I was the source of my own suffering

Right after my daughter turned one year old, I wanted to commence my career, in my lifetime pursuit, as a teacher. I had received a degree in elementary education, and longed to be in the classroom. I found a job at a private school half way through the school year. I could not wait to begin.

When I started, the principal told me that she would be placing me in a classroom that was struggling with disruptive children, and angry parents. She said it would take some time for the children to adjust to me and that they would really push me to see what they could get away with. I accepted the challenge confidently, and went to work. It was just as my principal had explained. There was no organization to the room, walls were bare, no routines in place, and complete pandemonium every day. Children were having accidents on the floor, running around hitting and biting each other, jumping off tables, and braking things. Lessons were not instructed successfully, and parents were furious.

A colleague who had been in that classroom before me said that it was all about ‘survival’ in there. If she kept the kids from dying, then she had done her job that day. To say I was overwhelmed was an understatement. I tried everything that I could think of to turn things around, but nothing worked, nor in a timely manner. After a month of changing routines, and organizing the classroom, I felt I had made zero progress. I had done what everyone told me to do, but it was still chaos… except for one hour every day, my lunch break.

There was a teacher who came to work at noon every day that would relieve other teachers for a lunch break before she taught her afterschool program. I began to notice that when I would go out on lunch break, my students were excited! They wanted me to leave, and for this other teacher, to come in! They would listen to her, and follow directions. I was amazed, yet, absolutely furious! What was so special about her, and why would they not act that way for me!? So, I started asking some of the other teachers about her. I found out that she had been working for this school for seven years teaching her after school program, and prior, she taught for 13 years. She was experienced, she was organized, she had multiple awards that stated she was the best. She had all the right tools to help turn this classroom around, but was not teaching it. Instead, I was stuck teaching it, and trapped in that classroom.

I would try and ask her for help, now and again, and she would tell me things that I thought were illogical or not really what I had asked for. Why could she not just give me the ‘secrets?’ I started to think maybe she wanted me to fail. Perhaps I was a young new threat to her throne of being the best teacher. She would comment in group meetings about my class, and how much it was struggling. Soon, I began to feel that every time she came to do my lunch break, that she was judging me. I had heard that she was best friends with the principal, so I began to worry about my job, that she was out to get me fired.

The school year finished, and to my surprise, we ended up okay. Students had made the necessary progress to move on to the next year, and the group felt  more hopeful. Barely. To my surprise, I was offered my own classroom teaching a grade I had really desired to teach. However, I would have to co-teach the after-school program with this very co-worker, whom I now very much disliked and avoided.

I was excited about this new opportunity, but dreaded who I would be teaching with. We rarely spoke to each other until a few weeks before school started. I needed to go through the supply closet, which was a disaster from the previous teacher, and I figured it was going to take me the whole weekend to get it done. My co-worker approached me, and as I prepared to be defensive, she ended up offering her help over the weekend. It caught me off guard. To my surprise, I said yes. What was I thinking?

We came early the next morning, and started working on the supply closet. At first, conversation was short and we did not have much to talk about. We had nothing in common, I thought, and I was convinced she did not like me. Finally, she broke the silence and told me she was so excited to work with me. What?! I looked at her with a very perplexed look, “you are kidding me, right?” She said she was serious! She was really looking forward to getting to know me, and thought I had a lot to bring to the table. I was stunned. I didn’t even know what to say.

I kept wondering why she was being so nice to me. My colleague went on, and said she had been watching me work so hard with my other class, and she was impressed with how much things changed after I started. Again, I wondered how she could feel this way when I had felt she had disapproved of all my decisions, and had been judging me. She expressed how badly she had wanted to just jump in, and help me at times, but if she had I would not have been able to learn and make those important decisions on my own, that they had to come from me. She said she loved watching me develop and grow and she was so excited for what we could accomplish working together.

I cannot express to you how awful I felt. This whole time, I was so angry with her because I felt she did not care, or was withdrawing her help from me, but she was actually genuine in her desire to help me be successful. Despite her intentions, I had been choosing to make her my enemy, and be a victim of my challenge and a victim to her. I judged her, and I was sure she knew that I did not like her. I was so ashamed of my actions. I wanted so badly to say something nice in return to her, but for so long I had judged her and demonized her in my mind, that I could not come up with a nice thing to say. I saw her so differently in that moment. I realized her help, although it was not what I initially had wanted, was the reason why I felt so prepared in taking this new classroom. I left that day changed. I had a new desire to develop a relationship with her. We worked together for two years. Our classroom was acknowledged each year by the district with the highest honor. We had the best test scores that our program has ever had, and wonderful relationships with our students and their families. She became my biggest mentor, and a wonderful friend.

I think about that day often, when she and I were cleaning out the classroom closet. I think about what would have happened had I not been able to see beyond myself, and realize the person before me was real. That she too, was a person like I am, and beyond that, one that I had refused to see. I was so caught up in justifying my dislike of her that I did not even realize that I was the actual source of my own suffering. It was never her, I only needed her to be in my self-focused way of thinking. The moment that I changed how I saw her, was the moment I let go of my own way, and developed a relationship that has blessed my life.