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.


image credit

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.



Filed under frustrations, fun, great writing, history, Learning, Poetry, reading, rhetoric, Teaching, winging it

7 responses to “Whiplash!

  1. I keep thinking about this so I may have said it before. If I’m repeating please ignore me.

    There are these street vendors here who sell books and audio books. Generally it’s African American topic items, self-help books, the Malcolm X canon, etc. Usually they have a boom box set up and they’re playing something on it, a speech generally, to draw customers in. For all the time I’ve lived in NYC those speeches have been Malcolm X, MLK Jr., very, very VERY occasionally a Kennedy. Mostly MLK Jr. All those people were dead before I was born. (I’m 40, just for the record.)

    In the past 6 months or so the only voice I’ve heard has been Barack Obama’s. Every time I hear it I can’t help thinking how lucky kids are now to have someone they can see and hear, someone whose speech giving days are not over, be the example that’s set forth. Then I start to think how shitty it is that it’s been so long since we’ve had an inspirational speaker of this caliber. It’s taken the span of my entire lifetime to bring a new one to the fore. I hope the next one comes sooner.

  2. Sweetie, you HAVEN’T said this before -at least, not here – and I think you’re absolutely right.

    I’ve run into problems, though, where students have accused me of having an “agenda” (I KNOW we’ve talked about THAT here…), so I have to be mindful of keeping the examples that I give to my classes balanced in terms of time, race, and ideology. I make sure I hit all of the really high notes – not a class goes by without MLK and Malcolm X, JFK and Lincoln – but I also make sure that I put in some modern speakers, too, most notably Obama (I’ve been teaching his 2004 DNC address for as long as I’ve been teaching) with some Taylor Mali and Bono thrown in for good measure, along with some fun speeches from movies and such (as a matter of fact, the kids’ homework for tonight is to watch and discuss Al Pacino’s speech in the locker room in the film Any Given Sunday). Oh, and let’s not forget the Nazi! I teach Speer’s closing statement to the Nuremberg Tribunal right next to Reagan’s Comments at the Brandenburg Gate.

    I kind of go for the bird shot approach: I figure I’m bound to hit SOMETHING!

  3. About half my students are absent almost daily. The wind gets sucked out of my sails, um, almost daily.

  4. I didn’t mean the comment as a suggestion of what to teach, it was just something that keeps coming up for me.

    Now I’m asking/suggesting, though. Do you regularly teach any speeches given by women?

  5. No, Kizz – I knew you weren’t going there with your comment.

    You know what? I don’t REGULARLY teach speeches by women, though I have, in the past, brought up Barbara Jordan’s address to the DNC in ’76, and Margaret Sanger’s “The Morality of Birth Control,” along with texts by Sojourner Truth and Diana, Princess of Wales, but women don’t figure into my permanent rotation. I ought to fix that…

  6. Being a history teacher, I feel some of your pain.
    I teach Washington’s Farewell Address, Lincoln’s First and Second Inaugural addresses, the Gettysburg address, and several other speeches.

    It takes great lesson plans and dictionaries to get it across, but it is worth the pain.


  7. drtombibey

    You know chili if you inspire a few kids and some old doctors at least it was not all for naught.

    Dr. B

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