Wiping the Slate Clean

Adults and kids alike occasionally have to wipe the slate clean. You have to get rid of some of the clutter and old baggage that brings you down. Maybe you offended someone, failed to help a friend, forgot a responsibility, or failed at a task. You might have made a simple mistake but its repercussions are getting you down. You don’t need a shrink. Just get out a paper shredder! Yes, one of these. Let me explain.

I run a youth outreach program and from time to time I want to get to know the kids better. I hope that secret information will come forth, so I can help them deal with things and move on. I do this because I often see them come in with upset faces. Just asking gets a blank stare as a response. I have to do a group exercise to disguise my sleuthing.

I ask the group to write down a mistake they made or some mishap in their recent lives. I give them ample time before we stop, reread the words, and begin to share. It is always on a volunteer basis and after a few turns, most want to dive in. Here are some of the typical confessions:

“I wanted a baseball for my birthday but got clothes instead. I stole my brother’s ball when he was out playing and hid it. I probably did it to be mean…but maybe because I was mad. I see that I should have focused on my parents and not him.”

“I cheated on a test a few weeks ago and now I feel bad. I have always done ok on exams but for some reason, this time I didn’t trust myself. Maybe telling you will stop this from happening again.”

“Maybe this isn’t too bad. I watch videos on my tablet in bed at night. Don’t laugh. I guess you all do it.”

“No one wants to hear that I don’t do my chores. My mom yells at me a lot. It would be easier to just get it over. She tells me I am stubborn.”

“I swore at my sister yesterday and she cried. What a baby! No one is perfect.”

“I make mistakes. Some are pretty bad. Have you ever lied through your teeth? I have.”

The kids’ confessions went on and on. Nothing is ever that bad (to me). I tried not to smile as it was so revealing and sincere. I then gathered up their written evidence, and we had a ceremonial go at the shredder. One by one, each one fed the machine. We all sighed in relief en masse. One by one, the mistakes and bad behavior were gone in an instant. Such is life, I told them. You should feel sorry and make amends, but move on. Use every experience to learn right and wrong. Forgive yourself and others along the way.

This is Great!

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have nothing but praise for the local company that just donated an outdoor trampoline to the community youth outreach program. We needed sports equipment but this was certainly unexpected. It was a novel surprise, but I am sure that the kids will enjoy using it, once the learn the ropes. The donor knows something I don’t about the popularity of these devices. I volunteered to put it together which took me an entire day. I read the manual attached to the rim and followed the instructions to the letter. Somehow it wasn’t as tight as I wanted. I wasn’t about to let any child set foot on the mat until it was taut enough to hold me. It was a quality product for both adults and youth and I consulted the height and weight chart to be sure. None of my kids fell outside the required range. So, it was onward to eventual success!

I also went over the safety features several times and even went online to see what is suggested for public use. This web site (https://www.trampolinechoice.com/put-trampoline-together/) warns users of several things: kids do not take precautions and they often like to jump alone. They try things that are too advanced This is not a good practice. Have an adult or teen on hand as a spotter. Make sure you instruct everyone in the group on basic techniques that will avoid injury when done properly. I was a bit intimidated at this point and I was already hassled by failing to put the darn thing together properly the first time. I remedied the situation with the help of one of the dads who works in a gym.

The trampoline, once ready and in place, was a huge hit in the youth program and the kids were lining up to try it out. I had to force the children to stop at cut off time. At first, I insisted that they perform basic moves before progressing to something harder. They had to prove to me their balance was good enough to keep them from falling over the side or hitting their heads. No one wanted to don an ugly helmet. Everyone could jump up and down, but it took time for most to learn the tuck jump, the pike and straddle, the half and whole twist, and the seat landing forward and back. In time, we would try jumping in pairs, called double jumping, and would move on to catching each other from the back. It was fun to propel someone forward multiple times. The whole experience was an eye opener. It wasn’t long before the parents came to watch. They didn’t expect to supervise because I was there; they wanted to see what their child has been ranting and raving about—in a positive way.

