Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Fear of Presenting

Today was the end of a quarter and the last assignment for my students was an oral presentation on the topic of their research papers. I always think of this as a break for them - no MLA formatting, no worrying about fragments or run-ons or proper in-text citations. I was reminded today, however, that some students suffer extreme fear of speaking in front of the class.

One of my students is outgoing, gregarious, and is often told to be quiet by the other students because he talks and talks and talks - loudly. Before each class period, he asks me if the topic for the response paper for the day is going to be controversial, because he loves to debate. He is always the first with his hand in the air, and often interrupts and talks over other students in his enthusiasm to be heard.

Imagine my surprise when today he announced that he would not be giving a presentation because it caused him too much anxiety. I thought he was joking at first, but then I saw the tension in his face. I protested--it would be the difference between an A and a B, and he surely deserved an A, but he said he'd rather take a B than speak in front of the class. I explained my surprise since he seemed to enjoy an audience. He said he couldn't explain it; he knew it wasn't rational, but he'd always suffered from this paralyzing fear. Then, he disappeared from class, presumably to avoid the pressure to speak. 

There have always been a few students who decline to present, but this case, in particular, brought home how important it is to be sensitive to those who suffer from this phobia and to devise ways to help alleviate the stress ahead of time. In the coming week, I'll post some things I've done in the past, but I'm curious how other teachers handle this situation. All ideas are welcome!


  1. Thanks for this post Laura. We have Heritage Fair coming up soon and all of my students have to present. I am aware of certain students and their issues with speaking in front of the group, and I've been wondering what I'm going to do about these presentations. I think that I may have either a lunchtime or after school option to present just to me (and possibly the others who don't want to talk in front of the class) rather than the whole class. I'm just wondering how many will take me up on that option, as it is more of a time commitment.

    Anyhow, thanks for the reminder to get my act together and decide what I'm going to do with these kids!


  2. Hi!
    I am an English teacher and it does astound me when students need to present and the one I think will not have a problem presenting refuses to. I often give students the opportunity to present to me after school or before school (never during lunch break, god forbid I take away their lunch time!).

    I am your newest follower :-)

    Bergin's Classroom