Category Archives: speaking

Branching Out

So, have I mentioned here that I’m becoming less and less confident about my ability to find work in a classroom? If not, well, I am; I’ve been out of work for more than a year and in all that time – despite having sent resumes to literally every educational institution within a 50 mile radius (some more than once) – I’ve only had three interviews. There’s something not right about that.

As a consequence, I’ve begun to consider moving outside of education and pursuing something in activism. To that end, I’ve been sending out this letter to groups and organizations that work for social justice causes (I’ve only changed identifying details):

Hello!

I wish that I could make this introduction in person because I fear that I’m not going to come off at all the way I intend. Keeping that in mind, I’m just going to forge ahead and hope for the best. I beg your indulgence.

I am a 44-year-old mother of two teenaged daughters. My husband and I have been together for over 20 years and have lived in Coastal New England for all of them. I graduated from LU in 1996 with a degree in English with a concentration in education and literary criticism, got married that summer, and delivered our first child the following June. Mr. Chili and I did the math and realized that it would be much more financially sound for me to stay home with the baby, so that’s what I happily did. Our second daughter was born in March of 1999, and I rocked the stay-at-home-mom gig until she went to kindergarten and I headed back to LU for grad school. I finished my Master’s in English teaching in 2006 and worked teaching at the high school, community college, and university level until last year, when I took some time to pursue a post-graduate certificate (again, at LU; I have an all-State education!) in adolescent development.

I’m writing to you because I have discovered, through both casual observation and focused introspection, that I’m deeply passionate about social causes. Just about every class discussion I ever led was grounded in figuring out why things happen to people the way they do, in identifying what forces are in place that cause them (and how we do or do not perpetuate those systems), and in exhorting students to think critically and to find – and use – their voices. My friends have told me that I’m the first person they go to when they need information about an issue, or when they want someone to help them work through their thinking about one thing or another. My whole life has been spent as an outspoken and unapologetic LGBTQ ally and, separately, a strong pro-choice advocate. A significant part of my identity is wrapped up in being socially conscious and energetic, and in teaching others to be so, too.

I wholeheartedly embraced the crazy of this past election cycle (I had time on my hands, after all) and I found myself being frustrated, again and again, by the lack of knowledge that was being utilized by my friends and acquaintances. I posted about a zillion things on my facebook page and tried to direct people to thoughtful, accurate sources for the information they lacked. I spoke to people, I enlisted former students into the voting rolls, and volunteered with the local Obama campaign.

I want to do more of that, but I’m coming quickly to understand that my energy and passion are seen as liabilities in traditional school settings. I guess what I’m asking you is this; is there an opportunity with your organization that would use my passion, my teaching skills (I am an excellent and enthusiastic teacher, particularly of teenagers), and my research, writing, and speaking abilities in a position where I can feel like I’m making a difference? I’m not a naive 20-something; I understand that one person doesn’t go out and set the world on fire. I do believe, however, that one person can set off a ripple that reaches farther than that person ever imagined it could, and I feel like I am a significant pebble that could make some really wonderful waves if I could just find the right pond.

So, there you have it. I’m outspoken, energetic, committed, and thoughtful. I’ve got some significant work experience and I care about the job that I do. I’m personable, easygoing, and eager to learn. I need something to do with all this energy. Got any suggestions?

Thank you so much for taking this time for me. I really, really appreciate it.

Warmly,

Mrs. Chili

 

I haven’t had any luck in getting positive responses to this email until today, when I got this:

Hello Chili,
Thank you for your email and for your passion for justice.  I think that I would like to meet with you face to face to talk and see what we could possibly do together.
Is it possible for you to meet sometime next week in *one of our bigger cities*?  I will be free Thursday and Friday afternoons.
Or suggest another time/place.
 
Best wishes,
Sarah Jane

I’ve written back to let her know that I’m available at her convenience.  I’m really excited to see where this goes.

 

p.s. I’m still working on putting together the post about my experience at Dr. Wong’s school (here’s a spoiler; once I left, I never heard from them again…).

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Filed under Civics and Citizenship, concerns, critical thinking, frustrations, job hunting, Learning, Mrs. Chili as Student, out in the real world, self-analysis, speaking, success!, Teaching, The Job, winging it, Yikes!

