Teaching

Why I Keep My Student’s Sweet Notes

We had one more night of training camp, whoever made the cut after this night made the pro dance team, and I was so ready to fulfill my dream of dancing professionally.  I had been training all year, killing myself in dance classes, prepping my body for these auditions. There were eight cuts made already, we had learned close to five routines, and exhaustion seeped from my body.

Typically, we would spend the first hour of the night learning eight counts, and then would be called in, group by group, as the panel of judges evaluated us. It would be close to midnight when the training camp candidates would be dismissed, and a select few would be asked to stay to speak to the directors- that was never a good sign, hard conversations were about to be had.

The night was coming to an end, and as the other dancers were dismissed, four girls were told to stay back so the directors could speak to them, myself included. We all scanned the room, I could typically find a pattern with the girls called, why couldn’t I find a pattern?  Butterflies started to manifest in my stomach and make their way into my throat, suffocating me. Before this night, I was only given positive words from the coaches and other training camp candidate, I was so confident that I was a shoo-in. As my name was called, I weakly stood up and followed the woman to the dance room where five judges sat, reviewing my folder.

I sat down in front of them, and the director spoke, “Allie, you are great, but your competition was greater, we are going to have to let you go tonight” The earth shattered below me. Was I hearing her correctly? Was this the same woman that told me that my dancing looked “great” and that they had no negative feedback for me the previous night?

They spent the next half hour breaking me down, my appearance, my tan, my make-up, my posture and even though it was only brought up for a brief minute, my dancing. My saving grace and outlet for years. It was being attacked and I could feel my heart breaking into pieces against my sternum. I walked out of the room defeated, I was the last cut they made before announcing the team, I was one girl away from making the squad and the dream I had of performing again was slipping from my fingertips.

It was 1 am by the time I made it home, snuggled up to my husband with tears blanketing my face. I kept reliving the conversation over and over again. I was upset with God, I was upset with myself, I kept thinking of all the other things I could have done, and the phrase “you’re not good enough” was the track in my head on repeat.

I woke up the next morning in desperate need of distraction. When I am heartbroken, I typically make myself busy until the pain stops. Tyler hesitantly left me for class, and luckily for me, It was three days before staff development and my classroom needed a serious cleaning. Normal tasks were a struggle. I was grieving the loss of what I thought I needed for my life. The same track in my head was overbearingly loud, and I could hardly take it.

I arrived at school, and the halls were desolate.  My classroom was a mess but familiar. I lethargically started to organize my anchor charts, my supplies, I was placing my desks where I wanted them and trying hard to keep my mind off of the eventful night I had.

It was then I found myself taking out a bulletin board from my cabinet. Notes fell from the shelf and I could see colorful hearts and lettering. I picked up one of the letters and it was an acronym with my name-

I picked up another note from a student, and another and another.

With each note, the battered perception I had of myself began to change. I may not have measured up the night before, but in the eyes of my little ones, I mattered. I mattered big. With every word, tears started to fill my eyes, I walked into my classroom that day with catastrophic weight on my shoulders, but as I shuffled through the letters and drawings, my purpose was made clear again.

I spent an hour on the floor reading those notes- each one bringing me a little bit more back to life, lowering the voice inside my head telling me that I was worthless. For every negative thought, there were positive words of affirmation telling me that it wasn’t true. With my students, I knew everything was going to be okay. They opened my eyes to what really mattered. 

Not making the team was the end of an era for me, this wasn’t the first team I had tried out for, dance is something I have always wanted to pursue. But in hindsight, dancing for a sport’s team wasn’t the path I needed. I don’t mind constructive criticism about my dancing, I encourage it, but what I do mind is someone telling me to change who I am to fit a role I was never intended to fill. I was constantly forcing myself to be something that I wasn’t, anxiety would follow me to every dance class and the stealth of brutal competition would be in the air. This thing I loved turned into something that I would start avoiding. I could no longer dance for me, I would always leave a dance class not feeling good enough about my training and it was draining.

If I made that team, I would have given up being a cheer coach, I would have lost valuable time with my husband before he started his job, I would have lost time with my precious students, and I would have never started blogging. It was a blessing and my students helped me realize that the day their notes fell out of my cabinet. They help me realize that every day.  I will still look to audition for dance companies and choreography opportunities, my dance journey is not over yet, I don’t give up that easy!

We are never promised an easy road. We are promised growth and strength. I inevitably have had trials in my life, some small and some crippling. It’s reassuring in those time when our confidence is fragile and we are vulnerable, we have hundreds of students who have our backs, saying that we made a difference. That’s the epitome of teaching, and that will give me strength for years to come.

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