Can Kindergarten Scar You For Life?

Hamilton Square SchoolCan one stupid incident in kindergarten scar you for life? Can it hold you back from doing certain things for years, until you are finally able to overcome your fear? Yes. It can.

I still remember being in kindergarten at Hamilton Square School. It was 1958. Fifty years ago. I can still see the teacher in front of the class. I will call her Mrs. L. instead of using her real name. I was sitting far to her right in the first row. She asked the class a question and I was eager to answer. I stood up, waved my arm wildly in the air so that she would see me and yelled, “Hey Mrs. L., hey Mrs. L.” She turned and looked at me and admonished me for saying “hey.” I can’t recall exactly what she said, but the whole class laughed at me and I sat down embarrassed and dejected.

It took me 23 years to get over that. I don’t think that she meant to “scar me for life”, but I’m also sure she didn’t realize how much she hurt me either. Whenever I think back to how I became afraid to speak in front of a group, this is where it leads me.

Except for the antics of one young boy who didn’t want to leave his mother at the beginning of the year, this incident is all I remember from my first year of school. In fourth grade my class put on a play about Christopher Columbus. My best friend played Columbus and I was in charge of pulling the curtain. I did not want to be on the stage facing an audience and having to recite lines.

In fifth grade one day, my teacher asked me to go to the front of the class. He then began grilling me with questions about what I was going to do on my summer vacation. That was just torture to be in front of the class like that. I was enormously relieved to be able to sit down again.

I don’t recall every incident in middle school and high school where I had to give a report in front of the class, but I do know that I dreaded every single one. Dreaded. I would worry about it constantly from the time the assignment was given, until it was over and somehow I survived. I was involved in all of the class plays, but behind the scenes working the lights. I knew the actors on stage and I admired them and respected them just for getting up there. I dropped out of a college Sociology course after the first class, when I learned I was going to have to give a presentation to pass the course.

It’s interesting to me, writing about this, and remembering that I played organized baseball from the time I was 9 until I was 18. I pitched in Little League, Babe Ruth League and Senior Babe Ruth. When you are the pitcher, everyone is watching you and you are the center of attention. That never bothered me. In fact, I liked it. I was very confident when I was pitching, even when I wasn’t pitching well. I just never connected pitching with speaking in front of a class or being on stage in a class play.

In 1980 I participated in a three day workshop in New York City called RelationShop. I have already written about some of that in a previous story, “Thanks For Having The Courage To Be Here.” In the workshop there are two co-leaders and several assistants who help them. They run microphones, hand out name tags, keep the room clean and make sure the chairs are lined up straight. I volunteered to assist at several workshops.

At the end of the workshop, the assistants are invited onto the stage to be recognized. Now, you don’t have to give a speech. You don’t even have to say anything, I don’t think. You could probably just smile and wave if you wanted. Of course, on the last night, just before this is supposed to happen, I am freaking out. I did not want to have to go onto that stage. No way. Fortunately, some of the other assistants supported me. I explained the situation and how panicked I was to Carla. She supported me by holding my hand and walking onto the stage with me as the other assistants followed. Carla was a Montessori school teacher at the time. I might have even been first in the line on stage.

Larry, one of the co-leaders of the workshop, was standing a few feet away. I remember starting out by saying something about how terrified I was just to be in front of so many people. I think there might have been 70 people in the room. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I ended up talking for 20 minutes!   Someone said it was the longest “thank you” speech that anyone in RelationShop had ever given. I remember that the audience was very supportive of me too. Once I admitted that I was scared to death, I just kept going. I got a big round of applause from everyone at the end. It was a really big deal for me. At the end of 20 minutes, I wasn’t afraid anymore.

I think that was the day I finally graduated from kindergarten. I was 28 years old. A week later, I went to a Retrospective for the workshop in New York City. It’s an opportunity for graduates of the workshop to get back together and introduce their friends and family to RelationShop. One of the participants who heard me give my 20 minute talk, asked me if I would come to Rockefeller University, where he worked, to give a talk about the workshop. It took me a minute or two, but I said yes. I went there a few weeks later and spoke for quite a while to a group of approximately 100 people about the workshop. I didn’t have any fear or anxiety. It was quite amazing to me that I could do that.

In the years since, I have been able to speak up at meetings and events with out any fear. It is truly one less thing to worry about. I’ve read that fear of public speaking is the number one fear that some people have. Jerry Seinfeld even made a joke that some people would rather be the dead body in the casket than give the eulogy at a funeral. I don’t know about that.

If it is such a big fear, why don’t schools try and identify kids who have it and help them? The younger the better. I would have been a much better student if I wasn’t glossophobic all through school. I don’t recall ever hearing the word glossopobia until recently. The name comes from Greek, glossa, meaning tongue and phobos, meaning fear or dread. There is even a website called, “Glossophobia.com” where you can read more about it.

I went to my first Toastmasters meeting recently. Steve Pavlina has written some stories about Toastmasters on his blog. Those articles got me interested. Then, a few months ago, I found out through a story in the newspaper, that a good friend of mine belonged to a local Toastmasters group. For some reason he never mentioned it. That is kind of ironic when you think about it.

