The [Wo]man in the Arena
“It is not the critic who counts; not the [wo]man who points out how the strong [wo]man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [wo]man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends [her]self in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if [s]he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that [her] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
This last year of my life leading up to Zambezi felt like a boxing match, me vs. me, where I was ready to pronounce myself KO’d on multiple occasions. Broken, marred, and bloody, I somehow managed to lift myself back to my feet each time I fell and sometimes I couldn’t even get my hands up in front of my face before I was hit with the next punch of failure or shortcoming, sending me to the floor again. Somewhere amongst the self-loathing, pockets of depression, self doubt, numbness, and loneliness I lost pieces of myself that once seemed so innate. Relationships became distant. Apathy kicked in. I left my senior year feeling mediocre about my year and the direction I was headed. I was relieved to depart for Zambezi, to get out of the boxing arena, and give myself an adventure filled with new growth.
We are now 11 days into our journey, and I’ve been unable to escape the boxing arena. How naïve of me to think it would be that easy. Each morning as I finish my final bites of breakfast, the all-to-familiar fear and anxiety settle in as Anna, Lydia, Ethan and I prepare for our drive to Chilena Basic School where our grade 6 and 7 students await our storytelling lesson for the day. My chest clenches; hot tears swell deep behind my eyes in the place that I have learned to store them so well. My body feels out of sorts as I begin frantically running the lesson plan through my head. Start with the song. Then hand out journals. Then read the book. Wait…are we reading the book before or after we hand out journals?? You don’t even know what you’re doing. Why am I teaching? I don’t want to do this. I’ve never been one to enjoy running, but I’m convinced that my mind could beat Usain Bolt in a 100m sprint.
I just finished student teaching last semester and am now graduated with a B.A. in Mathematics and a teaching certificate, but I don’t know if I will ever be “ready” to teach. It still does not seem real to me that I could have my own classroom and be trusted with the lives of 150 students on a daily basis. I am hyper aware of my lack of experience, and if you ask any wise teacher, the limit of growth as a teacher does not exist. There is always new research, new methods, new theories to keep up on. I am left wondering how I will ever feel good enough in the profession or as though I am providing my students with the education they deserve.
“Who is important in your life?” I ask the grade 6 students as their eyes intently focus on Lydia and I in front of the dusty chalkboard at the front of the classroom. We received an array of responses–mother, father, grandmother, doctor, teacher–amongst a list of answers you would expect to hear. I walk to the second row on the right of the room full of creaky wooden desks and point at Edgar who is squeezed between two of his classmates on a shared bench. “What about Edgar? Why is Edgar important?” My question was met by a sea of perplexed looks on the faces of the other 45-plus students as they were caught off guard by my question. The moment of silence and no response was all too familiar from my student teaching days. But this time, I didn’t cringe. I stood tall in the discomfort.
Seated at the desk just behind Edgar, a girl slowly lifted her hand into the air as the corners of her mouth simultaneously lifted slowly into a soft smile. “To play with,” she answered softly. The class agreed with affirming nods, and I thanked her for her answer. I continued to scan the classroom to find another hand up in the front row, confident and firm. The kind of hand raise so full of eagerness that the student might burst if not called upon promptly. I point at the enthusiastic young boy just in time to relieve his anticipation and he answered with conviction, “Because Edgar is a person.” Wow. There was a prolonged pause as I scrambled to get on this student’s level. “YES,” I said as I grasped onto his profound answer. I pointed to 3 or 4 other students in the crowd one by one asking, “Is he important? Is she important?” with each prompt being answered with a firm and resounding “Yes!” from the class. We concluded together that all people are important, simply because they are people.
I have held this small, yet impactful moment in my heart and will cling to it as I step in front of the class tomorrow morning with the lovely Miss Lydia by my side remembering that our students, Lydia, and I are all important people just by being who we are. Again I will lift myself to my feet, eat my breakfast, hop in the back of the Land Cruiser, and step into the arena as Ms. Green.
All my love,
Thank you to everyone who has left comments on posts! They keep us going and keep the tears flowing. Your words and love are so valuable.
P.S. Maddie, KP, Leigha, Moogs, Linds- Thank you for helping me get back in the arena again and again. I could not have done this year on my own. I miss and love you all dearly. I think of you all daily. I am guessing this first bit of post grad hasn’t been easy. Did you hear what the grade 6ers said? You are important. Stay green as you each start your new adventures.
P.P.S. Mom, Dad, P-man, and Bailey- Holding a special place in my heart for you all at Great Grandpa’s funeral today. Thanks for hanging in there on graduation/move out weekend. Thank you for all the things I never say thank you for. Bailey, I bet you are kicking butt at work. Can’t wait to hear about all of the things you are learning. Payton, finish 7th grade strong bud! Much love.
P.P.P.S. To any Ferris students who may read this, I miss you all! You too Charlie and Chad. You have brought so much joy into my life. I am so thankful for the time I got to spend with you! Enjoy the last month of school and I wish you all restful and adventurous summers.