The bell rang, and 23 grade five students walked into my classroom for the first time, looked around, and found a place to sit down. After scanning the room, I started my first day as an elementary school classroom teacher taking attendance.
The previous 17 years of my teaching career had been spent as an elementary school Industrial Arts teacher. Through those years, grade seven or eight classes either walked or were bussed over to the shop I taught in. When they arrived, I taught them design, construction, safety skills and how to use tools—work I thoroughly enjoyed.
My principal pointed out that taking daily attendance was one of my fundamental tasks as a classroom teacher, so I started my first day reading through the grade five class list provided to me, checking off those students who were present and noting those who were absent. As I moved down through the list, I came to Johnny. I called Johnny’s name. No answer.
As I scanned the class, a student in the back raised his hand, turned around 180 degrees, and pointed to the corner of my classroom. Focusing on my long electricity bench, which was secured to the back wall, I saw Johnny, sitting under it in a crouched position, with his back against the wall. I said hello to Johnny. He didn’t answer. He wasn’t interrupting me or the class so I decided to mark him present, leave him there for now, and go on with the list.
Completing my task of taking attendance and sending the results to the school’s secretary, I started chatting with the students, telling them about my previous experience as a shop teacher.
One of the students raised his hand, pointed to a saw attached to a bench, and asked if I was going to teach them how to use that machine. Of course, I was going to teach them how to use the machine and now was as good a time as any. I wrote “scroll saw” on the blackboard, went to the saw and called the class over. They gathered around me and I could tell they were very excited!
I asked the class who would like to try it out. All hands went up, so I chose a girl in the front, invited her up to the saw, and gave her a set of safety glasses. As she put them on there were a lot of chuckles from the class. I put on my very serious teacher’s face and gave the class my classic safety glasses lesson, pointing out that your eyes are part of your brain so safety glasses not only protect your eyes, they protect your brain.
Then I handed the student a thin piece of scrap wood. I demonstrated how to adjust the foot rest, drew a line on the wood, and pointed out the start switch. She turned it on, and, because the scroll saw is an easy tool to use, I let her cut the piece of wood. The class was very impressed.
I lifted my head and scanned the room, and there, standing in the back of the crowd with a big smile on his face, was Johnny. I caught his eye and smiled back. That was the beginning of my first day as an elementary school classroom teacher.
Time moved on. Over the next month, I familiarized myself with the grade five curriculum and integrated my tech skills into my classroom skills. Things were going surprisingly well, but as a shop teacher I had had a large budget to buy tools and materials and to maintain the machines in the shop. My classroom budget was very small. When I moved from my shop to the classroom, I took the TV and VCR with me, but, unfortunately, the TV’s picture tube failed within a few weeks of the beginning of the school year. What was I going to do? I did not have the funds to buy a new TV.
I was forced to sign up and share one of the school’s two televisions on a daily basis. This did not work out well because of the logistics of sharing two TVs among all the classes.
In the middle of October, the principal, out of the blue, walked into my room. He was a man of few words so immediately got to the point and asked me if I needed something for the classroom. I thought for a second and told him I wanted my own classroom television. He looked at me, didn’t say a word, and walked out of the classroom.
It was a short conversation so I didn’t take it seriously, but early in November of that year, I walked into my classroom one morning, and on my bench, still in the box, was a twenty-six inch Sony TV. I was stunned! Why did he buy me a TV? I mounted the TV above my desk. I had a new teaching tool that I controlled! This kind act inspired me with new ideas on how I was going to use the TV in my lessons. That TV remained with me for the rest of my career.
A few weeks later I was in the stock room and ran into the school secretary. We started chit-chatting and I had to ask her why the principal had purchased the TV for me, because I was still puzzled. She knew everything about our school. Apparently, the previous school year, Johnny had spent most of his school days in the principal’s office.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Burt Savage is a retired elementary school classroom and Industrial Arts teacher. He worked in schools in Kingston, ON for 20 years. Burt has a website that offers resources for kids and teachers: teckforkids.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Winter 2020 issue.