When the worst thing that happens on the first day of class is that you, The Teacher, trip over your fancy new high heels and fall flat on the ground, you know it’s been a good day overall. I ended up with a skinned knee and bruised pride.
I teach first-year public speaking at a four-year university. So, I made an object lesson of my spill. Sometimes bad things happen! You keep going, knowing that everyone else can relate to you. I’m sure there was some fear in the students whose inner dialogue I imagine as “OMG, our teacher is a loony-bird.” And they would not be wrong, exactly.
Now, a day later, every part of my aged frame aches, and my right knee is screaming at me. But I’ll keep going. I’ll stand up and I’ll wear my high heels again. I will survive! I think my joke of “short woman syndrome” was lost on them, but I kept smiling. I kept communicating.
Truth? The Fall was a bit before class started, and there were only two students in the class at the time. So, the three of us had a moment. They were concerned (but I still imagine them wondering what kind of loony-bird they had drawn for a teacher). I stood up easily although, as I said, a tiny bit worse for the wear. I stood TALL.
Because I have an enormous fear of public speaking, yeah, I focus every bit of extroversion I have and most of my “spoons” of energy on my few hours of classroom instruction time each week. I get good ratings and we have good class sessions for the most part. I have to admit my favorite part of teaching public speaking is the part where the students speak. The obvious reason for this is that this is time that I do not have to speak.
So, I stand in front of students on the first day and I allow myself to be vulnerable about my fear. I don’t sound pathetic because I have focused on keeping it together. When I smile, it’s genuine. I tell them this fear is common to most of us, even true extroverts. I tell them that they might hear my voice shake. I tell them that I fell down in front of people! They look a bit puzzled, but interested. They haven’t given up on me yet. That’s good.
On a deep level, I carry shame about stunts like my sudden unplanned descent. But I know that Shame lies to us. So I put on a good smile, which is my true intention, my true choice, and I tell the truth. I tell them we’ll have setbacks and we’ll find a way to laugh at ourselves and we’ll all learn together. We’ll get up and we’ll go on.
I am happy to be teaching public speaking. I am happy that I don’t have to wear high heels every day, or any day. I am comfortable in front of my students in a university T-shirt and jeans and sneakers.
Over the next few months, I will hear speeches about why marijuana should be made legal and about cosmetics routines (it’s a YouTube thing). I’ll hear speeches about football concussions and video games. And students will sometimes fall on their faces, performance-wise. But I will always help them up. I care about them and I have confidence that I can lead them onward and upward.
“Onward and upward!” has been my byword for several years. I’ll keep it, because that is my true choice.