By Bill Henk — While still working at Penn State Harrisburg, I was asked by my closest colleague and friend, Dr. Steven Melnick, to join him for a professional event. He wanted me to be a fellow panel member in a discussion on the topic of “Cooperative Learning” at a school in our local urban school district. The school was considering implementing this teaching strategy in which small teams of students at different ability levels work together to improve their understanding of a concept.
No Big Deal
Dr. Melnick told me it was no big deal, and all I’d have to do is take a favorable position, which he knew I already had. Besides we’d be helping out an administrator in the district who had been very accommodating to us in the past. We’d just pontificate in front of a small assembly of interested parties he assured me. It sounded easy and harmless enough, so I agreed.
When we arrived at the school that evening, there were zero parking spaces to be found, so we ended up a long way from the building. As we approached it, I saw mobile television units from all of our local networks. I turned and asked him, “Are you sure that this is no big deal?”
“Trust me, Willie,” he said. [Note to Readers: He is the only person in the world who enjoys calling me by that name].
Anyway, we went inside to the gymnasium, and it was PACKED. Standing Room Only. TV crews had positioned very bright lights and microphones where the panel would sit. There were about five or six panelists as I recall.
After everyone was settled, Steven went first, extolling the virtues of Cooperative Learning, especially how kids taught each other so naturally and effectively in this approach. I was up next and said much of the same stuff, but not nearly as well. The pressure of the overflowing crowd and the intensely hot lights caused me to choke verbally, not to mention perspire profusely.
And get this — after I finished speaking, not another single word was offered in support of Cooperative Learning for the remainder of the evening. All of the other panelists dissed the approach, and then everyone from the audience who spoke in the public comment portion — and there were a lot of them – slammed the idea, too.
The parents of the gifted kids didn’t want their kids’ time wasted tutoring the less talented children. Parents of the less talented children wanted teachers working with their kids, not other children. Unanimous agreement, but ironically, for very different reasons.
At any rate, I have never been in a situation where my views had been so thoroughly assaulted. The phrase ‘sweating bullets’ took on new meaning. By the end of the ordeal, I was dripping. Steven, on the other hand, looked fresh as a daisy.
My hope for an immediate exit became dashed when we were cornered by local TV reporters looking for brief video snippets to air on the 10:00 and 11:00 broadcasts. I tried my best to give professional answers and look calm, but succeeded at neither.
No Such Thing as a Free Meal
Afterwards. Steven felt so badly that he offered to take me to dinner. I appreciated the gesture, and we had one of those caloric-ridden, high fat content meals that hits the spot when you’re completely stressed out. We got to the register and when he reached for his wallet to pay, he realized that he no cash or credit cards with him. So, so on top of everything else, I got stuck paying for the meal, too! [Second Note to Readers: Yes, he paid me back!]
By then I thought my torment had come to an end. But when I arrived home, several teacher friends who had watched the 10:00 news on one network called to chastise me severely for taking the side of the administration.
Hadn’t I suffered enoughalready? Apparently not.
30 Seconds of Infamy
I settled in to watch the 11:00 news on a different channel just as Steven’s videoclip played. He sounded extremely polished, and I remember being impressed by the captioning at the bottom of the screen which read, “Dr. Steven Melnick, Professor, Penn State Harrisburg.”
My clip followed next. The contrast between his eloquence and my blathering equated to stark and unmistakable. Even then, just maybe I could have endured that disappointing aspect of my 30 seconds of airtime.
But what happened next clinched the evening — a dagger in my heart.
My caption read, and I am NOT making this up, “BILLY HENK.”
It might just as well have said, “BILLY-BOB HENK, APPALACHIAN HOLLER IMBECILE.” There was no end to the teasing (code for abuse) that I received over the next few days. My co-workers and friends thought my moment of infamy ranked right up there with the funniest things they had ever seen on television. I was the original Boob on the Tube.
I’m not sure if this was more embarrassing than my horrendous job interview, but it definitely ranks right up there.