When Believing Makes All the Difference

One of the scariest moments in training with Nacho was when we faced a huge tree-removal truck that was completely blocking the sidewalk and was actively, loudly, aggressively shredding an old tree trunk into wood chips. The way forward was blocked, and the noise was enormous, much louder than anything Nacho and I had faced thus far.

Our choices were to turn back, to go sighted guide (me holding the trainer's elbow) while we moved around the obstacle, or to believe in Nacho's ability to navigate according to his training: showing me the barrier tape, taking me to the curb, stepping out onto the street, hugging closely to the roaring truck, taking me back onto the curb as soon as it was safe, and getting us back onto the sidewalk. All of this latter choice would involve essentially me being both blind and deaf...I could not even hear myself speak, it was so loud. I would use hand gestures with my commands to him, and I would trust his training.

How often in life do we face similar terrifying obstacles? I am thinking of times where, because of fear, we either stand paralyzed or we opt for the safe way around a barrier, partly because we are afraid to fail. I am thinking also of times when turning back appears to be a better and safer option. Seems like these moments of truth are more frequent than we would first expect, and they seem to be tied to significant life crossroads: leaving for college, starting a new job, taking the next step in a relationship, buying a house, moving away, letting go.

I consider my choice to become a teacher. Fear was enormous in those early days. I had no concept of how to be a blind teacher in a sighted public school classroom. When the bad behaviors from students permeated every hour of my early classroom days, I remember the feelings of panic, helplessness, and paralysis. When a parent told me that her son should not have to be exposed to me as his teacher, I believed her. When a colleague told me that everyone in the building was talking about my inadequacy, I believed her too. For that period of time, I lost my own belief in me and replaced it with sleepless nights of wondering what in the world I would do if I were not a teacher. Did anyone at that time know the oceans of tears I shed or the trembling inside my soul as I walked into the building every day? I doubt it. The buzz of disbelief, combined with the chaos of maintaining balance in one of the more hectic and complex careers out there, had people's daily focus on other things rather than my clammy hands and doubting heart, at least until another drastic failure would broadcast itself from my classroom to the watching world.

So, here I am, nearing the end of the second week of my official "year of service" as 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year, twenty-three years after beginning as an educator. I will be taping for a statewide TV show later today, teaching a guest lesson on college essay writing early next week, speaking to dozens of principals a few days later, and helping choose the next Indiana honoree in the coming weeks.

What changed that young teacher with a broken spirit? Belief, reclaiming it and holding more tightly to it than before. See, I found it again after losing it. I lost it again too, but I kept finding it, as we all can, even when we think we can't, and I decided not to let go of it, no matter what. I chose to believe that my dreams were possible, that I could find a way, that students needed the unique contributions I alone could give. I just shared with a beloved senior student the wisdom from the old saying, that when you are afraid, you just need to do the next best thing you can, and then the next, and then the next. Eventually, you will work your way around the doubt or the terror or the disbelief...or around the monstrous tree-removal truck...Nacho and I did!