Dumbfounded by Birds of a Feather Huddling Together at the Back

After Almost 26 years of teaching in various forms I’m rarely surprised. Today, though, my worst bad class surprised me for the better and the dumbfounded.

Traditionally, at the school where I work, the first two classes of the year for second and third year junior high school (8th and 9th grade) are spent chasing down and checking speeches for the annual speech contest. It is also a tradition for the foreign staff to guess how many students will actually 1) have a speech ready on the first day 2) be able to finish a speech on the first day and 3) actually have the worksheet for the speech.

(Note: I always declare on day one that if they are not finished it is okay. If they claim their dog ate their paper, I say “I hope your dog is okay”. If they don’t have their speech for the second class, I say I hope their dog died.”)

Being the optimist that I am not, I predicted that only two students would have finished speeches. The more optimistic of my colleagues predicted three and two.

The problems started when I arrived in class: the name calling started, although with less energy than usual and two students had decided to give themselves new seats at the back. I let them sit there as they were more interested in talking to each other than disrupting class.

After that start, though, things got better. Five students brought up finished and actually usable speeches. (One, if the author speaks well, has a chance to win it all.) By the end of the class, all but two students (guess which two) had finished their speeches and some had given me the rewritten draft I’d told them to write.

With a couple minutes left I called up the students at the back and told them to show me their speeches. The one that actually came up–who also happens to be one of the name callers–handed me a finished, surprisingly good speech. I was dumbfounded. Since he hadn’t even taken out a pencil or pen all class, he must have finished it at home. If he’d given it to me earlier, he wouldn’t have lost points. In fact, he’d have earned bonus points. (Instead the talking all class earned him a 0.)

I still don’t understand the logic behind not showing  me the speech. Actually, now that I think about it, I do understand: teenager.

As for the other student, he gave me attitude and showed me a blank paper. I told him he had to show me his finished speech next week or he’d have to come in at lunch and finish.

Knowing him, I just made a lunch date for next week. But I’ve already lost one bet this year.


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