Stage Fright

Last week I was staying after school to assemble the CraneMobile, and by the time I was finished, I couldn't leave without losing my prime parking space: no small thing on the evening of the Baccalaureate, when people are forced to either park half a mile away and walk, or get blocked in and stay all night.  So I retired to the faculty lounge to iron my graduation robe.  (I'd like to have a word with whomever designed those monstrosities.  Ugly AND uncomfortable -- a win-win combo!  And lots of fun to iron, with all those pleats and bizarrely twisted surfaces.)

Several other teachers were there, most of whom lived too far away to go home between school and an evening event.  They were chatting about, among other things, diamond mines and the finer points of numismatics, when one of them mentioned that he was nervous about presenting the awards for his department at the school assembly the next day.  He had tried to get out of it, he said, but the assistant principal told him that as department head, he had no choice.

"Oh, come on," another teacher ribbed him.  "All you have to do is read names, hand over papers and shake some hands."

"I know," he said.  "It's just -- I don't like being up in front of people."

I almost fell over.  "What did you say?  Isn't that pretty much your whole job?"  This guy has a Ph.D.  He's worked for cryptologists overseas in conflict zones.  He taught for years at a prestigious university.  Afraid of public speaking?  Seriously?

He shrugged off my dig.  "It's different when you're a teacher," he explained.  "You know you're the smartest person in the room.  You know they don't have your number; you're in charge.  In a mixed group, who knows?  Someone brilliant could be watching."

It was right about then that I should have started to get nervous for my own speech, which was a little more complex than just reading names.  But I didn't.  I credit that partly to pure stupidity, partly to the supreme sense of self-confidence I inherited from my father, and partly to a childhood steeped in the Suzuki Method.  I performed a lot growing up, and eventually I just grew tired of getting nervous.  I didn't always do well; sometimes I tanked.  But I didn't fear tanking, especially once I had already done it and understood that life goes on.

I was thinking about this, and I remembered that one of my high school teachers once said the same thing: as much as she desperately wanted to teach, she was nervous about being up in front of a class.  I guess it's a little like wanting to be a nurse, but fainting at the sight of blood.  You have to decide which is stronger: your fear or your ambition.  Or you can imitate my sister Abby, another teacher who dislikes the spotlight.  When she had to lead her whole school in openening exercises, she made herself a cape and a mask and became SuperAbby.  The kids loved it, and since SuperAbby doesn't get nervous, neither did my sister.  Smart girl.