Don’t make me talk to adults! Public speaking isn’t my thing

Q: I teach in a school in an area where lots of districts have open enrollment choice plans so parents can select any school they want for their children. Our school is really good, but we’re having trouble ramping up our enrollment, and my principal is understandably anxious. She wants teachers to “get out there” by presenting at conferences. She’s been pushing us for a while, telling us it will round out our skill set and help us grow professionally. She’s offered public speaking training to anyone who’s resistant. It’s clear she’ll disapprove if we refuse. I love teaching kids, and I work in an elementary school for a reason. I’m not interested in educating adults. I dread back-to-school nights because parents drain my energy. To be honest, talking to grown people scares me. Can I get out of this without hurting my career?

A: I feel your dread, but I’m going to play devil’s advocate. Your principal may be using teachers to boost enrollment, but I give her credit for being transparent. She’s also clear that she sees these conferences as opportunities for staff to share their interests and grow professionally. Good leaders want their teachers to stretch and will support them as they acquire new skills. Your principal recognizes that this isn’t an easy sell and is providing extra training. Her approach may be a little heavy-handed, but I think it’s worth questioning your knee-jerk reaction.

Let’s start by looking at different possible scenarios. In option one, you bow out and have an honest conversation with your principal about your reluctance. Ideally, she won’t hold it against you. It’s possible, however, that she’ll view you as risk-averse, stubborn, or short-sighted. You’ll also reinforce your belief that you’re incapable. Mastering a task is the best way to still negative self-talk.

In option two, you take her up on the offer of training but make no promises to present. This allows you to explore the option, shed some discomfort, attain public speaking skills, and be viewed as someone willing to make an effort.

In option three, you take a deep breath and resolve to go for it. You accept that you may never feel entirely comfortable presenting to adults, but you focus on sharing your interests with other educators. Even if your talk is imperfect, you take pride in having tackled something terrifying. That in and of itself can be deeply satisfying. With repeated exposure, you may find that you even start to enjoy yourself.

I’m going to offer a fourth option. Public speaking isn’t the only way you can learn, grow professionally and share your expertise with the community. Perhaps your principal would be willing to offer staff professional writing instruction. You could consider sharing your ideas in academic journals, professional newsletters, or local newspapers. You’d still broaden your school’s exposure, just through different means. If you go this route, I’d state your reasoning to your administrator. Explain that while presenting isn’t your thing, you understand her objectives and want to contribute in a comfortable and meaningful way.

I think it’s fantastic that you and your colleagues are so passionate about your work, and I urge you to consider sharing your knowledge in one form or another. Perhaps it would help you to view any outreach as yet another way to help children. After all, you’ll be educating the very people who’ll be working with students. You may be pushed beyond your comfort zone, but it’ll be for the greater good.

Have a question that you’d like Career Confidential to answer? Email to All names and schools will remain confidential. No identifying information will be included in the published questions and answers. 

PHYLLIS L. FAGELL (@Pfagell; is the school counselor at Sheridan School in Washington, D.C., a therapist at the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda, Md., and the author of the Career Confidential blog. She is also the author of Middle School Matters, available at

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