Bringing Heat in the Desert
In the last three weeks I have been from Fresno to Scottsdale and down to Palm Springs area. I haven't seen a day in many weeks with a temperature lower than 105 degrees. So, I was a little conscious of the weather when I drove with my partner/son Jared to Hemet CA on August 3rd to talk to the staff at Acacia Middle School. It was the Friday before students reported back on Monday and i could feel a little tension when the staff walked into the room. I was going to have to really work to get their attention.
A lot can happen in an hour and I did my best to bring out a variety of emotion. This faculty was quiet, pleasant, and very focused. They didn't give away a lot of laughter but they were as respectful as anyone else. When I speak, I use the noise level as my gauge of success. The size of the laugh and intensity of the silence in a few key spots lets me know whether the audience is engaged. With Acacia being quiet, I was concerned so I picked out a few faces and tried to see if they were reacting. One young science teacher was expressionless the whole time and I couldn't move him. He even got up and left before it ended and I felt bad that he didn't get into the talk.
The team at Acacia invited us to eat with them when we were finished and we were happy to enjoy a little time. I was a little bummed about the speech, but mostly just disappointed that I didn't get through to the young man.
I sat and ate quietly but was quickly joined by the very young man who left my talk. He apologized for leaving, but I was stunned at his reason. He told me he was so moved by the remarks that he left to cry in his classroom. He then shared with me a picture of a teacher that made a big difference in his life, and I learned that she had just passed away. He was dedicating the year to her and he thanked me for reminding him about how important love is in education.
So I left Hemet with my eyes wide open. Never underestimate people with your value system. I thought I knew all the cues, but I missed a major moment right in front of me. Luckily, he didn't let me leave without telling me his story. I am grateful.