This fall, I took work as a substitute teacher, and just last week, I started getting called in. Although I've only subbed for two days now, teaching isn't all that new to me. For three years I worked as a teacher's aid in Japan, forced to perform English sentences to unknown audiences at the beck and call of the real teacher. Sometimes I'd go in with no plan, no script, and I'd have to create a lesson off the top of my head. Working improv is nothing new to me.
That doesn't lessen my stage fright.
Somewhere between 5:30-7:30 in the morning, the dance of dread begins. Will I get called in? My ears tense for the sound of my phone's generic ring tone, knowing only entity would call me so early. Will I get an assignment? Do I want to go to work today? I know if I get called in, I will work, I must work, not just for the immediate paycheck the day brings, but to build my reputation for the future. Yet another part of me just hopes that the school will leave me alone, so that I can spend my free time writing.
Three times the phone did ring. The first time, I hesitated, fumbled with the buttons in the dark, and completely missed the assignment. The second time, I heard the assignment, wanted it repeated, but accidently hit the button for accept. The third time, I was ready, but right before I hit that button, a surge of panic filled my soul. It became a struggle to press 1.
The next three minutes, I ran around the house hyperventalating. While the sensible part of my mind told me to arrange a ride with my aunt, pack my lunch, and find out the specifics of my assignment online, the emotional side of me was busy whipping myself into a frenzy. Oddly, I couldn't tell you over what. I was afraid. Not of teaching, I'd done that before. Not of high school students, I'd worked with them and didn't find them to be monsters. What I was afraid of was nothing. The big, black wall of nothing pressing up against my eyes.
I think if I were in one bad scenario, I could solve it or endure it. But my mind wasn't spitting out one, it was spitting out 20 and demanding I solve them all at once and think of new ones and solve those as well. Now! Hence the panic. But the funny thing was, once I got to school, once I saw the physical buildings, the panic left. There was no more time to prepare. There was only action. Moreover, there was something familiar about the campus. I had never been to this school, but I'd been in others, taught in them, too. My experience hardened over my chest like a breastplate and I walked inside the office calm and alert.
Parts of the day were tough. Sometimes I was frustrated. Sometimes I was uncertain. But I wasn't afraid. The situation, good or bad, had become solid, and once solid, I could adapt to it. I trusted myself again.
The phone call was the worst of it.