Monday, April 9, 2007

Booby Traps Are Low Tech

My last post garnered a request to talk about how I booby trap my day with joy. As I mentioned, I took this on the advice of Bob Berner, a prof in the Special Education department at Slippery Rock University who presented on "The Seven Secrets of Effective Teaching" to a group of fledgling teachers sixteen years ago, myself among them.

Dr. Berner told us that he learned the idea from a retiring teacher of fifty years in the classroom. He asked her, "How'd ya do it?" "Booby traps," the vet replied.

I must confess some of mine are by most standards cliche and corny. Some are not. Personally, you go with what works. I suppose it's my low-tech Thoreauvian answer to this high-tech teaching world. Basically the "boobies" are rewards and "get-to's" (as opposed to "have-to's," though I've come to understand that it helps to think of the "have-to's" as "get-to's," too!) And they change over time. They're "traps" only in the sense that you put them in your way, so you can't miss them. Bam! a positive moment, an instant reward, in a sometimes tiring professional day.

Nowadays, I start with my thirty-minute commute: booby trapped with "Awakened Mind" or "Creative Mind" recordings by Jeffrey D. Thompson. Great for waking up and focusing the spirit. And now there's the morning cup of java to be followed up with one in my second period prep. That much usually gets me through to lunch, along with an occasional pep-talk of "have fun, I'm teaching after all."

I remember, during my first few years of teaching, taking my lunch alone in my office--a bookroom actually--and enjoying the view of a mid-sized tree. Watching that tree everyday, through the seasons, for a couple of years, got me through. Yep, it was just being a tree, but in its simplicity and constancy, I had found another booby trap of joy to sustain me.

Of course there's the afternoon of a schoolday, and the multi-multi is multiplying, when a teacher really needs to be booby-trapped. I've got a few items on my desk that serve as triggers of restoration of powers: a glass paperweight with Emerson's "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm," a mini-book Seize the Day! Enjoy the Moment! by Helen Exley (corny, I know), and a photograph of my mother-as-first-year-teacher, standing in the back row far left, and pictured here with her first charges in a one-room schoolhouse.

The paper weight is a quick fix. The mini-book is for a mid-afternoon boost. And the photograph, well, that's a cure-all. As I look at the faces and think of the ones I see in my class, I notice the strident poise and positive expression of my mother and reflect on what is was for her in 1937 to teach grades one-to-eight at once. The faces of the students get to me, too. I guess I have a "Dead Poet Society Moment" and I'm trapped. No way out but in. And up.

P.S. Oh, did I mention the box of chocolate Nips in my bottom-right--hey, I'm not telling where! My custodian likes 'em, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the ideas. I find as I get older, these types of tangible things--subtle ones--have more meaning. Used to be, for this student/teacher/writer, anything of this world would end up being consumed in excess if regarded at all as solace. By replacing such things with spirit seeking--quiet time and inward reflection--my relationship with booby traps of pleasure has cooled a bit, for the better. However, to be sure, this is only contingent on my willingness to do without them! My quotidian triple soy latte and a few gratuitous glimpses at the materpieces upstairs must be entry points into, not escapes from, this very multi-multi moment.