Episode #216: Cathy Jean François

Dana GoodierOut of the Trenches Podcast

Cathy Jean-François, an educator with the NYC Department of Education, has a BA in Creative Writing and Literature from Hofstra University and a Master’s Degree in Education from St. John’s University. When she is not working on lesson plans and grading assignments for her 7th grade and high school students, she is either writing a new post for her blog, Cathy’s Cross: A Depressive’s Positive Perspective or sending out query letters for her completed novel, The Box, for which she used her own personal experience with depression and anxiety to develop the inner conflict for her main character.

Trench story: first time she experienced anxiety attack and had no idea she was having it. Had quit working for a publisher. Was an ESL sub teacher to adult Russian students in Brooklyn. Before her first day on the job, was thinking about all she needed to prepare, had only subbed with MS students. Felt tightening in her chest. It increased. Lay down in bed. Made herself get over it. Took train from home to school. Then realized a few months later she’d gone thru a panic attack. Also, as I was reflecting on what I wanted to focus on during the podcast and after listening to some of your episodes, I thought of a much stronger example of me surviving the trenches of the classroom. In September of 2019, I was a new teacher at the all-girl public school in which I now teach. I didn’t have my own schedule/curriculum and was instructed to “shadow” some teachers in the school. That December, a 7th grade English and AP high school English teacher had to leave, and I was his replacement. 3 groups of 7th graders, 1 HS group. The students were not shy to let me know that their allegiance to their former teacher was still very strong. They treated her like she was a new teacher. I had to prove myself as a teacher to them but before I could do that, I had to be okay with being their teacher! It was hard for her to be the authentic her. They were so unreceptive to me that it was hard for me to step into that classroom every day and every day, I had to find new ways to combat my anxiety. Had to put up a wall. There were a few st’s who accepted her, so more students broke down their barriers. 7th graders didn’t have the preconceptions. It was a process She had to keep in mind it wasn’t about her.

Qu’s: talk about how you overcame social anxiety you experienced as a youngster. What were coping mechanisms you used? She didn’t. She dealt with it by closing herself off. Made it clear she didn’t want to speak w/ anyone. She didn’t know it was called anxiety. Even in college days realized it was something had to find a way to deal with. Took a breather, was friendly w/ others. Gets on her phone & looks for things that make her smile today.

How has anxiety led you to become a better English teacher and list some challenges you have met through the years, while teaching. Once you’re in front of the CR, you have to just do your thing. Taught 9th graders. Was nervous 1st time she taught seniors. Had to mentally prepare self. Talked about her experience as a student, like taking SATs 3x’s. Started teaching new class, psychology of art. Didn’t quite know what she was doing. Taught it for It helps her get out of anxiety space, telling about her own struggles as a student. College allowed her space to focus. Acted differently. Her coping mechanism- esp. when she had to teach psychology of art. You can’t let them know you don’t know what you’re doing! Just came up w/ things that would challenge them more. Used articles, personal experiences. Coping mechanisms, sometimes let them in on it. Made them to research- like 21/22 SY, they had to do a lot of research on laptops.

In your blog, you write about how anxiety was worse in the summer when you didn’t have work or plans and how your anxiety led you to make an excuse to stay inside instead of going on a walk: When she was single- ppl asked what she was going to do in the summer. Everyone always expects t’s to have tons of plans in the summer. She only wanted to write, watch movies. She told ppl she was going to visit museums, etc. Didn’t enjoy it by herself. Would give self a reason to go outside. Watched tv, wrote. Forced herself to take a walk. Did distractions to stall leaving appt. Couldn’t do it. Felt like a force was keeping her inside. Her sister once talked her through it. It was on a consistent basis. Made excuses like appt. Things she needed to buy. Plan w/ a friend were easier. Met husband & did more outside.

You list now that you’re married, you always have constant companionship from your husband or twin sister. What do you do when you are alone, does anxiety rear its head? It doesn’t when she is alone now. If husband is busy, she is happy to hang out w/ her sister. Husband is teacher so he also has summers off. She also has a puppy. Excuse to walk dog but prefers not to go to dog park. Likes to walk dog alone.  She may listen to podcasts; social anxiety haunts her. It’s not as uncomfortable as it used to be.

Talk about your novel The Box and who should read it? It’s for anyone, not just t’s. Wrote the book in trying to understand depression. She started it in her 20’s, wrote over the course of 20 yrs. Is trying to find an agent or go self-publishing route. Young adults may identify w/ it. It has some intimacy. Character is an angry young woman. Not very likable. She needed to change her character’s viewpoint. Wrote down how she was feeling at the time. Felt like she was in a deep dark hole & wanted to stay in her own misery. Character is so deep down in hole she’s created a box around her no one can reach her. It was the best way for Cathy to explain what she was going through. Ppl can relate to it. Other characters in the novel have their battles with depression. It’s helped her find out more about her own battle w/ depression. Keep an eye on her website for when she will find a publisher.

Wants to talk about app clubhouse– convo rooms. Hosts a room every Sat. @ 11 EST-lasts about 1 hr. Met someone in Sept. thru her sister. Talks about mental health. Today was about pathological liars- is it a disorder? previously about exercise helping with depression. She invites ppl to speak up. Being a teacher draws her to doing the research.

Out of everything… Quote or words of wisdom: Do not let your negative experiences define you! Taught 7th graders who were worried about standardized test last yr. Kids are so preoccupied by state exams defining them. During the pandemic it was optional. She had to tell them not to let scores define them. What defines her is educator & writer. Depression is a tool for her writing.

Find Cathy online: Social Media:  Facebook: Cathy Jean-Francois | Facebook

(mostly on) Instagram: Cathy Marie (@cathy_marie1) • Instagram photos and videos

Linked In: (99+) Marie-Catheline Jean-Francois | LinkedIn

Blog: http://cathyscross.wordpress.com

View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/rNxHkajIwu4


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