Written in response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt:
Naked with Black Socks
Are you comfortable in front of people, or does the idea of public speaking make you want to hide in the bathroom? Why?
There once was a time when I spoke in front of groups on a regular basis. I don’t count my years as a teacher because there doesn’t seem to be the same performance anxiety when one speaks to children as when one addresses one’s peers. In fact some of the most poised classroom teachers I’ve ever known would rather be burned at the stake than speak formally in front of their colleagues.
For several years I worked as a trainer/consultant for a non-profit educational foundation. In this role I observed teachers teaching all across the country and then presented new and hopefully helpful information in a culminating workshop.
There were days when I owned the crowd. Words flowed from my tongue like sweet tea from a pitcher, and particpants were clamoring for me to audition as a stand up comedian.
Then there were days when my words stuck to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter, and I could barely coax a smile from the attendees. On those days I’d have gladly hidden in the bathroom. In fact, once I did!
I was at one of the schools I served in Albequerque, New Mexico. The week had gone really well, and teachers were excited about gains their students had made in their comprehension of mathematical concepts. I was super pumped about the workshop and comfortable with the material I’d be presenting.
Then, about thirty minutes before the workshop began the new principal of the school pulled me aside.
“Listen,” he said. “I don’t like this program and if I have anything to say about it this will be the last year we pay for your company’s services.
“By the way. I’ll be sitting in today.”
Then he walked away. I’d only met the man briefly, so I knew it wasn’t personal, but my heart sure took a hit all the same.
When the workshop started the principal was sitting, front and center with crossed arms and a scowl. I opened with an ice breaker and about two minutes in he held up a hand.
“Enough time wasted. Get on with it.”
The teachers were shocked. A couple that I’d gotten to know well looked like they might cry. I was trying to hold myself together and wondering how to begin the program without the segue provided by the ice breaker.
I gave him my brightest smile as I switched to another set of materials, but my flow was gone. I found myself robotically reading cue cards that I hadn’t needed in months.
All of a sudden I had a brilliant idea. I stopped, looked around and said, “You know, I’m afraid we’ve gotten off to a shaky start. I’m going to the powder room and when I return you’d better fasten your seat belts!”
I was shaking like a leaf when I hit the ladies’ room door. But I looked at myself in the mirror and sternly said, “That asshole thinks he can intimidate me?? No way!”
I hit the ground running. The notes went into my briefcase and I asked the teachers, “Who has a math success they want to share?” You see, I knew they had many.
Hands went up. Stories were told. We laughed and applauded. Then I said, “Let’s make more of these little miracles.”
Soon I had the group participating in the activities their students would be doing in the classroom. The principal sat there glumly, but he didn’t interrupt again.
I left the foundation at the end of that school year, so I don’t know if that Albequerque school continued their partnership with them. But I did learn that sometimes hiding in the bathroom is the right thing to do.