It seems everyone in our community is scrambling to get their school supplies for the new school year. Noah, Maddie, and I took care of this on Friday morning, dropping Noah’s supplies off in his locker (he’ll carry just himself and his messenger bag to the first day of school). The local chain stores that have had their school supplies on display since June are scrambling through the inventory in the back to find one more pack of Pencil Top Erasers–Red Rubber Type.
And I thought the military was the only entity that could fall into a Yoda-like utilitarian language to describe the element you are holding or the element you’d like to requisition. If you wanted a stapler, you had to look under H for Hand-Operated Paper Fastener, Multiple Rounds–Desk Top Type, Black.
My first duty station as a hospital corpsman was Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, California. I worked on a cardiac step-down unit. One of the more well-read, sarcastic officers on the ward handed me a book he thought I might like. I cannot in good faith recommend the book to this reading audience, but in the interest of choice I can tell you that this book reads like Quincy meets 50 Shades of Gray. I’ll stand by while you go to Goodreads to add the book. Understanding that I did not recommend it to you.
Unless you like it. Which would say something about you as much as it does me. When you meet a character who works in Social Services, nicknamed “The Sociable Cervix,” shoot me a message.
Samuel Shem’s 1978 satirical novel, THE HOUSE OF GOD, followed the best and worst of what viewers may have been following on ABC’s General Hospital and pre-dated any sensational or sordid–or sensationally sordid–story line one might later on prime-time medical series like St. Elsewhere, E. R. , or Grey’s Anatomy.
Dr. Roy Basch is the main character of the book which follows a group of medical interns who have just graduated from BMS (Best Medical School) to their first assignment, a hospital the senior interns refer to sardonically as “The House of God.”
The mentor of these new interns is a doctor the interns call “The Fat Man,” a character who actually coins many terms that are still used on the inside of the medical profession by those who get the references. The Fat Man serves as the lead learner of this rotation of interns and he inspires them to break the rules they have learned at BMS and to operate under a set of new rules that will not only help their patients to live but will also help the interns to survive psychologically. By the end of Shem’s work, there are thirteen “Laws of the House of God.”
While I personally like #10 “IF YOU DON”T TAKE A TEMPERATURE, YOU CAN’T FIND A FEVER” (which we may save for a later post on formative and summative assessments or reading attitudes–read a completely different way, we might use this to describe the toxic cultures that continually go unchecked in the interest of keeping some sense of harmony ((dissonance also being a sound one could play/hear)), I want to share the one that helped me get through a year on 9 West at Naval Hospital Oakland (sardonically referred to as “The Stairway to Heaven) and a host of “emergencies” that have popped up along the way to this brand new school year. It’s #3:
AT A CARDIAC ARREST, THE FIRST PROCEDURE IS TO TAKE YOUR OWN PULSE.
So, 500 words in. . .what should a teacher take to their first day of school. And each day after until the end of the year?
Their own pulse.
Here’s why. Each of us carries a pulse in the learning community. Some are rapid (tachycardic) and some are slow (bradycardic). No comment on which is better, I just wanted to impress you with my ability to throw those terms in there.
What’s more important is that you know that you are still alive as you enter that learning community. It’s as simple as A. . .B. . .C. . .Airway, Breathing, Circulation. The Circulation is the pulse piece. And I am trusting that each of use knows how to take a pulse, including our own. You place the index and middle finger in the proximity of the radial artery which is located on the inside of the wrist near the side of your thumb.
And there is a reason we don’t use our thumb to take a pulse.
We carry a pulse in our thumb. And when you use your own thumb to assess the pulse of another, you can get a faulty reading on the pulse you were actually trying to take.
Reminding ourselves that we have a pulse and that each member of the learning community has a pulse is a good way of assuring that we are not getting a false reading of the what is happening in that room. We could confuse or own drive and rhythm for the one that is trying to beat directly underneath.
Another rule of taking a pulse is to not press down too hard upon the radial artery as you could actually stifle the pulse. Do this for too long and it would be of great detriment to the person you are assessing. Gently pull back and you will be able to feel that pulse again.
Take a moment to try this. Take your own pulse.
Did you feel it? That’s you. That’s your heart driving blood to the essential parts of your body that help you one, to stay alive, and two, to perform your duties. If you count the number of “thumps” you feel over sixty seconds, you get your heart rate for that minute. If you are particularly gifted like yours truly, you’ve learned that taking a deep breath can not only slow the pulse down, but it can stretch out the EKG waves which make for a delightful conversation starter with caregivers.
Try it at your next exam. You have to have a special kind of heart to do this.
Metaphorically, that pulse is the rhythm that drives you.
It’s little wonder that we use metaphors like “the heart of a teacher” to describe how we do what we do. THIS is our “common core.” Standard issue.
Four-Chambered Blood Pumping Vessel ( see also Heart)–Human Type (Issue of One)
It helps to take two fingers now and then to feel that cadence.
To remind ourselves that our pulse is the formative (and sometimes–gasp–our summative) assessment of our ability to go into the learning community to do what we will need to do for the next 180 days.
So here is your list for the first day of school. Please take:
A deep, cleansing breath. There’s is a reason the first step in the two-step process is called “inspiration.”
A moment to center yourself before the students enter the room.
A quick check of your own pulse. The first time students enter a classroom is as close to a Code Blue situation as many teachers will ever get. I’ll bet you’ve never thought of this, but the seating chart you’ve made is actually a part of an algorithmic approach to the emergency that is the first day (did I mention that they ARE coming).
Pride in the knowing that what you do–on the first day and each day after–is so very, very important.
A student by the hand, shaking gently as you greet them into your learning community.
Have a super first day of school, friends.
And that thumb you’re not using to take your own or anyone else’s pulse? Let’s not bite that each other over the course of the school year, let’s use instead as a symbol of affirmation of what we know to be true:
Every teacher is deserving of a thumbs up now and then.
From me to you.
Take it with you for your first day.
Have a great school year!