SO?! How Did it GO?!

Apparently, it went really, REALLY well!

I got moderately dressed up (for those who care, I wore a cute blue plaid sleeveless dress with a flow-y white swing sweater and super-comfy blue suede flats) and got to the school about 20 minutes early, so I sat in my car, breathing and playing solitaire on my phone.  At about 5 minutes to 11, I walked to the building and checked in.  I was shown to a conference room and waited for a few minutes for the assistant principal to come in.

He greeted me warmly and explained that the other teachers would be joining us shortly.  The lead English teacher, who’s been a blog buddy for about 7 years (Hi, Chatty!), made an enthusiastic entrance with a huge smile, followed by the social studies teacher, who was friendly but a bit more reserved.  The science teacher was off on a field trip, “tromping around a pond” doing research with the kids about the ecology of a local body of water.  She came in just a few minutes later.

The AP did most of the talking.  He talked about the structure of the team, the incredible book purchases he’s made this year for the freshman and sophomore classes, and the philosophy and goal of the school.  He looked me in the eye and gave every indication that he’s wholly invested in seeing this experiment succeed.  I got the distinct impression that he’s a very supportive administrator.

They’re functioning as a collaborative environment where teachers actually work together (and those of you who’ve been with me for any length of time know that’s exactly what I’m looking for).  The AP emphasized the freedom that the teams have to structure not only the curriculum, but the way that time gets spent (though I’m going to have to see it in action to really understand what that means in terms of the practical application).

Everything he said sounded great, but I found myself staying quiet; I was worried about coming off as too eager.

I talked a little bit about some good lesson plans (specifically, about how much I love to teach Frankenstein, and the ways in which I combine TKaM, The Book Thief, and Letter from a Birmingham Jail).  I talked about how I always seem to fall into the role of teacher, how important social justice issues are to me both personally and professionally, and about how my entire paradigm is rooted in collaboration.  Oh, and that I’m a goddess in the kitchen.

I left feeling pretty good – not great, but pretty good – about how I did.  I felt better when Chatty sent me a message telling me that she thought it went well, too.  I felt even better when I got a call, about 20 minutes ago, asking me to come in for a second interview on Friday.

 

This might actually happen, You Guys!

 

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Filed under colleagues, job hunting, self-analysis, speaking, success!, Teaching, winging it, Yikes!

Improving My Argument

*A continuation of the Counting My Chickens series*

I’m soliciting advice on how to present a particular argument.  Your input would be most appreciated.

improve your argumentimage credit

I am prepping to give a writing workshop at CPS on Friday, and I was going through the folder of information Dr. Wong gave me a few weeks ago when I first visited the school.  In it are fliers about the grading system, the dress code, tuition, things like that.  Included in the packet is the school’s handbook, and in that handbook is a whole section about “Respectful Language.”

Oh, boy; here we go….

I’ve written about how I feel about “colorful language” a number of times (notably here. There are other posts, too, I’m sure, but I don’t have the patience to look them up right now).  I feel – and have always felt – as though it’s my job as a teacher to give kids a strong command of their language – ALL of their language – and to teach them when it’s appropriate to use which rhetorical strategies.  Sometimes, and particularly when we’re engaging in creative endeavors, a particular of class of words is required to get across the true tenor of one’s meaning.  Those words exist for a reason, and part of my job is to make sure my students understand both when they need to employ them and when the rhetorical situation allows for it.

Like a fucking lady

image credit

The upshot of the section in the handbook is that if you have a strong enough vocabulary, you don’t need to utter imprecations.  I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy that, and I’m trying to figure out a way to present that case in a way that is clear, logical, and defensible.  If I’m going to be asked to join this staff, I cannot have a limitation placed on what I can and cannot accept from students in terms of their own self-expression (and, not for nothing, “blasphemy” is listed as a no-no, as well.  Insert derisive snort here).
I have success with my students because I work hard to build an environment where they know they’re safe to explore what they really think and feel, not just what they think they’re expected to think and feel.  I work hard to create a truly judgment-neutral zone in the classroom so that kids can dismiss their inner critics and stroll out on limbs of thinking they’re not certain will support their weight.  I want them to dig under their proverbial beds, to open their proverbial closet doors, and to peek at their proverbial boogeymen, and to trust that I’m going to be there to help them find a way to get those ideas out of their heads in satisfying ways;  the only way I can do that is if I let them know that – at least in this class – they’re free to express themselves as authentically and as openly as they’re able to.  Sometimes (often, in fact), that expression is raw and painful and ugly, and that HAS TO BE OKAY.  Sometimes, the only way into a really great idea or a profound self-discovery is through the fucking wars, and that HAS TO BE OKAY.

