When I first entered teaching, I dreamed of enlightening young minds and empowering young people to reach their full potential. I never dreamed that I would learn far more than I would ever teach.
Lesson #1: There’s no such thing as a silent “g.”
Every year on August 24, my Latin classes commemorate the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. One year I was describing the scene of the eruption, concentrating on painting a vivid picture of the cloud of gas and ash that signaled the demise of most Pompeiians.
The description went well for the first three classes … and then came the fourth class, a class of , shall we say, very fun-loving sophomore boys. I launched into the description of the cloud of gas and ash. Somehow I got distracted and managed to skip pronouncing the “g” in gas, turning my cloud of gas into a cloud of something else entirely.
“Please, oh, please,” I prayed, “let them not have noticed.” No such luck — they were actually listening to me for a change. My sophomore boys started hooting and hollering, and I don’t think they stopped until Christmas. My slip of the tongue became the joke of the class from that point on. “Hey, Miss Holtslander,” one of them would say. “What’s that outside our window? I think it’s a cloud of gas minus the ‘g.’” Eventually I came to find it funny, too, developing a much needed ability to laugh at myself.
Lesson #2: Some situations call for the F-word.
I like a lively class. Learning is built on the exchange and exploration of ideas, so discussion, interaction and communication are integral parts of my classroom. Sometimes, though, it can be challenging to direct all that vivacity into constructive channels. This was the case in my English class one day.
We had been discussing Romeo and Juliet when I noticed that the class’s attention was flagging a bit. Jake didn’t have his book open. Tyler did have his book open, but unfortunately it was his math book, not his literature book. Taylor and Caitlyn had both asked to go to the bathroom, and Haley wanted to go to the nurse about her hangnail. Had Carolyn forgotten to wear her glasses again? I didn’t know since all I was seeing of her was the back of her head as she whispered with the student behind her. It was definitely time for an intervention.
Halting our discussion of teenage angst and star-crossed lovers, I addressed my class. “Okay, guys, we seem to be experiencing a bit of an attention problem today. I have only one word to say to you. It’s not a word I use lightly. It’s not a word all people are comfortable with. The word I have for you is … the F-word.”
Suddenly you could have heard chalk crumble in the classroom. Thirty pairs of eyes were trained on me. Thirty jaws dropped open.
“Yes, you heard me right,” I continued. “I’m giving you all the F-word. Sometimes that’s the only thing to do. And just to make sure you understand me, I’m going to use the actual word. So get ready — you may never have heard a teacher actually say this before — I’m telling you all to … FFFOCUS!”
After the relief and the laughter died down, we talked about what focusing meant, what it looked like and sounded like in our classroom. For the rest of the year, whenever the class needed to be reined in, I’d say, “I’m giving you the F-word!” and they’d carol back. “FOCUS!” and get back to business, showing me that sometimes a light touch exerts more force than a heavy hand.
These are just two of the many valuable lessons I have learned from my students. To all of you students, current and former, who have provided me with valuable lessons every day, I say thanks — thanks for making CLHS such a great place to teach ... and to learn.
World Languages and English Teacher