The eulogy speech I assigned two semesters ago wasn’t exactly a failure; neither was it a resounding success. Evaluating the character of my current class, I decided upon a new approach. We would discuss scenarios where they might be called upon to deliver a tribute speech. For about two minutes they did great by naming graduation ceremonies, funerals, awards, and weddings. Then I assigned them to write a tribute speech, and they fell apart.
“Miss,” angrily, “What does ‘tribute’ mean?”
Angrier, “What does praise mean? Compliment?”
They turn away, ignoring me. I ignore them in return, knowing that they’ll talk to me in a moment. “Miss? I don’t know who to write about.”
We go through the list of occasions again, ending on funeral. Then we go through a list of people they could write about. “How about your mom’s funeral?” I suggest.
“My mom? Her funeral? What’s wrong with you? I’m not speaking at my mom’s funeral anyway,” he turns to talk about what’s for dinner with the person behind him.
I wait. “This is hard,” begins the chorus. “Miss, we don’t like to write about our feelings.”
I tell them that if they are unwilling to share with the class, we can arrange for them to deliver the speech just to me. Two of them kind of sigh with relief, but five minutes later their pens have fallen from their fingers and their eyes have wandered for someone to talk to. “Miss,” they complain again, “it’s hard. I’m going to make it up.” They can’t do that either and fritter away the hour.
My TA walks out the door at the peak of the complaining, fed up with them all. He hates it when they make my assignments hard and take it out on me. I want to ask him if he’ll watch the class so that I can walk out the door today.