Let me encourage any leaders of youth groups to get a trampoline for amusement and exercise. It is a great way to strengthen muscles and also burn off steam. Kids need an outlet and this is an ideal choice.

Can Teachers Use Backpacks Too?

When I first started teaching shop, I was right out of school and looked as young as I felt. I didn’t know the ropes and I was as green as any newbie would be under the circumstances. I must have been in my early twenties. I hadn’t done much student teaching and everything was completely new. I had to build up my confidence while I encouraged my pupils to build theirs with new crafts. Over the years, I have matured and no longer can be mistaken for a student at first glance. I wanted to be one of them for the longest time, but also wanted to look professional. I carried my old backpack from college because I love the comfort and convenience of it. A business briefcase seems a bit much for a shop teacher, don’t you think? I never questioned my use of this collegiate bag, but I suppose that teachers can use backpacks too. Why not? My principal certainly didn’t object nor the department head. As a matter of fact, I think they both have one.

I still use one, although it was replaced years ago with a bigger and better model from Business Bag Review. I can tote whatever I need for the day so I don’t have to leave the instruction space for even a minute. Students often hang around at lunch and want to ask questions or try their hand one more time at the current trade being taught (I rotate between wood, metal, and auto shop). I can’t grab a sandwich at the school cafeteria or sit in the teacher’s lounge. I bring food from home in my bag. There is also have a mini fridge on premises where I stash my beverages of choice. I am rooted to the classroom it seems. You could say that I use a “business backpack.” It holds student papers that I grade at home, my cell phone, wallet, car keys, and a few texts and reference books. Sometimes there are workout clothes if I want to indulge in an after school game of basketball with my colleagues. If I need to look up something, I can go online, or quicker yet, grab a book. The backpack remains at my side until I go home. It is too tempting for students to peek inside if I leave it in the hallway.

I took my time when I selected a new backpack so it would suit my job and take me on short vacations. I love not having to check it in at the airport. It goes right under the seat or in the overhead compartment. My travel laptop is securely inside. A roomy and sturdy bag is essential in anyone’s life, no matter the profession. I know doctors and lawyers who tote them. I admit that it is often in addition to the perennial briefcase. The latter has its role, but to me it is limited. I have never once used one.

Being Practical, Not Judgmental

Many of the kids I volunteers with smoke. I know, it’s a nasty habit and the bane of my do-gooder existence. Rather than simply telling them to quit like other adults (because they don’t listen), I decided to talk with them on how to minimize the impact of cigarette smoke on themselves and those around them using the tips from https://www.nomoresmokesmell.net/minimize-impact-cigarette-smoke/. They are oblivious as youth are to problems they cause regarding the negative impact of second-hand smoke.

Some teachers I know show these horrible films featuring people with throat or mouth cancer. You have seen these on TV. The films are longer and go into more detail scaring the heck out of the kids. This is just what they are meant to do. It is like showing graphic scenes of car accidents causes by drunk teenage drivers. I hate to be in the position of being judgmental, but the statistics tell the story. It is better to see them on the screen than to read about them in an article.

I focus on health problems for all ages. Otherwise, they just avoid people and think they are invulnerable. Sure, it takes years for lung cancer to develop, but somehow, I feel responsible if they don’t know the truth and quit. Some do and some don’t. I know who smokes in secret as I can smell it in their hair and on their clothing. No doubt their parents can also tell. They would complain if they thought it would be effective. I am a volunteer and not their teacher or supervisor. It is going to be an on-going topic that we will continually discuss.

I have asked some of the kids to initiate the conversation by discussing why they started, why they do it, and if they expect to go through life unscathed. The talks are very revealing. I think kids listen to their peers more than adults in positions of authority. We discuss local laws that ban smoking in public places and the irony of smoking up to the late twentieth century in airplanes, hospitals, libraries, theaters, and restaurants. The only place automatically off limits was a school. No wonder the teens are skeptical.

