3 Ways To Have More Confidence In the Classroom
I love thinking in analogies and metaphors. And when it comes to the topic of confidence, I think of it this way. Imagine you’re walking into a huge party with an awesome, wrapped gift in your hands. And when you walk into that party, you walk in with a sense of KNOWING that there will be new friends to make and good times to be had. You also walk in KNOWING that the gift you’re holding is awesome and that the recipients, whoever and wherever they may be, will love it. And you’re so excited about delivering that gift that you just don’t have time to give a crap about whether or not everyone at the party is going to like the paper that your awesome gift is wrapped in.
In my experience, the trick to having confidence in the classroom is to forget about who and who doesn’t like the wrappings and trappings of my personal gifts as a teacher. My gift is different from the gifts of the teachers down the hall. Your gift is different from the gifts of the teachers you see on Instagram. Confidence is about staying super focused on the gifts we’ve been given to share with our students and this world and doing everything in our power to make sure our gifts get to the right recipient(s.) And if we’re too worried about whether or not we’ve got the trendiest or cutest or most socially acceptable wrapping paper, we’re missing the point altogether.
As teachers we have countless gifts inside each one of us. Our purpose is to give them to someone. That doesn’t mean that everyone is going to want or need our gifts. But that doesn’t make our gifts any less vital.
With all demands, expectations, standards, lack of funding, lack of respect, lack of time, and so on, it can be all too easy as teachers to lose sight of this truth.
If we bring it down to the basics, when it comes to having confidence in the classroom, mine is usually at its highest when I’m feeling prepared and like I’ve done my best.
But notice I said usually.
Because I believe that preparation and doing our best aren’t the only pieces of the confidence puzzle. I can’t count the number of times I’ve known my content inside and out and had all my papers graded and had a dynamic lesson plan with every single material ready to go but STILL found my voice shaking when I set out to explain for the first time the British Romantic poets to a class of AP English seniors. (By the way, how is it that students can just SENSE our fear sometimes? Go figure.)
So when preparing and doing your best as a teacher STILL doesn’t work, I’d like to share with you three concrete strategies that have worked for me, and I’m confident :) that they can help you as well.
I’m also super excited to share with you this week the wisdom and experience from two educators: Ms. Alexis Shepard, who will be presenting at the San Antonio Teacher Self-Care Conference on January 26th. Yes, there is still time to register if you visit teacherselfcare.org. In the meantime you can go ahead and follow Alexis on Instagram. You can find her under the handle @theafroeducator. I’ll also be talking with Ms. Channing White, who is a teacher, a teacher coach, and a self-described “confidence curator.” So stay tuned for the second episode in this week’s two-part series on Confidence.
So without further ado here my three tips for walking into your classroom each day with confidence.
Get super present and grounded in your body. I mean do everything in your power to feel really good and comfortable in your own skin. If you can make time in the morning to get some form of exercise in, or journal, meditate, or positively visualize the day ahead, that helps a lot. But if you don’t have that kind of time in the morning, you can at least take 60 seconds before a class comes in to take 8-10 deep breaths. Breathe in for 8 seconds and out for 8 seconds. And when your students come in, hold your chin up, put your shoulders back, and SMILE. And not just any old smile. And definitely not a fake smile. A smile that comes from your heart. And I’m not speaking figuratively here. I want you to literally feel your heart and feel loving kindness in your heart radiating out toward your students and everyone else in your vicinity. I want you to think good thoughts about yourself and them as you begin to share the same space. I don’t care if this sounds cheesy. Just try it. Yes, even with that scowling kid who never greets you back when you’re standing at the door asking brightly, “Hey, Jimmy! How was your weekend?” and he avoids eye contact and just grunts, “Myeh.”
Don’t take his humdrum mood personally. Just smile and keep moving on.
In one of my favorite movies It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey says,“What do you want, Mary? Do you want the moon? If you want it, I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down for you. Hey! That’s a pretty good idea! I’ll give you the moon, Mary...then you can swallow it, and it’ll all dissolve, see, and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair...am I talkin’ too much?” That’s the kind of smile I’m talking about. Like you’ve swallowed the moon! Or the sun, or something beautiful and radiant, and nobody can touch it or take it away from you. Am I talkin’ too much? Oh well. Then let’s move on to point #2.
Tip #2: Embrace your essence and your own personal teaching style.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
You have take time to check in with your heart. What feels right to you?
