Monday, October 29, 2012

The Danger of Stairs

There are often many trying moments during the day while teaching.  Moments that induce a bubbling from deep within that threaten to blow like Vesuvius.  How should you react, for example, when a student decides to chew open his pen to the point that his hands and mouth are covered in blue ink instead of listening to one of your brilliant lessons?  Or when a student drops their plastic pencil case (which contains about 3,000 assorted pens and pencils) for the tenth time that day?  
 Sometimes our first instinct is to react.  Our faces turn a splotchy violet and words spew out. “What!  You dropped it again!  I’m going to duct tape that thing to your desk!”

Two weeks ago, I was walking with a student from the soccer field to the building after a gym class.  As we neared the building he asked me “Mr. S., why don’t you ever get mad?”  I burst out laughing and then realized that the student was serious.

“I do get angry,” I replied, “I’ve just learned to control it, I guess.”

Truth be told, taming my temper is a constant battle.  Prayer and patience are needed in vast measures and keeping a proper perspective is important as well.

The initial reaction is something to be thought about as well.  When the pencil case does explode on the ground, I’ve learnt to take a deep breath before giving the clean-up instructions. 

I think I’ve learned the art of reacting calmly to disaster from my dad.  One point in time stands out vividly.
Scott and I were downstairs.  I don’t remember what we were doing (I’d like to believe we were having a discussion about existentialism) but it probably involved wrecking something or making loud noises.  Dad and Derek were about to go cross-country skiing down the Bruce Trail.  If you’ve ever been cross-country skiing, you may have noticed the funny shoes that are worn to fit into the bindings.  They have an extra long toe that clips into the ski.  As we learned that night, walking in cross-country ski shoes can be difficult. 

Derek was waiting for Dad outside and was anxious to get going.  Perhaps it was the call of the wild.  Dad was scurrying around upstairs and was about to go downstairs to get his skis and poles.  Scott was calling Dad to hurry because Derek was already outside waiting.  Dad started down the stairs but tripped over his ski shoes near the top step.  Scott and I watched with amazement as Dad fell and slid down the first half of the wooden staircase on his knees.  I briefly reflected that perhaps he should have been wearing downhill ski shoes.  

At the midway point on the staircase, Dad somehow managed to get on his feet, but his momentum was too great.  With open mouthed awe, we watched as Dad jumped all the way to the bottom.  We had never seen anyone go down a set of stairs so quickly.  He landed at the bottom, executed a Hollywood style roll, and go to his feet.

Dad’s face was a blotchy violet and steam may have been coming out of his ears.  “Don’t talk to me while I’m walking down the stairs!” he bellowed.  Scott and I both made a mental note of adding the rule “No talking to people who are traversing stairs” to the Slingerland rule-book.  We watched in sombre silence as Dad stiffly headed to where he kept his skis, and were quite impressed that he could walk away from that stunt and still be able to go cross country skiing.  Derek, who was practising his coyote howling, was completely oblivious to the spectacle that had just occurred and thereby missed a very important lesson.

I think this event tempered Dad’s reactions to anger inducing episodes (except when he had to fix something) and served as a great reminder for Scott and me to take a deep breath before reacting to abrading situations (and to never wear cross country ski-shoes down the stairs – but that goes without saying).  

Last year I was trying to get a PowerPoint going for the class.  The projector was not cooperating and I could not get the presentation going.  The bell had sounded and the students were sitting in their desks waiting for the show to begin.  My blood pressure began to rise, and I could feel the faint trickle of sweat on the back of my neck.  After a few minutes, the students became aware that I was having computer problems.  Perhaps the death rays coming out of my eyes and the huffing and puffing were give-aways. 
Then suggestions started rolling in – all well intentioned of course, but not good for my sky-rocketing blood pressure.  

Student: “Why don’t you reset your computer?”

Me: “Thanks, but I’ve already tried that.  It will just be another minute.”

Student: “My dad can hook up the projector to his computer and get it going in like five seconds.”

Me: “What a shame your dear dad is not here.”

Student: “Push shift + F1 + F12 + space bar + Alt all at the same time.” 

Me: “How is that even physically possible?!”

Student: “Why is your face turning a blotchy violet colour?  Are you having a heart attack?”

It’s situations like these that can get the best of you.  Instead of grabbing your laptop and hurling it out the window while uttering a battle cry that would have sent the Spartans into a full retreat, take a deep breath.  When maddening things happen and I feel a beastly bellow tickling my vocal chords, I think of Dad streaking down the stairs.  I pause, wait till my blotchy violet complexion fades, and calmly proceed.

