Erin Cunningham

Erin Cunningham
The Essay, Dr. Jennifer Fife

The writing process for my narrative stemmed from deep memories of childhood struggle with reading. During reflection and the brainstorming process, I only focused on the negative memories I had. My favorite part of my narrative was when I described a moment in the 6th grade when we would read the chapter aloud. The teacher called it “popcorn”: each student would read a certain passage whenever they were called upon and when they were finished would call upon another student. Being an introverted kid, I would dread the moment that my name would be called. Throughout my narrative, I began focusing on the positive memories I had with reading. After creating a bond with reading, I was able to accomplish so much more. I was able to express myself through different clubs and change the introverted, nervous, little 6th grader into a strong, confident, adult.

Excerpt from “Tick-Tock”

“Tick! Tick! I stare at the clock watching the hands rotate. The large hand having a constant twitch going in a circle. Around, and around, and around it goes. The blank white background of the clock shimmers in the fluorescent light causing me to zone out. There is a mutter in the background.”

 See Full Piece

by Erin Cunningham

Tick! Tick! I stare at the clock watching the hands rotate. The large hand having a constant twitch going in a circle. Around, and around, and around it goes. The blank white background of the clock shimmers in the fluorescent light causing me to zone out. There is a mutter in the background. Then all of a sudden I snap back into reality. My 6th-grade history teacher asks me to read the next passage from the world history textbook. My heart drops into my stomach. All of a sudden my palms are hot and sweaty, and I lose all of my ability to speak. I look back at the book, and the letters go in and out of focus. I forget where we are in the passage and I glance at my teacher hoping she might give me the first word of the sentence... She realizes and subtly helps me. Then I lift my hand and with my pointer finger, I begin to drag it across the page. My sticky finger gets stuck and makes a ripping noise and I crinkle the paper. My shaking voice lacking confidence stutters over some of the more complicated words. I read too quickly and mess up multiple times. I hear my peers snicker. My teacher hisses, and they stop. The sudden sound of silence causes me to rush through the end. Finally, I am done. I lift my head, locking eyes with my teachers. I analyze her smile and it is tilted, then a small head nod and a quick shrug of her shoulder’s breaking our eye contact. She cracks a big smile revealing her shiny white teeth and calls all the next student to read out loud. Phew! I take a deep breath and wipe my hands down the leg of my pants.

Reading, in general, seemed more like a chore to me than something I enjoyed. I was placed in an extra reading/writing class starting in elementary school and throughout my middle school years. My teachers said it would just be temporary. I did not get the chance to take the fun classes everyone else took. My friends had an Art class, while I had Reading. Just once I wanted to sculpt a pot, even with a terrible design, and be able to show others. Instead, when my friends were going upstairs to the art rooms I went to the library. I sat on hard chairs that were missing screws. Every time I readjusted my body it creaked. My reading teacher was always really peppy and, funnily enough, I remember that her breath regularly smelled like coffee. Her pen had a puffball and every time she wrote a note it jiggled. Every day I sat at a bland wooden table across from her with a sheet of paper sitting out in front of me. She had a legal pad, a stopwatch, and that puffball pen. The task was simple to read as many words as possible in one minute. In my mind, there was one small problem. I had to read it out loud!!! Before she said go, I had to prepare myself for that one minute sprint. I pushed my hair back and readjusted my chair. I placed my glasses back onto the bridge of my nose and took a deep breath…3...2...1...go! I flipped the paper over. I placed my index finger on the first word and began to drag. Those experiences affected my relationship with reading negatively. When they forced me to read aloud along with timing me it resulted in me having anxiety whenever I had to read. Since then, I always end up getting nervous. I remember feeling embarrassed every single time. I felt like I was not as smart as some of my classmates. For a little while, I felt like an outcast and rejected the extra help. I was not as willing to learn as I am now. I always found a reason to avoid reading. I realized that the school system was not going to be the one to make me fall in love with reading.

Even though I had negative feelings towards reading aloud in class some moments have me falling in love with books, poetry, and the stories written in the pages. In middle school, I read a book titled Anna and the French Kiss written byStephanie Perkins. I cracked open the cover and the rest is history. Everything I loved was in that book. Travel. Romance. Drama. I loved and continue to love reading that book. I lived vicariously through Anna and her travels abroad. There was never a dull moment. This book changed my view on reading. I began reading by myself. My reading skills grew and I was placed in A.P. English classes. I enjoyed going to those classes because not only did they make me feel more confident, I wasn’t as hesitant to volunteer to read aloud. The most impactful experience I had was when I was in high school and my friends and I joined the speech and debate team. I was initially dragged to the meetings, and I hoped my friends did not notice how hesitant I was about joining. Even though “speech” was the title of the club, there were many types of events a member could participate in. I happily chose the poetry event. I wanted to continue my journey of learning to love reading.

When I think of my first story in this essay, of my younger self, it feels very different from how I felt presenting poetry. 11-year-old me, stuttered through a passage and my hands would get all clammy. My speech and debate team event of poetry required me to stand in front of a room full of people and perform a poem with ease. I did not stutter, but I still did have sweaty palms. After my three years in speech and many tournaments, I won many placement medals. I have only had a few moments in my life where a whole auditorium of people was standing cheering and clapping for me. Holding the cold metal in my warm palm and standing to meet the other winners made me feel very proud of my new and improved literary self.


My relationship with reading grew stronger as I got older. I still struggle sometimes to crack open a book, but when I need that one good read I light a candle and crack open Anna and the French Kiss. Finding a book that I truly love, and by joining a speech and debate team I think that I currently have a very strong relationship with reading and public speaking.

Back to Authors

Invisible line, width of the page Invisible line, width of the page