Last summer Terron Nolan conquered his No. 1 fear — jumping out of an airplane — and went skydiving. He made a video of it and added it to The Fearlist, a series on his YouTube channel Grit&Integrity, which showcases Nolan facing his worst fears. There are videos of him holding a snake, riding a horse, jumping off a 45-foot pole, and doing standup comedy.
“Skydiving was so awesome,” says Nolan, a sixth-grade teacher at Robinson Elementary School in Fresno. “And it was really scary.” Nolan was inspired to create The Fearlist in 2018, based on conversations with his students. “I noticed many of my students struggle with fear,” says the Fresno Teachers Association (FTA) member. “They fear their environment because when they leave their homes, they have to walk through scary situations to come to school. They are fearful of the future and of change.”
“To see an adult scared but facing his fears over and over had an impact. It gave students the courage to face their own fears, sometimes in small steps.”
Many of them live in a nearby apartment complex and deal with the challenges of poverty, broken families and neighborhood violence. “I told my students, ‘I will share all of my fears if you face one of yours.’ And they took me up on the challenge.” A student was terrified of spiders and touched one. Another was scared of public speaking and entered a student body election and made a speech. A student dared to admit his dream of becoming a doctor — and his fear of not being able to go to college — and scheduled more challenging classes.
As students faced their fears and shared the results with classmates, Nolan noticed their behavior improved. They became more confident. They stopped worrying about speaking up in class and started participating in discussions. Angry outbursts diminished. “The fact that they could lean on their teacher — who was going through the same process of facing his fears — helped us to bond,” he says. “Students absolutely loved the videos and seeing me freak out. To see an adult scared but facing his fears over and over had an impact. It gave them the courage to face their own
fears, sometimes in small steps.”
“Mr. Nolan’s skydiving made me want to face my fear of heights,” says student Tristan Shouman Rangel. “Having him as a teacher has had a great impact on my education.” Says classmate Alondra Torres Diaz, “Mr. Nolan made me want to face my fears. Being in Mr. Nolan’s class made me open up to more people.”
When school shut down in 2020 due to COVID-19, fears that were unimaginable suddenly became a reality.
The Fearlist videos took on a new relevance. Students watched them over and over, and found them motivational. Nolan watched them repeatedly, too.
“My philosophy is that it’s OK to be afraid, that everyone is afraid, and it’s what you do with that fear that defines who you are.” Nolan admits that he has spent a great deal of his life living in fear. He was afraid he couldn’t become a teacher, because he’s a terrible speller. He was afraid of failure. He was afraid of heights. Fear held him back in some ways, and he doesn’t want that for his students.
He grew up in Northridge near Los Angeles, and then attended Fresno State, where he planned to become a graphic designer. But once he began working for an agency to help Fresno youth with behavior issues, he found his calling.
“I was working with kids who had got out of juvie or were in foster care, which sent me to some very tough places,” he recalls. One place was Slater Elementary School, where he was assigned to mentor a child who had a teacher named Michael Robinson, also an FTA member.
“I was mesmerized by Mr. Robinson and the way he connected with his students in the classroom. Because of him, I became a teacher.” Nolan ended up teaching at Slater Elementary right next door to his mentor, who is still a great friend. Nolan then transferred to a school closer to home, coincidentally named Robinson Elementary School, where his wife also works and his children attend classes.
The videos helped him conquer his fear of performing, and he is working up the courage to audition for an acting role. His students, naturally, are cheering him on.
Check out Nolan’s YouTube channel to learn more.