Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hanging With Eighth-Graders

When Dane joined our family by marrying our youngest daughter Leah five years ago, he was just twenty-one. He's still a work in progress in some ways, but he can surprise you with his observations regarding , ah... people.
As an example, the two of them decided to not own a car, at least for now. This means Dane sometimes rides the bus to where he needs to go. He has noticed that bus trips have a kind of "opening up" effect on the passengers, and he observes bus riders conversing who might at first appear to have little in common. Having never done much bus riding, I was not aware of this little phenomenon, but I felt better informed by hearing it described. Hooray for him.

A couple of years ago I met a woman who came to one our daily tennis events. She wasn't much of a player, and has since given up the game because of injuries, but she somehow remembered that I am one of the Chamber Readers, something I have described in other entries. She is a teacher of eighth grade English in a semi-rural school near Eureka.
She called in April and, while I tried to remember just who she was, asked if I would come to her class and offer some help to her students. Late every spring, she gives them the assignment of using both the written and spoken word to depict someone from history. She wanted to know if I could offer a little help improving the students' speaking performance. I agreed. It sounded like fun, and maybe they could even pay me something, though she never actually brought the subject up..
I arrived at the school with a big bag of children's books, trying first to get to know the students a little and to see how the time allotted could best be spent. I tried to cover some basics about speaking in public, and how it's different from gabbing with your pals. There are times you can speed up, and other places where you should slow down. The same way with volume: sometimes louder, then softer in other places. We talked a little about trying to sound more like the character, and less like ourselves.
I passed out the children's books and requested that they each stand and read one page, hoping they would feel free to sound a little silly. Naturally, some of them handled this part with ease, while a few struggled.
And I got to hear parts of their presentations, which they called "monologs". No one crossed genders for their characters, but they weren't all famous people. One boy depicted the designer of the original Coca Cola bottle. I can't remember them all, but we had time for the twenty or so of them to all give a sample. I got to make suggestions, and had the advantage of doing something new, giving me the edge over a teacher locked into the same material day after day. The kids seemed to like that part, too.
Well, I never did get paid, but yesterday, almost a month after my visit, I got a big manilla envelope full of "Thank You" notes. You're welcome. You're certainly welcome.      


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