May Lu

Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

A Little Throwback in Light of This Week’s F2F

Bitmoji ImageOur second F2F is this weekend and I am excited, nervous, scared and probably feeling a lot of the emotions everyone is feeling too. I can feel the positive energy and spirits of the various teachers that make up this cohort which is so incredibly motivational and inspiring. As I mentioned in our last Twitter chat, I wanted to write a blog post about something that I’m just slowly getting comfortable sharing as openly as I have this year.

I get anxious too.

I have a very outgoing personality, but I am not someone who thrives off the energy of socializing.  Sometimes, I am not trying to be friendly, I am not trying to be very talkative but it just comes out that way–it’s my word vomit, it’s my way of coping. Social settings scare me. I hate meeting people, I hate small talk, I hate socializing and I start the mental prep for things like our F2F sessions about a week in advance. I need to mediate my emotions and nerves. It takes me a week to prepare for it mentally, not because of the people, I fully trust and believe that those in this cohort support me, I am just that scared. I often use rambling and excessive talking as a way to avoid social interactions with other people; not because I don’t want to hear about others but because the voices in my head just keep multiplying and talking and talking and they won’t let me calm down. They start scaring me, intimidating me and overwhelming me. I promise I am not trying to interrupt, be rude or not listen, I just internally panic and when that panic ensues, I talk, and talk, and talk, and talk. Sessions like our F2F really scare me in that I worry a lot about coming off as rude or not wanting to hear other teachers out. They stress me out because I constantly worry about interrupting other teachers or panicking

A lot of you can probably relate to these feelings really well. A lot of you have probably dealt with similar feelings, emotions and hopefully think I am not crazy when I say these voices in my head often overwhelm and hinder me. I specifically italicized that because I had one time said that to a person in my past and received a response I have never ever forgotten. On top of a laugh like I was a joke, I received the following response:

Everyone has these “voices” you claim to be dealing with.  Everyone deals with it. It’s not overwhelming, you just need to find a way to deal with it like everyone else does. 

It broke me. I won’t lie. I can still picture their face and their fingers in the air as they air quoted my fears and choice of words in saying, “voices”. Sometimes, it still brings tears to my eyes to think that someone would laugh me off like that.

Bitmoji ImageIt’s funny because I just had my laser eye surgery a couple days ago. My students were all excited asking how it went and if I was excited to never need glasses again. I was straight out honest with them. I told them: my anxiety was through the roof. Before the surgery began, I was asked to take a pill that was apparently an “anti-anxiety” medication to help patients calm down during the procedure. I took the pill thinking that this would be excellent. I wouldn’t have to worry about my coping mechanisms or anything! WRONG. I was extremely anxious that I saw that person’s face again. The doctors said this pill made sure that I wouldn’t be anxious, so why was I so anxious?! The minute the surgery started, I panicked, but he was holding my head absolutely still. My right hand instantly started opening and closing my jacket zipper–I probably zipped and unzipped my zipper at least a hundred times in the procedure. My left hand started squeezing my thumb, remnants of bruising can confirm that one. I was counting in my head, trying to think about meditation, trying to breathe but I was so overwhelmed. Odd thing is, I wasn’t scared of the procedure but in the moment I was so overwhelmed by all the people, the voices, the doctor who didn’t even tell me his name, the weird orange light, and the lady counting down. I was anxious because, I just was.

This entire experience (and talking to Lisa Betterncourt) reminded me of an old blog post I wrote. Now I won’t be sharing the entire post, just parts of it. To contextualize the start of this post, I used to host science shows with a close friend. He was the absolute opposite to me: he would purposely play devil’s advocate, be pedantic just to annoy me, extremely disorganized (annoyingly so), but one of the most creative minds I have ever met. He used to purposely annoy me because “it was funny” but make up with a banana pecan muffin, because #teamwork.

Every Race has a Finish Line

August 18, was bittersweet. It was a last of many. This was the last day I would teach in a building I had taught in for the last 8 years. It was the last day I would sing ridiculous songs in front of hundreds of kids. It was the last day he and I would bicker. For some reason, he would purposely cause banter and bickering between us for the sake of being argumentative or as he would say, pedantic. For some reason, I would just as easily participate in this bickering because that was what made us, us. Then, he would give me a banana pecan muffin as truce…that was our peace offering. With a letter in hand and a loud paper bag that held the banana pecan muffin—I walked away as he said, “this is the last banana muffin I will buy you.” Even now, I can only wonder—how in the world did he forget to mention the pecans?!!?

This is where it all begins. For every young adult, that first step into starting a career is the most terrifying, exciting and thrilling experience. With the memories stored in a banana pecan muffin, I was trying to root myself in a new community. Like anyone who has to adjust to a change in pace, I found myself trying to steer through the motions, holding onto whatever piece of my identity I could. The fear if getting complacent, the fear of no longer challenging myself to try new things and to push myself was a worry I held quite dear to me.

​I am lucky. I am incredibly fortunate to be thrown into a position that propels my creativity exponentially, leaving no limits to my thoughts, ideas and ability to create thought provoking and meaningful lessons. A huge load for a little me, but hey, we try hard things, right? Basking in my love for being creative and being a teacher, I got lost. I mean, here I am justifying to myself: I am still bubbly, I still am spunky, I still run, I still profoundly love my job and teaching, I am still aiming to engage and be creative, I am still driving inquiry forward—all these things are me, right? I am still me, right? But this is when it hit me—why am I justifying anything to myself? When did I begin falling into the motions of a community, feeling like I needed to justify pieces of my identity? How did I find myself in a community and home where I felt guilty to go for a run?

