Worried that I’m not worried

I’ve been a teacher for a some time now, and a fairly serious athlete before that.  The two have something in common for me; my need to reach a specific stress level to perform at my best.

As I was an athlete first, let me start with that.  In my first swim meet, I was mostly worried that I would follow the rules properly. Soon after that, I needed to control my worries about how much an event would hurt.  The two hundreds in any stroke, or in the Medley, are just long enough to completely use up your sugar reserves and fill your muscles with lactic acid but in any distance or stroke there were ways to hurt yourself.

Soon, I learned to worry about how I would do in an event.  Would my coach be upset?  Would I beat  that guy I beat at the last meet?  Would I finish absolutely last?

As I became more experienced, I learned to control my tension and stress.  Stress sharpened my reflexes*.  At the same time, if I began to think too much about how much a part of an event would hurt, I would deliberately steer my mind away and to other subjects.

Everybody understands the stress and fear of a new teacher – most know it as stage fright.  Even now, I can teach a class of students but have trouble speaking before a group of teachers.

This is my eighth year of teaching at university in Korea.  Tomorrow, I will start my 16th first class week.  I’m so relaxed I worry that I will wake up early enough in the morning.

I have reason to be confident.  I just finished a great set of summer classes in which the Korean co-teachers begged me to return in September.  I can say this with some humility because the classes were only three weeks in duration and preparing for six classes per group is much easier than for a full semester of 35+ classes.  I was a good teacher and the students learned and had fun, but that’s no guarantee that I could maintain that level for 15 more weeks.

I have reason to be nervous.  I will start a writing class tomorrow that will run four days a week through the semester and I have only taught writing to middle school students in the past – and that, infrequently.  I don’t know how many students and I don’t know what level they are.  What am I going to do for 50+ classes?**

I’m sure I will be worried enough tomorrow morning.


*and my reflexes needed sharpening.My starts were the slowest of all my friends.  You know that ‘slaps’ game where you put your hands out and the other guy tries to slap them before you pull away?  I always lost those games.  I never pulled away in time.

**We will play mad-libs tomorrow.  I will learn their knowledge of grammar terms.



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