As a child, I was terrified of those days when teachers assigned ORAL book reports. I loved to read, but the thought of standing in front of a class and talking about what I had read frightened me. In fact, I used to be so afraid of speaking in front of a class that I would become sick and miss one or two sick days when the oral reports rolled around. My favorite ploy was to bargain with the teacher. In a couple of instances, I convinced teachers to allow me to read two books instead of one and write two book reports instead of delivering an oral report. At the time I thought they were the best teachers on the face of the Earth.
Usually, however, the teacher refused to bargain and made me stand in front of the class and speak. I trembled, mumbled, and stumbled through my speech as I fought back the tears. I become nervous today just thinking of those days when a podium in front of the classroom served as my biggest nemesis. Sometimes I had teachers who encouraged me, sometimes they told me i was being silly, and some never even noticed my fear. I have never forgotten those experiences.
I wish I could say that I overcame my fear of speaking in front of groups as I grew older, but I still can’t stand it. Through the years I have become better at public speaking, but I still shudder at the very thought that I must deliver any type of presentation.
My students are delivering their first presentation to the class this week. A few of them are excited, but most of them will simply endure the assignment. I also know that I have a few shy students who will worry and make themselves sick over the speech just as I did so many decades ago. I still make these fearful students give a speech, just as I’ll make them get up in front of the group a couple of additional times during the semester because I want them to improve and want them to learn that they can indeed speak with confidence. I try to provide a safe environment and encourage them because I want them to leave my classroom and move on to college with the knowledge that they will be just fine if they take a future class that requires presentations.
I assign speeches because I know public speaking is a skill students need to practice.
The little girl in me, however, feels their pain and wants to console them and tell them they can write a research paper instead.
Sometimes it’s hard to be a teacher.
Here is the post I wrote to students to help alleviate their fear: