Teachers are sneaky about finding ways to get students familiar with talking in front of the class.
In kindergarten, first grade and maybe even second grade, it’s disguised as show and tell. You’re bringing in an item from home that you love and talking about it. Early on, teachers emphasize the importance of sharing what you love.
That’s public speaking in its purest form. Eye contact isn’t evaluated as much and neither is the smoothness of your delivery. You’re just sharing to the best of your ability.
So those are good building blocks that progress through each grade level.
In third grade I remember getting in front of the class to give a short report. So we moved beyond sharing personal interest and added outside resources.
Fourth grade had a turning point moment for me. We were asked to keep journals. I just remember the first assignment but I assume the rest were also based on prompts from the teacher. Our first assignment was to write about what happened over the summer. Pretty routine stuff for older grades, but a first for us. Requiring reflection.
There was a minimum to meet, maybe half a page or one side of the page. Something like that. For those who know me, it should come as no surprise that I wrote longer than others. Maybe front and back of a page. Perhaps longer.
The summer between 3rd and 4th grade meant a lot of construction at the house as my parents remodeled, ripping up the backyard patio to expand the family room and kitchen. My brother and I were able to avoid a lot of the hammering by attending a day camp. So that’s what I wrote about. Perhaps adding in a joke in the process. I wish I still had that notebook.
Our teacher wanted to make sharing in front of the class optional, hoping instead we’d all volunteer. But when most people grabbed their notebook when their name was called and merely handed it in, she changed things up and decided everyone had to read their entry out loud.
So when my turn came, I reluctantly grabbed my green notebook and took my place at the podium in the front of the room. I made the silly mistake of looking at my classmates before starting. Having about 20 pairs of eyes looking back was paralyzing. That lump in the throat formed quickly and the tears came and I just couldn’t do it. Words wouldn’t form.
I was dismissed to the bathroom to compose myself.
The classroom was set up in a way that you entered in the back. So when I returned, the teacher met me in the back and had the class continue to face forward. With a hand on my shoulder, she returned the notebook to me and I read to the backs of their heads.
A simple accommodation that meant everything!
I was told I did a great job writing the assignment. That mine was more detailed and among the best in the class.
I took that and began writing on my own. I wrote stories with my classmates as characters. Really goofy stuff. And at some point during the year, I asked my teacher if I could read my stories to the class. Voluntarily! And it became a way that we wrapped up Friday afternoons.
Sadly, without continued practice over the summer, that confidence in front of the classroom faded.
But while it lasted, it was an exciting time of creativity and sharing.
And adult Lindsay wants to offer my 4th grade self high fives for being brave and trying to make eye contact. It would have been easier to just read from the paper as quickly as possible without looking up.
Also, I really wish I knew what my teacher said to the class while I was out of the room. No one said or did anything to make me feel bad about the experience. I’m incredibly grateful that my classmates were sympathetic. I clearly wasn’t the only one who wanted to avoid sharing with the class, so others must have had stage fright, too. But I was the one who left crying. And I’m thankful that I can actually look back at this experience as a positive!