Lessons on teaching

My experiences instructing speech classes

April Wang, Copy Editor

My first teaching experiences all began with speech. Illustration | April Wang

Honestly, I think I’m a good teacher.

That wasn’t really something I ever thought I’d say. It still isn’t. Looking at all my favorite teachers, they’ve always been patient. Professional. Always open and ready to help. Constantly grading papers and being generous and kind with feedback.

I am none of those.

Among my family and friends, I’m the irresponsible, impulsive and forgetful one. I’m that one friend they never want to trust behind the wheel because I will likely drive them off a cliff by accident or, god forbid, for fun.

I used to tell myself, even as confident as I was in public speaking, that I wasn’t really built to be a leader. I can take charge if necessary, but it’s not my thing. I’m more likely to crash any project I take on into the ground, so I’m happy to just melt into the background and support from the shadows.

Pull Quote | April Wang

But of course, leadership is a necessary talent for life (or so I had been taught), so I set my sights on starting that experience in speech. I started teaching at small, nonprofit speech summer camps, organized entirely by myself, my sister and two friends, all of us still high school freshmen.

It went well. Or at least, it didn’t go horribly. But over the four weeks we ran it, I felt overwhelmed and swamped, meandering through several hours of Zoom calls. No one would respond to our questions, no one would volunteer to take part in activities, and the deafening silence felt like a bullet to my heart.

Suddenly I felt my inadequacy reflected in my students’ clueless and fumbling faces, placed on display during our end-of-the-summer camp showcase. With every child who stood up to perform, I cringed, regret piling in my mind. I forgot to tell them this detailI should have lowered my expectations, I should have pushed them harder and, worst of all, I’m not good enough for this.

Teaching brought up all sorts of insecurities I never knew I had. I put on an all-knowing face in front of them, but there was never a minute that passed where I did not doubt my own knowledge and expertise.

When I started teaching novice members for our speech club this year, I went in expecting the same struggles — the difficult kids who wouldn’t listen, the imposter syndrome over my qualifications and all the intrusive thoughts I could not stop from punching holes in my confidence.

Pull Quote | April Wang

I walked into the classroom, prepared to plaster on a fake smile and power through the year. Instead, I was flooded with beaming smiles and bold questions. I spent our first meeting yelling our introductory presentation at the top of my lungs, having to pull everyone —captains included — back from a tangent about how they were scared about pig dissections and their first-ever finals. Our novices were always, always talking, pulling in both other novices and captains and cheering everyone on with each new activity. Chaotic and exhausted as I felt by the end, my smile didn’t feel quite so fake anymore.

To my teachers out there, I understand your pain now. And I understand your passion. Standing in front of my class, against all odds, I felt heard. And I know that sounds funny because it’s usually the teacher’s job to listen and care about their students. But as the weeks went on and our speech students grew beyond every expectation we had for them, I was seeing my impact on the world unfold. In them, I found joy and love rather than insecurities and hatred.

I still don’t think of myself as a good teacher. As I’m sure many of my friends and students can attest to, I am chaos to the highest degree. But I throw myself into it with love and enthusiasm every week, knowing that all my insecurities will eventually be wiped away with pride.

And to my speech children, if you happen to be reading this (which I’m sure you are because half of you are in Writing for Publication and the other half of you are really enthusiastic about stalking people for some reason), I hope you know how rewarding it is to have you all be my students. And just maybe, I hope you can be proud of me too.