Monday, February 20, 2012

All that glitters is not gold...

Track and Field Competition. September. 2011. Hamilton.

My grade 7/8 students were in fine form that day as they fiercely competed against students from other Christian schools. In most of the events they ran the fastest, and jumped the farthest. I’m pretty sure they ate the most at lunch too. The results were announced at the end of the day. We had won in our age group! The trophy was ours!

We couldn’t take the trophy back with us to school though, because it needed a little gold plate added to the base of the trophy proclaiming that ORCS has won that year. It was the first time ORCS would have a place on the track and field trophy.

My students were naturally quite excited and proud of their victory. Every day they asked me when the trophy would be delivered to the school. I had been told that the trophy would come any day. In the meantime, we had a place ready for the arrival of the trophy – on top of the fridge in our portable. Who needs a fancy backlit trophy case when you have a white Maytag? If you really used your imagination, the fridge almost looked like a Greek pedestal used for holding great works of art.

The days went by and the trophy was still MIA. The students relentless questioning about the trophy’s arrival began to get a little grating. After a while, when the students would ask me the ETA of the trophy, I wouldn’t even have to answer. They would know that the trophy was not at school yet by the way my eyes became red and beady and steam hissed from my ears.

One cheery day, the Principal told me that the trophy would be coming the next day. He was probably just as relieved as I was about the trophy because my students were asking him too at this point. Finally, I could show them the trophy, and be done with it.

Then a light bulb went on. Why not get a fake trophy and pretend that it was the real trophy? That would teach them a lesson! I wasn’t sure what the lesson would be, but it would be a lesson they would never forget!

That night, I stopped by Dollarama on the way home from work. I went to the “fake trophy” aisle (just joking – it was actually the “cheap junk from China” aisle) and found what I was looking for. It was a plastic golden trophy. I brought it to the cashier and explained that the trophy was not for me, but for my class. “I’m sure they earned it” she replied dryly. The best part of this prank was that it was only going to cost me $1!

That night I dreamed of the moment where I would unveil the plastic trophy. The students’ faces would go from excited anticipation to horror as they viewed the cheap little trophy. In the morning, my wife Courtney asked me why I was laughing evilly in the middle of the night. “I was?” I asked innocently.

I got to school, hid the real trophy (which was pretty nice) and put the plastic trophy in my desk.

The students arrived on the buses and walked in the classroom wordlessly and in perfect single file whereupon they sat down, opened up their books and looked up at me with expectant beatific smiles.

Just kidding. The buses pulled up to the school and the doors opened. The students piled out and headed for their rooms. My students stampeded toward my classroom like runaway broncos. Even though doorways are designed for one person at a time, my students prefer efficiency. Four of them can fit through the doorway at the same time – a lot of time is saved that way. After they pick themselves off the floor, their bookcases and coats are put at the back and they find their desks.

After the students had all settled themselves down, I told them the big news – THE TROPHY WAS HERE! Cheering erupted; students hugged each other and wept without abandon. One student began doing celebratory back flips, while a ticker tape parade was initiated around the classroom.

After the hoopla died down, I told them that we would pass the trophy around the room – the same way NHLer’s pass around the Stanley Cup. They began to chant and bang on their desks: Trophy! Trophy! Trophy! I realized I had better pull out the trophy before they started salivating and foaming at the mouth.

The chanting and pounding continued as I opened the drawer of my desk and pulled out the plastic trophy. The chanting died like a car out of gas. Pin-drop silence descended on the room as I brought the trophy up to the front. I passed it to the first student. He took it from me and tapped it with his finger. “It’s plastic!” he said disdainfully. “Yes – 100% plastic – nice eh?” I replied enthusiastically. The trophy was passed around the room in stunned silence.

I was having trouble keeping a straight face. One way to keep a serious demeanour in such instances is to think of sad things, like your pet goldfish ‘Finny’ who got caught in the filter and died. Finny was not sad enough for this funny situation however.

I walked back to my desk and pulled out the real trophy. The student’s oohed and ahhed as I brought it to the front and respectfully placed it on the beautiful Greek pedestal (the fridge). The gold trophy glinted in the fluorescent lighting – it was a beautiful sight. The student’s broke out in cheering and laughing.


