February 17th, 2005

arms

Truth found in others' words

"I don't know about anywhere else, but I reckon right here in the Delta, a man spends about 70 percent of his time just waiting. Waiting on somebody. Waiting on something. Yeah, there's something in our life that we've been working on... sweating for... Chasing that elusive dream. Most of us'll keep waiting until our time here is over. Why? Because it matters. Sometimes I wonder if what we're really waiting on is ourselves. That maybe there is a whole lot of Joe down deep inside each and everyone of us. We focus so much on what we're waiting for that we miss or forget to appreciate what we got. Truth is, there'll always be something we need or want. Something we feel we have to have. Yearning for something missing. We could wonder how long it's going to take or how much one must endure. Or we could wonder if we're just wasting our lives waiting on Joe..."

- Morgan Freeman
Prologue to "Waitin' On Joe" video by Steve Azar

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fire

Now, that's NOT funny.

No Funny

My shift visits one of the local elementary schools once a month to teach safety classes to fourth graders. This particular school has some sort of word of the week program. Every week, there is a word that no one is allowed to say. Instead, the students are supposed to replace it with a synonym. There are posters with the forbidden word all over campus. This week's word is funny. Of course, I think a "no funny" sign is pretty funny. Perhaps I should call TBS.

What wasn't funny was the absolute debacle otherwise known as my lesson. The deck was stacked against me to beging with. I hate batting lead-off but was responsible for the first lesson of the day (we teach the same lesson to three different classrooms). Also, Tuesday was the day after St. Valentine's Day -- the biggest candy day this side of Halloween. I'd bet money that two of every three of those kids were tweaking on chocolate and candy hearts.

I like to think that I do well with the youngins. I am the master of the fire station tour. Fletch talks. Children listen. I've taught plenty of safety lessons before without serious consequence. I always thought I did a fine job of being on their level. Sure, I see 30 on my horizon... but I remember quite a bit about being a fourth grader. I'm probably the most animated person on my department and am anything but boring. But none of it was good enough for Tuesday's class. They felt the need to ask every ridiculous question possible. They made up stories that were completely unrealistic and tried to pass them off as though they had happened in their very home. Oh, yeah, and they refused to be quiet for more than about 2.1 seconds.

The general topic was burn safety. In discussing electrical burns, one kid wanted to warn everybody that if they were arrested by the police and taken to the police station and did something terrible that they would be put in the electric chair and that would give them an electrical burn. And yes. He told the story much like that -- no verbal punctuation. Another time, we were talking about burn dangers in various rooms of the home. When talking about things that can burn us in the kitchen, a kid proclaimed to the class, "that's why they say if you can't stand the heat, you need to get out of the kitchen!" I had to shut down one kid when he started in on a story about how this man he knew got shocked or something and fell out of his window, landed in the street and was then run over by a car. What the hell?

I guess I'm painting a pretty bleak picture here. They weren't all bad. But it's easy for one or two or ten to bring the rest of the bunch down with them. Several of the students had good topical questions and appeared to be interested in the lesson. Unfortunately, one of those students -- a little girl on the front row -- must have had some terrible arm injury... because she always chimed in with something appropriate to say but never, ever raised her hand. Did it matter that I was pointing to someone else in the back of the room to answer? Nope. She was going to answer, too. I guess she's just a team player.

When we finally left that classroom, I felt physically drained. I had been defeated and I don't much like to lose. One of our rookies poured salt in my wounds when he taught the same lesson in the next class in about half the time with none of the trouble. Of course, our captain referred to that second class as something along the lines of "East Berlin." It seems the teacher runs a tight ship and her students don't fall far out of line. I think I'll call dibs on East Berlin for next month.

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