An Education in Low Self-Esteem

I think low self-esteem is under-rated.

I don’t mean “10:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m. shift at the strip club” low. I’m talking about that nagging feeling, the “I’m not smart enough, not talented enough, not funny enough, not pretty enough” feeling that keeps me motivated to improve myself instead of posting dozens of duck-faced, high-angle self-portraits on Facebook.

Today, at the end of my teaching day, I sorted through the papers I’d collected, put stray handouts in my binder, and reflected on my lesson plan book. Ten years ago, I didn’t even keep a lesson plan book. At least, not all in one place.  I had lessons scribbled in this notebook and that, but they were spotty and incomplete. And handouts? The hell if I knew what I’d done with them. If a student came up to me and said “I was absent yesterday, what did I miss?” I would have to rack my brain to remember.  Now, I buy Jim Burke’s lesson planning book every year. I highly recommend it, teachers. Here is the link to his website: For the record, Mr. Burke is not giving me any financial compensation to plug his product. I have bought one every year for the last three years, and I really love it. It includes ideas, motivational quotes, suggestions for balancing your “roles” in your personal and professional lives, as well as a pleasing lay-out for writing lesson plans. I keep every handout I distribute in a three-ring binder, cleverly labeled “Handouts.”

Some teachers I have met over the years considered themselves God’s gift to the teaching profession. No criticism was legitimate. No complaint was founded. No adolescent was left unmoved by their brilliance. Some of them even bragged about how crush-worthy their students found them (ew). Anyone who feels this way about his/her teaching is probably not a reflective teacher. It’s only the ones with low self-esteem who are willing to look at their weaknesses that can become bitter. BETTER! I meant “better.” Again, not crushing low self-esteem. Those teachers just assume they are worthless and always will be. They’re as bad as the ones who think they have all the answers all the time.

I think I’m somewhere in-between. When I sit down at the end of my day with my planning book and look at what I did today and how it’s going to affect what I do tomorrow, I usually find several things that didn’t go as well as I’d planned and some that went better than expected. I write myself little notes about what I should do next time, and what I should NEVER TRY AGAIN. Honestly, I’m amazed how much I’ve grown as an educator. But I’m not bragging, of course. I still have a very long way to go.

For example, I have an intimidating persona. Students are often afraid of me. I can be a little impatient. During a test, students will come up to me and ask me questions like, “What does this word mean?” Most of the time, they should know what it means, and it’s part of what they were supposed to study, so I will say, “I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that. It’s part of the test.” By the time the fifth person asks me about the same word, my exasperation is easy to detect. But that’s not the fifth-person-to-ask’s fault, and I should be more aware of my tone.

I’m just not one of those warm mothering types. I have had colleagues over the years who absolutely burst with an “I WILL NURTURE THE HELL OUT OF YOU!” vibe. Just like I’m not one of those ladies who always has on fresh lipstick but never seems vain about it, I am not a “mother-woman.”

It probably wouldn’t hurt to fake it a little, though.

I want to be better. I want to improve. Someday, I plan to hand out teacher evaluations to my students at the end of the year. Someday, when I’m ready to hear what they have to say. I will have to be a bit more on top of my game than I am right now. This year, I started out with three strikes against me: a new class, a new textbook, and morning sickness. I was grouchy, to say the least. I was flustered. I floundered. I believe I got my legs under me and have really pulled it together since December, but the initial impression made on some of my more truculent students is likely to stick for a long time. And I don’t want to read evaluations that tell me what a horrible witch I am. When I do prepare the evaluations (someday), I think I will leave very little in the way of free response opportunities. What I really want to know is what they found helpful. What did they learn? How did they learn it?  What do they wish I’d done more? Less? Do they feel well prepared for the next level? I remember filling these out in college and never writing anything in the free response section. Too much work. And by the time the class was over, I was pretty much over any negative feelings I had about the instructor anyway. Bygones, they were.

That’s one thing about the teaching profession that I’ve always loved: the opportunity to begin anew, every year. Sometimes, every semester. To look back on the mistakes and say, “Bygones,” and move on. To be better than I was before. Wiser.

But don’t worry. I’m not getting all full of myself or anything.


About Mrs Odie

Friendly Pedant; Humble Genius
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1 Response to An Education in Low Self-Esteem

  1. Tracy says:

    Just checked out that Jim Burke website-there’s some great stuff on there (the book you mentioned, but also some handout .pdfs and AP info. and whatnot), so thanks!

    I think it’s positively inspirational to think you can see yourself getting better at teaching as time goes on. Nothing like a teacher who keeps on learning! For me, it’s particularly motivating because although I’m in my 8th year teaching, it’s only my 3rd year consistently teaching the same thing (HS English), and still it’s also my first with an AP group. I come up with a new and miraculously revolutionary idea for planning my lessons I’d say about every other month…and then it undoubtedly fades into obsolescence for me, and it’s time for another hair-brained idea. I keep trying new ones, but have yet to find one that sticks/actually works. I really love what I do because I think it just so happens to suit my personality and interests perfectly (does that sound selfish?) but that doesn’t mean I’ve cracked the code.

    And I don’t think any of what you say about your work sounds remotely close to being full of yourself. Self-reflection is how people get better at things, and with the blog and things you write about your life and your work, it’s clear that you’re a reflector (that sounds like something on a bike helmet, but you know what I mean).

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