If I’m going to be asked to teach anything beyond the basics of grammar and business writing etiquette (I can NEVER spell that word right the first time!), I’m going to require that there be nothing off limits for my students to write or say within the walls of our classroom.  I will make certain that they have a very clear and firm understanding of social contracts, and I will continue to reinforce the concept of rhetorical situations and the importance of tailoring one’s message to one’s audience, but I can’t function if I’m to treat an entire mode of expression as taboo.

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What is “Reasonable”?

I’m thinking I may cross-post this on the Blue Door; it echos a lot of the thinking I’ve been doing over there, so if you read both places, don’t be surprised if you get a feeling of déjà vu.

Each of my classes is currently engaged in a unit about public speaking. My freshmen are giving purely informational presentations – I’ve tasked them with learning about something interesting and then teaching the rest of the class about it.  Since I like to do my own homework every once in a while, I’m doing this presentation with them.  Mine will be about the first round of the Nuremberg Trials.

My juniors are taking on an opinion presentation – they’ve been told to format their presentation around “here’s this thing that exists, here’s what I think about it, and here’s why I think the way I do,” and my seniors are attempting an argumentative/persuasive piece – they’re crafting an presentation that asks the audience to consider – or to reconsider – a particular topic.

Each of these presentations has three requirements – they need to have visuals, they need a written component, and the kids have to speak for 3-5 minutes or (5-8 for the bigger kids).  Additionally, they need to have at least three reputable sources, and they need to be organized such that the audiences can follow along, even if they’ve never had any experience with the topic in question.

I ended up in a conversation with my seniors this afternoon that intrigued me.  It was a bit of an offshoot of the conversation we started on Tuesday when I brought up the concepts of ethical speech and what our responsibilities are to the words that we send out into the world.  While I had planned this part of the unit to fall on this week anyway, I’m often amazed by how timely the Universe is in dropping relevant, real-world stuff into my lap at the exact time I’m teaching them in a classroom.  The Arizona shooting and the conversation about rhetoric that has inspired were just such a thing, and we had a long and interesting discussion about whether or not we can (or should) link the speech of one to the action of another.

Anyway, several of the kids came to me with topics that really weren’t appropriate for argument, and I spent a while trying to get the kids to understand that I’m looking for them to tackle the kinds of issues about which reasonable people can disagree.  It’s highly unlikely, I explained to one kid, that reasonable people are going to agree with what the Westboro Baptist Church does, so arguing against their right to do those things is kind of a pointless exercise.  So, too, is arguing against animal rights abuses; most reasonable people would agree that it’s wrong to be cruel and abusive to animals.

Just about when I thought I was getting through to them, one of my (favorite) kids piped up.  “Mrs. Chili,” he asked, “what does it mean to be reasonable?”

Yeah!  Wow!  What DOES that mean?

We spent a good long time talking about the implications of making that kind of judgment about something.  How DO we determine what reasonable means?  What are the criteria by which we judge that kind of person?

The answers the kids came up with both surprised and delighted me.  Reasonable people, they decided, are people who, by their nature, are open-minded.  They’re willing to listen to others’ ideas, but aren’t necessarily swayed by them.  Reasonable people are critical thinkers and don’t just jump on the latest and greatest ideas.  They don’t give a whole lot of credence to the people who are making the most noise, but are more impressed by the people who make the clearest and most compelling argument.  Reasonable people take the big picture into account; a reasonable person may be willing to concede to something not-so-good in the short term to ensure a positive outcome long-term.  Reasonable people are compassionate and consider the needs of others when making decisions or taking actions.  Reasonable people may well be considered unreasonable by outside observers, they decided, but it’s not one’s reputation that determines one’s reasonableness; one’s behaviors, thought processes, and actions determine this (some of my kids are very sensitive to the fact that our school doesn’t yet have a very good reputation, and they take that personally).  Reasonable people do not generally abide extremes, they decided, nor do reasonable people generally rely upon “faith” to make their decisions; they are more influenced by their own experiences and observations and the facts that they encounter than they are by scripture or the words of their particular flavor of clergy.  Reasonable people are willing to change their minds about something when they’re presented with compelling evidence to do so.

