Can I tell you I learn every year the importance of being authentic with your students. True to yourself. Some may call it vulnerable. I know there are teachers who have taught for years in the don’t smile till December mode and that is great. I don’t judge them. Teaching like parenting for me is don’t judge it because we are all in the trenches trying to figure out what works for us.
But for me it is to be truly, authentically myself. That means if I feel silly that day and I sing and dance in front of the class I will. That also means I have grumpy days, my feelings get hurt and I don’t feel well and above all education for me is a gateway to who I am and truly long to be. It always has been and always will be.
In my speech class I model a lot. I don’t mean my latest clothing styles. I mean I publicly speak. I purposefully place myself into situations where I also become the student. This is my third year teaching dual credit speech and it was to be my third year modeling the same advocacy speech about TN. And yes much advocating needs to be done where TN is concerned…but my speech was tired and easy. Guess what…that isn’t modeling if you are comfortable. I changed it to a completely different topic and that was advocating for taking care of our Hoosier teenagers. I made it relevant by connecting it the Semi-colon Project.
However, I advocated that we wouldn’t have to talk about suicide, poverty and mental illness near as much if we [Adults] found better ways to listen and support our youth. I identified the issues as I see them in my home, my classroom and in relation to my own teen years. For this speech building up your ethos is paramount and the must have part of the speech. Speak what you know so to speak.
And in my world I know it means a lot when my voice shakes, my eyes go to the floor, a lump in my throat appears. I have two sections this semester and I delivered it to one and I nearly had a panic attack. I started the speech and stopped and admitted in front of them I was so nervous. What a great learning moment that was for all of us. They begin reminding me of nerve lessening methods. I started and stopped a few times and each time was met with so much support. I took their criticism and admitted I would have given my own speech a D. Not an F because I got up there and did it and made it through. But a D. A you didn’t get it at all, but you tried grade.
But the way I felt when it was over was gross. I had the icky feeling of teaching things that are too personal. You know like why I can’t and won’t and refuse to ever teach Jane Eyre. This book is so personal and was such a life line to me in a time in my life when I needed a character like Jane Eyre. It is personal because it matters. It MATTERS BIG!!! I had no idea this would be my reaction, but then I realized it was a revelation of my childhood dreams of being a supportive and loving mother, a teacher, a leader in my community and my very reason for standing in front of a classroom full of teenagers. It truly doesn’t get more personal than that. At least not for me. I imagine the feeling I had is akin to one of those don’t smile till December teachers actually smiling in November and thinking, “Aww crap…I lost them. They know I can smile.”
The feeling though scared me out of repeating the speech for my second section. At least until a little more than two weeks later. I needed time and distance and I needed to admit I had a severe shortfall on this speech because I chose something too personal and something that mattered too much. I used it as a teaching moment and talked about why I couldn’t repeat it till that day. It was stigma, the lack of support, the fear of judgement and their own expectations of me. But I like students to see me like they see themselves and that is as a learner.
The second delivery still skirted on the overly raw emotion and a massive case of the stage frights. But they got to witness me manage my speech and I imagine they felt a little more ease at knowing they aren’t alone. And if they didn’t that is okay…What I truly hope they picked up from the speech is it is okay to be who you are even when it is scary.
Because yes I was scared, but guess what I did it and I survived. No tears shed and they know a little more about why I do what I do. And I would easily give myself an A- or B+. So yes my students see me smile. They see me mad. They see me care. They see me cry. In fact, I am quite known for crying when students deliver big on goals I set for them. In fact, I think we were the second week in and a junior whom I had only ever had those two weeks asked me, “Why do you cry so much?” I thought for a minute and quietly said, “Because it matters.”
So yes readers…it matters. The things we do in the world matter even if you aren’t doing it in front of a classroom full of teenagers. Your kids are watching. Your partners are watching. Your friends are watching and your enemies are watching. Show them it matters every single day by being you.
I am okay with not knowing everything and being the student. -MR