Many who don’t smoke think there is a great conspiracy going on with big tobacco, and they are right. Politicians hid the truth for so long to avoid losing these companies’ support. Talk about hypocrisy. It is a great history and ethics lesson. The kids know that they are tempted in so many ways and they are weak in spirit. They want to fit in the crowd, look sophisticated, appeal to the opposite sex, or just have fun in a group. When smoking becomes addictive and private, we have to start worrying.

I never regret harping at the kids and making smoking a central topic of debate and discussion. They actually find it compelling and are willing to listen. If I can just change one mind….

Extra Credit

When you teach high school shop, you work with cars, motorcycles, wood, and metal. When I was asked to host an after school welding class, I jumped at the chance. My school considers welding dangerous and they allow only limited students to learn this skill. I enjoy welding as it is one of the most practical aspects of the construction industry. There are so many applications the kids can do at home. Not that I expect little welding studios in every garage, but I do envision working with dad on at least some minor repairs. I know that some work on cars. That is what shop is all about—tools for life. The students don’t necessarily go into the trade. I know I appreciated the experience as a teen. It’s too bad that many schools are discontinuing shop due to budget cuts and are replacing it with computer training.

I find that those who do come to my shop course like to make art objects in the form of assembled sculptures. Some are pretty primitive while others are rather remarkable. There is a long history of metal as a medium in the history of modern art. I throw in some art history while they are at it, so they learn two things at once. I guess you call it killing two birds with one stone as horrible as that is as an image.

Some students attend just for the extra credit, but most truly love the alternative to their heavy studies such as history, science, and math. I agree. Shop is an elective and I don’t need to recruit very hard. I even get plenty of girls. They love wearing the protective visor and gloves. The first item of business is to learn beginning skills and the best welder for novices, based on the models on Rate My Welder. We go over all the parts and safety features before ever turning it on. There aren’t enough welders for every attendee so they have to learn to wait patiently for their turn. When it comes, they are raring to go. They know that if they pay attention and learn their craft, they will advance to a more complicated welder—the kind the pros use.

I go over the differences in various brands and models and cover types such as MIG and TIG. They can tell you by looking if it is a wire feed welder, stick or arc welder. They can spot a gasless machine from a mile away. They understand the meaning of time delayed fuse, overload, and thermal protection. They could teach you about amps and volts, a flux core gun and ground clamps. This rattles of their young tongues mighty fast. Welding mild steel gage is not gibberish to them. The smallest girls can carry these welders around by the carry handle with no problem. It looks amusing and so out of context.

A real perk was the field trip at the end of the course to a construction site nearby. They all donned their face shields and gloves, hoping they might get a chance to work on a real project. Now this is a good life lesson.

Rules are Rules

When some of the kids express an interest in soccer, James offers to referee. After his first disastrous game, however, he realizes there are lots of rules he doesn’t know and considers getting certified to become a real ref and learn what to do.

Volunteering for a youth soccer club has been an eye opener. I offered to referee when one of my shop students asked for help; and after one disastrous game, I realized that I wasn’t at all qualified. I was not up to speed on the rules. It was time to get certified. I found a guide from Top Corner Magazine on how to get certified. The next step was to take a preliminary qualifying test with tough questions like:

  • The goalkeeper, while catching the ball, goes completely out of the penalty area and into the penalty arc with the ball still in his/her hands.
  • An attacking player, in an offside position, receives the ball directly from an opponent’s pass.
  • At the taking of a direct free kick outside the penalty area, when is the ball in play?
  • When is the ball in play at the taking of a throw-in?
  • The referee sees the ball enter the goal. The AR makes eye contact with the referee and then sprints up the touch line towards the halfway line. This action indicates that, in the opinion of the AR, the goal should be awarded.
  • A goalkeeper standing on his/her own penalty mark head-butted an opponent.
  • Top of Form

Once you pass the test and enroll in a referee course (and register with the USSF—known as the US Soccer Federation), you get a badge and can buy the gear offered such as a special uniform, flags, cards, whistle, watch, and shoes. There are two levels each with its own criteria for certification. I was excited at my new status when the package arrived with the uniform in the color I ordered for my new team. There are different sets for men and women. I was on my way to the top. Ha!

