As a college undergrad, I wanted to teach high school English. And not just because my professors seemed to think what they did was the only logical career option for their dear English students. Dead Poets Society had just come out and I was entranced by Robin Williams (aka Mr. Keating) whispering carpe diem, and standing on his desk to convey to his students the importance of seeing the world from different perspectives.
Inspirational. Easy. I could do that, right?
Throwing my 22-year old self into a teaching practicum for high school English was like a throwing a sheep to the wolves. I had some good qualities to be a teacher, but I lacked one skill that I believe all good teachers have.
The ability to corral a group of young people and engage them, not with intimidation or coercion, but with a calm and assertive way of communicating. Knowing when to speak and when to be silent. But where do you find a voice?
For the past 10 years I have volunteered as a lead coach for The First Tee, a program that teaches young people core values and life skills through the game of golf. It wasn’t until more recently that I have had a better command of my classes, which is something of a must when leading 2-hour classes of amped up teens through a 13-week program.
Is this feeling simply due to having more experience and that, with experience comes confidence?
Yes. But I felt I had found my voice, one that allows students to ask questions and explore their own games of golf, while also keeping them on task and creating boundaries in which to play and learn.
So what does this have to do with poetry? Many years ago I gave a less than stellar open mic reading of a few of my poems. A woman in the audience approached me afterwards and said that she may have liked my poetry if she could only have heard me.
How many times had you read those poems aloud by yourself, she asked.
Once? I replied.
Not good enough, she said. And I never forgot what she said next. You have to read those poems 20 to 30 times by yourself before getting up to read them to an audience. Wow. She was ordering me to find my voice.
Now, after many open mics and readings, and many hours of preparation by reading out loud to the walls in my house, I feel I have found something.
A voice peeking through.
Hopefully, it is one that others can hear, that engages them, and elicits a reaction. And for those of us who write, or teach, or coach, or, heck, simply speak, one that does justice to the hard work of crafting our art.