Teachers are not perfect. Even the best of us find ourselves struggling with the nasty growing slithery sensation of anxiety building up during a class. And then that awful moment, when it’s just too much and you blurt out some terribly inappropriate comment and dart off of the lesson plan path just because the discomfort is too much. Has this ever happened to you?

I remember how I used to walk past a teacher colleague of mine in the hallway just before going into class and laugh as we mimed the whirr of a glass bubble going up around us to brace ourselves for whatever was about to happen (because in teaching you never know!)  

Brace ourselves from what? The anxiety generated build-up and blurt. You know, being so nervous in front of the expectant faces that you suddenly go blank, can’t think of a single motivating activity to do, or where you saw the answer to the question a student is asking, so you blurt out some ridiculous question or idea. Thirty minutes later, when the students have left the class, you look at the board and realize you forgot to do 95% of the items on the Menu!  

And that was before Covid-induced sudden transition to online teaching. Anxiety? Let’s just say that the potential for anxiety has gone up a notch over the past three months. It’s perfectly normal with the number of new situations we are dealing with. But what to do about it?

I love what Oren Jay Sofer says in his book Say what you mean (Shambala Publications, USA, 2018, p. 43). I quote:

The anxiety we feel in conversation [and that’s what we’re doing when we’re teaching, right?] is usually rooted in deeper needs to be seen or heard, needs for safety, acceptance, belong, and so on. The less confident we feel in meeting those needs, the more pressure we will experience to speak up or remain silent. We might fear that if we don’t say something right now we’ll never be able to do so. Or if we do say something, disaster or disconnection will surely ensue.

Ouch! Can you relate?

Fortunately, Sofer doesn’t leave us there smarting with shame [no shame, right, Brené-Brown fans?]; he makes two suggestions: wait, then wait again.  

Say what?

The two WAITs are actually acronyms. Sofer shares a bit of advice given him by an NVC (non-violent communication) colleague. When the anxiety builds up and is about to explode with a blurt, he basically says, “Stop where you are, breathe and think:

  1. Why am I talking?
  2. What am I thinking?

It’s what Sofer terms a choice point, a moment in the conversation when you empower yourself to either stop to listen or go ahead and speak.

This is where my third suggestion, KISS, comes in: keep it simple, stupid. Or, as Sofer says in the title of his book: Say what you mean. No more, no less.

We can cork the blurt. Of course, not overnight, but certainly with practice. By just pausing to acknowledge the anxiety, taking the time to think about why we’re engaging in the conversation, and getting in touch with what we really think, we’re so much more likely to teach and communicate calmly, confidently and clearly.

How are you in the blurt department? How do you manage to cork it? Share your tips and tricks in the Comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you wherever you are in the world.  

Keep learning, and here’s to corking the blurt! – Claire xx

[Photo: Kai Pilger/Unsplash]

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