Larry Efird: Teachers learn to surf the waves
I never thought that teaching had anything in common with surfing until I read the following quote: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” I immediately saw the connection.
Whenever the bell rings and students leave their classes for the six-minute tide change on their block schedule, as a teacher you get to experience a “high tide” of another dimension. The waves of students begin rolling in relentlessly. At times, class changes can feel more like rip currents, and the safest thing to do is go with the flow because an ocean of teenagers is nothing to regard lightly.
When students begin coming into our rooms, we never know how the class is going to start. We expect that we would be able to welcome them in one by one with a smile and that everyone will find his or her seat in an orderly fashion and then calmly begin doing their focus work with minimal commotion.
But alas. Someone comes in with a legitimate need to see the school nurse, so you have to call ahead and let her know you’re sending someone her way. Before you can do that, two other students want to know if they can “run” to the bathroom. Then, the phone rings calling for someone to go to the office to check out.
Once you’ve made the call to the nurse’s office, dealt with the students who needed to go to the bathroom and written a pass for another student to go to the main office, someone comes in tardy just when 30 plus other kids are about to settle down to announce that he was late because of a fight down the hall.
Of course, that is more interesting than copying down a daily focus from the board, so students begin exchanging their thoughts about these newly revealed extra-curricular activities that just took place.
(Added to that, a literal hurricane is headed your way, so you’re wondering when and if you will be out of school and how dangerous the hurricane will actually be.)
That’s when I begin to wonder, “Is this really happening, and can I go home now?”
Like the flattening of a carefully constructed sand castle, my lesson plans are being threatened by the surging sea as another student insists he wants to change seats because he doesn’t want to sit where he does anymore. While he’s talking to me, I realize he is out of dress code, so I have to decide whether or not to address that issue because he might not like me “singling him out” for his wardrobe malfunction and I have to take the counseling session outside the door to calmly explain my concerns.
And don’t forget there are 30 other children who still need my attention because I am their teacher — or maybe more appropriately, their lifeguard.
All I really want to do is teach and have a profitable class for my students and, in my mind at least, wiggle my toes in some warm sand for stress relief. But I know that’s not going to happen today. Suddenly, the surfing metaphor comes to my mind and it makes perfect sense.
I also realize that most of my students resemble friendly dolphins rather than aggressive sharks, but it only takes one shark to wreak havoc along the beach. I also realize a couple of my students have personalities that resemble jellyfish, but they are more annoying than harmful.
I would assume most people think they know what teachers do each day. They teach,right? No amount of education or certification can fully prepare a person for what he or she will actually do in a school setting when dealing with unpredictable personalities and circumstances in massive amounts. Sometimes there’s a lot to do before actual teaching can occur. College and grad school may teach us how to swim in the classroom, but only experience and wisdom can teach us how to surf.
Any teacher who makes it through a number of years has learned how to ride the towering waves of unpredictability, not merely for self-defense, but also because surfing can be fun. We just don’t always have time to get our surf boards out, and some days are definitely more enjoyable than others.
Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High in Kannapolis.