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April 26, 2002
Meanwhile, in the classroom
Taught another four hour class today, in which I had to film students making presentations. I asked them to talk about themselves, about interesting things they've done, things they're proud of, ways in which they're distinctive. One girl said "but I can't do that. Nothing interesting has ever happened to me, and I'm not proud of anything I've done."
I scratched my head in desperation and then suggested that perhaps she could talk about how she became the world's most boring person. "Hey," she said, "that's not a bad idea."
Time goes by. Everyone decides what they're going to talk about, and they prepare in a variety of ways. Some make notes, some stare at the ceiling, some make strange muttering sounds and stare at me in a hateful, enraged manner. Whatever works for them is fine.
After a while one student tells me that they're ready, and then so does another, and another. Once half the class are ready, I turn the camera on. The time starts to go quickly. Almost everyone looks comfortable up there and some of the presentations are very, very good.
But still to come is a girl who thinks that nothing interesting has ever happened to her. Eventually, it's her turn. She stands up, walks to the front of the room, and starts her presentation.
She begins by describing the circumstances of how she arrived in Australia. When she was two her parents tried to get themselves and their two children out of Vietnam, which proved difficult to do. Her father had fought in the war, which meant that he was known to the authorities. But he somehow managed to get out, taking her brother with him. She and her mother were left behind. Two anxious years later, under the most arduous of circumstances, she and her mother finally managed to leave Vietnam to rejoin the rest of the family in Australia.
It was spellbinding. Everyone in the room sat there thinking about how, or if, they would've coped if something similar had happened to them. And then she went on to talk about wanting to go back and visit Vietnam, the country she left when she was four, the country that her parents so often speak about, the country she was born in but scarcely remembers.
And she talked about wanting to visit other countries: lots of other countries. She wants to see as many as possible, and she had a wonderfully visual way of demonstrating this. She drew a globe on the whiteboard and then rapidly added random, invented countries, which she pointed to, explaining that these were all places that she'd get to one day. One of these new countries was about the size of Queensland, and completely circular, and located right in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Another was shaped like a triangle, and seems to have displaced China from its current position.
This bit of the presentation got enormous laughs. Partly that was out of contrast: her account of her early days was so traumatic that the ridiculous graphics seemed even funnier. In the midst of all this I was reminded of a phrase that one of those cricket commentators likes to use: it's all happening here.
So. One of the best presentations I've ever seen came from a student who had said that nothing interesting had ever happened to her, and who wasn't proud of anything she'd done.
Teaching is a wildly variable job. Sometimes it's a pain. Sometimes it's amazing. Every so often, you get to see a metamorphosis.Posted by Sean Hegarty at 11:54 PM in the Educational category | Comments (0)
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