To this day flavored lip-balms make me smile; its as-if it’s the 90’s all over again and I’m sitting in the front row of Communications class. All we could see of Ms. Stewart was her fiery-red hair as she dug deep into her purse, rummaging around for… a lipstick?!
Turns out it was a new set of lipsticks her daughter had gifted Ms. Stewart a few days back. Communications class with her was always like this, full of stories and snippets of her life, and when we were taught the day’s lesson, it was hard to tell.
Being the first class period after lunch, our teacher had the extra challenge of keeping us 7th graders awake through the class. Not that she ever had any trouble meeting that challenge! To accompany her love for colors, Ms.Stewart took the act of teaching Communications very seriously!
So, out comes a golden makeup pouch that she proceeds to hand me and asks me to smell it.
“What? Why? Hunh?”
“Dig in, take a look, and then take a sniff. Don’t be afraid.”
Inside are a few lipsticks and when I opened one, a waft of Hershey’s chocolate took hold of my senses! One after the other, every lipstick was engineered to taste like a popular dessert; one after the other, all my classmates were equally amazed that such makeup existed. We didn’t buy her story when she insisted that these weren’t edible.
After the golden makeup pouch had made the rounds, Ms. Stewart assigned us all task of ‘Making the Sell’. This particular day she had set her mind on teaching us to become ‘Made-for-Tv’ sales persons. Yes, the very ones who will give you, yes you, that onion chopper for $199, no $149 – if you call in the next 5 minutes!
The first part of the lesson was learning how to project our voices. We all stood at the far end of the carpeted class room, pushed the desks aside, and began to introduce ourselves as clearly as possible. This was when we were taught to project our voices by speaking from gut. Beginning with some breathing exercises to relax the lung muscles, some jumping jacks for her amusement and finally, we were ready. We were handed odd objects to talk about, a piece of chalk to a brush, and we had to make sure we were being heard all the way across the room.
Mind you, this was junior-high school and the very epitome of self-consciousness. The last thing any teenager wants is to draw more attention to themselves.
Our mastermind, however, had a cure for that! For every person hesitating to participate, she would ask them to say the entire alphabet backwards — in Spanish! We trusted Ms. Stewart enough to know she’d make us do it too. Seeing that the penalty was even more embarrassing, soon enough all twenty-two of us were testing out our stage voices.
Before we knew it, the period was over and we were pushing all the desks back. As we left the class Ms. Stewart stood by the door with a smile and another pouch, this time doling out mini-choco bars for her ‘brave artistés’. As I walked up to her on my way out, she dropped bar in my hand while saying, ” Now that you have found your voice, keep it loud and strong, and never let go”.
It may have been an ordinary day for Ms. Stewart, she has probably impacted hundreds of boys and girls with her personable teaching style and love for story-telling. For me, it was a day that made me realize the importance of being able to make your presence felt, vocally.
Every time I pick up the mic or set down the cue cards on the dais, I am well aware of the privilege I have received throughout my childhood; the privilege of genuine mentorship. If it was not for my teachers who went out-of-the-way to believe in me, to instil confidence in a nerdy Asian girl who preferred books to conversation, perhaps Catalyst Woman would have never existed.
This is ‘The Teacher Debt’ I quite often talk about off-line. The push I get every time there is an obstacle to teaching and mentoring my students about communications or digital technology, or even resume writing. I am the product of countless teachers and instructors who made it their priority to make learning a lively and authentic experience. It gives me a purpose to engage with my students; a group of wonderfully unique, curious individuals whose enthusiasm for education is infectious and rewarding.