Throughout your teaching career, you might get all sorts of conflicting feedback from students, from parents, from colleagues, from administrators, from the community.
They might say you’re not strict enough.
OR they might say you’re not compassionate enough.
You’re too easy a grader.
You’re too harsh a grader.
You care too much.
You need to take your students’ feelings into consideration more.
What one person loves about you another won’t. This is okay. It goes back to that gift inside of you. Not everybody wants it, and not everybody knows how to show you appreciation for it. It may take years for a student to come back and thank you for what you did for them. It doesn’t make your gift less valuable. OWN it! That’s all I ask. Just don’t apologize. Know deeply in your bones why you teach the way you do, why you make the choices you do, and OWN those choices. Don’t second guess yourself. Don’t worry that it’s not the way your colleagues do it or the way your administrator approves of it. Are you experiencing passion? Are you positively impacting your students’ lives? Are you helping them the necessary skills to help them grow? Are you teaching them what they need to know?
If you can answer yes to all of these questions, then be CONFIDENT. Don’t compare yourself. AS ______ put it, “You can be the juiciest, sweetest peach in the orchard, but that really doesn’t matter if somebody doesn’t like peaches…”
If somebody doesn’t like peaches, that doesn’t mean you should transform yourself into a cherry, or a pear, or a raspberry. You’re a friggin’ peach. Own it! Sweet juiciness isn’t a flaw! It’s something to be proud of! And focus on the people who do appreciate your juiciness. Seek out that emotional support network within your school, or perhaps in the social media community. And yes, family and friends can be wonderful in helping be part of that network, but you really need professional contemporaries, meaning educators or those who are deeply connected to the education world, who GET it, who understand the struggle. Those who can lift you up and make you laugh and smile. And those you can go to on the days when you’re feeling low and need a pick-me-up. Your cheerleaders, in other words. The people there are to remind you of how awesome you are and there to help hold you accountable for continually becoming stronger and better.
So that brings us to...
Tip #3. Have confidence in your students. When you show that you have genuine confidence in them, 9 times out of 10, they can’t help but have more confidence in you. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”
As much as you possibly can, have confidence in your students to do their best and to do the right thing. See the best in them. Show them that you believe in them. Treat them with patience, kindness, and respect as much as you possibly can. I’ve taught elementary-aged students and middle schoolers before, and I admit that many times it was easier to build up their confidence because they just really soaked it up and showed that they needed it. But having spent most of my teaching career at the high school, it can be less popular to build up student confidence. There seems to be this unspoken message that once they get to high school, their social and emotional needs don’t matter as much anymore, and they need to become more independent, and we need to be tougher on them. I agree that they should work hard to earn their accomplishments, but I still think that they need their confidence built up just as much as kindergarteners. I had a student last year who I would greet and speak to every morning, and she would just look back at me and sigh ,and barely respond with more than a sentence or two. About midway through the year, she went out of her way to write me a note out of the blue that read, “Every day that I come into your class, you make me feel wanted. And I can’t tell you how much that encourages me and helps me grow in my confidence.” Believe me, my students can really test my nerves some days, and I let them know when they do. But they still deserve my respect. They are going through challenges I can’t fathom.
When I treat them as if I’m certain they are the most amazing kids in the world and they will do great things, and that I expect them to be and do their best, they almost always rise to that. I try to assume good intentions. I try to remember that each one of them is struggling in some way or another. It doesn’t mean to let them get away with stuff. But I try to err on the side of second chances. I try to approach them from a place of having faith in them, from a place of being their encourager.
Yes, I know, we hear all the time, “I’ve gotta be tough on my students! Because that’s how it’s going to be when they get into the real world.” Well, what in the heck is the “real world” anyway? The “real world” seems to be changing in ever more unpredictable, sometimes scary, sometimes exciting ways. Can we not have enough confidence in our students to believe that they’re going to be co-creating the “real world” we talk about so much? And the “real world” of today is hopefully not going to be the “real world” of tomorrow. Their “real world” is certainly going to be more complex and challenging than our current “real world.” And hopefully it will be a better “real world” than it is today. And what if they end up flipping our notions of “the real world” on its head? We never know. So treating them with the confidence in them that they’re going to solve problems, they’re going to have the ability to think critically, that they’re going to do great things. And sooner, or later they will look to you as the one who can help them do those great things.
And that’s when the party will really get started.