself is this: do I want to ‘purge’ myself of an oppressive feeling of inadequacy by facing up to the challenge of supply teaching or do I want to focus on my well being instead? Should I face up to my fears or concentrate on myself: do what suits me best, select what gives me an opportunity to regroup or even shine, find another way of being?
    Focusing on one’s well being is not always an indulgence. It can be the best course of action when we feel vulnerable. Besides, a radical change can open up new opportunities with a different approach to life. A different occupation give us a fresh start.
    And it takes guts to turn your back on what has always been one’s way of surviving. Even more so if it means earning less money.
    There is something to be said, in my opinion, for the defiant “fuck this, I deserve better!” war cry πŸ™‚
    As a rallying cry, it is just as brave as the tenacious fighting spirit of those who never give up when confronted with a tough challenge.

    However, if you believe that avoiding the stress of teaching and the legitimate anger you feel when challenged by a bunch of little f****ers is an unacceptable cop out, then the way to deal with that is to face up to the challenge and embrace the stress: it will toughen you up and give you a chance to prove that you can be a winner. Are you up to it and, even more importantly, is it worth it?

    The decision is yours…

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  4. Though with less of the emotion that you depict, I sometimes run into trouble of setting too high standards for my general education students in my math classes. Unfortunately yesterday, I had to confront four of them about suspected dishonesty.

    Granted, my emotions are usually deep seated.

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  5. Being taught by you was an absolute credit. You are an incredible teacher and a fierce person. We were brats, you handled us and we came to respect you and admire your teaching. Kids have got hell of a worse, there is no doubt about that. But you are strong and creative. The whole class may leave you wanting to pull your hair out but I bet there will be pupils that will cherish your skills, I know I did. I believe in you ❀️

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  6. You are a brilliant teacher and supply teaching is very difficult- I know, I did enough of it…..You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, life has been difficult and probably feel very vulnerable still….You basically are babysitting them and if they give you an opportunity to teach them, all well and good; if they don’t- it’s their loss the little shits😑

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  7. Poor you, and such a lovely woman! Personally having no experience at teaching at all, I’d beat four bales of sh*t out of any little fu**er that didn’t sit still, do what I said or looked at me even slightly squinty. God alone knows how you do what you do! Why the twelve labours of Hercules would be as nought to an hour teaching those little savages. Me? I couldn’t give coherent directions regarding the local pissoir to a Frenchman. You Alinora are a goddess of instruction. You simply need to believe it a little… xx

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  8. The only thing I have ever taught (besides my teens when home schooling them) were adults in continuing education classes. I wouldn’t have a clue what to do with a roomful of teens. But there must be some way for you to carry on teaching and not blow an emotional gasket. I really think that you are now in a “safe” place and it is permissible in your head to let loose with the frustrations and fears of the past few years..and you accidentally threw it all out there for the kids to deal with. Right now would be a great time for you to stop beating yourself up over it, and know that the kids weren’t harmed. they won’t remember it a couple of weeks from now and you won’t deal with stress that way again. Next time you see the smarmy little brats say sorry, don’t give excuses and let it go. Then tell yourself you DO know what you are doing and there is nothing to fear. Give yourself a schedule for letting off the pressures. Have a scream at the mirror time if you need it..you rediscovered walking with the dog is good for your emotional health so do it ten minutes longer. we are here for you, we care for you, and we all of us admire you for your compassion, intelligence and strength. it is time to believe in yourself dear heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A wonderful, caring and perceptive comment, Suze; thank you so much for writing it and for giving me encouragement so generously. You are right: I did accidentally throw it out for the kids to deal with. Now I can see that, I feel it will make things easier next time around. Bless you. xxx

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  9. I second the comment about not letting a bad day stop you. Maybe now that you’ve let it rip (shouting) you won’t do it easily next time. Teenagers are a hard lot, aren’t they? Keep the faith. You can do it. ❀ ❀ ❀ At least, give yourself a little more time.

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    1. Thank you very much. Now, I can see where I went wrong, it should, with any luck, be possible for me to adapt my own behaviour and expectations so that I am easier on myself and on the kids. xxx

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  10. I agree with Sue, you are only human. I haven’t been following you that long really, but understand some of the anxieties you have experienced/are experiencing. I have no experience of teaching. I am a number cruncher used to working to a schedule in an office. One bad moment isn’t failure. You say yourself you have kept a lot of your emotions under wraps, there was bound to be a trigger to light the fuse, and PUFF, it’s done. Time to move forward, accept what happened, know the signs for next time. Trust me, once you know them, you can control them.

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    1. Thank you very much. Many wise words here. I need to control myself, my own fear and angry response – and then it will be much easier to deal with the behaviour of silly adolescents. xxx

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    1. Thank you. I think I need to get control of my own emotions, something I was able to do – for the most part! – when I was a full time teacher. And, if it is not the right thing for me to be doing, or too soon, then I need to give in gracefully and without beating myself up. xxx

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  11. I think that a good deal has been kept under wraps for a very long time, Ali… and it found a crack to release some of th pressure. You are too good a teacher, too experienced…too you… to let this stop you. One duff moment doesn’t make you a failure. It just makes you human. xxx

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    1. Aw, thanks, Sue – a lovely comment. I panicked and fled. Not good, but forgiveness allows for such slip-ups. It was always going to be confronting, this first stage: Things ended badly when I left teaching (which was why I left teaching) and it has taken a lot of nerve/courage to set foot in a classroom once again. xxx

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