Small Moment, Big Win

I know we get caught up, especially on this blog, with larger issues in education- policy, politics, philosophy. And all that stuff is important, and we like thinking about it (when our heads are not exploding).

But we are teachers, first and foremost, so I wanted to share a little moment I had earlier this week. As I have posted previously, I am teaching a Public Speaking class this semester for the first time in quite a while. It is a super group, with some wonderful students. But public speaking is scary (which is why we make kids take classes on it- because it isn’t magic, you can LEARN how to be better). It is especially so if, say, English isn’t your first language, and you are the only one in the class in that position.

My ELL student arrived this semester (I hate to label him like that, but I also hate making up names) really worried about this course, which he needs to graduate. Two separate adults came to see me before the semester started to express concerns on his behalf. And he had a bit of a rocky start- missed some classes, tried to skip some minor assignments, things like that.

As we rolled up to the first presentation we had prepared for, I was worried about how it would go for him. He had trouble with creating an outline, seemed to be avoiding the work (I can’t blame him, I avoid stuff when I am scared too). When I was making the schedule for these presentation he claimed that he was busy every day I tried to schedule him (I said “really, when DO you plan on coming to class that week?”) He missed a scheduled meeting with me to go over his outline the week before. It was shaping up to not go so well, and I really wanted him to feel some success.

So he did come to see me the day of the presentation. We had talked in class, and he had worked out a rough outline. He even had some images to go with his presentation. He put them in a word document, but we can work on the technical stuff later. He and I talked through what he was going to say, and how we thought it would go. He was worried that no one would be interested, especially the girls (his presentation was on cars, which are his passion). Several times he offered to flip a coin to see whether he did his presentation in class or just for me. He also offered to have his mom cook me homemade mole (that’s ‘moh-ley,’ for those of you not from the SW) for a week (okay, that was tempting). I worked pretty hard to be reassuring without letting him off the hook. But I was really enjoying just hanging out with him, and when he got into explaining cars to me he just lit up, and was giving me a very technical lecture on the difference between a ‘tuner’ and a ‘muscle car.’

In class before his presentation, I was getting the computer and projector ready and he came up and whispered to me “I’m really nervous!” Then when his turn came, he rocked it!

Everyone in class was ohhing and ahing at his slides of cars, he had some great facts to keep people interested (the engine in one slide costs $15,000 and generates 1500 horsepower). The audience enthusiasm was not at all split along gender lines (which surprised even me). While he was presenting, I could see him relax, by the end he had a big smile on his face and was obviously enjoying himself. He got the most enthusiastic applause of the day.

It was a really great moment, for him.  The truth is, I did very little. Has he learned a whole lot about communication skills at this point? Not really, but we’ll get to that. What he learned was that it is safe to try. Things won’t always work out badly. He does have interesting things to say. People do want to know.

And what did I do, little though it was? I hope I made it a little safe for him to try some things. I hope I started a relationship with him that will allow us to work on some skills. And afterwards, I did tell him he rocked it, but I also pointed out to him that the whole class thought he rocked it. Which is probably more important.

Small moment, big win.

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