This was the Story Sessions prompt:
“I need to be startlingly clear. This thing of finding your authentic voice, expressing your blessed weirdness and revealing your soul isn’t an elegant process. You don’t do it to be cool. It’s only real when it is ruthless, relentless, and inevitable. But it is also a matter of personal and collective survival. Yes, it’s that important. You are that critical.” – Jacob Nordby
So, as it is the first week of class, and this quote closely resembles the ideas I try to get across to my students all semester, I thought I knew what I wanted to say about it. I outlined a grand post about the stages of the bumpy process of helping students go from being terrified of public speaking to finding something to say, and from there, discovering their own unique way of saying it. It wasn’t a bad post. In fact, there was poetry involved. It was a little fancy.
But as I was reading over my notes, I couldn’t bring myself to post them. The words just felt flat.
It’s easy to hide behind what I’m helping others do. But what about my authentic voice? Do my students ever get to see into my soul?
Last night, I’m not sure they did.
Sure, it was the first night, so we were mostly just going over the syllabus. Not a lot of opportunity for soul-baring there.
And sure, when I’m teaching at NCTC, I’m not just representing myself. I am representing the college, too, and I have a responsibility to do it well, which means that saying what I really think is not always the most important – or even the most desirable – goal.
I had moments of authenticity. I told them of my own struggles with overcoming speech anxiety, because I want them to know that I understand what they’re going through. When discussing class rules, I was honest about my quirks. I told them that I would stay two hours after class if they had legitimate questions about an assignment, but if the questions become a pitiful wheeze of don’t-wannas, they should not expect that conversation to end well. I felt that it was only fair to warn them that I would have a hard time responding pleasantly to whining.
But for most of the class, I felt like I was reading a script that someone else wrote. I told a lot of the same jokes that I have used the whole fifteen years that I have been teaching this class. I did my love-of-cheese bit, even though I’m lactose intolerant now. I confessed my nerdery regarding superhero movies, even though I haven’t seen any of the ones that have come out in that last few years, because all the people I used to see them with have moved away.
All my jokes are old, and telling them felt fake.
Don’t get me wrong. The jokes still work. More importantly, they serve a purpose. They get laughs, which slice through some of the tension that tends to be pretty thick on the first day of a public speaking class. I could go through the whole semester, using the same lectures and the same assignments, the same examples and the same stories, and it would be just fine. The students would still learn. Some of them would even surprise themselves by liking it.
But I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I broke out of the rut. What would my class be like if I rose to the same challenge that I gave my students? What if I wrote new lectures, or asked different questions, or just admitted that I prefer TV to movies (because to care about a story, I need good character development, and two or three hours is usually not enough time to do it well)?
What if I expressed my own blessed weirdness?
This semester might get very interesting.
And Story 101, it’s all your fault.