I had one of those conversations today that got me thinking about limitations and confidence. As I contemplate my ongoing work as a teacher (in the midst of parenting, ministry, and writing) I often struggle to find the distinctions between knowing and acknowledging my real limitations and simply lacking confidence.
Does anyone else have anything in their life that they feel this way about?
I got into teaching very much through the back door. I’ve never been trained as a teacher; everything I’ve learned as a teacher I’ve learned from experience. I rarely get opportunities for ongoing conversations or professional development that help me grow as a teacher, except in the cracks and crevices of an ongoing learning life of my own.
And these days, I seem to be teaching everywhere: as a homeschooling parent, as a children’s ministry worker, as a graduate school adjunct, as a teacher for an online diocesan lay institute, as a curriculum developer and writer. There’s almost no part of my life that isn’t suffused with teaching of one sort or another, and this past year I literally worked with students as young as three on up through retirement age. The fact that the door keeps opening for me to teach leads me to believe…I hope, I pray….that it’s a calling I’m supposed to be embracing.
I love teaching. There are parts of it I know I do well. There are other parts I know I don’t do so well, sometimes due to lack of time – time to read, think, process, discuss, experiment, grow, pay attention, check out new scholarship. Other lacks that frustrate me at times are lacks in financial resources and decent technology. There are other parts I know I don’t do so well because I just don’t do them well. I don’t know if I could ever develop certain skills as a teacher because I’m not sure I am gifted in certain areas. Like most teachers (I guess?) I try to build on my strengths.
But there are times when I am called upon for a teaching project when I find myself standing in front of it, feeling so unsure if I am adequate to the task, and not always knowing if it’s just me being tired and overwhelmed and lacking confidence, or me coming up against a real wall because I just don’t have the brain and the gifts needed to go any further. This is not intended to be some sort of false humility, by the way. I’m serious about the fact that I sometimes feel very limited as a scholar and teacher, especially when it comes to my work in formal academia.
I don’t mean to be navel gazing. It might sound like that’s what I’m doing, but I honestly wrestle with this question, which becomes a question of practical import when I’m trying to decide which projects to take on and how to approach them. It may not be popular to talk about limitations, but I sometimes need to face the fact that I have them – both tangible and intangible ones. I don’t like the fact that lack of confidence is sometimes part and parcel of the limitations I face, but I suspect it often is. Trying to detangle all that is difficult. Sometimes I retreat and sometimes I take the plunge; sometimes I serve my students better than others.
Grateful for opportunities, but I do confess sometimes I wish I could put my energies into one or two places, at most, and really dig in wholeheartedly and deepen in those places. Given the current season of our lives and our family's needs, I don't think that's going to happen any time soon, which means I need to keep on learning to do as well as I can putting together the myriad small pieces that make up the mosaic of my working and creative life. And being as faithful as I can to do them well, even when I can't give some of them the attention they deserve.