It’s nearly Halloween. The nights are getting darker and the high streets are full of shops making money from our collective fear. Or rather, the ad man’s approximation of what our fears might be. It’s all plastic spiders and fake blood; a poor imitation of the real emotion.
Because real fear has nothing to do with monsters under the bed or jump scares.
Real fear is a much more subtle beast.
Each of us spends our days wrapped in a protective layer of fear. We wear it like a second skin, invisible to others and often to ourselves. But everything we experience in life we experience through this epidermis of fear.
We are all programmed to be afraid because being afraid is our best chance of staying alive. Fear stops us from taking risks.
It is hardwired fear that stops you from stepping into traffic or putting your hand on a boiling kettle. Fear is an impulse, an instinct. It is your brain’s insurance policy against you doing something stupid.
Which is all well and good when it comes to traffic and kettles, but what of life? What does fear do when opportunity comes knocking?
It offers an alternative. A comfortable one. It suggests kindly that you step away from that new (and likely dangerous) possibility and come back over here where it’s safe and familiar.
Fear is the voice in your head that says:
What if I’m not good enough?
What if I’m wrong?
What if they laugh at me?
When will the find out I’m not up to this?
Quiet, sweet whispers that make up the background noise to all of your thoughts. Fear is the elevator music inside your head, always urging you to say no, no, no.
Like a good gambler though, fear doesn’t have just one play. If undermining your belief in yourself doesn’t work, it has other options. Sometimes fear is the voice that says:
Look at her, she needs to wind her neck in and stop showing off.
I’ve made a mistake, I need to cover this up before anyone finds out.
I’ll knock him down a peg or two.
He thinks he’s doing something new, but I’ve seen this all before.
I’m too busy for that.
I’m fine just the way I am.
Fear will do whatever is necessary to hold you still, to keep you from growing or trying or striving or failing or learning or screwing up or succeeding. Fear’s only objective is inertia; if you are still then you cannot come to any harm. Nothing can ever happen to you.
In education, fear runs amok.
Pupils fear what they do won’t be good enough for teachers.
Teachers fear what they do isn’t good enough to share with other teachers.
Head teachers fear what their schools do won’t be good enough for inspectors.
As teachers we are awash with fear, our classrooms are dripping with the stuff. Don’t believe me? How many of these sound familiar:
I’ll take this marking home so no-one sees I haven’t done it yet.
That lesson was horrendous, thank God no-one came in while I was teaching it.
I’m not sure how to plan this but I’m not asking for help.
Why should I share what I do? It belongs to me, not them.
This is overwhelming me but I’ll say I’m fine if anyone asks.
If I can just get to the weekend I can catch up then and no-one will know.
Fear stops sharing, innovation, creativity, collaboration, compassion, kindness. It stamps out the sparks of new ideas, partnerships, magic, excellence and adventures.
In short, it’s a total buzz-kill.
Now, you don’t want to be rid of your fear altogether. There’s the traffic and the kettles to worry about, after all. But you do want to show it who is boss. You want to tap your fear on the shoulder, have it turn round to face you. Look it firmly in the eye and use your best, most commanding teacher voice to say:
You do not decide what I do.
Stop whispering your poison in my ear.
I will choose where I go.
The kettles and the traffic are all yours, but everything else- you will stand down.
Keep looking until your fear looks away first.
Now you are in charge. You get to decide.
But remember, your fear is wily. It has many faces. So keep asking yourself:
Is this my fear talking?
Why am I not willing to give this a go?
Remember that your fear will apply the brakes whenever you let it, so stay in motion. Be restless. Don’t get cosy. Keep looking, wondering, searching. Be curious. Get to know your fear’s tells. What are the triggers that cause you to grind to a halt? What makes you nervous? Prickly? Defensive? Find out then push through. Push through. Push through. Stay in motion.
Remember you are not alone. There’s a muckle community of educators out there, all pushing through together. The fear doesn’t go away but it doesn’t ever get to be the boss.
You are the one who decides.
So get to know your fear. Keep it in its place. Challenge it. Sign up to a TeachMeet. Write a blog post. Get into work tomorrow and try something new.
Remember, succeed or fail, it’s all just learning, it’s all just finding out. It’s a privilege to be here, so just gie it laldy and make it interesting.
Have a great week.