We ended the conversation by talking about the idea put forth on a church’s message board:

Learning to think for themselves, and learning to do that reasonably, is perhaps the most important thing I can encourage my students to do.  To that end, I give them every opportunity I can find, and I ask them to think in whatever ways they can, whether those ways agree with my way of thinking or not (because learning to disagree with civility is absolutely vital, and learning to disagree with those in authority is a life skill).

So I ask you, Dear Readers, what would you add to my kids’ definition of what makes one reasonable?  Do you think you embody those qualities?  If not, where can you strive to bring more reasonableness into your life?

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Ten Things Tuesday

I’m taking a cue from Mamie and listing ten things that I say (often multiple times in a day) over the course of my professional life.

1.  Less talking, more writing!

2.  I don’t know; what do YOU think?

3.  You know I can hear you whispering, right?

4.  ONE butt to a chair, please.

5.  Did you REALLY just say that out loud and in front of witnesses?

6.  ….AND….?  Give me more!

7.  Oh, DO quit your whining.  You have to do ONE homework assignment; your teachers have to grade and enter them ALL….

8.  If you don’t ask, the answer is always ‘no’.

9.  Stop saying “like” (this usually renders them temporarily speechless, often amusingly so).

10.  You know I love you, right?  (usually uttered before the delivery of some form of verbal smack down).

I discovered the other day that some of my freshmen are keeping a running log of the things that I say that they think are funny.  I know for sure that they copied down “I need to take up coffee… or maybe rum,” the other day, which was my response to their being completely wound up and uncontrollable at 8:00 on a Monday morning.   When the list gets to ten, I’ll publish them for you; I think you’ll be surprised by some of the things that get said in my classroom…

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Support the Arts!

I’m going to sacrifice a little anonymity here, but I promise you that permission was asked for and given.

Beau (aka Will), my beloved former student and now-TA, is a very accomplished poet. He’s earned himself a spot on the team going to the national competition, and he and his crew have devised an incredibly ambitious method of fund raising. If you’re so inclined, please help them out – and check them out; I think you’ll understand pretty quickly why I’m so proud of him…

On Wednesday, July 7 at 7am the 2010 Slam Free or Die team will attempt a never-before-achieved marathon of wordplay. Each reading in 24 hour shifts, the 5 team members and the coach and assistant coach will read for 7 days straight. This will be, as far as Google can tell, the longest continuous reading of poetry, prose, and fiction ever attempted! THIS ENTIRE EVENT WILL BE BROADCAST LIVE ON THE INTERNET, SO EVEN IF YOU LIFE FAR AWAY YOU CAN STILL TUNE IN AND PARTICIPATE! We will post the url of the stream the day of the event. (Chili’s note; I’ll make sure to post that here as soon as I get it!)

Our love of poetry aside, this event is a fundraiser for the 2010 team. For different donation amounts, viewers and audience members can make requests or even decide what will be read next. We love the poetry and spoken word community that has supported us from our humble beginnings and want you guys to be as involved as possible in this event!

You can either watch online or show up at The Colonel’s kitchen and watch any or all of the event in person!

Poets will have a break every 2 hours for 15 minutes; during these breaks, anyone can sign up to read so the event will remain continuous. You will need to be there in person and you can read anything you want (please, nothing intentionally offensive) during your 15 minutes. And yes, you can sign up for more than one slot if you wish. Slots that fall between 7am and 6pm require a donation of $1, slots that fall between 6pm and midnight are $2, and between midnight and 7am are free! You can sign up by emailing bridgepoetry@gmail.com. We will update the schedule accordingly.

