I never really thought about speaking directly until it was brought to my attention how much I tend to speak indirectly.

Speaking Directly: A Thing I Didn't Know I Sucked At

For the past two weeks I’ve been in training for a position as a summer teacher with the Institute of Reading Development. The number one goal of the Institute is to help students develop a lifelong love of reading, so naturally, this is the most up my alley a thing could possibly be.

(That last sentence is really stressful. I don’t know why I phrased it that way, and I probably could’ve edited it. My stylistic intentions are errors in judgement. So here we are.)

Each day, we do some independent study with the lesson plans, training manual, and the actual novels and nonfiction books we’ll be teaching. Then, we go into small groups and model giving the lesson. It’s a really helpful thing to get feedback from fellow teachers. Also, I’m picking up little things here and there that I want to add into my teaching routine at OU. These aren’t proprietary things by any means, rather just little things that any teacher should probably do.

In addition to now thinking of my lesson plans as blocks of time rather than as specific activities that must be done, I’m learning to frame my lectures and directions to my students so that it outlines a clear path for them as learners. Oh, and I’m learning to speak directly.

Or rather, I’m consistently failing at speaking directly.

I'm consistently failing at speaking directly. Click To Tweet

When I say “speaking directly,” I mean not couching everything I say with some passive modifier. Words like just, sorta, kinda, and probably are my sweet spot. I don’t just use them conversationally. I use them in writing, primarily because I have a very conversational writing style that I’ve been working to develop over the past 6 or so years. I do not write directly. And since writing is my favorite way to communicate, a lot of the weird quirks and style choices I make in my writing bleeds into my conversation.

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This means when I’m giving a lesson, I say those words. So when I’m giving my lectures, a lot of the things I say are filled with those words.

But even worse is my tendency to ask for things. So, while I’m modeling a lesson plan, I’ll say something like “Can I get a volunteer to answer this one?”

I’m the teacher. Of course I can get a volunteer. I don’t need to give them this option. I need to say “I want a volunteer to answer this one.” Or even better — I need to volun-tell someone to answer.

I’m not sure where this comes from, but I think it may be leftover from my old days as a 20-something people pleaser. Now that I’m 30, I need to remember that I no longer have to care what people think of me, and if they don’t like my directness, they can sit on it, Potsie.

The worst part of having other teachers critique my teaching models is realizing how much I’ve been doing that in the classroom at my full-time job. It makes me cringe to think about it. I’m almost positive my students have never noticed it, but thinking about how many times I’ve indirectly stated a direction to my students makes me mad.

(This is like when you realize that you’ve been wearing something that you thought was super cute only to find that it’s completely out of style. This is why I only wear very simple clothing items, and why I now only speak directly in the classroom.)

So now as we go through our lesson models, I catch myself being indirect and I try to correct it. Each time I hear myself saying “can I” my teeth grind. I will take this out of my everyday speech even if it means that I have to grunt and point like a caveman.

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To some, this may not be a big deal. But to me, speaking directly is important because I want to be clear. I want my words to be interpreted correctly. And I want to speak in a way that garners respect. Perhaps the hardest thing about teaching a group of college students is conveying to them how they are obligated to treat you the same as they would treat the dean of the college. This is especially hard when you are the same age as their sibling.

And then, once I finally master speaking directly, I will work on not filling silences with um, okay, or the question “does that make sense?”

Public speaking is so effing hard, you guys.

Public speaking is so effing hard, you guys. Click To Tweet

6 Responses

  1. This is interesting. I never really thought saying, “Will someone read this out loud?” or ASKING someone to answer a question while teaching made me passive. But, I get it. It takes out the guess work for the students if you STATE what you want accomplished instead of posing it as a suggestion. I am also fighting off my people pleasing tendencies as I quickly approach my thirtieth. So, thanks for giving me something to think about!

    1. Hey, no problem! Once I stopped people pleasing, my life got so much better. And speaking directly is definitely making all the difference in how I feel in the classroom. I’m interested in seeing how it affects my students.

  2. Yes, I’m big on “does that make sense?” when I’m speaking. I joined a Toastmasters group to help me hone my skills because I’m realizing how much I’m undermining myself with submissive wording.

    1. I’m excited to hear about your experience with Toastmasters. Have you, in fact, become a master?

  3. Heck Yeah, you make complete sense! Filler words are the worst- in trying to be direct. But in a conversational writing piece, those filler words are gold.

    I am really glad for this “Aha” moment you are having, I think these skills will transform teaching for you, they’ll be the foundation to really connecting with students and being effective during your lessons. Kudos to you, for being open about being a work in progress!


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