A Little Too Close to Home

My Tuesday/Thursday students have been delivering their “visual aid” speeches this week.

The topics were entirely of their choosing; it didn’t matter to me really what they talked about, as long as they could define a purpose for their speech and could figure out a way to use props, slides, or other visual extras to enhance and support their presentations.

The first student who got up to deliver her speech on Tuesday was Kay, and she did a gorgeous job of describing a rescue at sea. She used a sea chart with positions plotted out with Post-It flags, several photographs taken by the various ships who came to help with the situation, and even had a Weather Channel Storm Stories episode about the rescue cued up to use if she needed it. It was an almost perfect presentation.

Remember this, because I told you that story so I can tell you this one:

Yesterday morning, another student (we’ll call her Buffy) got up to do her speech. She passed around a photograph of herself and her sister as little girls on the lap of their grandfather, and a watercolor painting that sister did of Buffy and her granddad at her graduation. She then went on to deliver a very well thought out and articulate speech about the life of this man who had such a profound influence on her.

She told us of his birth in the 20s and of his only completing the eighth grade (“when young men left school to work full-time on the farm,” she said), of his lying about his age so he could join the fight in WWII, and of his becoming a husband and father and, eventually, a grandfather.

She continued reading her (very well written) speech, telling us about how her grandfather was diagnosed with MS, how he gave up his home to live with his brother until the brother died unexpectedly of a heart attack, and how he eventually moved to a small apartment near Buffy and her family. She was doing fine until she got to the part about her grandfather’s declining health. She couldn’t finish her story, and left the podium in tears.

I think it was a very valuable learning experience, not only for Buffy, but for the rest of the class as well. The reason I told you the sea rescue story is because that student came very close to losing it, too; one of the people on board that ship was her father (who, fortunately, survived the ordeal. Buffy’s grandfather, I can only assume, didn’t survive his).

I sent this note to Buffy yesterday afternoon:

Dear Buffy:

I wanted to check in with you about today’s class. I didn’t want to put you any more “on the spot” than you already were this morning, so I didn’t press the issue. How are you feeling now?

I don’t want you to look at this morning as a failure. Quite the opposite, I think what happened today was a very valuable learning experience, not only for you, but for everyone in the class. Like Kay, you chose a topic that was very dear and close to your heart. While such topics can make for very fine speeches (your speech was excellent, right up until you couldn’t go on anymore), they also hold the potential for the kind of reaction that you – and, to a lesser extent, Kay – fell victim to. You also learned that, no matter how much you practice by yourself, revealing that much of your heart in front of other people is a very different experience than rehearsing on your own – and being that public and open may cause you to react in ways you didn’t expect.

I’m really very pleased by the job you did. Your speech was well plotted, you kept your dates straight, and you gave us a really good insight into the kind of man your grandfather was. Perhaps more than that, you showed us – though perhaps NOT in the way you intended – how important this man was in your life.

I believe that we never really lose the people that we love. Your grandfather was looking on this morning, and I’m certain he’s very, very proud of you. I know I am.


Mrs. Chili


Sometimes, it’s the hardest lessons that stick the best.



Filed under Learning, success!, Teaching

5 responses to “A Little Too Close to Home

  1. She earned an 87 for the presentation. She didn’t make great use of her visuals (which was the point of the assignment) and she mostly read from an essay she’d written, so there wasn’t a whole lot of eye contact or other effective body language. Still, it was a better grade than she’d received for her first presentation, and it represented the improvement that she’s made since starting the class.

  2. I think its great that they both chose this particular subject. It shows that it meant something to them enough, and that they were taking the class seriously enough, to put that part of them out there. Kudos to them.

    See, Chili? You do reach some of them.

  3. 87?! Far out!
    That’s a high-distinction in this neck of the woods!

  4. Every once in a while, a student reminds me that she is a regular old human being with problems of her own (some serious, some not so serious). This was a nice story.

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