Lucia Rotheray, based in Switzerland, reflects on the significant personal growth and satisfaction she has experienced through pursuing a career involving teaching. The piece was first published on her site.
For many academics, teaching is something we’re made to do in order to pursue our dreams of research. We’ve all heard (or been) people complaining about how preparing lectures or exams or holding office hours is taking up time in our already busy schedule.
But while it might not have been our main career goal, teaching does become a rewarding part of a difficult job for many academics. In a twitter poll I posted through @realscientists, I was pleasantly surprised to see that 54.5% of respondents enjoyed teaching and another 23.7% wanted an opportunity to teach – meaning that only 21.8% actually felt negatively about it overall!
I started teaching a few years before I gave my first maths lecture, and I’ve tried all sorts from music classes for kids to business English for employees to undergraduate maths lectures. All of these experiences come with their stuggles and stresses (except maybe music for kids, that’s just cute) but they all also taught me a lot both professionally and personally. Today I’d like to share some of the best things that have come out of teaching for me, and maybe inspire some of the teaching-weary to take a new look at this aspect of academic work!
It taught me how to take charge of a situation
The perfect class of students who are all motivated, helpful and focussed….probably doesn’t exist. When we teach we have to learn to deal (in our own ways) with people who are unfocussed, distracting or combative. We have to get comfortable being in charge of a room and having some authority, even over people who would have authority over us in other situations (for example when we teach people who are older, more professionally experienced or from a “higher” social class).
This experience has changed the way I view myself and given me a kind of confidence I could never have learned from a book or theoretical course.
It taught me communication skills I can use in everyday life
As a teacher or tutor it is important to recognise students’ individual strengths and work out how to communicate the same ideas to a variety of people. This has taught me how to be more patient and try to see the strengths and values of different people I interact with.
The sensitivity training of CELTA and the experience of helping students through stress and exam nerves has also made me more comfortable, calm and hopefully patient when talking to people about difficult topics.
Teaching English and German as second languages has also made me more aware of how I speak and how I can modify my language to communicate with people at different stages of learning. This can be difficult, but it also encourages creativity and trying new ways to express myself.
It improved my language skills
The day I taught my first class in German was the day I realised I was definitely not fluent. But of course I had no choice but to keep going, and the experience of teaching provided both motivation and practice to help me improve my language skills. Encouraging the students to (politely!) correct my spelling and grammar also provided a way to get them talking to me more in class: win-win!
It taught me how much I value human connection
For a long time I thought of myself as a loner, an introvert, a people-hater. Teaching has taught me that this is not the case. The part of my job which involves engaging with and helping people is the part I enjoy the most, even though it is time consuming and sometimes draining. Now as I look for my first post-PhD job I know that I want in-person engagement to be a big part of it, so that even when I’m working hard I know I will feel rewarded and nurtured by the people I work with and for.
Let’s be clear: I’m not claiming that I am now a perfect person. But I am better at accessing my calm, open, engaged side and this has postively affected my life beyond the classroom.
My teaching experience includes private tutoring for sciences, languages and music, language classes for teens and adults and lecturing and tutoring maths at undergraduate level. They all feed into the above discussion, but lecturing and tutoring have dominated my experience.
CELTA is a training course for English teachers which is regulated by Cambridge University and runs all over the world. I took it in 2015.
Matias (a pseudonym), a man in his 30s, shared his experiences of moving to the UK from a northern European country – with his then girlfriend – as a teenager, the sense of freedom and the challenges of overcoming trauma, dyslexia, anxiety and language difficulties in his efforts to pursue a career in IT and user experience.
Anxiety results out of psychological trauma. I used to go to psychologist and it was my daily practise with psychologist to record my sessions and I was always using mobile phone because it was quite useful to record them because then when you have one session with psychologist – lot of information get discussed and usually it’s quite hard to keep everything in your mind. Those records help me to remember all of them, so I can listen to records – come back to some stuff, make notes and sometimes I come back to one record, like, five times because all the times something new I can find. It’s quite interesting because brain basically not able to pick up everything at the same time – so, yeah, so recording will be nice.
