Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Today was a success. Not the perfect, nothing-ever-goes-wrong kind of success, but a more guttural kind. The kind of success you find when you take a risk and step WAY out of your comfort zone and don't get hit by a truck.

A few weeks ago, I masterminded a guest speaker for all of the on-level junior English students. A retired CIA operative and current teacher at the Bush School agreed to come and talk to our students about what it was like to live undercover as a spy in the modern world.

I say masterminded because this isn't something I've ever done before - scheduled a guest speaker to talk to 350 teenagers in a formal setting. First, I had to ask permission and explain how this lecture would fit into our TEKS (the standards that the State of Texas says we must follow). We were reading Fahrenheit 451 at the time, and I knew the technology of the CIA would be fun to compare to the technology in the novel that is implied to be almost innately evil. Our administrators are supportive people who look forward to providing opportunities for our kids, so they gave me the green light.

Then I scheduled with the speaker, unfortunately for a time well after the completion of our novel study. I was so far into the process that I determined the timing didn't matter that much, and I pressed on.

But then I went all crazy the way I do. I started seeing opportunity upon opportunity brought on by this one event. I knew that this was our chance to work with kids on how to behave during a formal occasion. Honestly, many of the students who would attend had never had an experience being part of an audience, and I was beside myself excited about giving them the education and opportunity to be able to do so.

Every time someone asked, "So are just the AP kids going or the honors, too?" I responded with defiant joy that only the on-level kids were going, and I loved the confused looks I got which were usually followed by a timid "Oh. Good for them."

I envisioned one of my students in ten years, invited to attend a formal banquet fundraiser on behalf of his employer. I saw him walk into the room properly dressed, shaking hands and introducing himself, feeling confident that he knew exactly what to do and expect. And in this little dream of mine, somewhere in the back of that kid's head he remembered his first experience listening to a formal speaker, and he remembered something -- anything -- I told him to do, and he did it. And he felt good about himself and people noticed.

In preparation for the speaker, I talked to my students about how to behave, when to applaud, what to listen for, and all the other odds and ends about being an audience. I asked one student to read the speaker's introduction and another to present him with a thank you gift after his presentation. I doled out my best "responsibility" speech, complete with "I worked hard to make this happen for you, and I want this man to leave here and tell everyone he sees how wonderful this school is, and only you can make that happen."

When the big day came today, I dressed in my most professional outfit, re-applied my lip gloss (that never happens), and set out to be the model of perfect formality to these kids. While 75% of students listened attentively and behaved perfectly, I couldn't let go of the 25% who weren't.

I threw out every teacher and mom strategy known to man. I gave disapproving looks. I mouthed "stop it" in my sternest, most silent whisper. I held my eyes in such a way that said, "If you don't cut it out I will make you rue the day you behaved this way. RUE IT!" I marched around in my fabulous heels as discreetly as possible to pull the proximity card on ne'er-do-wells. I prayed. I prayed as hard and fast as I have prayed in many years that the kids would be perfect and that the whole thing would end soon so I could breathe. I thought, "I will never do this again. Never!" All the while knowing that I will do it again and making mental notes about how I'll do it better.

At the conclusion of our assembly, we thanked our speaker, and I dismissed the students from the auditorium. As I turned to exit the stage, a crowd of students ascended the stairs. They shook the speaker's hand, told him how grateful they were for his taking the time to speak to us, and they asked wonderful, intriguing questions that he seemed excited to answer.

And I remembered that young man in my fantasy at his first formal event as a professional, and I remembered that today that young man was seventeen and so were all of his friends.

It wasn't perfection, but it was success.

Two final notes: One. Today's guest speaker and the conversations leading up to and after fulfilled one of the state's requirements for the year, TEKS 14 and 16 regarding listening and responding appropriately. Yes, I'm that nerdy.

Two. After the presentation, one of the students asked the speaker if the government is really making light sabers. I laughed out loud until he very seriously said, "I know what you're talking about, and we have the technology." light sabers? wow.

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