What I Wish My Students Knew About Being a Teacher With Anxiety
But now, I want to give the other side of the story. And it may not be what you think.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. I have a passion for learning. I love the silliness and drama of my 11-year-old students. I know I’ve had a positive impact on their lives, and that fulfills me.
But teachers? We’re human, too. Really. You may see us laugh or yell, but we also cry in the dark and keep our biggest fears secret. We’re really not much different from our students, just older.
As for me – well, I’ve always known that empathy is perhaps my best trait. And I’m proud of that. In my opinion, it has helped me to relate to many of my students, especially in hard times. But it comes at a price. You see, I battle anxiety. Every. Single. Second. Both generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. Both can and are often terribly debilitating. But I won’t let you see that. I’m good at hiding it. Trust me, you would never know.
I’m also fighting depression. Hard. This is a battle that I don’t really ever seem to win, but I guess I’m not losing, either. Sometimes this keeps me from being the best me, which disappoints me, but I carry on.
As a teacher battling anxiety and depression, I struggle in crowded hallways. My head spins and I’m consumed with what everyone else thinks. Yes. I worry about what my students think of me. Didn’t consider that, did you? And while I hate to admit it, it destroys me when I hear the slightest negative comment about me or my class. And I do lose sleep over it.
The noisy bustle of the lunch room scares me, too. I often try to avoid it, actually. Just like I did when I was in tenth grade, and I spent my entire lunch hour every day in a bathroom stall. Yes, anxiety has been with me for that long. 25 years, actually. But I manage.
Of course, I also have to deal with discipline. And I hate it. My heart races and I feel lumps in my throat and stomach, but I have to do it. I still worry that you hate me. I still lose sleep.
There are also times when I feel like I’d rather be in front of a firing squad than in front of my class. I feel judgment from every angle, and it feels like I’m suffocating. Observations from my principal, however, are probably the absolute worst.
I wish you knew how fragile I feel, and I wish you could view this with compassion. The slightest negativity or yawn or laugh behind my back can make me lose sleep wondering where I went wrong. It hurts. I work so, so hard. You have no idea how many nights I’ve told my own kids I can’t play with them because I was grading your papers or creating activities. And the crater in my stomach widens every time I feel unappreciated. I feel so worthless. It’s my depression speaking – I know I’m not worthless – but I feel that way. And I struggle with the fight between my mind and heart.
There is a silver lining, however. That empathy I mentioned? I’m always in tune with how my students are feeling. I’m very intuitive, and when I sense pain in my students, I hurt, too. I want to make things better. I want mean people to be kind and those who are hurting to feel loved. But most of all, I want to relate to you. And you to me. Because I’ve always felt so desperately alone in my struggle with depression and anxiety, and one of the worst feelings is loneliness. It’s horrible to feel misunderstood. But I do understand. I want you to know that. I understand. I wish you knew.
There is so much I want to say, but instead I smile. I sometimes have to feign enthusiasm to get through my day, but I truly do want to inspire you. I want to be the best “me” I can be for you. I love you dearly and I do understand. I do care. I know you struggle. I wish you also knew that I struggle, too. But most of all, I want you to know: we’re all in this together.
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