When we first stepped foot in the 4th grade classroom, I knew things wouldn’t go smoothly.
Today was early dismissal Wednesday and I had signed up to be one of the head coaches for the new Speech Club at our elementary school. NB and I, along with other kids and parents, were headed to an empty classroom to have our first Speech Club practice after school.
A Speech Club for an elementary school you say? Yes. And no, I don’t recall having that sort of thing when I was in school either.
But now we do thanks to the University Interscholastic League or UIL, of Texas. It’s the organization that provides leadership for Texas schools’ debate and athletics teams by organizing contests and training workshops. What this means in practice is that when school administrators decide to participate in UIL they must hobble together a group of teachers and volunteer parents and start an extracurricular student program from scratch. This is our first year and as such, we don’t know what we’re doing.
NB couldn’t keep his hands off things when we entered the classroom. He sputtered around scavenging boxes and shelves. When he spied the miniature gong in the back of the classroom I figured there was no harm in him banging on it. But then he found the teacher’s goodie basket…
The other kids behaved the same way when they entered the room. Fortunately, my co-head coach is an actor and she knows how to get kids’ attention.
“Ello boys and girls! Let’s start with our vocal exercises. Repeat after me: Peta pipa picked a peck of pickled peppas!” She said in a faux English accent.
Only one kid participated. The others moved about aimlessly.
After warm-ups, I started my coaching for improvisational speaking.
“Okay kids, we’re going to practice introducing ourselves to each other. I’ll go first”
I modeled what I thought was a great personal introduction. Then I invited the kids to take turns. There was lots of fidgeting and forgetting of one’s own name, but after a few tries the kids seemed to get the hang of it and we were ready for more advanced things.
“Nicholas, what is better: vanilla or chocolate ice cream?”
“Because it’s better than vanilla”
I was stumped.
As I continued to prod the children to expand on their ideas, I had to ask myself, what do I know about coaching public speaking anyway?
As we closed practice with three sweet but incoherent presentations, I realized that it didn’t matter that my head coach and I don’t know how to teach public speaking. All of us, kids included, would figure out what we all needed to do, and most likely have some fun along the way.