My plan for today’s class was to execute an over-achieving lesson plan – one that multi-tasked and snuck a lot of learning in the back door.
My students’ next scheduled speech is a “special occasion” speech, and to give them an example, I chose to investigate both Reagan’s comments to the nation following the Challenger tragedy and the eulogy he delivered at the memorial service for the seven astronauts who lost their lives that day in January of 1986.
As I was thinking about these speeches, I had a flash of reality check. It occurred to me that, with two possible exceptions, every single one of my students was born after Challenger went down. I wondered how many of them had any frame of reference for the kind of impact this tragedy had on the nation at the time, given that it was something they may not have even studied in school.
I also realized, after reading Reagan’s national address, that they’d likely have little comprehension of the Apollo 1 accident and that they’d probably have NO frame of reference for the “slipped the surly bonds of Earth” quote with which Reagan closed his address, so I went back to the computer and printed out some good information about both of these things.
More often than not, I end up teaching history in my rhetoric classes, too. If the kids have no foundations upon which to start their investigations of these speeches, they miss so much of the richness and depth. I just can’t let that happen, so I become a bit of an historian a couple times a semester. I have to admit that I love these classes, and that I’m considering the possibility of another Master’s degree – this one in history. But I digress…
ANYWAY, I came to work prepared – and excited! – for a class-long discussion and analysis of these two speeches. Not only were the kids going to be exposed to a couple of really fine examples of commemorative speeches upon which to model their own efforts for next week, but they were going to learn a bit about how to use quotes in speeches, they would see how to reference relevant historical events, and they’d get a look at how the introductions and conclusions to commemorative/special occasion speeches are different from those of informational or persuasive pieces. Further, I was going to spend quite a bit of time in modeling good analysis, which is the skill I’m going to ask them to exercise for their take-home mid-term exam on Wednesday. ALL KINDS of good learning was going to happen today. I was READY, I tell you, and I was jazzed.
Alas, it did not come to pass. Only half my students showed up to class this morning.
Since I didn’t want that many kids to miss out on such an important and useful class, I changed direction in mid-flight and decided to wing it (please fasten your seat belts and put your tray tables in their upright and locked position in preparation of the captain’s making a sudden and severe course correction). We ended up doing an exercise on spin by looking at two different versions of the same story and discussing how the word choices lent a very different feel to each piece, discussing connotation and denotation and implication and inference, and touching a tiny bit on rhetorical structures like chiasmus and synechdoche.
It wasn’t a wasted class, certainly, but the wind got sucked out of my sails in a big, bad way. I’m hoping that I can keep my enthusiasm up for Wednesday, when I plan to execute my killer lesson plan, regardless of how many kids fail to show.