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A Rough Start: Morning Minutes, June 1, 2016

“Hey, Sy. So, I and a few others were doing the math, and it looks like if we decided not to deliver the speech, then that would only be a 20% penalty.”

Crap. Really? This is how the “crowning moments” are to begin in 219 this year–kids opting out because they see an easy out? What are you gonna do next year, “Super Syrie,” when there will be a permanent passive path?  Hello, Doubt. Wondered if you’d visit me this morning. Wind. Sails. Gone. Just like that. 

“So, you’re not gonna deliver your speech?

“Maybe, it’s only twenty points.”

That is how my day started yesterday. The bell hadn’t even rung, and the moment was dying on the vine right before my eyes. Unnerved, annoyed, afraid, I told the kids to get their stuff ready while I took attendance. And while I did have to take attendance, what I really needed to do was think and compose myself. I needed to make a thirty-second decision on how I was going to save the withering, soon-to-perish plant, which I had hoped to feed us for the remainder of the year. So, I collected myself and gave it some water, hoping to revive the moment. This is what I said.

“So, Jacob and a few others brought to my attention that they did the math, and if they decided not to deliver their speeches, their grades wouldn’t suffer much. And they are not wrong. But I would hope by now, that it would no longer be about the grade. I would hope that it would be about the moment, a moment that you have put weeks into preparing for, a moment that you selected because it mattered deeply to you. That’s what I would hope would drive your decision, not some silly points.

In the end, I am not going to make you do anything you don’t want to do. But I think you if you opt out, you are missing out on an important opportunity, an opportunity to shed light on an issue that matters to you, an opportunity to grow as a learner, a speaker, a person. So, you make the choice. It’s yours to make. I refuse to hold points over your head to make you do something. This is your chance to make a choice, to make a final impression.”

Okay, so I may have laid the guilt on a little thickly, but I was desperate. And, good or bad, I have learned that guilt can work. Fortunately, it did here, and if it hadn’t, I am not sure what I would have done, for there was no plan B.  I got lucky. Jacob and his co-conspirators signed up to be the first ones to deliver their speeches this morning. I am proud of their choice to face their fears and make an important final impression. And really, even though it was a difficult moment that put me to the test, I know that in the end, it was their fear talking, and I won’t take it personally. But it was hard not to initially. I am glad things turned out. And I am pleased to share that the day only got better, and many crowning moments took place. I would like to share one in particular.

Last Friday, Avery–some of you will remember her as the girl who needed a steady stream of “you-can-do-this pep talks–came to me and said that she didn’t think she could do her speech, that it was too personal, and that speaking in front of people was too hard. I told her she could. I told her she had to. Having worked with her on her speech, I knew she had a powerful message that others needed to hear, a message that would/could make for a truly momentous moment for this young lady and her peers. Her topic dealt with self-image/esteem and her own personal struggles and successes with this difficult issue.

Worried that she had become resolute in her decision not to share her speech, I told her that she had created a gift that she had to share with the world. I told her that when her peers looked at her, they assumed that she had her act together, and for her to share that she had struggled with the same issues as everyone in the room, could be as transformative for us as it was for her. She had to share. It was bigger than her. She couldn’t keep it to herself. We left it at that.

Yesterday, as third period began, she would barely make eye-contact with me, shaking her head when she did. So I acted quickly, and she reluctantly agreed to go  fourth out of the six for the day. Still, I wasn’t sure, but we moved on, and then it was Avery’s turn. Handing me my copy on her way to  the podium, she refused to give me a high-five, muttering “no” as she walked by. Here we go. If she bombs, she will hate me for the rest of my life. What have I done?

And she began. She and her voice shook for four-and-a-half minutes, she barely held back tears, and more than once I thought she was going to step off the stage, but she saw it through to the end, and we all knew by then that we had witnessed something special. Truly.

As she walked back by me, she gave me a weak high five as I looked to her for some reassurance that she was okay. And we moved on. Fortunately, Alan, true to form, gave us some much-needed comic relief with his speech after the heavy moment from Avery’s. At the end of the period, I gave Avery a shout out for her bravery, letting her and the class know that she had made my year. I was so proud of her, proud of all of them for seizing this opportunity to grow.

At some point during the day, Doubt excused himself, passing quietly from my mind as kids nailed speech after speech after speech. The day, despite two tense moments, was everything I hoped it would be. Of course, it was made so even more, when Avery came to thank me a few periods later for making her go, for making her grow.

Happy Wednesday, all. Sorry for the long-winded story this morning.



3 Replies to “A Rough Start: Morning Minutes, June 1, 2016”

  • I knew this Avery you speak of many years ago, and am so proud of her as well! Of course I haven’t seen her in a while, but I can imagine her soft spoken, perfectionist, introverted, lovely self standing up in front of the group talking about self-esteem and just shining. She has always been a star to me! And again, I am so proud that she slayed that dragon of self-doubt. Way to go girlie!

  • I’m so glad the speeches are everything you wanted them to be! Yesterday’s group set the bar pretty high for the rest of us who still have to go. Hopefully we can raise that bar even higher.

  • Well, I would say that you passed your test yesterday, when Jacob and the few others questioned the 20 percent loss if they did not deliver their speeches. You added just the right amount of Miracle-Gro to the growing plants you have established in your classes, you gave them an extra boost.

    Your reward came when Avery and all the others gave their speeches. And that Jacob and others signed up for today. I say that these kids see the miracle in themselves.

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