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This post was initially titled Survivor. In my mind I was thinking back to Destiny’s Child and Gloria Gaynor’s survivor songs, talking about how they pulled through and didn’t give up and survived what others and life threw at them.

But in light of the new Gym Class Heroes song, Fighter, survivor seemed too passive. Now, when I think of surviving I get the mental image of a goldfish flopping around with just enough water to keep it alive, but nothing more.

By these standards, I am not a survivor. I am a fighter, through and through. I’ve made it through my first year of teaching, and my first year of a grown-up job. And it was no picnic.

Unlike med-school or becoming a rocket scientist, teaching is not something you can become good at overnight. (Obviously this is a hyperbole and the best way I could think of to get across my point.)

Teaching is hard work and it takes time to become good at it. There are many factors that comprise teaching and you must become good at all or most of them in order to be considered a good teacher. Frustrating as it is, this is a long process. I am an impatient person when it comes to many things, including becoming good at something. Especially when my becoming good at something directly impacts others’ success. Especially when those others are students, many who have been wronged by the education system in some way shape or form already.

I was a mess first semester. I was still adjusting to living in a new state. I was trying to understand the school’s systems and procedures. I was trying to find a balance between being stern and being caring with my students. I was trying to teach my kids on to better lives.

I cried every single day, several times a day. I locked my door and cried. I turned the lights out and cried. I hid under my desk and cried. I was angry at myself. I was full of doubt and insecurity. I hated myself for not being an amazing teacher, for holding my students back. I toyed continuously with the idea of quitting. My rationale was that I just wasn’t cut out for this. My logic told me I was taking too long to become a good teacher, and that everyday I wasn’t amazing was another day my students missed out on the education they deserved. It only made sense that I should quit and allow a stronger candidate to step in, someone who could give my students the education they were entitled to, and had signed up for.

This is how I was already feeling most days by the time my 5 year relationship came to an end. My insecurities and sense of worthlessness multiplied 10-fold. On top of feeling incompetent I felt confused and angry and so very alone. My urge to quit grew stronger, as I began to feel physically incapable of doing anything but moping under my covers in bed all day.

I was in hell.

But I didn’t quit. Somehow, I made myself keep going. Instead of shutting down, I looked for ways to power up. I observed other teachers when I could. I reached out and asked for help. I actively pursued feedback and implemented any and all of it as quickly as I could. I let my guard down and got to know my students better. I started to care about them, not just as my students or my job, but as individuals. I let some of my coworkers become the mentors I so badly needed, both personally and professionally. I immersed myself in work and let it become the distraction I needed during the day. I got my work done to the best of my ability, and then drowned myself in televised distractions in the evening.

Throughout this process there were ups and many, many downs. And somewhere along the line, though I can’t put my finger on a precise moment, I changed. Perhaps it was when I said ‘oh hell’ and got a puppy despite my lifelong fear of them. Perhaps it was back in January when I purchased a groupon to go skydiving. Perhaps it stemmed from a simple compliment from my boss or colleague that fueled me with the confidence I needed to continue to grow.

Whatever it was, however it happened, I know that I am not the same person I was even just 5 or 6 months ago.

I see myself as a leader at work, as well as a team player and most gratefully a friend to those I work with. I finally feel like I belong there, like I fit in. I see myself as a teacher fully capable of leading students to success, and know I will never give up on myself or my students. I am more confident in who I am as a person. I am proud of my accomplishments and ever-humbled by the many obstacles I’ve faced. I feel constantly loved by those around me and grateful for all I’ve been blessed with, and am able to draw on these feelings when downer thoughts try to nag me.

This year I have grown more than I grew in the past several years combined. And I have learned, with solid evidence, that I can pull through whatever obstacles I am faced with. I have learned that the only limitations that matter are the ones I place on myself, and that these are never permanent – they are only waiting to be challenged. I have learned that happiness is a mindset that must be actively sought, and is worth pursuing.

I have learned that I am a Fighter.

“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” 
-Marilyn Monroe