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Classroom Stories: What Makes It All Worthwhile

First Impressions, Continued: Robert's Wet Underwear By Robert Bacal

(continued from part 1)

Since this is part of a series on "what makes it all worthwhile", I'd like to share how this turned out, and why this apparent disaster was easily worth the anxiety.

Before that, though, let me explain, exactly HOW I'd managed to walk into my first day of class looking like I'd had an undesired urinary event.

It's The Damned Underwear

When I packed my dress clothes into my backpack, I put them in a plastic bag to make sure they didn't get wet. (Smart, ain't I?). What I hadn't thought about was a change of underwear. On one side, it was a good thing my co-worker and new boss didn't discover stark naked when I changed into my work clothes, but on the other hand, they were absolutely sopping wet.

Under a pair of very light colored, summer weight dress trousers.

You got it. Somehow the moisture (rain, I must reiterate) in the underwear leeched through making the large expanding wet spot where none should be publicly visible.

OK? It was rain. Really. Yes, I was anxious, but not that anxious.

What Made It Worthwhile

The "students" in the class were new and less experienced college instructors who HAD to attend my class as a condition of their employment. That would be in the month of July, a rare wonderful month in Winnipeg. Nobody there wanted to spend three hours a day inside with me, when they could be fishing, or going to the beach or just having a beer.

The class was comprised of people generally not used to sitting in classrooms as students. There were a few chefs, teaching cooking at the college, three heavy duty mechanics, and generally, people who were not keen on book learning.

I was warned beforehand of the composition of the class, and I'd have to work hard at keeping them "present" mentally and physically.

The Best First Impression I Could Possibly Have Had

The month went well. No, it went phenomenally. I think part of that was because within the first 30 seconds, the class viewed me as a regular guy, not some boring egghead from Toronto.

I can't take credit for the choice of riding my bicycle to the college on the first day, or indeed, the bad weather. I'll take minimal credit for the line "That's NOT what it looks like". But not much.

The bottom line was that I couldn't have made a BETTER first impression for this group. No way. No how.

The Guy In The Wrong Classroom

At the end of the first class, I'd dried out some, and one of the participants came up to me, and asked if I had a minute. Sure.

"I'm Murray, and I realized during the class that I'm in the wrong room. I'm actually signed up for "Instructional Design, and I guess I got into the wrong room."

Well, OK. Murray, glad to meet you, but is there some reason you didn't realize this right from the start?

Murray responded: "Well, I did, since you mentioned the class name, and wrote it on the board, but...well, I just had to see how this was going to turn out. So I stayed the whole three hours. Do you think I can take this course instead? I figure if you can handle a urinary accident, I can learn a lot from you."

That's how Murray came to become a student of mine for the month, and for the time I was there, and for several visits after, a friend.

(Sadly Murray was diagnosed with a neurological disease a few years later and passed away before his time)

His decision to become a participant in this, my first major teaching assignment, helped me to realize that I had chosen the right profession. It made all of the "stuff" worthwhile.

Oh, and how was my relationship with my new boss? Excellent, wet underwear not withstanding. He hired me for seven years of summer session work, and then eventually, for a temporary assignment supervising high school teachers, leading to my permanent move (at the time) to Winnipeg.

What Else I Learned

One of the best things about teaching at any level is that if you are open to it, you will learn as the students learn. There's always something to be understood, about people, about oneself, about the world.

I learned:

  • that despite my tendency to be a shy introvert, I could "break out" of that shell in front of groups if only I would stop worrying about how people would perceive me. Letting go...being forced to damn the torpedoes, helped me find my "teaching voice".
  • that when you break down barriers between teacher and students, everyone wins. Standing above students, figuratively is one way to do things but if you stand WITH students as a regular flawed person, it works.
  • that you should never teach in wet underwear.

 

 

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