On Wednesday, I had the most difficult presentation situation I’ve ever encountered, and it was at a school I thought would be easy.

Yes, it was an inner city school, but I’ve done loads of inner city schools before!

I’ve even presented to downright scary kids, kids that had made other presenters cry.

The fact that it was scorching hot and the gymnasium I was presenting in was stifling didn’t help, but again, I’ve had those precise conditions before too, and I’ve had no problems.

I chose to do my The Roses in My Carpets presentation, and for goodness sakes it was for a group of grade fours and fives!!!

The other kids that were scary had always been teens.

Maybe it was because the most difficult class moseyed in a good ten minutes after I had already done my opening bit, where I told the students I had a lot of information to share with them, and that I would need their best co-operation and listening skills, and that they’d probably find it interesting.

Saying that at the beginning of my presentation is usually more than enough for them to at least give me a chance, and once they give me a chance, I can engage them.

But like I said, this class moseyed in ten minutes after I started. They sat in a group at the back and started chatting to each other, so I went right over to them and asked them pointedly for their cooperation and best listening skills.

Then one of the girls, a skinny little slip of a thing, was told to get up by one of the teachers and he started escorting her out.

In the past I’ve always urged teachers to let the troublesome kids stay. I told him that I’ve often found that those are the kids who get the most out of my presentations.

He just shrugged and she plunked down, heaving a great sigh like she was doing me a favour. So I asked, “Do you want to leave?”

She looked up at me and said, “Yeah!”

I said, “Okay then.”

And I told the teacher to let her leave then.

If she’d only stayed gone…

But five minutes later she came back. I was surprised but thought maybe she had been sent back, or something. And the worst thing was the gym door was one of those really loud clanky things that is also disruptive in its own right.

And then she had a way of walking, for a skinny little thing her footsteps were deliberately loud.

The worst thing was she came back precisely when the rest of the group had started settling down and were into the slide show of the refugee camp.

Then ten minutes later, what does she do? She gets up and stomps out again.

Had she been sent? I had no idea. I was just glad to see her go.

With her gone, the kids settled down even more. But so much valuable time had been chewed up just dealing with her that I had to go into hyperdrive to get in all the information I wanted to convey.

But you know what’s funny?

I’ve had to rev up my performance before, take out all the interactive questions and whiz through it because of time constraints and yet I found that even when I go fast, the kids are right there with me. Sometimes they’re even more engaged! Go figure!

So I wasn’t too worried, and sure enough, even the ‘behavioural’ kids who’d been acting up before were sitting quietly staring at me as I showed them the mud houses and explained how they were made.

Everything was going fantastic, I was almost to the climax of the presentation! And then that clanky gym door opens in and who saunters in again but that skinny little girl.

This time I told her, “Go out. I don’t want you here.”

So she turned around and sauntered back outside. And I finished the presentation. But as far as I was concerned the momentum had been ruined. And of course the bell rang, it was the end of the school day, and most of the kids got up and left.

The librarian, who’d booked me, came up to me then and apologized profusely for that girl’s behaviour. She told me then that this girl was the most notorious kid in the whole school. But to me it was clear as a part-time teacher librarian the librarian had little influence over these kind of matters.

This was something the principal or vice-principal should have been handling.

Oh it was odd!

The more I think about it the more I’m certain that the girl only came back in because she saw that the rest of the kids were paying attention to what I had to say.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I think she was, could it be, that she was competing with me for their attention!!!

Oh, just writing that sounds so stupid!

I don’t know.

I just know that I found it very very sad. That this is the kind of kid who probably comes from a family where she’s learned to get attention any way she can. Like many kids she’s got access to all these resources, education, and you name it, and she does everything she can NOT to learn!

And she’s clearly good at influencing the rest of the school. Oh how the other kids watched her to take their cue!

My husband tells me that when the conditions I present at are less than ideal, I shouldn’t care, I should just get up and do my thing, I’m going to get paid whether the kids get anything from my presentation or not.

And it’s true.

I’ve done presentations where autistic kids have been running through the library aisles yelling at the top of their lungs, and the other kids are acting up too because no way can they hear me over that racket.

In that situation I’ve made my voice hoarse trying to be heard, to little or no avail.

And in that kind of situation what can you do? How can I suggest that the autistic kids be removed? It would look intolerant. The teachers must know the other kids can’t hear a word, so I’ve learned to say nothing. It’s not my responsibility to discipline the kids. You’d think that since they’re spending a good chunk of money bringing me in there that they’d want to have a favourable situation where the kids could get something from it, but that’s juts not always the case.

And yet, even though the school day was over, and the gym was super hot and stuffy, a bunch of the kids who hadn’t been disruptive, mobbed me for autographs after this presentation.

They must have been listening. They must have been moved.

It’s too bad that the skinny girl with the attitude is the one I couldn’t help focusing on, because she was so frustrating.

So in that sense, her tactics definitely worked.