Saturday, September 22, 2012

Behold: The Power of Words

We had a guest speaker at our teacher inservice day on Friday. She was quite knowledgeable in her subject matter. Gave a day-long PowerPoint presentation, with handouts, about the newest trend in Missouri public education. However...she might need to re-evaluate some of her examples. To better enable her to practice what she preaches. To walk the walk that goes with her talky talk.

Here's the issue. One segment of the program was about connotations. How students should realize the effect that words have on an audience. How different forms of media use tactics to sway the viewers or readers. How a simple choice of words can determine whether people feel sympathy, indifference, or anger.

Throughout the day, Speaky McSpeakerson posed questions. Made suggestions. After the first hour, I sensed a theme. It could not have been a subliminal message, because I noticed it. I'm sure it was not what Speaky intended. I present Exhibits A, B, C, D, and E.

Exhibit A
Speaky referred to the current practice of schools receiving MAP testing scores in the fall, after students were tested in the spring. "You know that when middle schools receive the coroner's report, it's too late. Their eighth graders are freshmen now, in another building. They can't help them."

Exhibit B
Speaky declared that there's no need to teach the same thing over and over through the grade levels. Students know who won the Civil War. They know the battles. "Rather than asking them to give the same old information, how about asking them to write a report. 'Have you ever been through a graveyard?'"

Exhibit C
Speaky said that you have to give students a decent topic so they have something to write about. "You don't ask an elementary student to write an essay about 'Would you like to have a pet?' Of course they want a pet. Better to pose the question, 'Did you ever have a pet that died?'"

Exhibit D
Speaky explained that students should be expected to do more than enumerate facts. 'Don't ask them to name the characters in The Masque of the Red Death. Ask, 'Have you ever been to a funeral?'"

Exhibit E
Speaky purported that even young students can delve deeper into a story. "Instead of asking, 'What color was Mary's dress?' ask 'Why did the guppy die?'"

After each new death reference, I turned to my right-hand tablemate. "Why does she have to be so morbid?" Once would have been enough. The example of test scores compared to a coroner's report was actually kind of appropriate.

At the end of the session, Speaky passed out evaluation forms. There were bubbles to fill in with #2 pencils. Questions like whether Speaky was Very Unknowledgeable, Unknowledgeable, Neutral, Knowledgeable, or Very Knowledgeable in her subject matter. Then there was a space asking us to write a comment about Speaky's presentation. I told my right-hand tablemate that I had the perfect comment.

"You make me feel like I want to die."

I didn't actually write that. I don't think Speaky would have gotten the point.


  1. Sounds like she liked being at that meeting about as much as you did.

  2. It sounds like she peppered her presentation with bits of gallows humor. What kind of dirge was she listening to in her head? Did she keep on presenting until she breathed her last dying breath?

    It sounds like a good time was had by all.

  3. In the St. Louis ublic school district where I used to teach, death was a huge part of kids' lives. Why would you want to open a wound?

  4. Killer notes you took. Sounds like she needed to listen to her own advice...if she could have survived it.

  5. knancy,
    Well, it WAS her job. Same as it was my job to sit and listen to her. At least I wasn't the one putting on the show. She needs to make her subject matter come alive, rather than reading its last rites. Maybe smash a watermelon, like Gallagher, or hypnotize a few of us and make us strut around like chickens.

    We were quite relieved when it was time to pay our last respects. She went to a better place. I can't say that anybody expressed sorrow at her passing.

    DANG! I wish I had thought of that. It's the perfect name for her.

    You know how these former classroom teachers grow out of touch when they become STAR teachers or career propaganda presenters. They're all wrapped up in theory, forgetting that we have a living, breathing product that we're turning out.

    Heh, heh. We needed life support for the afternoon session: caffeine IVs.

  6. ...while visions of halloween skeletons danced in her head...

  7. labbie,
    I think Frankenstein was doing the tango with a skeleton. Making a date to watch Death Becomes Her on Netflix.