Sunday, February 3, 2013

Our Greatest Fears

According to the "Book of Lists" an adult's greatest fear is public speaking and public performance. Seems odd that during all my years as a teacher, I loved talking to groups of little kids, however, as soon as I was required to do a presentation for the parents, I stressed out. I did what I needed to do, but nonetheless, I hated it. I avoided speaking to adult groups whenever possible and I still do.

As a small child I enjoyed singing. I confidently performed at a Sunday School Christmas presentation at age 4. Mom coached me with the words and despite her accent and difficulties with some English phrases, I learned the whole hymn. "Away in the main chair, no crib for a bed, the little Lord's cheeses...the kettle are lowing...and stay by my cradle, until morning is night." Well, at least that's how I understood it as a preschooler.

Later, I was described as "shy" so often, that I decided I must be. My public performance was only shared from beneath the kitchen table. Apparently, visitors flocked to our house just to hear me sing...either that or to have some of my mom's homemade German chocolate tortes and cheesecakes. Sometimes, it took me an hour of sitting beneath the table, before I was brave enough to start...a lull in the adult conversation, a deep breath and I was off to the races. I was the performing monkey in the family who had the option of "being seen and not heard" when we had company. I opted instead for being "heard and not seen".  At least, I was always confident that the tabletop afforded me protection from any items that might be hurled my way if the singing was substandard.

In third grade, I was at a new school in a big city. This was scary enough, since I was still labelled "shy". One day the teacher announced "Show and Tell" tomorrow. I watched in horror as many of my classmates brought prized possessions and bragged about their assorted toys. This was one of the few times I appreciated having a surname near the end of the alphabet.
"Where's your show and tell?" asked the teacher when my turn came.

"I forgot", I lied, knowing that this would surely give me an E on my report.

"Well, bring it tomorrow."

When I got home, I confessed this to mom who promptly gave me a china vase with a gold rim and a castle etched on the front of it. I stared at it in horror. She packed it in my bag and I took it to school. Not even the shame of a potential "E" could get me to display this artifact in front of a group of third graders.

In senior public school, I was faced with a drama class. "Stand and tell everyone about your summer vacation" was the first task assigned by a handsome young teacher. Fortunately, before he got to me there was a student who had just transferred from a U.S. school. He and the teacher became so engrossed in talking about politics that I was thankful to Richard Nixon and John Kennedy for at least the rest of the week. After that, I have a vague recollection of doing an embarassing display of how to fold a paper hat and a mediocre speech on "Stars" in that same class. Then my family moved again.
I had my first taste of success in high school. My speech writing became more imaginative and my confidence ebbed. "From Bach to the Beatles" was such a hit that I, was one of the students selected to present my speech in front of the entire school. I was nervous. It went well enough.

The list of successes and disasters goes on. I was buoyed by an effort in Teachers' College. I did a presentation on "Children as Artists". The hippy like, long haired, long robed instructor dramatically placed his hand across his forehead, tossed his head backwards and announced in a shrill tone, "Now that, ladies and gentlemen...(insert lengthy gasp and some escaping spittle here), that is a teacher!"

And so my public speaking evolved, doing what I had to do. I can't really think of anything else in my early life that traumatized me as much. I tried. I improved. I learned. I gained confidence. I still hate it.

So, what's your greatest fear? 

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