Couple of years ago, is that thing (anxiety) became so serious and so strong that I wasn’t able to do anything – it was painful, basically. It was like strong pain, like, in this place where I’m sitting right now, I wasn’t able to sit – it’s my place where, you know, I’m working everyday. I’m working, like, remotely, but at that time I was working from office and it was lots of social – I will not call them ‘fight’ – but, you know, when people dislike some stuff, this is started to grow stronger and stronger and that’s what started to hit me a lot. And, it probably took me about a year to get into that panic attacks.
So, after panic attacks, I getting to my GP and they give me medication – it was Mirtazapine, and they said, you have to go to psychologist. Basically, I went to psychologist sessions and, didn’t give me any results, to be honest. But the thing is, I was always depressed, since my childhood. This was one of the problems that I wasn’t able to figure out why.
So, an anxiety – basically, I was in psychology a lot. I was try to fix it myself. Probably, I spent fifteen years, psychology, to figure out what’s wrong and what exactly making my depression. So depression kind of was a trigger to – and, anxiety too, was as well,….well, depression was a trigger to figure out what – to, to push me to start to investigate what the problem do I have – because I was afraid to go to psychologist. And, at that time, it cost money, you know, and it cost quite a lot and, I’m myself from [Northern European country]. The situation there quite difficult to UK – not the same as here. That time, I wasn’t able to get psychologist.
And, it was quite hard to find friends, actually. All the time I was try to find friends it was misunderstanding – all the time. So, I get the situation where nobody understand me, basically. I tried to express myself, tried to say something to people – I was all the time wrong.
So, then, I started to learn lots of psychology because I find out the problem inside me, basically. There some stuff – it’s not working well. And, interesting thing that that knowledge I was learn – I thought it will help me. So, and, it help me to solve some problems. My depression became a little bit lower because I figure out some stuff. But, then, there are some aspects that you are not able to go through on our own because our psyche.
So, basically, that knowledge didn’t help me that much because I wasn’t able to go through and figure out the trauma. So, after that, I tried lots of different methods. I tried to go into different psychology ways, hypnoses – everything. And then, I found one guy online I decided to try it. He start to help me with this but then, I was too positive about my treatment and all the time I thought, ‘yes, it’s all done’ and we disconnected with this guy. And he said, ‘it’s done? Then it’s done.’
And, then, I underestimate my abilities, basically, and, all of my knowledge I thought I know, actually didn’t bring me that much results. I start to go deeper and deeper into this anxiety, basically. I became very anxious – more and more. It was like – I don’t know how to describe this – it was like a swamp. You go at work and people doesn’t like you.
Basically, then later I figure out that this is my perception – I perceive that people doesn’t like. But then, you know, I lost – when panic attacks started, it’s interesting, because before, I used to like lots of things and panic attacks start to happen, I start to go into very deep thing that I devaluate my life. Suicidal thoughts start to happen. I was thinking, ‘well, there is no point to live, basically.’
But then, the knowledge I have from psychology help me to float and to go over this all difficult times – because I know, this is emotions, and emotions can be rapid and quick and sometimes hard but if you wait, they will go. It will be never for ever.
So, I start my way, I found another person – well, I start to go to hypnotherapy. Because I found out source – the source is in childhood. I knew source down there and I need to find out what exactly. In cognitive psychology they don’t usually do this because in psychology they try to avoid childhood experience. They touch on it a little bit but then they don’t go deeper because when you go deeper, you’ll be sucked in to that experience – into trauma, basically, and you not able to do anything.
I found a guy who do cognitive psychology but opposite. He bring me into trauma. And we start to work with trauma basically and step by step I start to go out of that. It was hard basically, to go through all of them and I don’t think I fixed all of them but I still work at this at the minute. Today, I will say, I don’t have that much anxiety when I tak to people. For example, I have slight anxiety when I see you but I will not say it’s quite hard – I’m not stressed, basically. I can see you there and I can kind of feel you but it’s not damaging my self-esteem, I will say. I feel alright.