I felt a new sense of belonging. I had learned the meaning of the different flags—solid and diamond pattern. The whistle is very cool. I chose the finger grip style with cushion mouthpiece. You can bet that I now know the rules and believe me, as with any sport, they are extensive. Did you know that a goal may be scored directly against the opposing team from a goal kick? How about: a goal may be scored directly against the opposing team from a goal kick.

Then my job was to teach the players all the finer details of the game, especially strategy. I needed to assess their skills and design the right tactics. Soccer is super popular with kids for an athletic activity but it is also highly competitive. I wanted to instill proper ethics and fairness as part of the team experience. No fighting, arguing, hitting or kicking. You have to limit yourself to the ball, I warned each one.

New Job Title: Coach!

As a shop teacher, I love to teach students to work with their hands in a variety of materials to metal, glass, or plastic. It is akin to manual labor but much more fun. The kids like exploring possibilities and can get very inventive. My goal is to engage youth in creative activities that will serve them throughout their lives. If they can learn how to fix a car engine or install lighting, it will be useful now and when they grow up. Mastering a bit of carpentry and woodworking will help them remodel a home. It is wonderful to be self-sufficient and not depend on others.

Now, however, I am going in a new direction. I am still a shop teacher, but also have a new title as “Coach.” I have volunteered to run a kid’s basketball team and teach them the basics as part of a community outreach program, especially how to win. I know every member is there for that purpose; they are incredibly competitive. My weekends are preoccupied for a while. Meanwhile I am developing my own guide for others on how to coach for parents, based on my own experience and this web site; https://www.ballersguide.net/a-beginners-guide-to-coaching-your-kids-school-basketball-team/. I won’t always be around.

Let me start with an elementary school age team. Under twelve, the concepts are different. At this age, let the kids run and run and shoot and shoot. It will be great exercise and conditioning and blow off some steam. It is too early to teach plays and sophisticated strategies until a few years later. You can assess the right time as you observe your team members. The point of this approach is to run the other team to the ground. It takes energy and perseverance. It is not the quality of the shots, but the quantity at this tender age. It is all about “run and fun” so make it enjoyable so they will want to participate.

When they are teens, you can start teaching strategies like screens, pick and roll, passing and dribbling. Winning comes from developing skills. Hopefully, they enjoy the game enough that they want to learn harder techniques that take a lot of practice. They have to be really committed to basketball to undertake an intense process.

Dads can motivate any age according to their parental experience. If your son is on the team, first and foremost, make the kid the shooter. Ha ha! It’s the last thing you want to do, but it would make him super happy. Whatever age you coach, start the team out with a few warmups like they do in football. It will loosen up the muscles and get the kids in the mood. Stretching and reaching are great as fundamentals and add to them as you wish. There are many good suggestions with illustrations online. You might want to create a little booklet for them to take home to show their parents. It is important to get them involved and come to practice and competitive games.

Why I Love Volunteering

When people like to workout, they are always talking about that “runner’s high” and how good they feel when they finish up. I’m like that with volunteering. There are a lot of kids around here but who don’t really have much in the way of role models. Their parents are busy at work trying to keep a roof over their heads, and it’s tough for them to stay away from temptation all the time. They’re good kids but they don’t know how to become good adults.

That’s why it is so important for someone like me to step up and be around for them. Even if I’m just playing basketball with a couple of neighborhood kids for a few hours, it can mean a lot to them to have someone spend time with them. To be honest, it means a lot to me too! I get to be outside and play sports—no worries about trying to squeeze in a workout at an overcrowded gym. The kids and I sometimes do a community service project. One weekend, we got to assemble some playground equipment for the elementary school around the corner. Every time I walk past there and see the kids going down the slide, I think, “I helped make that possible.” I don’t know of anything else that has such a big impact, and it doesn’t cost me anything but some of my free time.

