Editor’s Note: In this post, eighth-grade teacher and Ford’s Oratory Fellow Giani Clarkson shares his experiences teaching the art of oratory to his students in Washington, D.C.
As we begin a new year, and resolutions abound, taking a look back with students can be insightful. Honoring one’s past is a good thing—not only does it show you how far you’ve come, it shows you what you still may have to learn. My students want to be immediately great at everything. To demonstrate my own learning curve, I tell them about learning to cook.
I would love to pretend that I have always been a master in the kitchen. I would want you to believe that I could magically take pots and pans and turn ordinary ingredients into gourmet dishes, but that was not always the case. Starting out, I did burn food sometimes, and I did make some things that were next to being inedible. I remember standing over this humongous pot of chili that I made and thinking to myself, “UGH … what is this sad pot of glop I have made? THIS STINKS!”
The chili was a brilliant concoction of burnt, garlic-y, cheese-laden sadness. Needless to say, my garbage disposal on that evening did overtime to get rid of what I had made. I analyzed what had gone wrong, and I realized that the next time I made chili I would use less garlic, watch the temperature on the pot, and probably not use half a bag of cheese!
Understanding the concept that everyone makes mistakes and can learn from them is one that I have passed along to my students as they learn oratory through the Ford’s Theatre National Oratory Festival. As my students grow from neophyte orators to more experienced ones, I videotape their speeches, and later play them back for them to analyze when I think they’re ready to do so.
After getting their fifth speech under their belts, my students feel like “Master Orators.” Teachers and other students come into my classroom to watch them present their speeches, and my students relish the number of accolades and rounds of applause they receive. To bring them back down to Earth, I tell them that we’ll watch the recordings of their first speeches. This suggestion is often met with screams of displeasure and horror from my students.
As the footage of their first speeches plays, there is some laughter, a few embarrassed faces and, yes, some blushing. Once the last has played I ask my students, “Well, what did you learn?”
This year, one of my students (eloquently) stated, “Mr. Clarkson, we stunk!” The class erupted in laughter. I also immediately fell into laughter and said, “Yes. Yes, you did! But what else did you learn from watching those videos?”
One student replied, “I still need to stop rocking back in forth.”
Another offered, “I still need to concentrate on my pronunciation.”
As my students became more honest about their humble beginnings, they all agreed that they still had work to do. They also recognized the progress they had made. It inspired them to continue working on their oratory skills, and to be proud of what they had already accomplished. It was a valuable lesson.
When I walk into my kitchen to cook, I still remember that pot of chili I had to throw down the drain, and it keeps me humble. Remembering my mistakes reminds me to be cognizant of what I’m doing when cooking: watch my temperatures, slow down, and remember that sometimes “less is more.”
This exercise has given my students new resolutions, where oratory is concerned. Hmm … academic New Year’s Resolutions—that has a ring to it!
For more information on Ford’s Theatre Podium Points and other oratory tools teachers can use in their classrooms, visit our website.
Giani Clarkson is an eighth-grade U.S. History teacher at Howard University Middle School for Mathematics and Science. He is in his second year as a Ford’s Theatre Oratory Fellow and a proud graduate of Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Currently, Giani is pursuing his doctorate in Educational Leadership.