The Difference Between a Speech and a Lesson [Open Thread]

Jose Vilson Education, Resources

I don’t know if I should reveal this, but, oh well. When I was approached months ago about becoming a speaker for TEDxNYED, I did my usual nod of approval and, “Cool.” I felt a certain surprise about being asked to speak to people I consider colleagues about my passions. Plus, I felt honored because, well, at the time, I still wondered how many people were paying attention. Slowly, I started to research what I haven’t heard in any TEDx thus far. It’s hard to sift through thousands of minutes of footage from all the edu-TEDs in the entire library. After looking at some of TED speeches I loved (and the ones I didn’t), I realized one very important thing:

This stuff is a LOT harder than teaching.

Don’t get me wrong: attending to 300 professional and attentive adults makes for a better audience at times than 30 students with different needs, attention levels, and amounts of breakfast. The consequences of not having a good lesson plan matter more than any speech I’ve written, and the difference I make with my pedagogy have bigger implications for how this small set of students approach math, something I can’t guarantee with hundreds of listeners of my piece. There’s a whole set of pieces involved with writing a lesson plan too: the activity after they’ve heard me speak, the assignments I create from that day on, and the entire lesson revolves around a larger set of lessons called a unit, and a unit is a part of a curriculum for just that grade. While learning isn’t linear, the domino effect of me not having my stuff together for that one day may matter a lot for their competence in math throughout their careers.


On the other hand, with this speech, I only have one shot. That’s it. No more. I got a lot of time to practice, consult, replicate, nitpick, rehearse, and take shots of rum to calm the nerves. Once the speech is done, though, that’s it. No mas. You messed up? Too bad. Nowadays, you’ll even get the YouTube replays of all your missteps, miscues, and the time you picked your nose after you laughed at your joke. Double negative. The anticipation builds, and every moment you have to think about the speech, you think, “Oh snap, I didn’t mean to say that at all. I practiced this, but I said this. Come on, man!” You’re given all the control … which gives you practically all the responsibility.

Don’t be too self-centered, but don’t forget to talk about yourself. Don’t be too long, but don’t be too short. Stay calm, but get energetic. Speak calmly, but not softly. Act like you know what you’re talking about, but don’t be too cocky.

All the while, you’re wondering: can we get on with it already!?

Actually, that’s a lot like the classroom.

I’m already ready to go. I just need the audience and the time. Lights. Camera. Let’s do this.

Jose, who will be speaking at TEDxNYED on Saturday. If you can’t make it, check the livestream that will be announced on the website.