Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Two minutes of terror

One of the greatest things about having a student teacher (other than sitting on my butt doing nothing) is that I can closely observe students. It's weird. When you're up in front of a class, you try to monitor everyone, and by doing so, you rarely focus on anyone. If you do keep looking at one kid, he or she will eventually say, "I didn't do it!"

Today, before handing in some assignment, students were asked to briefly explain what they had done. The first pair of guys, athletes, proudly stood up and talked. When finished, one of them said, "We'd like to thank our classmates for listening to our presentation." A couple of kids laughed.

Next, two girls were asked to present. They didn't want to. I looked over. Both were nervously smiling, trying to hide behind their papers, mouthing, "No!"

"Oh come on," the teacher coaxed. "It's no big deal. Just tell us what you found out."

By the way the girls acted, though, it was a big deal. A very big deal. Both are usually quiet. Their spoken English isn't the best. The worst thing in the world for them is to be forced to talk in front of the class. Eventually, though, with a little more coaxing, they spoke. They stammered. They giggled nervously. They were barely audible. But they spoke.

Wondering how the others were responding, I scanned the classroom. It seemed that only five students were actually listening. Three had heads down. Two played with their pens. One was secretly checking her cell phone. A few were trying to finish up their own assignments.

"Stand up," a girl said to the two. "You have to stand up to present!"

The girls shook their heads. "You don't have to stand if you don't want to," the teacher said.

In less than two minutes it was over. They finished, were told, "good job" and got a half-hearted smattering of applause. The world hadn't changed. But at least their little crisis, their two minutes of terror was over, and they could return to their silent anonymity.

"Hey," one of the football players said. "No one clapped for us!"

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