I know the background that some of these kids come from and it is hard not be inspired by them. They are often struggling and starved for attention. I’ve known kids who haven’t had money for food, had gotten into high school without really knowing how to read, kids with parents who have problems with substance abuse, and kids who just seem like they have to work harder for things that come to others naturally. They handle all of this with grace and a smile. And you realize that it’s partially because they don’t know life any other way, but it’s also because they’re just good kids who need what everyone needs: to believe that they matter, that someone cares.

It’s also a cool feeling to watch them grow up. I don’t have kids of my own (yet) but I get to see a little of what that’s like. It’s nice to see that you can make a lasting impact with something so simple as an encouraging word, or a couple hours of your time.

The next time you’re faced with an empty weekend and are wondering what to do, definitely consider volunteering.It will never feel like time that is being wasted, for you and for those whose lives you will be impacting simply with your presence.

Shocking Differences

Participating in a youth problem has brought new fulfillment to my life. It offers a peek into the lives of others and sometimes that perspective brings surprises. There are many lifestyles, each with its own pros and cons. I don’t judge the kids I work with, however, since the comparison would be fruitless. I would feel sorry for less privileged youngsters and try to remedy their problems. Parents always object to this kind of interference. Mr. Do-gooder is not always welcome. Take of example that recently had me reeling. I visited the apartment of a boy for whom I volunteer on a weekend so I could take over some DIY projects. He enjoys working with his hands and never seems to have enough to preoccupy him apart from school.

I was a bit appalled at the condition of the space. It was small, crowded, dingy, and forlorn. I knew that the boy’s mother works, so this has to be the prime excuse. It seemed a poor environment for a family of several sons. I must have a talk with the mom. Each child could be assigned different tasks to maintain better home cleanliness. I didn’t want to look too deep. I couldn’t imagine what was rotting in the refrigerator. As a volunteer, in some sense the boy is my concern, but what action could I take to ameliorate this unsavory environment. I felt it would be a betrayal to report it to family services. I had to find an appropriate way to broach the subject.

While in the home, I was offered some iced tea and accepted. I was given a tall glass of some cold liquid that was cloudy and unappealing. The water must have some pollution. It could be from the tap. Contaminated water doesn’t really have to do with home cleanliness; it is your municipal water system. It looked terrible and had a bitter taste, but it must be potable by law. The pipes in the kitchen could be very old and contain lead. Now the situation seemed more serious. The family would need to buy bottle water for drinking and cooking for Home Water Health, if not for washing and bathing. How could I suggest such an expense? It also made me wonder what was in my tap water at home. I imaged all kinds of microscopic creepy-crawly things with furry-looking appendages. Then there might be chlorine and other chemicals. They call these pollutants particulates, which I discovered on Twitter. They are swimming around in my water. When I wash my hair, what happens? Do they burrow down to the roots?

I did a little research and contacted the water company. Their tests, done weekly, did not show anything unusual. They did recommend that a plumber inspect the pipes. Just as I thought! An old apartment is likely to need upgrading, but I knew this wasn’t going to happen. I would have to let things ride and select another area of concern to help the family.

The Importance of Role Models

When we are young, we are always looking to others for cues. We are impressionable, absorbing information from our surroundings. It’s hardwired into our system to copy the way other people act in order to be a part of society. We pick up information about everything—how to walk, talk, eat, think, relate.By doing so, we figure out how to do things for ourselves. We learn from our relatives, our teachers, our friends, and even celebrities. But our biggest influences remain the people around us.

Of course, when these people don’t set the best examples for us—whether it is because they don’t know how, or through their absence, or because we’re looking in the wrong place, there’s a problem. Because kids copy what they see, bad behavior perpetuates. They often don’t even realize that some of the things they are doing are wrong, simply because they don’t know any other way. This is why good role models are valuable.