So, this is because, we have two parts – we have emotional part and we have rational part. And, they together – if you rationalise your emotions – emotions go. If you not rationalise your emotion – if there is no rational part, emotion will go up. And, this is the play that I do. If I found emotion, I have to understand it. If I understand it properly and step by step, there is lots of them, lots of triggers, I go layer by layer and put them into my mind. And then when I rationalise them, my anxiety go. So, I don’t have to maintain later my anxiety because it almost not exist.
I was born in a rough area. There is people in the street who can stab you or hurt you a lot. It’s quite scary. You see group of people. I used to have very anxious about this all the time – changing the roads, try to go around – all of this. Because I wasn’t able to protect myself. But now, when I see those people, I don’t have anxiety at all, when I see them. There is thoughts that they might hurt me, a bit, then I said – I let them do it – if they do it. Because I cannot control it – let it go, so I basically, let it go. If it will happen, it will happen.
It was quite hard to get to this point because – the reason why I get anxious in these situations is, I was try to stop myself – try to protect myself and say, no way will they gonna hurt me. I was so afraid that they gonna hurt me. And this make me very anxious because this is a kind of block I make myself. So, I start to go this way that, people do whatever they have in their mind. I’m not able to control. What I able to control is, if I see they try to go at me with a knife, I will try to protect myself but if they will do it from behind me, there is no chance that I can do it, so I let this happen. At the beginning, it’s quite scary but step by step, I release – because mind keep this, this shouldn’t happen and it keep on. And I say, no, no, let it go and I step by step, let it go.
Usually, when you see those people, like, there is some triggers but what trigger do is trigger you into some picture in your mind and this picture show you something nasty that you would like to avoid and this triggers next thing. Like you say, no way that it gonna happen. You try to go away and this makes anxious, more and more and more. Because this picture not just project of your mind, this picture is based on trauma you used to have. So, brain thinks it will happen, this moment, but you just suggesting that this will happen, because some elements to what it used to be triggers you back to this situation. But, if you let this fear go, your brain will get new experience and step by step, you start to go more and more experience where you not getting attack. Your brain start to recognise this and then that’s how anxiety go at this moment.
That’s probably what I used to do. Because, I used to go on street. I was preparing myself – my brain will tell me there is a danger. I go and say, ‘I will let this danger happen.’ And, it’s probably took me five attempts to do it and it rewires after that, all of the situation.
It (the reading) helps me at some extent. It helps me to build knowledge about myself, basically. The knowledge about psychology helped me to find the right person. Lots of psychological techniques don’t work, I will say. I’m not saying it doesn’t work for everyone – it doesn’t work for me. The most important in this is experience. If you don’t have experience, you not able to rewire yourself. As general knowledge, what happened to you, is quite useful – it’s quite good to read psychological things, theory and understand this. That will make you – sometimes it will help you to build foundations that you can stand on.
Most of it is social anxiety. I used to have fear of animals – this is gone as well. I used to afraid dogs a lot because it was based on my childhood trauma. Now, somehow, it’s gone. I don’t afraid dogs any more. This is what I find out recently. I just go next to dogs, I don’t feel anxious, next to them.
Most of my anxiety was around people, that they can attack me, basically. The source of this is tI will be abandoned. This was the most painful thing for me. It’s still at some, I don’t know, maybe there is 40% of that, that people will – if people will be unhappy, I will feel rejected or abandoned. This is will bring me back to my trauma. But, now I can get out of this quite quickly. It’s took me a couple of hours, or maybe a day sometimes, depends how strong conflict it was.
I will not say it affect my work that much – especially now, last year, Covid situation started, we start to work online, from home. Stop communicating with people. It became easier – but, I will say, it’s not directly affecting career – it’s affect this way, I’m not able to take a lead in a team – this is, basically, how it’s affecting it. Because you afraid of people judgment and how people will react. Leading positions are always about responsibility and other people to make discussions, decisions and, you know, fights, sometimes with them, to prove something. This is all affected because I am not able to do that much but now it’s little bit better. I’m probably, step by step, going to that direction, where I can be more leading projects and all of this stuff.
