Isn’t it odd that we wake up one day and think about something that happened decades ago that we haven’t thought of for years? The brain is a curious retainer of information. That’s what happened today when suddenly, a funny memory from my days as an elementary teacher struck me.
During a typical school year, I often invited speakers into my classroom. Just because I was a teacher didn’t mean I was an expert about everything. The kids always perked up when something out of the ordinary happened. One of the things about teaching is you learn that variety is vital in keeping students engaged.
On this particular day, a guest speaker came to speak to the entire school. We regularly had school assemblies, so that was not that odd, but it was unusual to have the presentation outside for all of the elementary classes at the same time.
The side of a trailer opened up, and the students had an excellent view of an animal, calmly munching on a mixture of grass and grains. The kids sat down on the blacktop and became mesmerized. In front of them was a huge brown and white dairy cow contained by an extended pen. There was no danger of the cow getting loose as several horizontal metal bars were running across the trailer’s length.
The children were fascinated while some of my female colleagues were gawking at the handsome thirty-something presenter. After he began talking, it was evident that he had made this presentation many times before. He was funny and engaging.
When speakers came to school, it wouldn’t take long to recognize if they had ever spoken to children before. One of the biggest giveaways was how they handled the inevitable raised hands from the excited students. The principal would typically introduce the speaker, tell the children what they were going to learn about, and caution them not to raise their hands until the end. Inevitably, a younger child would soon forget and raise a hand enthusiastically after a couple of minutes.
The natural response from an inexperienced speaker was to call on the excited hand waving in the air. What usually happened was the young five or six-year-old would either pause for ten seconds before announcing, “I forgot,” or better yet, begin telling a story about something completely off the topic. For example, if a speaker was showing the kids different types of bird nests, we could almost always count on some child to raise his hand and proudly announce, “My brother shot a bird with his BB gun!”
Having seen this pattern repeat itself more than once over the years, what followed next was a predictable sequence: 1. A confused look came across the speaker’s face. 2. Some of the older students in the audience began to snicker, realizing the child’s comment was irrelevant. 3. The teachers immediately shushed and reprimanded their students for not being more polite.
A rookie presenter may even fall into the trap a second time calling on another excited hand, only to hear some random fact about the child’s guinea pig, at which point the same three-point sequence happens again.
The speaker who has been around young children before immediately knows how to wave a child off by simply saying, “I’ll be sure and call on you at the end.”
In the case of the cow handler, he took the most brilliant approach I’d ever seen. He first introduced the cow to the kids. I don’t remember the name of the animal in question, but let’s call him Maurice for the sake of this story. The speaker immediately asked the kids for a favor. (Every elementary student I ever taught wants to help, so this was smart.) He said something like, “Now, boys and girls, I’m going to need your help today. Sometimes, when Maurice is nervous, he goes to the bathroom. When he does that, please make sure he doesn’t feel embarrassed. Wouldn’t you feel funny if you went to the bathroom in front of everyone else?” Many of the kids in the audience acknowledged this would be true.
The wise gentleman continued, “Now when Maurice goes to the bathroom, I don’t want you to laugh because then he will be embarrassed. What I want you to do instead is clap for him because then he won’t feel bad. Will you do that for me?”
A few minutes later, as the speaker was teaching the kids how cows chew their food with their thirty-two bottom teeth for up to eight hours a day, Maurice went into action and began dropping a load inside the trailer. The man stopped speaking instantly, and he and the kids started giving Maurice a thunderous ovation. If the speaker hadn’t set the table beforehand, I guarantee that the kids would have fallen apart at that moment and gone into complete hysterics.
Maurice had become a celebrity by doing what comes naturally to cows.