I have a slight phobia of speaking to groups of people. Ok, it’s more like debilitating terror. I sweat bulbous drips of anxiety. My hands and voice tremble out of control. My heart threatens to drum straight out my throat. It’s bad, people, really bad.
But I’m a tough chick. I ride bikes. I once had a root canal without anesthetic. I drink milk after the expiration date.
I really shouldn’t be so paralyzed by speaking to groups of adults.
Last summer I decided enough is enough. I was going to conquer my fear. This was my plan. Each time I was asked to speak in front of a group of people, I forced myself to say yes. I’m not eloquent or well-versed enough that I had people beating down my door or anything like that, but I did get to speak a few times on the subject of writing.
I love writing. I love teaching writing. I love reading what others have written. I love reading what others have written about writing. I love writing about what others have written about writing. You get my drift.
So this fall a colleague and I put together a workshop on how we teach writing and why we love it so, so much. Easy, no? We met twice to discuss what we each wanted to present. I left both of those meetings hugely excited about presenting. So excited that I actually wanted more speaking time. This has never happened to me. Ever.
After our second meeting, I went home to “fine tune” my notes, accompanying slideshow and to work on pieces of the handout. I made good progress on the handout and added new photos to the slideshow. Then I set to work on revamping my notes for this particular audience. As I was typing, I came to the conclusion that every single word was moronic. I re-read my notes and panic struck. The workshop is only two weeks away and I don’t know anything about teaching writing. I don’t know anything about teaching at all. Why did the curriculum director approve this? Doesn’t she know I don’t know anything? None of this presentation works. Especially the end part. And the middle. And the beginning.
Just as I was about to click the entire caboodle into the trash, my husband walked in and convinced me to take a break and watch a movie. Throughout the movie, my mind kept wandering back to my presentation. Then I began to think about apricots. Yes, really.
You see, when I eat an apricot I devour all it’s sweet, fleshy goodness and then pop the seed into my mouth. I don’t eat the seed. I roll it around my tongue, hold the sandpapery pit in my cheek, clamp it between my teeth, flip it over and back, over and back again. Sometimes I do this for hours.
After my meltdown about my presentation, I held the seed of it in my mind. What do I love about teaching writing? I let the seed roll around. What makes my students view themselves as writers? I flipped the seed over and back in my mind. How can I best show other teachers how to take the next step? I mulled over my presentation for hours, days even. Lo and behold the seed sprouted.
I chose a handful of texts to highlight. I wrote a handout on the usefulness of each one. I wrote down easy steps to help students gather words and foster word choice. Most of all, I thought back to when I was a new writing teacher. Back then I knew I was stuck, but I didn’t know the next step to take to get unstuck. I thought of the ways I’ve changed as a writing teacher since that time. All of a sudden, my presentation was coming together.
Now I’m not going to kid myself into thinking I’m presenting new and revolutionary ideas about writing, but surely within the audience there will be teachers who are stuck. Teachers who are looking for the next step. I’ve been there. I hope to give them ideas to roll around in their mind, ideas to flip around as they please, ideas to clamp down on and make their own, ideas they can use to improve writing in their classroom.
I’m sure that while I’m presenting, I will have hula hoop sized sweat rings in my armpits. I’m absolutely sure that my voice will tremor. Undoubtedly my hands will shake. The thing is, I’m just not that afraid anymore.
I’m a tough chick. I’m a tough chick who loves writing. I’m a tough chick who has students in love with writing. I’m a tough chick with a seed to share.
2 thoughts on “Rolling the Seed”
You know, Alicia, the first time I did a presentation at NWP I thought I would probably die. I went over and over my notes, I prayed to God that if this one went well I would never, never presume to present in public again. “Just give me this one!” The presentation went great, everyone was engaged and interested, and as you know, I had to do some re-negotiations with God, as it was only the first of many, many presentations to follow. You will do well because you are talking about what you know and love and are really good at. How can you miss? Just be you and it will be fantastic. Definitely.
Thanks for the advice and kind words, Lynn. When we started putting this thing together, I was trying to sound all professional. Once I let go of that and viewed my notes as more of a conversation, it was SO much better. I don’t know how many times I’ll have to learn to stop trying to write in someone else’s voice, you know? By the way, I can’t imagine you ever being nervous. Both times I heard you speak you were cool as a cucumber. Have a happy Monday back at school!