Teach for India Diaries 10: Eloquent Oration Vs A Royal Ouch.

“There are certain things in which mediocrity is not to be endured, such as poetry, music, painting, and public speaking.”   – Jean de la Bruyere


Cold sweats, shivers down my spine, nauseous nervousness, sweaty palms, anxiety attacks; the wish to escape into the nearest hole in the ground, a well memorized “I am a Tea Pot” poem and an impatient crowd. Even after all these years I can remember that sinking feeling of being on the stage in front of a momentarily screeching microphone and what feels like an endless sea of strange faces staring at you, to start your poem already!


For many years after that incident I remember waking up in the middle of the night feeling those staring eyes on me. Feeling them looking for a recitation, a speech, a sound, even a peep, anything but the silence I offered them on that unfortunate prep school morning. I woke only to realize that I was many successful poems, speeches, elocution and masters of ceremony old now. I should not be getting these sweats really. I have done enough to convince myself that I can now speak in public without wanting to disappear into thin air. But the indelible impression that the “I am a tea pot” moment in my life left on me, has driven me to push myself beyond my comfort zone in front of an audience. Public speaking gives even the best orators butterflies in the stomach. It’s only after hours, sometimes even days of practice that the best speeches are delivered. At school we were trained on body language, diction and emotion while public speaking. Most orators, politicians have speech coaches etc. No one is born a mesmerizing orator. You are groomed into one.


Reading fluency was one of our focus points during the whole year but somehow we never got the chance to assess kids on a regular basis and hence never knew how they were doing. Last month, when I reluctantly “assessed” kids on their public speaking; by the tenth kid I realized that kids don’t need to be taught reading fluency! They are so observant by nature that they pick up everything you say; they also pick up how you say it! For instance when a couple of month back we had an American Volunteer I suddenly heard the subtle American accent being spoken everywhere! A few months later we heard a distinct south East Asian accent when every most kids spoke; thanks to the Taiwanese Volunteers on the school campus. It’s so natural for kids to imitate the things they hear around them and its shocking how little intervention they need during this process. I soon saw kids either meeting or over shooting their Reading fluency targets for the year by considerable levels! It was heartening to see Gautam read a level S (Grade 4) book when at the beginning of the year he could barely get through the emergent letters (Pre Kindergarten). To hear Rohit read all the emergent (KG) sight words when at the beginning of the year he was unable to recognize sounds corresponding to the letters of the alphabet. It’s exciting to see how enthusiastic kids are about decoding and reading words phonetically! It was incredible to see them read so well.


But was reading in front of me enough? I asked myself if it sufficed to just decode and read the text. Or did I want them to also be exotic story tellers? This is when we started following the story teller rubric!

1. Walk up smartly in front of your audience

2. Stand tall and confidant

3. Read like you are in the story yourself!

4. Deliver clearly and correctly

5. Connect to everyone in the audience


Now in every story telling class we try to create a magical atmosphere where kids don’t just read, they rope you in to the story. They don’t just decode, they paint a vivid picture for you. They don’t just modulate their voice; they mesmerize you with their histrionics!


This is what I want for each of my kids to do, in class, on stage in front of an audience or in life. To stand and deliver eloquently. Simply because the world has the attention span of a house fly. If they can’t and don’t catch it then, they will be dismissed into the numerous “also participated” category of kids. Those numerous kids like me who stood silently in front of an impatient audience, a momentarily screeching microphone and what feels like an endless sea of strange faces staring at you, to start your poem already!


Leaving you with the “31 Superstars” You Tube Channel for all the videos on our speaking and listening Videos.

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