The following excerpt is from an interview by Sjon Ashby a doctoral student at Capella University. You can read more in the current 2011 Summer edition of Fine Lines. David tells the story of a high school speech teacher who changed his life.
by David Martin
My sophomore year in high school I had to take a speech class, and the “meanest” teacher I ever had in my life was this little Italian woman who taught that class. She was 4’ 10”. Mrs. Ahern looked up to everybody and almost hurt her neck to look up at some of the athletes in school. She never smiled. That day, when she asked me to give my first speech, I will never forget. I stuttered so badly. When I finished, I was wringing wet with sweat. Half way through my first attempt, I just shut down and I said to myself, “Screw this,” and I went back and sat down in my seat.
She slowly walked down the aisle to me, and she leaned over my shoulder and whispered into my ear, so only I could hear, “David, I know your mother.” She turned around and walked to the other side of the room and took about ten deep breaths. The class was silent, and she said, “Well, well, well. David you really do like sports, and I’m sure you’re a big believer that practice helps the team.” She wouldn’t get away from that idea, until I said loudly enough so the whole room could hear, “Yes, that’s right.”
Then, she pointed at me with her index finger from across the room and pulled me up again to the front. She said, “We’re going to do that speech one more time.”
“What? I gave it once; that’s all I’m doing. It was terrible. I suck,” I said, forcefully.
“Well, a lot of people have found this class challenging, but you just don’t look like the kind of student who would quit out there on the football field, if you got tackled behind the line,” she said, softly.
She said, “That’s a metaphor.”
I almost swore, but I knew that she would tell my mother. She got me up there to give my speech again, and I was only half as soaked with sweat as the first time when I finished. My talk was still horrible, but I completed it. The class was quiet. The students knew I was struggling. Nobody applauded. I knew I was not born to be an orator. I hung my head and slowly walked back to my seat.
She started clapping and said, “I mean that as praise, David. That was much better than the first time.”
She spent five minutes walking around the room, talking about God knows what, but she believed in the importance of students being able to say what they meant to an audience, and she walked back to the front of my aisle and pointed that index finger at me, again, then said, “Come up to the front, David, and this time bring that prop that you prepared for your speech. You haven’t even shown it to us, yet.”
I said, “No. I gave it twice. I am finished.”
She looked at me, sternly, and said so everyone could hear, “David, I know your mother.”
Oh, my God. I stood up and walked to the front.