Donations can be made at: http://bit.ly/sfod2010
Menu of Donations:
$1 a page – poet will read whatever you present to them either in person or via email
$.50 – to have a poem repeated that has already been read
$10 – have a chapbook, yours or anyone else’s, read cover to cover
$100 – in the first 12 hours for a poet to go ‘no repeat’ for the remainder for their section
$50 – in the second 12 hours for a poet to go ‘no repeat’ for the remainder for their section
$500 – at any time to have the reading from that point on to be entirely poetry
$1,000 – at any time to have the reading from that point to be ‘no repeat’
$1,500 – at any time to have the reading from that point on be ‘no repeat’ and entirely poetry
$50 – Beau will do his entire 24 hours shirtless, with your chapbook or local business or organization name written on his chest
$10 per hour – for “this hour brought to you by” your business or organization name, location, and info
$100 – for a full day “brought to you by” your business or organization name, location, and info
$20 – The Colonel will perform a full hour of Chuck Norris facts
$25 – for one hour, any of the following: Beau will not smile. JeFF will not move his arms. Tim will not do a funny poem. Mckendy will read in a falsetto. Krista will read only ‘male’ persona poems. Sam will read in a British accent. The Colonel will dance while reading.
*and we are open to other ideas and donation suggestions. Just let us know.

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Grammar Wednesday

I was at Local U., walking in front of a college student on my way back to my car the other day and listening to her talk to someone on the phone.

“So, David was like “where do you want to go?” and I was like, “I don’t know.  I DON’T want to go to Lisa’s” and he was like “Why?” and I was like “I don’t know; she’s just been bothering me lately.”  I mean, it’s not like I don’t like her or anything, it’s just, like, annoying lately, you know?”

I’m finding that I’m hearing people using the word “like” in a lot of inappropriate (and profoundly annoying) ways lately, and I’m trying to be mindful of my own speech to be certain that it’s not a habit I’m picking up unknowingly.  I’ve noticed that Beanie’s started in with it, too, and I’m trying to gently call her attention to it.

Where do you think this new use of the word “like” comes from?

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Filed under bad grammar, concerns, Grammar, out in the real world, popular culture, self-analysis, speaking

Holding Teachers Accountable

Before I get going on the rant I have planned for today, I’d like to share this little tidbit, cut-and-pasted verbatim (with the exception of my name) from a student’s evaluation of our course:

Mrs. Chili outline and exprees good needs to lrean the best ways in communicated expectations for building speechs and dlivering speechs.

Sigh. CLEARLY, I didn’t, now, did I?

So, as the topic for a persuasive speech, one of my students chose to speak in favor of strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act. This student has a child in the public school system and feels that the child is being under-served by his teachers. The student argued against the practice that some school systems have of lumping the under-achieving students in a special “other” group which, if I’m understanding the gist of the speech, produces portfolios instead of participating in the standardized testing in order to demonstrate the achievement that NCLB requires. According to this speaker, the more advanced students in public schools get all the attention, the middling students are pretty much left to their own devices, and the poor students are foisted off with pointless busy-work that they can do well so that cute little portfolios can be put together and presented to the people who oversee such things. To hear this argument, one would imagine that no real learning is done by anyone but the brightest kids.

The upshot of this student’s speech is that the teachers need to be held accountable for the performance of their students – even more so than they already are. Students who perform poorly or who fail to make adequate yearly progress should be, according to this student, an indication that the teacher is failing.

To a certain extent, I agree. If a teacher is consistently at the head of under-performing classes, then he or she ought to be subject to a certain amount of professional scrutiny to determine if the problem lies with the teacher or his or her methods or his or her preparation (or lack thereof). I welcome my colleagues into my classroom; I WANT that kind of observation and constructive feedback and I LIKE collaborating with my colleagues about things like activities, assessments, and what I can do to make my classroom a more engaging, more productive learning environment. Even if my classes are going well, I welcome my fellow professionals into my environment because I know that their being there is going to be helpful to me as a teacher.