Role models are important. Kids are going to look up to someone they respect, regardless of whether that person is a good influence or not. If we can provide kids with examples of people who are successful in a variety of careers, who have graduated from high school and maybe gone on to college, with supportive friends and family, they will see a better way to live. Especially when they can see some of themselves in another person, they will realize that anything is possible for them through hard work and a little help from supportive people around them.

But most of all, kids want someone to pay attention to them. They aren’t looking for some kind of perfect millionaire with all the answers. They want to believe that they matter to someone. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, kids don’t always get that at home. What kids need is someone who is willing to play catch with them, who teaches them how to change a tire, who shows them an easier way to solve equations. Someone who is interested in what they’re interested in. Sometimes it really is the simple things that go a long way. You probably remember the first time you rode a bike without training wheels or successfully tied your shoe, or the first time the ball actually landed in your glove during a game of catch. Was somebody there with you, patiently showing you what to do or cheering you on? Do you remember how you felt knowing you had somebody like that in your corner?

If you were lucky enough to have somebody there for you, you know what an impact it can have on your confidence. Having somebody to turn to for advice, a shoulder to lean on, or just a receptive ear can mean everything to somebody trying to figure something out or having a difficult time. It doesn’t take up much of your free time or make a significant dent in your finances. And you will likely walk away feeling pretty good yourself, knowing that you made a difference in the life of someone who could definitely use it!

Heartbreaking Conversation with a Student Today

Sometimes as a teacher, I get a little too preoccupied with the lesson and ensuring the safety of the classthat I forget about the kids I am teaching. It takes something like today to remind me that the fact that when they’re falling asleep during class it is not necessarily a comment on my teaching ability. It could be that they have a job after school that kept them up late or a younger sibling who kept them awake. Maybe there was something bothering them that caused them to stare at the ceiling all night. I don’t know because most of the time they sit through class and then just walk out. Other than asking me if they’re doing something correctly, there isn’t a lot of back and forth in my classroom.

But today, one of my students came up to me after class and asked me if I had a few moments to talk. I actually had a free period after this particular period, and I think she knew that. This student is very middle of the road—she sits through class, completes her projects on time, not comfortable with the equipment but isn’t failing either. Since my class isn’t mandatory, I do sometimes wonder why she’s in the room at all.

I found out today. It seems her dad actually used to work in construction but got injured on the job. He can’t work anymore and has been having a tough time. She thought that if she took my class, she could go home and have something to talk to him about. That maybe he would get interested in her projects and try to get back into the field again. It hasn’t worked so far; although it sounded totally unrelated to me, she reported that her dad has actually gotten worse. The reason she was talking to me about all of this was because she wanted to know if she could do some extra credit. She was hoping to take some supplies home and see if she could get her dad to help her assemble something. By the time she got done with her story, she was crying.

Now, I am a man who works with teenagers and power tools all day. I am used to the stupid, disrespectful, and dangerous. Not emotional. I didn’t really know what to say to her. I certainly have never had anybody ask me to take home an extra credit project; I’ve had kids stay after school to finish an existing project or do an extra assignment to prevent a failing grade, but this was new. And when I told her I didn’t have anything available for her to take home, the crying got worse.

I quickly clarified that I didn’t have anything right then, but that I’d find something for her to take home. She hugged me and thanked me a few times. That was uncomfortable. On the one hand, I wanted to comfort her and I understood why she hugged me. But at the same time, the school has policies and I don’t want anything to be misinterpreted by anyone who may have seen the interaction between the two of us.

Now I just have to think of something she can make and pay for the supplies out of my own pocket. I really hope that this works out for her.

Youth Engagement Matters

What does youth engagement mean?  Maybe a clinical therapist or another professional can give you the true definition; I only know what it means to me.  I’ve been working with kids most of my life, and certainly for my entire career, so I would like to think that I know a little about how to relate to them and what it means to get them engaged.