On one hand, it is easy to see running as “just a hobby” or “just a sport”, but I am not going to apologize for what I think is one of my greatest strengths. I think what is seen as a weakness in one set of eyes, is one of the most impactful and meaningful self-awareness and mindful experiences I have propelled myself into.

​I can say all that confidently now like I am some badass but that took time. It took a lot of time, reflection and guess what—mindfulness while running. If you scroll down to the bottom, you’ll read about a tale where I did THE hardest workout I have ever done with my race team mentor and a mentor who I called Karl for reference. I can still picture the tears and excruciating pain I felt during that one. It’s a terrifying workout that I fear every marathon season. Last season, I was lucky enough to run it with my race team mentor. This season, lucky for me—they changed the workout. Instead of a 2km warm-up, 12km at marathon pace, 2km cool-down, the workout was a 2km warm-up, 12km a marathon pace, and after every 2km you run, the next two had to be 10 seconds faster per km, then finally a 2km cool-down. You mean you want to take the hardest workout that I have the biggest mental block for and make it harder?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

What a lesson learned. What a hard, challenging and crazy workout. Was I successful? Yes, I lived to tell the tale; hence, you’re reading this now, but it did not come without its doubts and hesitations. Anything that is hard is scary. Life is scary. It’s confusing sometimes and is full of doubts and hesitations. That’s why we have to tackle it head on. One foot in front of the other, again and again, until you get there, until you accomplish something you never thought you yourself could do. I ended that workout with 2 kilometers at a 4:15 pace. In context, I couldn’t even run that pace for 100m 2 years ago. ​

For some reason, that run made me remember. It made me remember the thrill of doing a science show for hundreds of people. It made me remember coaching and the growth of the students. It made me remember the pillars of wellness that I make a point to emphasize in my classroom. It made me remember that everything I have done, am doing, and will do will be challenging no matter where I end up. It made me remember what it felt like to be in a school culture and community where I felt like I was thriving and that my creativity, running and overall identity brought life, inspiration and motivation to the community. It made me remember that no matter where I go or where I end up—I will always love teaching. I will always form irreplaceable rapports with my students and most importantly—I will still have impact.

​If impact is my strength, impact will be a part of me wherever I roll on over to. The dude who gave me that banana pecan muffin wrote, “you won’t even be able to measure the positive impact you have brought to our community.” Every step I take to improve myself in my running is a moment I can share with my students. Running to me is about taking something that is hard, something where I have a mental block and trying to overcome that fear within me to improve myself. Running to me is about building strength (physically and mentally) and it is about training my resilience, practicing creativity and learning to challenge myself to “try hard things.” Running is really a big metaphor to me on how I approach life and teaching. This run made me realize that if this habit and/or lifestyle makes me lesser than, or “not a good fit”, then this is where I needed to draw my line. I want to thrive, but I want to thrive while being honest and genuine to what I love and the best possible geeky, nerdy, bubbly version of me (which funfact: includes running).

This blog post is years old. I merely bring it back because this entire cohort experience has reminded me about the impact we have on students and the community we are building in our classrooms. I have had many lessons in my own growth this year but I’ve also been very open about the lessons I’ve learned with my students. I’ve told them when I failed, I’ve told them when I’ve been anxious and I’ve told them when I’ve been uncomfortable. It’s interesting how many students want to hear about these lessons and how it taught my coping mechanisms, how I channel a little inner mantra to face challenges, and coming to terms that sometimes, I just want to be alone for hours and hours and not speak to a soul (despite my overly friendly personality).

I use running as a medium to share these feelings and thoughts because for a lot of them, they understand it and it becomes easy to relate to and empathize with. I like to say, “this is how it made me feel because this is how I process things, but you might feel differently depending how you process these moments,” or a “this is why I am doing this because I think this will help me grow in this regard,” etc. My students know you cohort folks as “the group of teachers who hang out in Toronto” and I’ve told them that this cohort experience is similar to our group work in the classroom. We make groups with vast diversity and different personalities, we discuss ideas and we try to help each other be better versions of ourselves. They think it’s sort of dorky that a bunch of teachers all get together and chat about how to become better teachers, but they also think it’s “kind of cool, in a nerd way”.

Popping out from a rabbit hole with 'It Me' painted on a wooden sign

So I cut my hair and got rid of my glasses over the weekend. Hope you can all still recognize me this weekend!

2 Comments

  1. Your vulnerability about your anxiety shows strength that from which we can all pull. I appreciate your reflections, and I love how open you’re being with your students about the process! See you Saturday!
    Jenn

  2. Hi May,

    Thank you for this post. I am so inspired by your ability to share your feelings and emotions so openly with your students and the Cohort.

    While reading through your blogs, I found myself thinking of how applicable Brene Brown’s words (“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”) are to you and the work you’re doing in your classroom. Your students (and school) are so lucky to have a teacher who shares their life lessons so openly.

    Looking forward to reconnecting with you tomorrow!

    Cheers, Nicole

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