Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Facing Our Fears

by Kirsten Fletcher

I am afraid of many things: heights, enclosed spaces, public speaking, getting beat up by my black-belt colleague Mindy Perkins... but most of all I'm afraid of failing.

This semester, I had a student who, like me, was anxious about presenting in front of her peers. Speaking in front of others is often heightened in a foreign language where students aren't even sure they are pronouncing the words correctly. This student asked if she could do her presentation privately instead of in front of the class. Being the meanie that I am, I told her NO! What I actually said was that I wanted her to at least try because I believed she could do it and would feel proud of herself once she did. She ended up giving an articulate, well-prepared (and well-pronounced) presentation. Was it absolutely perfect? No, but she did feel proud of herself for doing it, and went on to excel at other speaking tasks.

What I neglected to tell my student at the time was that I had just been asked to read the names at our school's graduation ceremony. I was honored that the class of 2016 gave me the opportunity and that my administration believed that I could do it. However, I was terrified. What if I mispronounced a student's name in front of their whole family? What if I ruined a student's big moment somehow?

My student's courage in facing her presentation inspired me as I prepared to read the names for our 2016 graduates. These are students that had accomplished a great deal in their four years at Elk Grove High School. I was determined to get their names right. I took copious notes during graduation practice and even called on colleagues who knew the students when I realized my notes weren't clear enough. I showed up an hour earlier than necessary to practice the names (again). Still I was nervous.

I can honestly say that my performance at graduation was far from perfect, and I sincerely apologize to any students whose names I messed up during the ceremony. However, like my student, I feel proud of having faced my fears and survived. I'm grateful to those who encouraged me and believed in me enough to give me the chance to prove myself. I'm also grateful to have been at that ceremony to hear so many of our talented 2016 graduates speaking, performing, and inspiring us all to seek excellence and happiness in all that we do.

I plan to remember this experience as my students enter my classroom every day and face the fear of speaking in front of their peers - in another language! Like me, I think many of our students are afraid to fail. Sometimes this leads them to not try. I hope to make my classroom a place where they can safely face their fears, accept imperfections, and emerge successful and confident.

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