Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Frog's Speech

My nickname around here is (simply) "Frog", or (more grandly) "The Frog", or (dismissively) as "Froggy."  So now you know.

This is important because if you didn't know this, you wouldn't understand who the Frog was who had to give the speech in the title of this post.  It was me.  I gave it this past Thursday afternoon, and admit that it almost had me beat.

All of our district's administrators (from our superintendent on down) and a handful of teachers (myself included) had attended a five-day conference last month.  The subject was a new nationwide curriculum we'll be adopting in two years called "Common Core."  Common Core will be fabulous for our students (Google it and see!) but it's radically different and much more rigorous than what we've had in place in our public schools up until now.  Most teachers (at least not in our little district) know much about it.  So our administrators thought it would be a wonderful idea for the teachers who'd attended the conference to give a PowerPoint presentation for the rest of the staff.  I've got to hand it to administrators: they're a crafty lot.

The good news is that only two teachers needed to do any speaking (although several principals would say a few words too).  The bad news is that one of them was me (this is what comes of leaving for a bathroom break as this was being decided.  Now I know).  Anyway, the presentation was to be no more than an hour and my bit was the 12 minutes at the end.  That doesn't sound like much, but, for me, speaking in front of adults (especially other teachers) is very, very difficult.  Put me in front of a room of nine-year-olds and I can chat, teach, joke off the top of my head all day (actually, this is exactly what I do).  Put me in front of my peers, and I turn into a frightened rabbit, standing frozen in the middle of the road while a Mack truck bears down on me.  My talk was on "Mindset" and how important it was to have the kind of mindset that is willing to take risks and become stronger through effort and determination.  Ironic, huh?

Actually, I did want to push myself to do this, and exactly because it was such a stretch.  And so I gathered together my conference notes on Mindset, read a book on the subject and began writing the speech.  Then Bruce went into the hospital.  My world was suddenly full of all sorts of immensely more important worries than speechifying in front of other teachers.  I know that my principal would have let me off the hook on the speech if I'd asked, but I decided that continuing on with preparing it would be the best thing to do under the circumstances.

So I sat with my laptop in the hospital waiting room, cafeteria and various corridors and concentrated on composing my presentation.  It was the perfect antidote to wanting to curl up and cry with worry.  "Mindset".  What a great topic (if it had been, say, "Fear", I would have been in trouble).

Over the next week, I wrote it, and rewrote it, and changed it, and edited it and refined it and practiced it and edited it some more.  And I got more and more scared.  By the time Bruce was safely home, I was pretty much a nervous wreck about it.  I was reduced to marching around the house shouting out profanity like poor King George in The King's Speech in hope's that it would help.  All that this did was prove that I know less than six really bad words.

Three days before the Big Day, I read it to my principal (In the office.  With the door shut, so no one else could hear). He liked it, but suggested that I try not to read it and just sort of look at the slides and chat about them with only an occasional glance at my notes (like when I teach).  I gamely tried this. And failed miserably.  I instantly became Rabbit-In-The-Road and was incoherent with fear.  Either mindlessly babbling or utterly silent -- it was awful.

I went home and thought about this.  I finally decided that I had two options -- I could be kind to myself  and simply read the speech or I could kill myself.  Bruce convinced me that reading it would be the better way to go.  My principal agreed.

And a funny thing happened on the Big Day. As I sat down in my seat in the front of the darkened theatre with the rows of teachers stretching in front of me, I was still nervous, but in a good sort of way.  When it was my turn, I brought my speech up to the lectern, picked up the microphone, took a deep breath and began.  I introduced myself and then told them that I'd tried to memorize my speech but that wasn't happening so I would read it instead.  Then I told them not to worry because the good news was that I'm a very good reader.  Everyone laughed.  And then I read my speech in my best "good reader" way and it all turned out well.

I'm not quite ready to quit my day job and take up public speaking (I wasn't that good).  But it was good enough.  It was an awesome feeling for a Frog like myself to take up a sword and slay this particular dragon.  Mindset!

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