For me, youth engagement is all about connecting. It means getting involved with kids on a very real level; taking a significant role in their lives in the hopes of shaping things for the better. It requires an understanding of and ability to care about the things they care about. But it also means getting them involvedin their communities in an impactful and meaningful way. Showing them that there is more to life than what is going on in their own lives.

Kids, especially teenagers, can be very insular in their way of thinking and focus. And while this is understandable in some respects—being a teenager can be extremely difficult, especially in this internet age where every mistake you make can potentially be broadcast to the entire world in a few minutes’ time. In order to combat some of the pitfalls of growing up, kids need to develop a sense of purpose, of connection with others, and a sense of community. Youth engagement provides all of those things in a healthy way.

When you have young people who are engaged, they will participate in life around them. They learn compassion and empathy. They are young, they have the energy to learn about a topic and be inspired by it. By experiencing more, they are able to find ways to solve problems creatively.They have the curiosity and determination to do something about the things they don’t like, and the confidence to carry it out when they know they have people who believe in them. These are the kids thatform life plans and goals they may never have even thought possible before. They learn how to be leaders and how to express themselves more effectively, especially when they are secure in knowing that someone is listening to them and values their feelings and opinions.

Kids who are actively involved in their community—either through clubs or sports—tend to achieve more academically and socially than peers who don’t explore interests. I’m not just talking about things that colleges would be interested in, either. It can be anything: a board game club, a videogaming group, anything that gets them out into their neighborhood at large and involved in a positive dynamic.

The best part of youth engagement is that once they see the benefits for themselves, they keep coming back. They bring their friends. They make real and meaningful changes in their neighborhood by supporting others and being supported. They influence those who are younger to do the same. They learn how to be valuable and caring members of their community. And as they grow up, they continue to reflect those positive influences on those around them. Maybe they’ll be like me and find a way to give back even when they’ve moved on and have careers and families of their own!

Successful Day With My Students

You ever have one of those days at work where everything just goes right? And you totally feel like Superman because you were able to pull off the nearly-impossible? If you don’t know that superhero feeling, you clearly have never worked with teenagers. The kids have been working on making a lamp. It is one of the harder projects that I do, and it’s part of their final grade.It’s a culmination of much of what they’ve learned over the school year. It involves working with several different types of tools and electrical components.

Whenever you’re dealing with teenagers and power tools (or teenagers and electricity, or teenagers and soldering irons), you’re always at risk for some kind of disaster. I’ve been fortunate enough to never have any serious injuries happen during my class so far (quick, knock on some wood). The streak has never tempted me to relax my safety procedures, though—I figure I must be doing something right! Despite the safety record, every day all the kids walk out my door with the same number of fingers and toes is a good day. Bad shop teacher joke, I know.

If my bar is so low for a good day, I bet you’re wondering what a successful day entails. Well, we’ve been working on this project piece by piece over the span of a few weeks now. Today was the ultimate test—I gave each student a lightbulb. They had to put it in and turn on their lamp. Every year, the kids are under the impression that if the bulb doesn’t light, they fail. That’s not exactly true, as I allow them to trouble shoot and correct their mistake or repeat the process and make another before I’ll fail anybody. But the rumor works for me, so I don’t bother correcting anybody.

And I didn’t have to, because all the lamps lit on the first try. I cannot believe that it happened, as I’ve done this project five years in a row and there’s always a straggler or two (one time the lightbulb was actually no good, another time the student didn’t screw the bulb in all the way. So it usually takes a couple tries). But not this time. All twenty lightbulbs went on, first try. At first, the kids were applauding every time somebody came up to the front to test theirs, but then the room got completely silent. The best way I can describe it is when a pitcher is working his way through a perfect game and everybody on the bench starts moving away from him. Nobody wants to be the one to break the silence, and certainly nobody wants to be the one to drop the ball and screw up the game. I cannot imagine how much pressure that last kid felt plugging in their lamp and turning it on!

There has been a standing pizza party reward for the class that manages this feat. It is the first time I’m actually going to have to deliver on that promise! I really don’t mind, though, it is kind of exciting.