Lot’s of different types of jobs I used to do. My dream job was about computer graphics and 3D animation. That didn’t go that well. I built websites with my mate and in my city, we built online radio. He was the main guy who was representing our radio for the audience – I was afraid to represent because I have this massive fear to represent this. But I was like to have this attention from people, that they – not negative attention – positive attention, that I’ve done something that people using.
I build myself interface, design it and build interface. Me and my friend connect to Winamp, when I was around 16/17 years old; it was MP3 music player but you able to stream music and make proper radio using this Winamp plug-in and this what we made that time online. After that, I start to get some connections from Russian music television and I was working for Russian music television building banners and this is where everything started. Before, I was interested in computers. I was build computers myself and then it was get into computer graphics, like Photoshop and all that – animation.
Then, I came to UK. My job was at factory BMW factory, building jobs – all of the random stuff. Engineering job that I’ve done for almost two years in London. I was installing exhausts and I was kind of on lead position but it was hard as well because – well, it was quite friendly environment because it was all my friends. I start to build company with my mate – he built company and I help him.
But, then, I work for seven years in IT – yeah, it was BMW, then building works, then IT. At the BMW, I start to get panic attacks. I almost lost my life but at that time, I didn’t know what was happening. It was sixteen years ago. I start to get antidepressants, changed job and, you know, all panic attacks gone. At that time, I didn’t get it exactly why. I think, I was alone, without people and that’s what makes me anxious. I was without family, I was here, without friends and just working, home, working, home. It was quite depressing.
I changed job – start to do things more that I more enjoy – computer graphics, again, I start to work for small company, marketing company. Then, I met the guy who start to build his company. I move to him. We start to build his company, then, we get fight, split and start to go and I tried to come back to IT again and I come back to Oxford. In Oxford, I get to massive IT company, I start to learn user experience – I was surprise how close it is to psychology.
Basically, psychology is my passion because all the time something new – I like it – I like to go deep into things. I like to go digging down and see how everything work; I like to see how other people react with stuff and, for example, user experience – UX design – it’s very close to this because you investigating how people using your product, basically. What they do? Where is the problems? All of this stuff, I start to learn in this new place in Oxford.
Then, they start to blame me, that I’m like ‘idiot’ and I all the time get depressed after a year, working with people at work because I start to think everyone hate me, basically. And, I start to be less productive. And, this is what destroyed my job, basically, at the end.
I was changing jobs all the time and then, I remember that, at that place, where I study user experience, I was kind of in bad situation in my relationship with my manager, team leader. They said you’re crap, you done so many mistakes – well, of course, I can do lots of mistakes in code, because, I got dyslexia, I’m not able to see some stuff. With code, it’s quite easier because you’re using programmes that helps you to fix this code quite quickly but I still do lots of spelling mistakes and people come back to me, ‘look, lots of spelling mistakes.’ My boss said, look you’ve done lots of spelling mistakes, our client was unhappy. But, the funny part, I fixed all of them, because it was testers who test everything and it wasn’t that bad but they use it to drop my salary.
I was so angry with them. Because, you know, I was working for them very hard, I’ve done lots of projects for them and they all the time blame me and I figure out that they just using me. They figure out that if they blame me, I’ll work harder for them. And this how, basically, it is affecting the relationship of work. They blame me and I will do everything they will do to stop blame me. Quite common thing what people do at work, basically, they can put blame and they drop price that they pay you and you will work twice harder you used to work and you, you know, no energy, nothing,
Then, I left that job. I get new one. And, that new one, I start to work with another guy on psychological thing and I get into trauma, basically. I wasn’t able to get out of that and anxiety start to get more and more and more and I start to get into panic attacks and that’s basically how it was.
