The Struggles of Asking for Help

11264060-art-tree-with-math-symbols-for-your-designBy Sabrina Bong — When I was in first grade, I discovered that I struggled a lot with math.

It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the concepts of adding and subtracting, I just didn’t have that ability to do mental math easily. There were times when other kids would be shouting out the answers to 15 – 8, and I was still thinking in my head, “15, 14, 13, 12 …” As I got older, my confidence in math class increased a little, but I realized that math was always going to be something I would have to take a little more time on, work a little bit harder at.

It’s hard for me to admit that I struggle with something. I worry that if I ask for help, I’m going to look weak, or incapable of doing my job. I’m especially concerned about asking for help my first year on the job. What will my principal think of me? My coworkers? The team I work with at the administration building? Will people wonder why in the world I got hired if I ask for help? Worse yet, will they fire me for not being able to do something?

When I was an intern, I struggled with classroom management. For me, it is hard to teach and correct students’ behaviors. I get frustrated with myself for not being able to manage a classroom with the ease I have seen from many of the teachers at my school. And this struggle continues to this day. I teach two classes of seventh graders about careers, and it has been an uphill battle.

I tried to figure out my struggles on my own. I asked other teachers for strategies. I tried different techniques that I read about online. But nothing seemed to work. Some of my students were still rowdy and disrupting the entire class. I managed the best I could with them, but didn’t get too far.

And then, one of my supervisors did a walkthrough on my class.

In his feedback, he did not say I was a bad teacher. He did not say I was a bad counselor. He simply asked me to contact him so we could speak about what he had observed.

I remember seeing that email and trying not to cry. I felt as though I had failed at my job. I was worrying that I was going to get fired. I remember one of the other counselors asked me how my walkthrough went and I just started crying. I was so used to being told that I was a great counselor, and now it felt as though I was failing because of the feedback on how my seventh grade class was that day.

In the end, the meeting with my supervisors went well. They reminded me that I was a great counselor to my kids, but I just needed to work a little harder on my classroom management skills. They stressed, over and over, that this did not mean I was bad at my job. They told me that everyone struggles at something, especially in their first year. They still had faith in me.

Now, I am working with other, more experienced, teachers in the building. I observe their classrooms to see how they manage certain behavior problems, and ask a lot of questions. They have been great in opening their doors to me and letting me observe. And as a result, my classroom is getting better. It is not perfect. Some days are harder than others. But I now have a lot of resources I can turn to for help. I also know now how to ask for help when I need it. I no longer see it as a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength to be able to reach out and tell someone that you need a little guidance.

After all, isn’t this what I encourage my sixth grade kids to do? Come in and see me, ask for a little guidance and help when they need it? Now that I have recognized the struggle it can be, I know how to reach out to my students and help them overcome their own fear of asking for help.

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