Friday, February 6, 2009

Show and Tell

My first opportunity to stand in front of a class for the purpose of making a presentation came in first grade during show and tell. In first grade show and tell was one of the first things we did each morning and it seemed to be on a voluntary basis. As you would imagine some kids volunteered every day. These same kids who willing went to the front of the class to "show and tell" day after day rarely seemed to show us anything interesting or tell us anything eventful. I do not think I was one of these kids because I remember clearly the two times I choose to participate. One time I choose to show and another time I choose to tell.

My first appearance at show and tell was simply a speaking engagement. No props were required because I knew the shear shock of the tragic news I was going to tell would send a wave of grief through the class. I recall thinking before I went up to the front of the class for the first time that many of the students would probably begin to cry when they heard what I had to share. I raised my hand to volunteer and made my way to the front of a class room for the first time ever. It took all my concentration to get to the front and once I was there I did not look up at the class. I remember announcing the terrible news to my classmates as I stared at the floor: "My grandma died yesterday". Then slowly I raised my eyes to see a classroom from the front of the room. There from the front of the room I could see, and still remember, with acute detail, a sea of motion and busyness from my first grade classmates. One girl was getting a Kleenex from her package. One boy was engaged in eye contact with another boy. Another student was playing with his eraser and pencil in an attempt to build something. The activity and the details made me dizzy, but the most shocking thing was that no one seemed to have heard what I said. I repeated the news with a little more confidence only to see the distracting movements begin to increase. In a state of emptiness and failure I return to my seat from my first trip to the front of the class. I spent some time that day and in the years that followed thinking about that experience as I tried to make sense of why my compassion and my emotions were not communicated. After all, what information could be more interesting and eventful than what I shared that day? One of the conclusions I came to concerning my classmates lack of response to my presentation was that my interests were not their interests and my feelings were not their feelings. Over time I learned that in order to communicate with a class I would need to engage their interests and their feelings first before they would come close enough to be able to experience my presentation.

A few weeks later I decided to add to my show and tell repertoire my favorite molded plastic dinosaurs from my collection that I passionately organized, studied and played with. This time I would show the students my most prized possessions which included my favorite dinosaur, a green brontosaurus (We did not know back then that the dinosaur we called brontosaurus was actually a scientific error. We now know that the brontosaurus was actually an apatosaurus with the head of a camarasaurus.) The presentation went well. Everyone was attentive as I shared some of my favorite details and proudly held up the dinosaurs one at a time for the attentive students. Later that day while I was putting my stuff away to go home I realized that my green brontosaurus had been stolen. I never saw it again.

Mr. Wiemers

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