I got this moment the fear of that I will be on the street is stronger. This all the time pushing me to job and for that time, I forgot about any fear. I start to hope that new place will be better than previous one. This is what pushing me into new position and, usually, when I met people, they all friendly at the first day and, then, I will not say that I’m – I used to think that I am crap – doing stuff, my job doesn’t cost anything but, previous job, I learnt that I’m not that crap, actually. You know, tiny bit. This has helped me to get into new job, where I am at the minute and it’s much better job than I used to have. I was able to use all my knowledge. I found out that people need my knowledge in this place. That’s how I get there.
But, I don’t think my job now is bad. I feel that my trauma is kicking in in some places and people – some people – triggering this. And now, it’s not happening this way as used to happen, so I able to protect myself. If somebody attacking me, I can protect myself, basically. This is one of the main things and achievement that I wasn’t able to do before. I got feeling that if I will lost this job now, probably, I will able to find new one or, I will start to try to build my business. It’s quite hard to find job that will give me work that I usually like and probably, it’s not easier, but it’s better to provide product that I’m able to produce. It will just be time to find clients who need it. And, if I will find the right clients who need it, then, it will be great. I will all the time employed.
It used to be my dream to have a business. But, then, I ruin it, because, I find out, this is, more about the money, only. I’m looking now for something more enjoyable. That, maybe, it will not bring me much money but it will be able to use my skills I have and people will pay me for that skills. I don’t know how much but, maybe, it will be alright, enough to survive on this money, maybe, it will not be enough, I don’t know. Yeah, we can call it business, but this is probably my dream – I can use everything I know and knowledge and share with other people who need it.
In my back place (in [Northern European country]), I wasn’t happy with my life, at all. The pressure was from everywhere. I didn’t know where to hide. I was thinking to go and study at university – IT university. I wasn’t able to study at IT university because I have to make money – to pay money – a lot of money, for this university. I cost a lot.
I learn English for a year and it was a couple of friends who I said, ‘would you like to go to UK?’ Because, it was European Union, they just open borders. And, it was opportunity to make a little bit of cash. I thought it would be enough cash to come back to my country to pay for one year of university. And I thought, ‘ok, I will go.’ I said to all my friends, ‘let’s go to UK, let’s go together’ because I afraid to go to UK. I like the idea to go work for summer and come back.
Then, I bought ticket – I wasn’t alone, I was with my girlfriend, at that time. And, I said ‘let’s go – this is idea – let’s do it, let’s try and study English-’ I wasn’t planning to stay, to be honest, in UK. It was just a plan for three months, came here, learn English and make money.
When I came here – well, all my friends say our parents didn’t let us go – I was nineteen at that time. My girlfriend was seventeen – or eighteen – I can’t remember – we was eighteen. I bought ticket one-way. Because, I know I will get scared. It was challenging for me to go, that far, because, in [Northern European country], I was scared to even to city centre from my neighbourhood. I always need to go with someone.
I bought ticket for myself and for my girlfriend. I said, ‘let’s go one way.’ Oh, for her, it was two ways because she have to come back and finish her school. It was challenging. All my friends say no. And we – just me and her – stay together. I was so shy, I wasn’t able to speak to anyone. But, you see, my idea was driving me forward. I wasn’t able to say stop to myself. I was so curious about stuff.
We came to the UK and I didn’t recognise anyone – whatever people were able to tell me, I wasn’t able to understand. My girlfriend was little able to understand. We came to Oxford, basically, because, one of my friend, he work here for six months, and he said, ‘go to Oxford – it’s nice city,’ and I learn about the UK that in some places, it’s better not to show up because, it can be quite dangerous. Someone can kill you, basically. Someone can attack you because, well, because you foreign. I heard lots of stories from other people who already visit this place.
And, then, I think, Oxford – lots of students, maybe it will be nice and I can stay for three, four months and we’ll find a job. And, I kind of plan a year what I will do. I save some money – it was £700 – I save for a year. And, it was, for me and for my girlfriend, we came to Oxford, I thought I will find a job in two weeks time. I wasn’t able to find a job in two weeks time. I go to agencies and agencies say, ‘go back, learn English, come back again.’
