For the past 6 years, this little bag has been my constant companion when I teach public speaking at NUS. It served a very practical purpose of carrying some form of chocolate for students who needed something to take their minds and bodies out of stage-fright, or as a calming chew after a particularly disastrous FML delivery. I would promise that this bag will always be present, and invite them to reach for it whenever. I introduced it as the Bag o’Love, and I have only forgotten it three times in these 6 years.
The bag was certainly very practical and handy. It was also an unintended gauge to see when the students are becoming more comfortable with each other and me. The beginning of the semester, most would only shyly eye the bag. Usually by mid-semester, the chocolate would start running out faster as it would finally be passed around freely.
For me, it was a reminder: no matter how irritated, disappointed, discouraged, unhappy I maybe, that I will acknowledge their journeys whenever I step into the class; that I not only have the responsibility to educate, but that each student who comes through my class is at a unique and pivotal moment in their life journeys.
I really loved teaching and researching this subject, and especially because each student is given the choice to speak on ANYTHING they wish to. The biggest joy (and challenge) was when it went from a 4000-level class after one semester to become a GEM2027 module. This meant that the students were no longer just third or fourth-year communication students, but a cross section of the NUS student body, with all the variety of foibles.
Teaching this class has been an opportunity for me to marry the two things I am passionate about: theatre and communications. Unlike other mediums, public speaking requires you to use yourself as the medium, thus, you can’t hide behind grades, emoticons, images, curated pictures – the speaker has to confront him/herself to present him/herself.
For me, teaching public speaking has been about unlocking voices, empowering these young adults with tools so that they can confidently and intelligently articulate their thoughts. I have found in my 6 years of teaching this subject, that the most empowering moment is when one feels like he/she has conveyed what he/she feels most passionate about, in a way that not only garnered the respect of his/her peers, but also in an authentic manner that he/she is proud of.
I think that’s what I will miss the most: hearing them bloom.
So, I want to thank all the students with whom I have crossed paths. As I have always said at the beginning and end of every semester, it is trust that has enabled us to grow. Thank you.
A last reminder, for the love of God, please use your voice wisely, use it to do good.
Continue passing on the chocolate.