Friday, February 24, 2017

     Yesterday, I had the privilege of judging a high school speech contest. What a thrill this was for me, a former high school speech and Forensics coach. It took me back to the days when I smiled like a proud mama every time I listened to my students (“my kids”) perform. There is something magic about being around young people who are striving to improve and who are courageous enough to step out of their comfort zones.

      There were four students competing—two in “Prepared” speeches and two in “Extemporaneous Speaking.” They were all very nervous speaking in front of just four adult judges. Trust me, as a person who has been performing her entire life and continues to do so, performing in front of a very small audience is ten times harder than standing before a
crowd of 500. You are more self-conscious, more distracted by movement and audience facial expression, and it is much more intimidating being able to see every person’s reaction to your words.

     I sat as a judge, a former teacher and coach and as a mom. I empathized with each shaking teen as they stood before us. As we listened and watched, (all of us experienced public speakers), we witnessed the blatant mistakes we all made starting out. We all know that sometimes we still make some of those same mistakes. 

     As each student came back into the room for feedback, I found myself wanting to tell them everything I ever learned so they could improve quickly. I had to be sure to compliment them on the good points, emphasize their strengths, and gently coach them on their weaknesses. It’s always a delicate balance critiquing anyone, as we never know how sensitive people are. I decided to go with “less is more.” One student said, “Is there anything else I can do to improve?” Aw, that struck a chord. I love students who are eager to learn. I found myself wanting to head right back to the classroom.

      The takeaway for me was personal. I love teenagers. I have always loved kids who want to learn, and I especially love those who appreciate what I’ve taught them. I was also reminded of what good teachers do. We model by example, and we influence most by our passion for what we do. These young people will all be successful not because they work harder than most but because they are willing to risk. The more they risk by putting themselves up for scrutiny and learning from their successes and failures, the more confident they will become, and along the way they will be modeling these traits for others to see. 

     I love kids!