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It Comes with Experience

Two grasshopper moments from this past week…

1. Sharpening Pencils

He came to sharpen his pencil. There is an electric sharpener sitting on a low table by the wall just below the whiteboard, and the students know that they may come up at any time to sharpen their pencils. A student who wants an effective writing instrument is a cause of celebration, not a reason to take offense at the interruption. (Although I confess that even I will roll my eyes mockingly if the interruption is particularly ill-timed and long.)

So there he was, bending over the table trying to sharpen his pencil.

They are not particularly good at this, these students. The world is too much with them. They push into the machine, and it jams. They are in a rush and do not wait long enough, and their pencils don’t get sharp, causing them to spend far more time at the machine than is warranted. This kid was no exception.

He jammed the pencil in. The sharpener stopped. He pulled it out and repeated the process with the same result. His frustration at failing to sharpen his pencil while the teacher quietly waited for him was evident. So I walked over to the table.

He looked at me. I reached out and without saying anything, I took his pencil, held it gently, and slid it into the sharpener which began to grind and whir. In a few seconds, a perfectly sharpened pencil emerged. I handed it back without saying anything and returned to my document camera.

He looked at me with a smile on his face — a smile somewhere between, “Yes I have learned the lesson” and “I see what you did there.”

2. Rolling and Unrolling Posters

She was struggling with a cardboard tube, trying to get something out. After watching her fiddle for a while, I walked up.

“Having trouble?” I asked.

“I can’t get the pictures out of this tube.”

These were panoramic photos of the graduating class taken the week before. The school hires a photographer, prints the photos and gives them to the seniors as a graduation gift. She wanted to see the photo.

I reached for the tube. She raised her eyebrows doubtfully but handed it over. Everyone in the room stopped to watch.

I took the tube in one hand and put two fingers from the other hand into the tube. I turned my hand a few times, and then I slipped the pictures out of the tube.

“Where did you learn to do that!?” she said.

They were great photos. The entire graduating class was arrayed on the bleachers in the gym wearing blue robes. She unrolled the prints and showed them to the other kids. Then she tried to put them back. After a moment, she looked at me.

“I can’t put them back.”

Everyone stopped to watch.

I rolled up the prints loosely and took the roll in one hand and put two fingers from the other hand into the roll. I turned my hand a few times, tightening the roll. I slipped it into the tube and handed it back.