They were just sitting there staring at me. Not five minutes before, all thirty of them had agreed that they understood their instructions and were ready to get started. I’d split them into their groups, and… then they just sat there. Silently.
And stared at me.
At that moment, I seriously contemplated walking out of the classroom and down to the English Program office, gathering up everything I owned, and leaving. I wasn’t even just thinking of going back to my house to have a good cry and pity party over my absolute failure as a teacher; I was honestly considering packing up all my belongings and preparing to leave Thailand to head back to the US within a week.
Perhaps I was being a bit melodramatic, but I’d already had a really long week and it’s only hump day.
Actually, I had a really long weekend that segued into a really long week. After a few seemingly innocuous events snowballed into an avalanche, I found myself at rock bottom over the weekend, ready to give up on everything. All the work I’ve been doing on myself, all the progress I’ve made, I was ready to tear it all down. I was ready to give up on people, on myself, on any type of meaningful life in general. Seriously, this was the bottom of the bottom, and I got there astonishingly fast and with only the tiniest of pushes.
But then the universe did this amazing thing. It didn’t let me give up.
There I was, sitting around feeling sorry for myself, and the universe just slapped me upside the head like a tough-love mama setting her children straight. For some inexplicable reason, the slap came through Facebook, specifically from a link a friend of mine posted to a TED Talks video of Brené Brown called The Power of Vulnerability.
At first I thought, No way. This is not the universe talking to me about not giving up. Why would the universe come at me with some uplifty talk when it knows I hate that stuff? Still, I found myself compelled to watch it. Why not give the universe a shot? I thought. I don’t have to watch the whole thing if she gets too huggy and uplifty.
I knew the universe was right when I discovered that Brené Brown hates uplifty stuff as much as I do, and after watching the twenty minute video, I was honestly crying (something I haven’t confessed to doing in pretty much my entire life). Somehow the universe had arranged things so that my friend on another continent would post this video and I would see it exactly when I needed to see it the most. How can you avoid crying when the universe provides you with such compelling evidence that you are not alone when you’re at your absolute loneliest?
Needless to say, I found new strength and hope. I was able to move forward in a positive way, and things started to look up. I had a good talk with a friend and downloaded Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection from Amazon*. I felt on top of the world, since obviously I was important enough for the universe to arrange a too-cool-to-be-coincidental intervention for me.
And then I got sick.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I get sick, I descend into what I call “sick fog”. Nothing gets in or out of my brain. I loll about and feel martyred if I manage to accomplish the smallest of tasks, like making myself soup. While being sick didn’t exactly make me descend directly back down to the bottom, putting my brain on hold didn’t make it very easy to implement being more compassionate, courageous, and connected.
I dragged myself to school anyway, feeling like Mother Teresa for my efforts. My morning with my kindergarten class actually went pretty well, but my afternoon class was <cue scary music> Second Grade.
The second grade class in our English Program is notoriously difficult. Despite the fact that it’s their second year in a full-time English Program, very few of them can understand much English. There’s a gang of boys who pretty much hate school and just want to run around like crazies (and don’t speak or understand any English). They get the whole class riled up, and then it’s just downhill from there. I only have these guys once a week, so that adds to the challenge of setting expectations and holding them accountable.
Having the second grade class while in sick fog was enough to make me feel like I was better than Mother Teresa.
And so there we were. They were staring at me, clearly at a total loss about how to proceed with their activity (making board games! See, I try to do fun, creative things with my classes!). I wanted to die, or at least give up and make my melodramatic exit.
Somehow, I dragged myself out of the sick fog and back to my feet, mostly because it would have been worse to burst into tears right there in front of my class. I managed to get them started on their activity.
When I checked in on them again, I realized most of the groups still didn’t understand (albeit in different ways for each group).
I sat there watching them all proceed in various directions of wrong, and then I just turned to my Thai assistant teacher and said, “This class always makes me feel like the worst teacher in the world. They never seem to understand, and if they never understand, that has to be on me. I’m their teacher. It’s my job to make them understand.”
Granted, I didn’t expect her to understand more than half of what I was saying, but that was perhaps the first time in my life that I openly expressed a personal fear of mine to someone who wasn’t a super best friend–and sworn to secrecy.
I let myself be vulnerable. Which, according to Brené Brown, is at the heart of living wholeheartedly, at being able to love, at being courageous, compassionate, and connected. It’s the key to all that uplifty crap, and I totally did it. And then I did it again by blogging about it. I’m on a roll.
I kick Mother Teresa’s ass in lovingkindness.
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*Did you know you can download a Kindle app for your computer? I only made this discovery recently, but it’s marvelous when you’re an ocean away from your favorite bookstores… or pretty much any English-language bookstores, for that matter.