In the end, the plastic trophy sat beside the real trophy and was loved by the students just as much as the real trophy. Both trophies remained best friends until the tragic day the plastic trophy fell off of the fridge and broke in half. Apparently it was only designed for aesthetic beauty and not durability.

The End.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Coffee Time!

Teaching is not for the faint of heart. Each day requires a serious amount of energy and drive. I remember coming home after my first day of teaching. I stumbled through the door and slumped down on the couch. I didn’t fall asleep – rather, I fell into a deep trance. When I woke up later that evening, I tried to remember who I was and where I was. Did I get hit by an 18-wheeler or something? Overtime, your stamina increases, and you get used to the hustle and bustle of the day. Teaching can be draining, but it’s easily worth it.

It should be no wonder then, that teachers consume vast amounts of coffee. Forget gathering around the water-cooler, teachers surround the coffeemaker like seagulls flock to a dropped French fry. Coffee gives teachers that extra needed energy. Sir James Mackintosh once said “The powers of a man's mind are directly proportioned to the quantity of coffee he drinks.” Too true.

As you can probably deduce, I am a coffee drinker. I don’t just drink coffee – I love coffee and everything about it.

This past Christmas, I bought a book containing coffee recipes. The recipes and the pictures in this book are amazing. I selected a recipe for a white mocha and got busy. I pulled out my espresso maker, filled the bottom chamber with milk, added the grinds, and put it on the stove. As the mocha was brewing, I imagined how amazing it would taste, and how I would never feel the need to go to Starbucks again. I had visions of creating all sorts of wonderful caffeinated concoctions.

A hiss of steam signalled that the white mocha was finally finished. I took out my best cup and saucer and brought it over to the espresso maker. I poured the white velvety liquid into the cup. It looked delicious. The smell, I noted, was a little on the overpowering side.

I brought the cup and saucer into my study where I had been marking. This white mocha was just the ticket to help me through this stack of marking!

In my head, a choir of sopranos was ready to sing a chorus of celebration as I brought the cup to my mouth. I took a sip. Instead of the joyful strains of sopranos, the sound of a deflating balloon filled my brain. This stuff was disgusting! I had been like Icarus and flew too close to the sun. My dreams were dashed, and I returned to earth – humbled.

Gingerly, I took another sip, hoping that it wasn’t as bad as I had first thought. Nope – it was still vile. This mocha was strong – it could not doubt be used to double as some kind of industrial cleaner. I looked at my favourite cup with sudden alarm as I wondered if this liquid would corrode through the bottom of the cup. I carefully brought it over to the sink – careful not to slosh any mocha on exposed skin – and dumped it down the drain. Since the mocha probably had the same properties as ‘drano’ I recognized that at least I would have a cleared drain out of the deal.

The defeat was stinging and left me with a bitter taste in my mouth (hypothetically and literally!). Would I let this coffee recipe book and my espresso maker defeat me or would I take inspiration from my waffle iron struggle (see blog entitled ‘The Waffle Iron’) and overcome this small kitchen appliance?

I let it defeat me – for a while anyway. The espresso maker and the coffee recipe book taunted me. Since I consider myself a coffee connoisseur, I knew that I would half to have another go at the espresso maker.

It was go time. I decided I should probably start simple instead of trying the fancy white mocha again – I prepared for a cup of espresso coffee. Reverse Osmosis water, Italian finely ground espresso and the perfect stovetop temperature – the ideal conditions.

After a few minutes, the coffee began to brew. Instead of a pungent smell, a strong and beautiful aroma wafted into the kitchen. Courtney, whose favourite hot beverage is “banana-strawberry-passionfruit-pineapple-tazo-green-potpurri-tea”, scrunched her nose in disgust at this sweet and satisfying smell. “What is that smell?” she asked. “That is the smell of victory!” I replied. She gave me a confused look and left the kitchen.

The espresso was finally finished and I poured it into my favourite cup and saucer (which thankfully did not sustain any damage from the white mocha – aka – drano). I brought it to my lips – the choir of sopranos began an exalted chorus – the beautiful brown liquid passed my lips – and – burnt my tongue. My taste buds, which had just recovered from the flaming hot waffles from a few weeks before (again – see “The Waffle Iron”), were singed again.

Despite this slight setback and after letting the espresso cool down a little, I took another sip. It was delectable! Success had never tasted so good.