When I teach, I come to class prepared. In fact, I sometimes come to class with a Plan A, Plan B and an Emergency Back-Up Plan. I think this stems from the days when I didn’t exactly know what I was doing. Case in point: Many years ago, when I was just starting out, students were completing their last day of oral presentations. One girl was standing up before the class doing her thing and a small group of boys were being – well, let’s just say, a little bit disruptive. Nothing major. They just weren’t really interested in the symbolism that she had found so riveting in Ordinary People.
I tried to get the attention of one of the boys. No luck. I tried to make eye contact with another. Nothin’. Finally, I took my pen – a Precise V5 extra fine tip pen in hand and attempted to throw it so that it would hit the main offender: Let’s call him Hugo. It should be noted here – and you can’t make this stuff up – that Hugo happened to have one good eye, having lost the other eye years earlier, although I never found out the circumstances surrounding how it had happened. Anyway, I tried to aim for Hugo’s leg – to get his attention without disrupting the entire class. I figured he’d feel the pen tap his leg, look at me, I’d give him “the death eye” and he’d stop screwing around. It seemed foolproof.
I don’t know how it happened because I usually have pretty good aim, but anyone who was in the class that day would vouch for the fact that the pen did not hit Hugo on the leg. That pen had a mind of its own and fueled by green ink, it launched itself upwards right into Hugo’s face just below (or maybe above?) his good eye.
Hugo stood up before the entire class holding his face, “What the hell are you doing?” he shouted (and with good reason). “You could have blinded me!” And with that, Hugo announced that he was going to the nurse, the principal and, then, he was going to call his mother.
I had done precisely what I had set out not to do. I had disrupted the class completely. At the time, I was pretty sure that I was going to be fired. After apologizing to the student presenter for creating such a commotion, class ended, and I hustled up to the Upper School principal to whom I confessed all my terrible, unforgivable sins. She clucked her tongue at me, told me to call Hugo’s mother, and explain what had happened. Thank goodness, Hugo’s mother was wonderful, supportive and understanding; she even joked that sometimes she wanted to poke out Hugo’s good eye. Later, I also apologized to Hugo who apologized to me for being disruptive and disrespectful.
I have often thought about my experience with Hugo. As a new teacher, I was trying to figure things out. After throwing a pen at my wonderful student, I learned many things: First and foremost, I learned to never throw anything at anyone in class ever again. But I learned a lot of other things, too. Over time, I discovered more creative methods to communicate with students about their behavior without making the class come to a grinding halt. I learned a great deal about respect that day and how quick actions can lead to terrible consequences. I learned that sometimes teachers need to apologize to their students because sometimes teachers are the biggest twits of all. We learn from experience.
Oh, and I didn’t get fired.
What’s a not-so-great thing you did on the job that turned into a huge learning moment?