Saturday, October 8, 2011
As my first year as a teacher progressed through autumn and into a frigid winter, rather than sink comfortably into my new role with relative ease, a series of bizarre incidents and unusual challenges continued to keep me on my toes - my cold, cold toes.
Georgia, despite what I had been told, can get numbingly chilly, and unlike Walla Walla and other northern cities, most communities in the South have no idea how to handle the snow.
When our town was hit by a moderate snowstorm that left some small patches of ice on certain roads, many students missed several days of school instead of having their parents calmly and safely drive them to campus.
Most of the state shut down. Atlanta, only about an hour south of where I live, had only a few snow plows for the whole city, usually known for its heat and humidity.
While this minor flurry of real snow caused indiscriminate chaos, I was learning about the importance of decorating the interior of school buildings with fake snow for the holiday season.
Arriving at my office one morning, I noticed what appeared to be fire extinguisher foam that had been sprayed on my windows. The fake decorative snow and gold tinsel hanging around the hallways tipped me off that Christmas was a pretty big deal.
I usually, in fact never, decorate anything for Christmas. Don't mistake me for a Scrooge; I love Christmas, but to decorate a house that only I live in has never been top of my priority list. I'm a little lazy.
I also never spend Christmas in my own home, so I didn't think anything of it.
This was tantamount to heresy in the small Southern town where I teach. So I strung up a couple streamers and created a Christmas Carol bulletin board.
The holiday season also brought plenty of music, plenty of different songs, all being practiced at the same time in the music building where my office was. I could practically sing "Jingle Bells" to the tune of "Silent Night."
The final Christmas concert was actually pretty good, and I was asked to play the pots and pans during one piece called "Christmas in the Kitchen."
Banging some metal containers with the coordination and rhythm of a toddler was just as fun as it sounds.
The end of winter saw the beginning of our varsity soccer season. I'm the assistant coach for the soccer team and while my upbringing in England gave me a decent amount of acquired knowledge, I had no idea how to actually manage a sports team.
When the head coach was away on business I was given the reins and needed to instruct a group of young men in technique and fitness. I realized quickly that I was out of my depth.
While moments of hilarity and camaraderie appeared on occasion, most of the time players were putting their hand in my face when I subbed them out of the game or menacingly asking me why I wasn't running laps with them.
I told them it was for the same reason I wasn't writing the three-page essays I was assigning them in English class.
Coaching soccer also allowed me to interact with a few students who strongly influenced my feelings on a hot-button political issue. Two of my players were from Latin American countries and were living in Georgia illegally.
Both boys were great athletes and loved to play the game they had grown up with, but their immediate future was constantly in doubt. They never questioned our instructions, never gave us any attitude and always enjoyed the game.
While I had never been particularly worried about illegal immigration, my interactions with these two players helped me further understand that every illegal immigrant is a person just like the rest of us.
They have their hopes and dreams. By the end of the year both were looking at moving back to the countries of origin or joining the U.S. military. While they and the others had taught me several lessons in how to coach soccer, they taught me a more important lesson about empathy and understanding.
Martin Surridge, who was a Walla Walla University student, now lives in Georgia.