Monday, November 15, 2010

The Power of Confidence

Early in my teaching career I cast a 14 year old stutterer as a male lead opposite a senior female in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

It wasn't a reckless decision, but it wasn't much more than a gut decision either.  I knew John a little bit.  John stuttered in my class, in any social situations I saw him, in one-on-one situations with me privately.  Yet, I gave him Lysander and he had well over a hundred lines to memorize and recite.   He stuttered each day at rehearsal when we sat at  the start and checked-in about our day.  He stuttered early and often during the first weeks of working through out scenes.

Maybe it was an experiment on my part.  Maybe it was the coaxing of his speech therapist who noted that this kid could use a break, could use something in school.

Then one day at rehearsal, the stuttering stopped on stage.  He recited his lines perfectly.  He spoke with fluency in social situations at rehearsal.  In class, he still stuttered.

When we performed the show, John didn't stutter once.  He didn't stutter when he spoke with me afterward for a short while.  He started to stutter again at the after party a little bit.

It taught me something about the research concerning stuttering and scripting; often stutters will experience some relief when they have something more scripted over the spontaneous...when they have some confidence and comfort of the next word.

Yet, there were the moments when we were social and he didn't stutter which interested me most.  This was almost ten years ago, and back then I thought it had something to do with confidence and comfort.  And not just confidence and comfort of the next word.  But something else.  And I still do.

Fast forward to today.

Our 14 year old kids are writing novels for the month of November.  They have set their own goals: 5K words, 10K words, 15K words.  And they are writing more now than I ever saw in any of my traditional classes where 500 word essays were akin to root canal.  None complain.  They'll all reach their goals.  It has little to nothing to do with anything I am saying or my colleague is saying in her class - we are experiencing the same outcomes.  The kids are hammering out word after word after word...and are excited about it.  Why?  How?  These are by large the same kids who I would have in a traditional 8th grade English course had we not created this Creative Writing class a year ago.


Yes.  These kids picked this class.  They want to be there.  They want to be writers or they just simply feel good about their ability to write.

This also has everything to with athletics in schools. Those who compete want to be there.  They want to be football players, lacrosse players, runners, etc.  Or they just simply feel good about their ability to compete in that sport on a daily basis.

There are many kids I know who need sports.  That's why they get up and go to school.  There are kids who need to play their instrument, or sing, or whatever it is.  A lot of instruction goes on inside the 4 walls of the cinder block classrooms, no doubt.  Yet I hope we never lose sight of the fact that a tremendous amount of teaching, mentoring, and influence can occur in after school programs whether they be the arts or athletics.  My experience in education recently has been that the classroom is the legitimate time and coaching is extra...the red-headed step-child.  "That's nice.  It's just high school football."

The power of confidence is a tool we can all do a better job of applying...and too often ignore.

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