I was surviving on this money but I met a guy who help me. My friend, from [Northern European country], called to this guy and said, ‘can you help my friend?’ And this guy said, ‘sure.’ And,.we, somehow, managed to communicate between each other. I can’t remember how. He help me – he show me – I met his friends and his friends give me some room where I was able to stay.
For three months, it was hard but it wasn’t that bad, actually. I don’t know why – I was felt freedom, to be honest. It was lots of release from the family that I used to be with. And, then, later on, I find out where is the problem from of all this. It was actually from relationship with me and my parents. That is where anxiety start to grow. It’s based on trauma, you usually get before puberty age. That’s what making anxiety, depression or anything else and that we have in our future life. Because, it’s just the results of that. But at that time, I didn’t know this. None of the psychology was explaining this. Just after many, many years, I find out.
So, it was hard and fun as well, at the same time. I was young, as well, and, stupid, maybe, at the same time. I didn’t feel – I didn’t think that many – I didn’t have that many thoughts about that I will fail or something. I was believe that I will try to do something and that was why I bought ticket one way. And, I start to learn English, basically, step by step. At some point, I start to speak a little bit.
They (my family) don’t know about all of this stuff. This all stuff – it not exist for them. Because when I was, probably sixteen, or fifteen, I get into panic attacks and I ask my father to be next to me as I was afraid to be alone. I lost sleep for seven days – I didn’t know what’s happening to me. Out of nowhere, this serious fear hit me. And my father was next to me and he didn’t know what to do – nobody knows what to do. He stay and he just said, ‘I not able to help,’ and he just left. He thought I have to figure out myself but, not me, not him, didn’t know what is this. I was thinking I’m dying, basically, I don’t know what’s happening, something broken inside me.
To be honest, they never accept me and doesn’t matter what ever I will say, they will put me into – they will ignore that and they will start to push something, whatever they have in their mind and, it will be quite random. So, it’s one of the reasons why that easy it was to left my family, basically, because I never get any support from them, basically. I never felt secure in my family, so it’s quite normal for me to feel unsecure.
My father, he got similar fears, of abandoned, to be alone, basically, but he never show those fears but I – when I analyse him, I know he has those fears. None of them show those fears. There is different situation with my mother, she get anxious but this is not the same way as I do, it’s completely different anxiety – it’s different one. She get anxious about everything but she will always put this anxiety on me or anyone or any members of the family. If, for example, it used to be like that in childhood, that, my father late for, I don’t know, ten minutes, from work, she already anxious – it’s something happened. It’s like, what can be happened – ten minutes?
Step by step – this is experience I get, of anxiety from her but it’s not those moments she gets anxious , it’s more moments she was pushing me other stuff. It was much harder, it’s – she break, basically, couple of things – I don’t know how to explain that – it was moments I get broken, basically, by relationship between her and me. This is where anxiety start to grow, step by step.
I will say, I have a brother, younger brother – he always get fight. It’s not get any support, it was more fighting between each other. I will not say I was try to be bad to him but he was try to provoke, you know, to get out of this situation something, whatever he needs. I was all the time bad person, in front of him and in front of my parents
I broke up with my ex-girlfriend and it was not easy time. I just remember, it was sixteen years ago, we break up with my girlfriend – I decide to stay here in UK – I was alone at this time and it was lots of fears, what I’m going to do next. It was, work at the BMW, night shifts, all the time, twelve hours, six days a week. I get so tired and that’s how I get into anxiety. I start to become alone and all of this stuff, go deeper and deeper. But then, I met, different girlfriend and we stay together for many years now.
In a recent blog post, Claire Rochet, discusses how her social anxiety symptoms have made practising and developing her speaking ability in Dutch, the language of her adopted Holland, so difficult: “being misunderstood and judged is one of my main triggers. Which as you understand, makes it quite hard and even impossible to learn a language. And yes, I know that sounding like a five- year-old is part of the process but somehow, I just can’t help it!”
