Perfect? No. Honest? Yes.

During my time as an English major, I’ve become well acquainted with my strengths and weaknesses as a student. The long research papers? I love those. PowerPoint presentations? Eh, not my favorite. Blogging? It’s pushed me to not be so formal. Reading out loud? That’s been the hardest for me.

Up until my last two semesters at Geneseo, I would say that my biggest “weakness” would be my fear of reading out loud in class. Now, I recognize that the fear is irrational, but it is far from uncommon. There seems to be the expectation—whether it is self-inflicted or not—to be the perfect student. We all share our struggles with each other about having our assignments done on time, and it isn’t particularly surprising to hear, “Oh, I didn’t get all of the reading done last night.” These are confessions that we give, but I believe that they are relatively superficial compared to the struggles that we are really going through.

How does this relate to reading out loud in class? Well, I think that the expectation to be a “perfect student” was largely responsible for my fear or reading out loud/talking in class. What if I can’t pronounce a word? What if I stumble over a sentence that is not familiar with me? What if my voice sounds strange bouncing off the walls and chairs of the classroom? For me, a huge insecurity is how my voice sounds; my talking voice is often described as a mix between Joan Rivers and Elmo from Sesame Street. Don’t even get me started on my singing voice.

Last semester, I was in a class where talking and reading in class was mandatory. 35% of your grade depended on how much a student talked in class. That was really, REALLY daunting for me. Each class would end with our names having a check next to them or not. The checks at the end of the semester equaled our participation grade. The pressure felt immense. At times, I found myself just saying something random, without any real thinkING, just to have a check jotted down by my name. Surprisingly, this ended up being a positive experience for me, because I was forced to get over quite a bit of my fear. The more you do the thing that turns your tummy and makes your chest blotchy, the less it affects you. At least in this case.

Going into this course, it was refreshing to hear that I was not required to talk or read in class. Having the pressure taken off me to speak multiple times during each period led me to want to talk during class! I know that other students felt the same way. I was able to really think before I said something.

When we went around the circle and each took a line or paragraph of what we were reading, I felt like we were all on the same page. (Pun intended.) If we ran into a word or name that we did not know how to pronounce, like yesterday in Big Machine with Ravi Arapurakal, we admitted that we did not know how to say the name. It was freeing to be in an environment where we were all admitting that we are not perfect students.

Going forward into the “real” world, I am seeing the importance of being vulnerable enough to admit that you do not have it all together. Like with reading out loud in class, there are bound to be people around you who are struggling with, or have been through, a similar thing.

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