In retrospect, I should have answered to the student who was wondering about my tame temper, that when it came to testing situations, I had a great teacher in Dad.  Hopefully my students will be able to learn from my good, bad and ugly moments too.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

One of my favourite quotes...

"It is a glorious phrase – 'He led captivity captive.'  Psalm 68:18

The very triumphs of His foes, it means, He used for their defeat. He compelled their dark achievements to subserve His ends, not theirs.

They nailed Him to a tree, not knowing that by that very act they were bringing the world to His feet. They gave Him a cross, not guessing that He would make it a throne.

They flung Him outside the city gates to die, not knowing that in that very moment they were lifting up the gates of the universe, to let the King come in. They thought to root out His doctrines, not understanding that they were implanting imperishably in the hearts of men the very name they intended to destroy.

They thought they had God with His back to the wall, pinned helpless and defeated: they did not know that it was God Himself who had tracked them down. He did not conquer in spite of the dark mystery of evil. He conquered through it."         
 James S. Stewart

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Has it been 200 years already?

 It was 200 years ago this weekend that the hero of Upper Canada, Sir Isaac Brock, fell at Queenston Heights.  To mark this pivotal point in Canadian history, my brother-in-law Isaiah and I headed to Queenston Heights to witness the re-enactment of the battle of Queenston Heights.  A lot of people in Queenston and St. David’s really got into the spirit of the event as they battled for parking spots and for a place to stand to watch the battle.   I handily found a nice little parking spot on the grassy shoulder of the road leading up to the Heights.  Isaiah and I got out of the car and trekked up the escarpment.  Between our huffs and puffs, we got retrospective and suddenly had a new appreciation for the soldiers who had to drag all their guns and equipment up to the top of the heights.  

We eventually made it to the top of the Heights and found ourselves at the base of the Brock Monument.  Even though I have seen this statue hundreds of times, it still impressed me – especially on this occasion as it was surrounded by Redcoats who were getting ready for battle.

Isaiah and I found a nice place to watch.  We were both stunned at how many people had converged in the park to watch the battle.  Isaiah, my young brother-in-law, wanted to know what soldiers were on our team.  It could have been a confusing event for those who didn’t remember their Canadian History from grade 7.  There were many different groups present; the Americans in blue, the British in red, the Royal Marines also in blue, the Fenians in Green, the Canadian Militia in various dress, and of course the Indians were there as well in their very fearsome war dress and war paint.  I was surprised as the battle went on, at how many people were very familiar with the main characters and with the sequence of events of the Battle of Queenston Heights.      

The attack began on October 13, 1812, as the Americans attempted to cross the Niagara River.  Many of the boats were disabled and shot to pieces by the time they reached the shore, and many Americans refused to cross over.  Despite massive losses on the crossings, a group of American soldiers made it to the heights.  Brock too, was at the heights with a much smaller band of soldiers. Instead of waiting for coming reinforcements, Brock and his small band of men charged into the fray.  Brock, who was an easy and distinct target, was cut down almost immediately.  Eventually General Sheaffe arrived with a large company of British regulars along with a fierce some group of Natives.  The Americans were literally driven off of the Heights.  Many fell to their deaths off of the escarpment, and the rest surrendered.  The British had decisively won, but at the great cost of losing General Brock.

And so, in the re-enactment, applause broke out when General Brock took the field with his men.  He was not on the field for very long.  After about a minute, Brock fell to the ground.  The British soldiers solemnly carried Brock off the field as a hush fell on the crowd of spectators.  I found myself getting drawn into the spectre of the battle at that point.  It seemed to be hopeless as the British retreated with their fallen General in tow.  One of the spectators beside me later noted that “Brock wasn’t on the field for long enough” and that “they should have kept him fighting longer”.  I don’t think history works like that.
It's hard to see from this picture, but Brock is the soldier on the ground.
Things turned around swiftly though with the arrival of Sheaffe’s men and the Natives.  The Americans were out-flanked and out-manned (and in reality were terrified of the Natives) and were quickly driven off of the field.  

The arrival of Sheaffe's men.

At the end of the re-enactment a hushed silence once again fell on the crowds as the soldiers from both sides removed their hats and had a moment of silence for those lost and for the ‘Saviour of Upper Canada’.  

It was an incredible event – an event that you proud to be a Canadian, and an event that induced Isaiah to dress up like an Indian as soon as he got home.

No tongue shall blazon forth their fame-
The cheers that stir that sacred hill
Are but the promptings of the will
That conquered then, that conquers still
And generations shall thrill
At Brock’s remembered name.