She adds: “As with most triggers, you get caught in a vicious circle. Learning a new language > What if I sound stupid > Not trying > I am not good enough > I should speak>What if I sound stupid > Copy and Paste to infinity!”
Student music teacher, Allison Kay, from the US, describes similar feelings, in her blog post, prior to her teaching work experience: “In theory, I was prepared. I knew the facts, the hypothetical ways to be a successful teacher, the musical knowhow, etc. But I felt terribly unprepared and frightened and anxious. What if I failed? What if my cooperating teachers thought less of me because I struggled with social interaction at times? What if my students didn’t like me? How would I survive talking and singing in front of people all day, both activities that typically stir up significant anxiety in me? What if I realized I hated teaching? What if I messed up? What if I wasn’t perfect right away? What if I couldn’t manage a classroom successfully…? The worries were endless.”
In her reflective account, she acknowledges not being always successful with classroom management: “I had students who didn’t like me. I felt exhausted at the end of almost every day and would sometimes think too much about the fact that I was the center of attention in a room full of people and freak out. One day, my cooperating teacher said she was afraid I wouldn’t come back the next day after a particularly challenging class…Of course, I wasn’t perfect right away. No one is, and the point of student teaching is that you’re becoming ready to be a teacher. No one expected me to be perfect right away.”
She overall enjoyed the experience, taking pleasure in the positive experiences of children in her class: “This semester, I sang in front of classes and my cooperating teachers every day. I came to school each day ready to teach (mostly!) and often excited to do so. I truly enjoyed most aspects of teaching that I experienced and look forward to one day tailoring my own classroom to grow my students in the love of and participation in music-making.” She describes her approach as “I’m afraid, but I’m doing this anyway.” Aside from her training and studies, she also mentions the supporting role of family and friends with whom she could discuss her experiences and, also, her religious faith.
Anxiety symptoms manifest differently between different people and can differ greatly between contexts – and interact with individual co-morbidities – making comparisons unhelpful often. However, Allison’s experiences suggest that, as well as training and expertise, a supportive environment to challenge one’s fears can help one confront social anxiety symptoms.
For Claire, Dutch classes were beneficial but her speaking was still hindered by anxiety and self-doubt: “I often freeze when someone speaks Dutch to me or if I need to speak it. Not that I am lazy or reluctant, but social anxiety definitely comes at play in this case.”
A workplace can be a place to safely test one’s fears and unemployment and isolation can increase them. Metaphysical Parabola, who has written of her own anxiety difficulties, writes of her experiences having been laid off from a cherished job that she had sacrificed much to attain: “Inside I’m screaming at myself. I was a successful Administrative Professional working for a company I loved and I took this opportunity to go work for a school I loved. Then they laid me off. Then I fought more with my spouse. Then we ended up going back to our original state without a home. Now, he has no guaranteed hours. I have been in a constant process to push the past behind, but I can’t forgive myself when I continuously apply for Administrative work and can’t get hired. I cannot find any way to be kind when one small dream has caused this. I also cannot seem to rationalize a way to express my frustration as I know there are families in worse conditions, but I also know you can’t silence a voice for too long.”
She adds in another blog post: “Words have been hard to compose. It seems when I’ve tried to speak, I feel my throat swollen shut, sputting noises creating an incoherent sequence of squeaks. Writing has fallen into a similar hole, with grasping at the few shards of hope that have swayed just barely out of my reach for months.”
Claire Rochet’s approach to struggling with speaking Dutch is to follow her desires, rather than going against them: “Next step will be to bring my ass back to a Dutch class, when I can afford it and when the situation will allow it, and confront myself to a more diversified array of social situations where I can practice my Dutch and sound stupid. And more importantly, not beat myself up too much if I don’t do it!” She expands on her approach in another blog post: “…I did make place for another voice, a more compassionate and nurturing one. And I can even say that it even felt like it was winning at times, which is something I would have never been able to imagine before.”
On not being able to speak the language – The Bad Expat – Claire Rochet
I Have Confidence: Student Teaching with Social Anxiety – Allison Kay