Teaching with Stage Fright
Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated December 2010
As children, we are often told to keep quiet as soon as we learn to speak. It’s no wonder so many people, including teachers, have public speaking anxiety. In fact, studies have shown that many people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death. And there’s no reason to assume that teachers are any different. But remember this: you can still be a good teacher
even if you possess anxiety about speaking in front of the class.
Teaching and public speaking go hand-in-hand, and public-speaking anxiety often afflicts student- and beginning teachers. These teachers are still developing as professionals, and they need to bear in mind that they are instructors and not public speakers. Students are used to the classroom environment and are well aware of the appropriate roles. Teaching
is much like a two-way conversation, so asking students questions and challenging the class will help reduce the pressure.
How to gain perspective on pubic speaking
Realizing the genesis of your fear can be a relief. It’s much more difficult to overcome a fear about yourself, when you consider that the students must learn the content you are presenting. If they do not learn it from you, they may not learn it at all. As a teacher, you have resources to help you along, such as the board, your notes and any visual aids. Plus, keep in mind that you are the authority, and they are the ones hoping to impress you and gain your approval.
Rather than treating teaching as a performance, which can lead to public speaking anxiety, it is helpful to perceive teaching as a means of communication. Teaching
and learning involves give-and-take. Students will ask questions, and you will prod them for feedback. While you were a student, public speaking involved a fear about you, but with teaching, the fear has more to do with the students and content.
Teachers are there to pass on knowledge - not to entertain. Allowing the material to take center stage can help reduce some of the stress. Focus on one or two points at a time and remember your purpose. Don’t feel required to memorize material, as it will only add to the tension and will take away from the spontaneity in learning. In fact, many of the fears of public speaking stem from the idea of needing to memorize the content. When teaching, that should not be the case. Make sure you know the material, but then deliver it as if participating in a casual performance. Keep notes handy, and if you miss something go back to it. Remember, you create the curriculum. You guide the structure. Also, realize that, when it comes to teaching, perfection is not the goal. Redefine success by focusing on imparting valuable knowledge to students.
More and more, teaching is becoming a multimedia art, moving away from lecture-based instruction to a cooperative, discovery-learning style. Don’t feel obligated to spend the entire class period speaking - give your students worksheets and group activities to augment learning. In these days of the new technology wave, students crave multimedia. Technology
can be a teacher’s best friend when used the correct way, and it can lessen the burden of the instructor to teach material through lectures.
How to overcome public speaking anxiety
Being completely prepared is the first line of defense against feeling stage fright in front of the classroom. Many teachers find that their fear is not so much of speaking in front of a group as it is a lack of preparation. Arm yourself with back-up plans, and include a few extra activities in each lesson in case the class covers more than you anticipated. Doing so will eliminate the possibility of having to think “on the fly” about what to do next.
Students do not expect you to know every answer and you shouldn’t expect that of yourself. Instead of coming across as a teacher, you may opt to present yourself as an experienced student willing to share knowledge. Everyone makes mistakes, and students are likely to understand this. As you get to know your students personally, your anxiety will subside.
Speaking slowly and focusing on one student at a time as you speak in front of the class can make being in the spotlight less overwhelming. Eye contact is important in general public speaking, but becomes crucial when teaching, as it can serve as a device to keep students in line. If you fail to make eye contact, you are likely to lose the attention of the class, which will only add to negative feelings toward speaking in front of your students.
To keep yourself focused and mobile in the classroom, write each day’s agenda on the board. Students can follow along as the class progresses and you have an automatic cheat sheet if you lose track of your thoughts. Technology
and visual aids are an excellent way to maintain classroom management. Gaining control over class attention and behavior will help make speaking in front of the class more comfortable.
The old adage “practice makes perfect” relates well to overcoming anxious feelings about speaking in front of a group. You will find that the more you speak in front of the class, the more comfortable you become. This goes for individual class periods as well as for the school year. It is not as if you are confined to standing in front of the room at all times. In reality, a good teacher will move around the room as he or she speaks, sometimes behind a podium and at times even sitting down. And as you begin to form close relationships with your students, the idea of speaking in front of them will become less and less harrowing. Just remember that while “practice makes perfect” may be appropriate in this context, the old stereotype of picturing your audience naked is not.
And really, the best advice is just to not worry about it. Every new situation has a period of adjustment in which you face your fears and watch them fall away as experience is gained. Teaching and public speaking is no different. New teachers need to take a deep breath and look at their job as a collaborative practice in which the teacher and students share center stage. Before you know it, you’ll be a second-year teacher giving out advice to the newest rookies.
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