Stand Up To Stand Out

CBS This Morning introduced the 2017 National Teacher of the Year today and as I watched her poise and professionalism, I was proud to see such a great representative of our profession. But I also have to say that hearing Charlie Rose’s voice gave me a slight case of PTSD. It reminded me of the media training I’d gone through to sit in front of him, Nora, and Gayle in April, 2015.

To prepare me for the intensity of interviews, the Council of Chief State School Officers sent me to media training. This consisted of simulated interviews that were then recorded for playback to a panel for a critique. At the best of times, I am uncomfortable seeing and hearing myself on video; in this instance, it was excruciating.

The pretend interviewer was a former producer at Fox News who was a virtuoso of mixing softball questions with sharp jabs that kept me off balance:

“What do you love about teaching at your school, Ms. Peeples?” she asked, her smile as sweet and inviting as a cup of cocoa.

“Seeing the bravery of my students, Eva,” I said, smiling back. “Knowing that so many come from traumatic backgrounds, I love seeing them choose education for themselves and seeing them choose hope.”

“That’s a beautiful answer, but it covers up the fact that you teach students who are here illegally, right? ” she replied. “Your state wants to deport them, right? What do you want to say to your Governor about that?”

The panel watching this exchange with me stopped the video.

“You see your expression there?” Christina, my lead trainer, asked. “That’s what’s called a ‘microexpression of contempt’ and you need to know that your face does that when you’re mad.”

Along with my microexpressions of contempt, I also flubbed opportunities to “bridge” back to my main message, forgot to use stories to illustrate my points, and generally was a shaky mess. I felt like a total failure and it was hard to keep from crying.

“Look Shanna,” Christina said. “You’re an A student or you wouldn’t even be here. But that’s not enough. You need to be memorable.”

That sentence stays with me, no matter what I’m doing. I realized that Christina crystallized something that is true of anyone who wants to stand apart from the multitude: They’re Memorable.

Shakespeare might as well have been describing so much of our current culture and media landscape in  Macbeth’s lament that life is “a tale told by an idiot. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

That’s why it’s even more important that anyone seeking to be an advocate or a creative of any kind needs to find a way to be memorable. And of course, being memorable is closely tied to being authentic, being real, and sometimes even allowing yourself to have microexpressions of contempt when something makes you mad.

Day 5: What I’ve Learned About Individuality

  1. “ To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” –  Ralph Waldo Emerson
  2. “There are two very different kinds of conformity, but they tend, somewhere along the line, to blend, unless we are always aware of the difference. One of them is essential if human beings are to live with one another in a civilized way. That is social conformity, which is basically only a kind of good manners, which, in turn, is formalized kindness. The other, the dangerous one, is conformity to alien standards or idea or values because that is the easy way, or because we think we can get farther in our job or profession by not fighting for what we believe in, or because we will be more popular if we surrender our own convictions to fit the community.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
  3. “It’s so hard to stand up, to not compromise, to give up an account or lose a vote or not tell a journalist what they want to hear. But those are the only moments where standing for something actually counts, the only times that people will actually come to believe that you in fact actually stand for something.” Seth Godin
  4. “Don’t wait for the auditorium. Share your best messages now. They matter now. We need them now. Not later. As you do this, you’ll find that what you have to say slowly begins to matter to more and more individuals. And before you realize it, you’ve found yourself a whole group of people tuned into what you’re saying. And that’s how influence works: one audience member at a time.” – Jeff Goins
  5. “Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” – Barbara Kingsolver
  6. “Most people are in fact quite capable of novel thinking and problem solving, if only their organizations would stop pounding them into conformity.” – Adam Grant
  7.  “In proportion to the development of his individuality, each person becomes of more value to himself, and is therefore capable of being more valuable to others.’ John Stuart Mill

My challenge: Feel the fear and say it anyway, write it anyway;  wear it, sing it. Embrace it.

Photo credit: jean louis mazieres via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

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Shanna Peeples

A former features writer and columnist for the Amarillo Globe-News, Shanna chaired the English dept. and was an instructional coach at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas. There she taught AP and remedial students for seven years. She is the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, and the 2015 Texas Teacher of the Year. Currently she serves as the Secondary English Curriculum Specialist for the Amarillo Independent School District.

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