Last March, I tried to do a presentation on student apathy. I was so excited. I was told that the local superintendents, the big-wigs of the local areas were going to be at this conference. And since I was in the middle of a research project, I was given a fifty minute block of time to share with another person.
Now, in case you can’t tell…I’m a bit wordy. And by a bit I mean just a teeny-weensy bit wordy. I could continue, but I think you have already gotten the gist if you have been reading this blog before.
So, I suggested to my time-sharing partner that I go second so that I could make sure that I DID NOT go over and take up her time. Because that would be rude. My partner agreed. We went our separate ways. Prepared our presentations.
In the days leading up to the conference, because the superintendents and the big-wigs of the local counties were going to be there, I figured I should be a little more dressy than normal. So, a friend of mine took me under her wing and taught me how to dress like a girl. Now, you might be thinking…haven’t you always dressed like a girl? Well, I do shop in the woman’s department and will generally wear clothing that was made for a woman. But most women must not be shaped like I am because clothing that is guaranteed to fit women sure as heck don’t wrap themselves around my body and hang like they’re supposed to.
Case in point, when my friend and I went shopping, I had the worst time finding pants that fit. I looked at the dresses. And hated them. I looked at the skirts and wanted to rip my face off. But pants. Give me a nice pair of pants and I’m happy. So I selected some. One pair was great in the legs but was tight around my midriff. One pair was fine on the waist but were so long I had three inches of pant-leg going past my big toe (no exaggeration). One pair just looked hideous. I was ready to cry.
After an hour of working and trying and working and trying, I finally found the pair that fit and was going to do fine. And then I found a shirt that actually was cut to flatter my waist (I usually wear clothing that hangs like a sack on me…no lie. The sackier it is, the better…until I look in the mirror and realize oh hell, I look like I”m wearing a sack. *facepalm*). Plus, this shirt had a print on it. And I hate prints. Because I can’t match clothing worth a bean. I thought (still do) that pink and red matched. I mean…come on. In order to make pink, you have to use red. Therefore, if red is already in pink, why doesn’t it match? And no one complains about red and pink roses being side-by-side. Generally, my fashion sense is “if nature can do, then so can I.”
Notice, I have NEVER been given a trophy for my fashion sense. That’s okay. That’s why I watch What Not to Wear. I know enough not to wear tapered pants because they make me look like I’m an ice cream cone.
By the way, the prelude to clothing shopping was…make-up shopping. My cosmetics routine is: put on deodorant. If I’m feeling really risqué, I’ll toss on some Chap-Stik. I’m I really going all out, I’ll wear my tinted Burt’s Bees lip balm. Oh yeah! Therefore, when I was counseled to buy brushes and was taught how to wear cheek blush so that it didn’t look like I had painted racing stripes on my face, I knew I was really becoming a…lady.
Nah…I still burp too much to be lady-like. But at least I could pretend that I was more feminine than I have ever been.
So, the day of the conference. I pack up my computer, print out my presentation notes and my back-up notes. I get my handouts in order. I put on my powdery foundation (in circles) and then the cheek blush (also sort of in circles..on the apples of my cheeks which are found by smiling) and then my mascara (just enough to highlight but not enough to look like I have twigs on my eyes) and then my LIP GLOSS. Nope, just kidding…it was still my tried and true Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm.
I put on my pretty clothes. I put on my new shoes. I did it. I even grabbed (heart, don’t fail me now) my purse.
I was ready to conquer the world.
I was scheduled to present right before lunch. Not a big deal. It meant that no one was going to skip my presentation because everyone was going to want to eat lunch. Right?
I listen to the keynote speaker. Nice. I go to one session about using Ted talks. Great work. I go to another session about using technology in the classroom. Horrible session. The person turned on a youtube video of google images with a monotone voice-over. And the volume was broken.
And then, it was time for my session. I was ready. I was going to conquer the education world.
My partner went up on stage. She started her presentation. I made sure to sit front and center. I was going to be polite and be supportive and be ready.
She started talking. And then she continued to talk. And talk. And talk. And her time to end arrived.
And she kept on talking. And talking and talking. I tried to get her attention. She must not have seen me because I must not have been sitting front and center enough to grab her attention. And she kept on talking and talking and talking.
One of my research friends was sitting in front of me and turned to tell me that I was going to have to do something. I was going to have to get the other woman to stop talking because my time was almost gone. I agreed. I sort of feebly tried again.
Nothing except more talking. And talking.
I got seven minutes. Seven minutes to do a presentation that could have easily lasted an hour but had been squeezed into twenty five minutes.
And there were no superintendents. No big-wigs. Just a couple of my research partners and the keynote speaker who played on his computer the entire time. And one or two other teachers. No one cared. No one listened.
I was devastated.
Because over the course of the year, I had been interviewing students and compiling research on student apathy, specifically senioritis. I had been learning about why students hate school, even when they value their education. I had learned about the different practices and teaching techniques which were failing my students and making them hate school even more. I started trying new techniques and opened up my classroom to my students to give me honest opinions and constructive criticism. And they did. They guided me and taught me about their lives and what they wanted and why they wanted to learn but felt like school was failing them.
I wanted my students’ voices to be heard. And I thought this conference was going to do it. And between no one being there and seven minutes, I felt like a failure.
I tucked my tail between my legs, hunched my back, and walked away. No, I didn’t confront Little-Lady-Talk-A-Lot. I don’t think it even registered to her that she had completely taken away my time.
So, last May, I submitted a proposal to present at another conference. This time, I was going to do this on my own. This time, I was going to do everything I could to try and get my students’ voices out there.
The proposal was accepted. I was scheduled to present. On the first day (good). At the end of the day (suck) because a lot of people were likely going to leave early and skip out on my presentation. Which meant that my students’ voices were still going to be ignored.
I collected new research from my gifted-and-talented students. I added on to my presentation. I packed my bag, photocopied my notes, created a Powerpoint. I was ready.
I got dressed. And got toothpaste on my nice dress shirt. Not a good omen. I went to school, taught a half day, and then went to the conference.
It was so tiny. It seemed like no one was there and the sinking feeling of discouragement just eked through my bones. I hadn’t done the make-up this time. I hadn’t done the pretty dress up clothes (I still looked nice..). I wore my Dansko ugly shoes.
The first session I attended had five people. The next session had three. Yup. More sickened sense of “why do I even bother?” My session arrived. I unpacked my bag. Set up my computer. I was ready for no one.
And then, kind of like magic, people started arriving. The Powerpoint never worked…the projector didn’t work. Which was perfect. It meant that I wasn’t tied to any one location. I could walk around and be myself.
I read a student’s poetry about her frustration with school. I quoted students. I used their stories to teach people about the debilitating effects of student apathy. I quoted a colleague. I had the attendees do a discussion technique that I stole from an education organization.
I did it. I gave my students a voice and people heard. Several people stopped me and thanked me for presenting, told me I had done a good job.
Driving home, I called my husband, ecstatic. I had done what I had set out to do. I had given a voice to those whom we love but don’t always hear. I had talked about research that I had taken nearly a year to complete and had been utterly changed by. I had not been defeated by a woman who didn’t know when to stop talking.
But I did. I finished with a minute to spare.