Once, I was terrified of even giving a speech or presentation. Anyway, I didn’t know how. I had never been given the tools to speak publicly.
Turns out Speech 101 is a college requirement. I put off enrolling in this course for as long as possible and enrolled in it in my senior year.
I think I was just keen for the right teacher; Mrs. Cook was her name, I believe. She started us off with the simplest speech, a demonstration of something you know how to do or do.
I chose the baklava, the Greek pastry made with phyllo dough, nuts and honey. We were married students, living on a budget and we lived on the uncle’s extensive farm property.
My husband had just completed a Penn State Extension course in beekeeping, so we had our own honey. We collected black walnuts from around our remote home and piled them on a gravel driveway to dry.
A local gang of frugal squirrels has nearly exhausted our nut collection. We found most of them stored in a hollowed-out tree trunk next to the garage shed. We were, however, able to recover enough to pound the baklava.
Long story short, I got an A grade on the demo and Mrs. Cook narrowly escaped a broken tooth on a black walnut shell. Most importantly, I was well on my way to becoming a confident speaker.
Another task of this speech course was maintenance. We were asked to interview someone we wanted to know. I chose a funeral director because I was curious about his work. Really wanting to know something is a handy tool to start an interview.
Feeling a bit like Oprah, equipped with well-prepared notes, a microphone, and my husband’s new Superscope tape recorder fresh out of his ethnomusicology fieldwork, I undertook my first interview and got another grade. AT.
Those A grades really should have gone to Mrs. Cook. She was a gifted teacher and taught this student an invaluable life skill that I applied in my own teaching sociology and anthropology to a number of young students.
The best precept I took from the 101 talk and my scholarly application of it is a version of Fredric’s advice to Jo in Little Women, “write what you know”. Speak what you know and your ability to speak will shine. Stick to what you know.
For my part, I am eternally grateful to the good teachers who taught me life lessons that kept me stuck. For example, Miss Mummert taught me to type like lightning, with few errors, and believe me, I cherish this skill every day.
I’ve had some memorable college professors, or they were memorable like “don’t sign up for his class, he’s crazy and everyone got a D on their first exam”. But Mrs. Cook made them all up, put them together.
I hope I have given Mrs. Cook a good evaluation at the end of this academic year. As a college professor myself, I remember some of these anonymous reviews. The majority of my student reviews were positive and, if I remember correctly, a few were downright uplifting. I say publicly today, in case I didn’t at the time, “thank you Mrs Cook, your gift as a teacher has made a difference in my life.”
If you feel so inclined, tell a teacher, “Thank you.”