Toastmasters International helps people become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience. I really enjoyed my first meeting. It lasted about two hours. Everyone was very nice and I really felt comfortable. I will be going back next week to give my “Ice Breaker” speech.

I would love to hear your comments about this topic and about this post.

The building in the picture at the top of this post is where I went to kindergarten. It was called Hamilton Square school at the time. It has been the Board of Education building for at least 25 years, maybe more. It’s hard to see in the picture, but over the doorway it says, “Knowledge Comes, But Wisdom Lingers.” There are also four icons below the saying. They are an open book, a candle in a candle holder, a lamp that looks like if you rubbed it a genie would come out and a globe. My kindergarten class picture was taken in front of these doors. I still have the picture.

13 Responses to “Can Kindergarten Scar You For Life?”

  1. heyjude says:

    Hey Tedder!

    Ah, kindergarten. The only thing I remember about it was the day I was put on “the thinking bench”. It was humiliating. I had pinched a boy’s hand because he dumped my milk all over the table at snack time. He didn’t have to sit on the thinking bench, just me. I sat on the bench all through recess that day thinking of the injustice of it all and how much I hated my teacher. Ironically, the boy who spilled my milk was the first boy I ever danced with, at my one and only junior high dance. 7th grade.

  2. Dave Roberts says:

    Yes it can. I believe you. The only things I remember about Kindergarten are the unsettling ones. In my case, I was safely ensconced in a morning kindergarten with a young first year teacher (who was beauuuuutiful) along with about 14 other kids when suddenly our class was merged with the afternoon group, keeping THEIR hours and THEIR teacher (an “older” woman with a grown family). It was a very disturbing moment indeed.

    When my own two boys entered kindergarten my wife and I were dumb-founded by our initial experience in the public school, and pulled our child out after a week. We enrolled him in the local Waldorf school instead. What we learned from that experience was truly enlightening. I believe that what kids of that age really need is a warm sense that they are safe. The behavior of your kindergarten teacher had the opposite effect. We found in the Waldorf school curriculum, a program of activity designed specifically to create rhythmic reliability that did just that. The kids knew what was coming and they could count on it being there every day. They knew they were going to be protected, that they were never going to be harshly reprimanded but they also could count on the fact that they were sure to be shown the consequences for behavior that did not contribute to the evolving rhythms of the class. I think a warm “nurturing” environment is the best description.

    How does … “yes Johnny, we see that you are very interested in telling us what you think, and we all want to you share that but please wait just a minute until…” (or something better than that) work for you?

    I think if you asked our kids (now college graduates) what they remember about kindergarten they would be hard put to come up with details just as we are, but I’ll put money on them remembering it as a “nice” experience.

  3. Andy says:

    “I think if you asked our kids (now college graduates) what they remember about kindergarten they would be hard put to come up with details just as we are, but I’ll put money on them remembering it as a “nice” experience.”

    Yup! I think almost all of my elementary and middle school teachers were great. Once high school happened there were a few duds, but it was bound to happen eventually. Berklee also has some fantastic faculty. Teachers don’t get paid enough in general, but I think they might actually be paid pretty well at Berklee.

  4. Charles says:

    Great topic Mr.Tedder. I believe we all have some scars or fears to face or be challenged by.

  5. I was very fortunate to have a wonderful grandmotherly kindergarten teacher and I remember that time fondly. I can also remember clearly other incidents all through my undergraduate years. Some were wonderful, some were horrific and the horrific ones scarred me just as your incident scarred you. It does seem it takes quite a while to overcome fears generated in our younger days.
    I went to school during the same era as you and I think today schools are very different and try to put a stop to bullying and humiliating incidents.
    It took me years to be able to speak in public without turning various shades of red.
    I enjoyed your post.

  6. John Tedder says:

    Thank you all for your comments. I appreciate it.

    Thank you Mountain Woman. I have to give my first “Ice Breaker” speech at Toastmasters tomorrow night and my knees aren’t even shaking yet. I’m actually looking forward to it.

    I wish I had been more fearless in school. I am trying to make up for it now.

  7. Best of luck to you and I know you’ll do a great job.

  8. kate says:

    John, I too was terrified to get up in front of the class to speak. One incident comes to mind when I was in 8th grade. Our assignment was to pick a disease and get up in front of the class and give the report. I don’t know why but I picked alcoholism. I was sooooo nervous that my hands began to shake while reading my report. The timing could not have been worse. I was reading the sentence that said, ” One of the first signs of alcoholism is shaking of the hands”. Well the class busted up laughing and so I just played into it and just said, ” A little demonstration”. The kids thought I did it on purpose, like a joke, and I did not let on otherwise.

  9. Thanks for the post. Really. Thanks so much.

  10. […] Tedder presents » Can Kindergarten Scar You For Life? – Tedder’s Random Notes posted at Tedder’s Random Notes, saying, “Can one stupid incident in kindergarten scar […]

  11. anaokulu says:

    Very nice great article thank you…

  12. Glossophobia says:

    I would love to see a follow up article to this post now stating how you are getting on with Toastmasters. Are you still a regular member?

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