Embracing the terror

Yesterday evening I presented to a group of teachers and kicked off a big STEM project at the school where the collaboration of our local ‘feeder’ primary schools, and specifically their year 6 and 7 teachers, is going to be vital. I am leading this project out, which is not exactly what I thought I was signing up for when I was recruited for it, but is something I am trying to take in stride.

Regardless of that, however, I am not a STEM-trained teacher. I have had a lifelong interest in science, technology, and the natural world, an inculcated skepticism, and a partner who is a Maths teacher, but I have never trained specifically in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics, and so I have a very real fear that I am out of my depth.

Adding further to this is that nagging fear that I think almost everyone has when they need to present to an unknown audience. So, predictably, I have been fairly anxious and stressed this week about it.

I mentioned this in an email to the senior manager of the project during the week, using the term “terrified”, and, completely genuinely and with the kind of concern that I am glad to see in the leadership of my school, he got me into a meeting and reassured me that all was fine and that my efforts thus far had been great. I wasn’t really looking for this though, and while it was a welcome acknowledgement, I found myself slightly uncomfortable in articulating what I actually expected as a response.

This morning, as I arrived, I had a short conversation with another colleague, someone who knows me and my work style well and who I trust greatly, and we discussed the project. I said I was feeling a little scared about how well the presentation went because it now meant that the hard work would begin and that, not being STEM trained, I felt out of my depth. Her response was similar to the senior leader, but I immediately gained a clearer idea of why this felt strange.

Me expressing that fear, I realised, was not about an unwillingness to proceed, or a cry for validation or even a search for help. Instead it was more about me acknowledging to myself the anxiety that comes naturally when anyone steps beyond their comfort zone. I think what I was looking for is that sense of solidarity; the “I know what you’re going through, and it’s ok to feel that way” response.

My colleague’s response was really interesting: “You’re a lifelong learner.”

What she meant was that, anytime we try to do something new, to push ourselves beyond the comfort zone we live within, there is an element of discomfort that exists. We discussed this a little and moved on, but it is an important point.

Sometimes that discomfort will express itself as fear, as with this presentation. But it is just as likely to be a sense of frustration, or dislocation, or even pain (perhaps when pushing physical boundaries, for example). We don’t learn unless we are pushing through these kinds of boundaries, and being a ‘lifelong learner’, of necessity, means existing within that zone, at least for some periods of time. Without it, the satisfaction of achievement is hollow and meaningless.



A tribute to the eclectic mind

I’ve been considering a blog for a long time. I’ve started, stopped, re-started, wondered about my audience, stopped, moved to new projects, re-started… it’s an unending loop of tragic incapacity to stick to a regular writing routine.

I hope this blog is different.

Instead of the usual focus on one particular part of life, I intend, rather, to break from the perceived mould of person-as-occupation and take a more holistic approach. This is, fundamentally, because I am more than what I do. I am a product of multiple streams of interest, philosophy, necessity and response, all interacting in surprising ways. The ways that I, or anyone else, approach their profession is a product of the ways in which they conduct their personal interests, family lives, thought processes and political affiliations (inter alia), and I don’t think you can divorce this from such discussions. So, while this can, in some ways, be seen as a professional blog, it is not only that.  I intend to discuss politics and values, ideas and experiences, both within and outside the teaching profession.

In order to do that, I may choose to engage with topics well beyond just the practice of a teacher in early 21st century South Australia. I might tie them back in to a professional theme, but then, I might not. Sometimes you might only get a word, or a picture. In any respect, I hope it will make you think. If not, well, at least it made me think, and in the eternal echo chamber of the blogosphere, maybe that’s all that matters…?