David Bruce: Education Anecdotes

Sister Helen P. Mrosla, a Franciscan nun, taught Mark Eklund in the third grade at Saint Mary’s School in Morris, MN, and she taught him again in a math course in the ninth grade. One day, the students were struggling in class, and she decided to do something different to stop their bad spirits and crankiness. She asked each student to take out some paper and list each classmate’s name on it, leaving some room in between each name. She then asked students “to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.” At the end of the class, she collected the papers. Over the weekend, she wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet and then she wrote down on each sheet of paper the nice comments that the other students had written about that student. On Monday, she gave each student his or her list of nice comments. She remembers, “Before long, the entire class was smiling. ‘Really?’ I heard whispered. ‘I never knew that meant anything to anyone!’ ‘I didn’t know others liked me so much!” No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another again.” A few years later, in 1971, a grown-up Mark Eklund died in Vietnam—not in combat, but from a pulmonary and cerebral edema while sleeping. Sister Helen attended his funeral, and a soldier who was a pallbearer asked her, “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” He then said, “Mark talked about you a lot.” And Mark’s father said to her, “We want to show you something. They found this on Mark […]. We thought you might recognize it.” The something was the piece of paper on which was written a list of students’ nice comments about Mark. The well-worn paper had obviously been read often. Mark’s mother said, “Thank you so much for doing that. As you can see, Mark treasured it.” Several other students who had been in the class, including Mark’s wife, kept their own lists of nice comments. One former student showed Sister Helen her list and said, “I carry this with me at all times. I think we all saved our lists.

The ancient people of Japan passed on what they had learned from their experiences of tsunamis. Those who heeded the wisdom of the ancient people fared better in the great tsunami of 2011 than those who did not. For example, in the village of Aneyoshi, a stone slab that is hundreds of years old stated, “High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants. Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.” The people of Aneyoshi had not built any homes below that point, and they fared well in the earthquake. On the coastline of Japan, hundreds of stone slabs bear good advice. For example, a stone slab states, “If an earthquake comes, beware of tsunamis.” Another stone slab states, “Always be prepared for unexpected tsunamis. Choose life over your possessions and valuables.” Such advice is needed. Large tsunamis occur rarely, and without such reminders, people can forget the danger and do such things as build homes on the coastline—as many people in other areas of Japan had done. Tetsuko Takahashi, 70, who lives in a hillside house in Kesennuma, saw from her window a ship swept inland a half-mile—it crushed buildings as it was swept inland. She says, “After the earthquake, people went back to their homes to get their valuables […]. They all got caught.” The names of towns also provide warnings. For example, one town is named “Octopus Grounds” because lots of sealife was washed onto it because of a tsunami. Fumihiko Imamura, a professor in disaster planning at Tohoku University, says, “It takes about three generations for people to forget. Those that experience the disaster themselves pass it to their children and their grandchildren, but then the memory fades.” In Aneyoshi, people remembered. Yuto Kimura, who is 12 years old, says, “Everybody here knows about the markers. We studied them in school. When the tsunami came, my mom got me from school and then the whole village climbed to higher ground.”

Ross P. Mayo, a male nursing student working in the nursing station at an elementary school, ran into a problem when a little girl named Tammi came in to have a scratch treated. Even though he told her, “I am a nurse. I can help you, Trust me,” Tammi was terrified because she thought that all nurses were female and she did not know who this strange man was. Fortunately, Ms. Walker, the school nurse, walked in and reassured Tammi. Even then, Tammi did not believe that Ross was a nurse. Ross asked Tammi why she did not believe that he was a nurse, and Tammi answered, “Because you’re not a lady.” Therefore, Ross decided to teach the students that some nurses are men. He addressed the second-grade students because he felt that they would be able to understand what he had to say to them. He turned it into a game and had the children determine his occupation by asking him questions. It took a while, with the children guessing that he was a doctor or a dentist, but finally they figured out that he was a nurse. Ross was able to explain in words that the children could understand that some women are doctors and that some men are nurses. Before the meeting, the children had written about nurses. After the meeting, he had the children write again about nurses. The writing showed that the children had learned a lot about nurses. A sample BEFORE paper: “I think a nurse is a nice lady who helps people.” A sample AFTER paper: “A nurse can be a lady or a man. Nurses are working in clinics, schools, and hospitals. And some nurses are going to people’s houses, too. And a lady can be a doctor.”

“I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.” — Edith Ann, aka Lily Tomlin.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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