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MacGyver Would Have Made a Great Teacher

10 Mar

If I had to define myself using only 3 adjectives, I would choose these:


Given the economic situation at my school, I found myself having to be resourceful a lot. While I think this may be a common trait amongst teachers, I was wondering how resourceful I really was in comparison to everyone else. If I’m going to say that I’m resourceful, it had better be true, right? So I checked out what Wikipedia had to say about being resourceful. Interestingly enough, there is no entry for the word itself, and instead Wikipedia offers alternative entries that might apply. Here are some highlights:


Frugality: acquiring goods and services in a restrained manner. Frugality is a philosophy in which one does not trust “expert” knowledge that claims to know what is in the best economic, material, or spiritual interests of the individual.[2]

MacGyver: The story of MacGyver follows the intelligent, optimistic, laid-back, resourceful secret agent Angus MacGyver, played by Richard Dean Anderson. He prefers non-violent conflict resolution where possible, and refuses to use a gun. MacGyver’s main asset is his practical application of scientific knowledge and inventive use of common items.

Odysseus: in Greek mythology pronounced /oʊˈdɪsiəs/, was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. Odysseus is renowned for his guile and resourcefulness, and is hence known by the epithet Odysseus the Cunning. He is most famous for his Trojan Horse trick.

Hmmm. OK, if a=b, and b=c, than a=c, right? If I’m resourceful, and resourceful means MacGyver, then I’m basically Mrs. MacGyver, correct?

Maybe not, but sometimes at school it felt like it. Our school, in need of light, color, cleanser, and a few air fresheners, had a stockpile of old bulletin boards that had long ago been taken down and piled in a back room. We had NO supplies to do any real painting…no canvas, no good paints…so I seized the opportunity to make do with what I had. I asked the custodian to wheel a couple of the boards down to the art room so that we could turn them into murals. I explained to the kids that I was sick of people walking into the school and saying how depressing and gross it was. I told them that I was tired of everyone knowing that the “Bad Kids” went to this school, and expecting it to be a negative experience. I said it was our responsibility to change people’s minds when they walked through the door, and show them what we were really about.

And that was it. They were off and running. Kids who had never doodled on a notebook were turning 5’x5′ boards into inspirational messages for all to see. I was pretty impressed. And I didn’t even need a Trojan Horse to sneak in the life lessons…they figured it out for themselves.

Get the full lesson plan here!


Action Painting Gets A Reaction

5 Mar

Jon hated making mistakes. When it came to something that was going to bear his signature, it had to be perfect. He had the most beautiful handwriting I’ve ever seen. It was like the calligraphy on a sophisticated invitation, sent only to the upper echelons for a gala at the Waldorf-Astoria. Even so, I’d seen him rip up his paper repeatedly – not because he didn’t know the answer but because he didn’t like the way his writing looked. As a result, Jon hated art class. To him, art class was just an overload of mistakes waiting to happen. Our conversations would go like this:

“Miss, I can’t do that project. I mean, it’s a good idea and I don’t mean to disrespect you, but I can’t do that.”
“What do you mean you can’t do it?! Of course you can!!”
“No, Miss, I can’t. I’ll mess it up. I’ll work on it for three days and it’ll look really good and then at the very end I’ll do something to mess it up and it’s gonna make me so angry. I can’t deal with that.”
“Jon, I’ll help you. It’ll be fine. There’s no right or wrong in art.”
“There is to me, Miss. I’m sorry, I can’t do it.”

And so forth and so on. To Jon there were no “happy accidents”. Having a paper with eraser marks on it was just as bad as the mistake was to begin with, if not worse. There was no way I was going to change his mind either. He was 18 and more set in his ways than a crotchety old man rocking on his front porch with a rifle in his lap to ward off rascally neighborhood kids. But I would warn Jon that I wasn’t going to give up, that I would find a way to help him break free of his fears and let go. He would shake his head and laugh, and shoot me an apologetic glance that said “good luck!”

So one day I greeted Jon at the front door with a big smile and a huge hug. “Jon!! I can’t wait for art class today!! I have a project that I made just for you!” He announced that he appreciated that, but he wasn’t going to do it. “We’ll see”, I said.

When Jon walked into the classroom, the entire floor was covered with old tablecloths and bed sheets, with some canvases lying here and there. “Take off your shoes”, I instructed. He said I was crazy, but politely obliged. “Today, you’re not Jon. Today, you’re Jackson Pollock. Do you know who that is? He was someone who didn’t care about things being in the perfect place. He was someone who made a mess and was proud of it. He was someone who became famous for doing everything wrong.” And with that I shoved a container of red paint into Jon’s hand and told him to have at it. He was reluctant at first, and gently made tiny splats from about an inch off the ground. But he got more and more daring. At one point I even took Jon’s hand in mine and showed him how to fling the paint at his canvas. By the end of the period, Jon was looking pretty happy with himself.

I decided to push it one step further. “Jon, how would you feel about letting the paint just drip straight from the container onto your canvas? Just pour it on there a little at a time.”
Jon looked at the paint, looked at me, took a deep breath, and said “I don’t want to ruin it.”
“You won’t. I promise.” And with that, Jon poured. And poured. Poured the entire contents of his I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter container right onto the painting.

I’ve never seen such a look of disbelief before. He was more surprised by himself than a toddler is by a Jack-in-the-Box. For a second, a fearful look of doubt started to creep over his face.
“Miss! I ruined it…”
“No you didn’t. It’s awesome. I love it. As soon as it dries I’m hanging it up above my desk. I mean, can I keep it?”

That painting was one of the last things I took down the day I left.

Get the full lesson plan here!