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.