It’s just going to be an hour or so, with an audience that I’ve been told is looking forward to hearing what I have to say. But I have to admit, I’m a little nervous. And by “little nervous,” I don’t mean I have minor anxiety about what’s coming. Instead, I’m nervous about the little people who will be my audience.
I’ve been asked by a teacher and good friend to speak before her first-grade class, two first grade classes actually. That’s happening on Wednesday, and I’m already excited because I like to be in front of people, and it’s no mystery that I like to speak, if what I do can actually be defined as “speaking.” Some dogs “speak” when commanded, and I don’t see people lining up for that.
To be clear, I’m not “hyperventilating, flop-sweating, nail-biting” nervous. I mean, they’re first-graders. I’m bigger than they are (presumably) and more experienced (if for no other reason than I have a five-decade head start on all of them), so I should probably be brimming with confidence.
The thing is, with all the years I have behind me, and all the information and – (ahem!) – wisdom I can bring to their undersized table (and desks and chairs), I have no experience in a first-grade classroom beyond, well, being a first-grader, which happened so far back it’s calculated in geologic time.
I’m flattered for the invitation (did I mention I’m excited?), and I know it will be a ton of fun because, to reiterate, it’s first-graders so how can it not be, though the scene from Seinfeld – the one where Kramer is overrun by disgruntled kids in the alley after his domination in the karate dojo – has been running through my head for the past few days.
My nervousness resides in the pressure involved in this mission. My topic is “Writing Is Storytelling,” which is right up my alley (in my mind, anyway), and I have loads of things to talk to them about: how to start a story, or how a word or something you see in everyday life can ignite an idea or inspire them to write their observation, and other stuff like that. I want to challenge them to tell me little, one-sentence, first-grade anecdotes to prove to them that, they too, are storytellers. I want to ask them questions, and I hope they have questions for me (some which may have nothing to do with writing or storytelling).
That part I’m cool with. What’s got me on edge is this: they’re kids, these beautiful, cute, energetic, intelligent little sponges that will take in everything without the benefit or the consequence of filtration (something learned down the road, in school and society and with years and years of life). With adults, it’s easy to get in front of a group and talk because they can determine if what I’m saying is entertaining, educational, informational, boring, cliched, stupid or just plain B.S. In other words, they have filters that purify what they hear, taking away what they need and throwing out the rest.
With adults, I can also operate on a different plane – my plane, our plane – in that “you know what I mean” or “I’m sure you’ve been through this situation before” approach.
But not with kids, and especially not on their home field, which includes the aforementioned tiny tables, desks and chairs, and likely a large “reading rug” or some similar type of floor covering. I’ll be stepping into their domain, as an adult who presumably has something of value for them, information they can use when they go forward in their young storytelling careers. So, I’d better bring the goods, or I will have failed them. That’s what I’m thinking, anyway. And that’s exactly why I’m nervous.
But just a little nervous.
Because I’m also hopeful. I’m hopeful that I can and will entertain, educate, inform and, with any luck, inspire these young minds to look for and tell their stories in cool and unique ways that only they can. I hope to ask them questions that will spur discussion between us but also among themselves, and I hope they ask me a thousand – wait, a million – questions about everything from the first story I ever told, to what I had for lunch, my favorite color or if my socks have ever slid down and off my feet when I’m wearing snow boots.
I hope they challenge me by telling me they don’t like writing or telling stories, so I can try and convince them of how fun it can be. I hope the time goes so fast that all of us – the kids, the teachers and myself – are surprised and disappointed when it’s time to show me the door so they can move on to arithmetic (they probably don’t even call it that anymore), science or art.
I hope that all happens on Wednesday, and I think it will, but if and only if I bring my “A” game.
And that’s what makes me just a “little” nervous; that my “A” game might not be enough for these kids, who deserve nothing but the best, and nothing but what they get from their wonderfully-talented, committed, smart, caring teachers who bring their “A” game every day.
A little nervous is good, and from it usually comes some of my best stuff. I just hope my best stuff is good enough.
This is going to be fun. I can’t wait.
© 2019 David R. Haznaw