Let me add, however, that I take serious issue with the assumption that a poor student is necessarily the product of a poor teacher. While I will never claim that I’ve “got it” – that I’ve reached the pinnacle of my profession and don’t need any more workshops or education or critique – I will say that I’m a pretty damned good teacher right now. I care about my discipline; I think it’s important, and I want to share my love of language with my students. I care about my students and I want to have a part in giving them what they need to be successful and self-sufficient in the world. I strive to behave in a way that will make other people think well of teachers in general – I am ethical and professional, I come to class prepared, I am fair in my dealings with students, and I consistently strive to learn more so that I have more to share.

All that being said, am I to be held accountable for the student in my class who earned a 38.6 grade point average this semester? How is “accountability” to be determined, and who is going to be making the decisions about where the line of responsibility is drawn? If I meet all of the goals set out in my syllabus, the contract of the class (and, in fact, exceed those standards by making myself available to my students outside of class, or giving them my personal cell phone number and email address) and students still fail spectacularly, does this reflect poorly on my skills and professionalism?

I guess what I’m asking here is have we slipped past the point of expecting that students take some personal responsibility for their own success or failure? How does a failing student – especially an adult student who signs up for a class and agrees to the terms of the syllabus from the outset- become MY responsibility? Have we made some subtle shift between the idea that learning is an active process on the part of the learner rather than a passive activity where a student expects to sit back and have content poured into them without their having to actually do anything?

It’s bad enough that I beat myself up over the kids I can’t reach; I don’t need someone else blaming me for their failures, too.

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Filed under bad grammar, concerns, critical thinking, dumbassery, ethics, failure, frustrations, General Griping, Learning, politics, Questions, self-analysis, speaking, Teaching, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Because, Of Course, “You’re a Racist” Was the First Thing I Thought…

Ugh.

Remember the kid who decided to do a different exercise than the one I assigned?  I turned his ungraded paper back to him yesterday with the note on it explaining why he got no credit (he only got it yesterday because that was the first time I’ve seen him since the assignment was due).  He sent me this email last night:

I answer the assignment on a speech I’m more comfortable with. The specific statements that will help me improve in building many passionate public speaking challanges.

The reason I did not chose Obama’s speech is based on his views of policy not that he has black skin or based of creed. I don’t discriminate and would like to go over this papers subject mater in more depth. I made clear views and also learn on organizational method to improve my deliverance that is within a speech. I explain very clear and thoughtful ways in building a verbal understating on not just Obamas speech but as well many others from all kinds of differant backgrounds.

Thank you for your time I will review the visual speech many times until it’s preferred understanding the class audience and what they find important.

We’ve got two weeks left and I’ve seen no improvement in this kid’s written or verbal communication skills.  He’s not going to pass the class.

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Filed under about writing, concerns, dumbassery, failure, frustrations, General Griping, rhetoric, speaking, student chutzpah, Teaching, Yikes!

The First Round

My communication class delivered its first round of speeches today.

Sigh.

I had a couple of really great presentations; so great that I was actually a little surprised.  One girl did a lovely, logical, and clear speech about the history of the Beatles and, though she was nervous as hell, she managed to pull off one of the better performances of the morning.

My winner kid offered up a presentation about police dogs that was informative, easy to follow, and crazy-interesting.  He did a fantastic job, and I held him back after class was over to tell him so.

The rest of the class, though, delivered what can best be described as average speeches.  This doesn’t surprise or dishearten me, though; the first speeches are NEVER really that great, and I don’t grade them particularly harshly as a result.  Kids are nervous, they don’t have a whole lot of practice organizing their thinking (or putting together decent notes or prompts for themselves) and they haven’t quite figured out yet what their “style” is.  Usually, by the end of the semester they’ve got a better idea of who they are “on stage” and end up delivering far better presentations as a result.

I learned a LOT from this morning’s speeches, though.  For starters, we need to work HARD on introductions and conclusions.  With the exception of the two aformentioned kids, EVERY SINGLE STUDENT started his or her speech with “I did mine on…” or some variation of that theme.  On the other end, EVERY SINGLE STUDENT (including, sadly the two aformentioned students) finished their speeches with “that’s all I’ve got…” or some variation on that theme.

Um…yeah… that’s not gonna cut it.

Wednesday’s class is going to be about introductions and conclusions, because I just can’t stand it.

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Filed under concerns, frustrations, I love my job, speaking, success!, the good ones