Friday, August 18, 2006

A Defense of Public Education to the MSBA

Deb Sistrunk wanted to know how my presentation to the Minnesota School Board Association went, and what Deb wants, Deb gets! Especially since it went pretty well.

I don't know how many of you have given Power Point presentations to groups other than students, but using that little piece of technology scared the devil out of me. My biggest fear was that I'd have everything hooked up and ready to go, and then I would look up and see the dreaded "No Signal" on the screen. That happened to me once last spring in one of my American history classes, and it happened once when I was rehearsing for this presentation. I thought I had the problem figured out, but I am no computer wizard, so for the past several days I kept picturing myself fumbling and stumbling with a computer and Power Point projector in front of about a hundred impatient superintendents and school board members from around the state. Mercifully, the high tech equipment cooperated nicely on Thursday.

I had prepared a presentation last April for Delta Kappa Gamma, which is an organization of women educators. It went quite well, so I had planned to go basically with that again, but I ended up making a lot of changes. The more I went over it, the more I realized that there were things I had in the presentation that would strike a chord with teachers, but would probably go flat with non-teachers. I spent a lot of time tinkering with it and memorizing it over the last month, and then almost all of my focus was on it for the last week. They say the most frightening thing for most people to do is public speaking, and even though I've essentially been doing that in front of my students for all these years, going in front of a group like this created a lot of anxiety for me. If I screwed it up, it wasn't going to be due to lack of preparation.

The presentation took about an hour and was received better than I ever could have hoped for. This was only the second time I've done a presentation like this, but I think I was able to make up for my inexperience with the belief that I had in what I was talking about. With all of the negative information that we are swamped with about public schools, I think a lot of people are receptive to hearing something positive about them. This group sure was. One superintendent told me it was one of the top five motivational presentations he'd ever seen, and obviously that made me feel good. One board member said that he was pleasantly surprised because he was expecting a talk on "poor me, the teacher." He didn't expect the presentation to be so positive.

The blogging I've done this summer definitely helped me. Anyone who has taught as long as I have should have a reasonable amount of confidence when talking about education issues, but I've never felt as confident as I do now, after reading your blogs and going back and forth with some of you on comments. My PESPD's Ten Myth series that I ran earlier this summer inspired the structure of the presentation, which I called "Four Misconceptions About Public Education." Peter Campbell's Life Magazine cover from March, 1958, which he used in a post, was a great addition to my presentation, and all of the discussion on No Child Left Behind that I've been reading on blogs was helpful. I used the stories about T. J. Oshie and Nick Moyer which I posted in June, and I finished with "God is not allowed in public school," featuring pictures of Ann Graham, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Jim Bakker. (I'll bet you're trying to figure out how Bill and Hillary Clinton fit into that one!)

In any case, the presentation went well, and I hope I get opportunities to do it again. If I do, I'll get nervous again, just like I did this time, but I seem to do my best work when I'm a little scared. I'm eligible for retirement in two years, and although I'm in no hurry to get out, I need to be looking for things to do once I end my career. Who knows, maybe this will be part of the answer.


Blogger Deb S. said...

I'm glad your presentation went so well! Of course, I am not surprised. :-)

Planning and preparation always pay off. Even if you had experienced technical glitches, your presentation would still have had pizzazz.

You stress the importance of knowing your audience, and I like that. So many presenters miss this important point.

You're tops in my book, Dennis. Congrats for being a star at MSBA!

By the way, I don't think you'll have any problems finding something to do once you "retire." I think your second career is already mapped out for you - as a writer, consulant and speaker.

Have a great weekend.

8/19/2006 7:08 AM  
Blogger Deb S. said...

I got a kick out of that Life Magazine cover and essay excerpt.

8/19/2006 7:12 AM  
Anonymous Doug Johnson said...


The best tip I have (other than practice) to get the LCD projector to work with the computer is to always make sure the projector is turned on BEFORE turning the computer on.

Glad your talk went well! I'd like to hear it myself one day. Let your blog readers know of upcoming "events."


8/20/2006 8:31 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Deb, thanks for your vote of confidence. I referred to you in the question and answer session when someone asked me something about urban schools. I try never to miss an opportunity to name-drop--especially when it's about my blogging friend from St. Louis!

And Doug, your advice is always welcome. As a matter of fact, when I said that "I thought I had the problem figured out," turning the computer on last was what I was talking about. I'd have been a lot more comfortable, though, if I'd have had a tech wiz, like yourself, standing by.

8/20/2006 10:23 AM  
Anonymous CreditGuru said...

Dennis I congratulate you on the excellent presentation. It is really hard to create a vivid presentation, but you apparently did. You are the best person!

8/01/2007 11:21 PM  

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