Before I start talking about my fears and ways of conquering them, it might be interesting to define what fear is (The Free Dictionary)
- a feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger
a state or condition marked by this feeling
a feeling of disquiet or apprehension
extreme reverence or awe, as toward a supreme power
a reason for dread or apprehension
Now, based on my observations and my own experience in ELT, I'd like to list all the possible fears a teacher may face:
Looking at the list, one notices immediately that the most prominent feature is the fear of lost, deficiency or absence of certain attributes. Teachers are afraid of either losing something they once possessed or lacking something they believe a successful professional should have. A successful teacher is supposed to have a job, a good reputation, a lot of positive energy and control over their classes. A good teacher should be patient and tolerant. An ideal teacher is not supposed to make mistakes and knows all the answers... Once teachers feel they may be losing some of these attributes, they start feeling frustrated. And frustrated teachers are not happy teachers.
fear of losing the job
fear of losing one's good reputation
fear of losing the energy and enthusiasm to cope with all the challenges of the job
- fear of losing control over classes
- fear of losing patience and tolerance
- fear of failure (i.e. making mistakes or not having enough knowledge)
- fear of not being able to keep up with younger colleagues and with new technologies
Throughout my career I've experienced most of the fears, or rather anxieties, but luckily not all of them at once. When I was very young, my major concern was to keep my students under control. I felt insecure in front of the class, slowly coming to grips with principles of good classroom management. I also had to work hard to build a good relationship with my students. Young teachers tend to be too friendly and tolerant, which can sometimes cause trouble with discipline. I remember that back then I was a little impatient too. I wanted to manage too many things at a go; I used to plan too many activities because I was afraid my students might feel bored. But instead of keeping them interested and motivated, I sometimes overwhelmed them with meaningless tasks. I also remember being paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake or not knowing the correct answer. Inevitably, my students could sense my fear and as if on purpose they asked many questions to some of which I didn't know the answer. On the other hand, I didn't care about my reputation very much because I was young, carefree and confident. I actually took my good reputation for granted and it didn't even cross my mind that I could ever be jobless, mainly because there was an enormous resource of optimism and energy within me - sometimes difficult to focus and control, though.
When I got a little older, I found my reputation more important but not so automatic; I believed I had to work hard, continuously and selflessly to get something in return - a degree from university was not enough any more. I've recently come to believe that it would be a real inconvenience to lose my beloved job. Of course, I might as well try something different but I desperately want to teach. I still have a lot of energy and enthusiasm but now I can use them more effectively. And if I can't come up with the appropriate phrase or piece of information, I turn it to my advantage: I can give my students a little task for their homework.
When I think about it, I never had to consciously conquer the fears; they were there and out of the blue, they just went away. Fear is simply part of our lives; it is there to teach us a lesson. It helps us change and grow. Of course, fear that is paralyzing and hinders our development should be taken care of. But ordinary fear will usually disappear as we become wiser and more experienced. I'm not implying that fear should be ignored; it should be dealt with, but in a peaceful way: through reflection, hard work, connecting with fellow teachers and creativity.
Finally, here are a few 'ifs' in case you need a little heads up ....
If you are afraid of losing your job, always have plan B. But keep on working hard and do your best to avoid having to use plan B.
If you are afraid of losing your reputation, remember that you can get a reputation from very small things. But ...
Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. (Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln's Own Stories)
If you are afraid of losing the energy and enthusiasm to cope with all the challenges of the job, don't waste your energy and make sure you recharge batteries. Meditate, rest, pursue your interests, sing, listen to music, dance, write, compose, blog, etc.
If you are afraid of losing control over classes, remember that if you establish an atmosphere of acceptance, stability, friendship, tolerance and freedom, people will listen to you voluntarily. But also: “Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.” (Thomas a Kempis)
If you are afraid of losing patience and tolerance, try not to expect too much from your students. And as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Patience and fortitude conquer all things”. Good things come to those who wait but they come in small packages.
If you are paralyzed by the fear of failure, remember that it is not knowledge and loads of information that make us good teachers - it is the ability to motivate our students to discover the knowledge for themselves; it is the power to pass on the passion for learning, searching, discovering, inventing, creating and innovating.
If you feel you are falling behind in any way, ask for help. Don't try to conquer the fear on your own. There are people out there who are eager to help you - just go and search for them!
*Goal 14: Conquer a Fear