84: Practicing What I Teach

84: Practicing What I Teach

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

Practicing What I Teach

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.

~Eleanor Roosevelt

Last fall, I accepted a position as an English instructor at a high school for students who are gifted in the arts and technology. During freshman orientation, my department chair, Dr. Cunningham, introduced members of the English and Literary Arts faculty to the parents of entering students. She introduced us individually, by first and last name, and emphasized our published work in the genres of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

“As you can see,” said Dr. Cunningham, “our faculty members are out in the publishing world pursuing their own writing goals. Here at this school, we practice what we teach.”

I loved her introduction and the concept of “practicing what we teach.” I felt like this job was going to be a great fit for me personally and professionally.

Switching schools can be difficult for even the most seasoned educators, but overall my transition was smooth. I quickly learned my students’ names and focus areas, prepared my lesson plans for the first few weeks, and introduced myself to other members of the faculty.

My students and I got into our routine of reading some classics, studying vocabulary, and analyzing nonfiction articles. After each unit, I assigned a paper, test, or project that allowed students to incorporate their art. Additionally, I required my students to read some of their work aloud. I felt that it was a great experience, preparing them for college and the workforce.

One day, a sophomore named Amber was reading her vignette for the class. I was jotting down a few notes as she spoke, in order to provide her with accurate and timely feedback. But as she continued, I was so captivated by her words that I could no longer take notes. She had my full attention.

“For some of you, this won’t make the tiniest bit of sense,” Amber read. “For others, this could quite possibly be the most relatable thing you’ve ever heard. I struggle to find the words to explain to you why I am the way that I am. I’m not even sure those words exist. I am stuck in an eternal in-between, sandwiched between the loud mouths and the loud minds.”

She definitely had my attention as she continued reading.

“I am desperate. Desperate to get away from the feeling, the constant suffocation, the never-ending fear. Yet I stay. I stay fighting to get out of the eternal in-between. I stay, perfecting the words I will probably never have the nerve to say.”

Amber concluded her piece, entitled “Social Anxiety,” and returned to her seat. For the rest of the day, I thought about her vignette, how difficult she found it to speak in public and the fact that she did it anyway. I was impressed with her ability to convey her feelings, and I felt a bit guilty for not treating public speaking with more care.

About a month later, I received an e-mail from my department chair asking me if I would like to participate in the upcoming faculty readings. The readings are an annual, school-wide assembly in which instructors of the English and Literary Arts department read their original work.

“Would you like to read one of your essays?” Dr. Cunningham asked. “It’s optional, but most people in the department participate. It’s a great way to promote our upcoming Writer’s Fest.”

I asked her if I could think about it for a while. I thought about how much I despise public speaking (yes, even though I am a teacher) and that I had never read my own work in front of a crowd. For this particular reading, my audience would be the entire student body and members of the faculty: a total of about 400 people. The thought was horrifying. I envisioned myself sharing my raw, original thoughts and words with everyone and realized… it was exactly what I require of my students — all the time.

At that moment, I thought about Amber and her piece on social anxiety, and I e-mailed my department chair to tell her that I was going to participate, even though I felt a little queasy about it. I knew it was the perfect opportunity to show my students that I was willing to take on challenges similar to the ones I asked of them.

On the day of the readings, I shared an essay about my son and my lack of artistic abilities. My students and colleagues laughed at my punch lines and clapped when I was finished. Overall, it was a successful experience.

It reminded me that my job is so much bigger than lecturing, testing, and imparting knowledge. It’s about connecting with my students, serving as a positive role model for them, and learning with them. And one of the best ways to do that is to practice what I teach.

~Melissa Face

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