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Teachers are a lot like MacGyver: thinking fast and saving the day with limited resources

I grew up watching the TV show “MacGyver.” It’s a great show about a man who could get out of any predicament with some duct tape and a paper clip. He could blow up a building with hairspray and dental floss or save a damsel in distress with a belt buckle and spray paint. Every episode found MacGyver ready for the unexpected, and I would watch in awe at his ability to make something out of nothing that would ultimately save the day.

He was wholesome and kind, gentle and smart. He avoided conflict and violence and wore a great-looking mullet when mullets were cool. I was fascinated by MacGyver.

I guess, in a weird sort of way, I grew up to be a little like MacGyver – minus the mullet, of course — because I grew up to be a teacher, and all of us teachers are like the quick-thinking, resourceful MacGyver. Ready for anything, expecting the unexpected, teachers are some of the quickest on their feet that you’ll ever meet.

For instance, I saw my tenth-grade biology teacher, Mrs. Weil, leap two rows of desks and fling a burning trash can under the safety shower. I watched Coach Herman single-handedly pull apart two fighting eleventh graders, holding each by the collar until reinforcements arrived, and I watched wide-eyed as my seventh-grade English teacher, Mrs. West, calmly and methodically shoved desks out of the way of a student suffering an epileptic seizure.

Stories abound of the ingenuity of classroom teachers, the brave few who operate under the assumption that at any moment, chaos could happen; at any second, some child may need their instincts; with every click of the clock, something might happen that will require them to morph into MacGyver.

The pins-and-needles of teaching is the aspect of the profession we often forget about. Colleges don’t teach us in Teacher School how to deal with fires and fights and seizures. There’s no way college professors can recreate the realities of a 21st century classroom.

But I think that’s the challenge teachers flourish in and willingly, wholeheartedly accept. For instance, Cara Humphries at Reese Road Leadership Academy thrives in the never-a-dull moment atmosphere of an elementary classroom. No two days are ever alike, just like no two students are ever alike, and that sense of adventure is what makes teachers like Mrs. Humphries so effective in the classroom. As a special education teacher, she serves students with autism, ADHD, behavior disorders and various learning disabilities — all in the same classroom. Shuffling from need to need and student to student, Mrs. Humphries makes it look easy.

Every moment of the day is a new set of challenges to overcome or a new set of puzzles to master for a teacher. So, with duct tape and paper clips in hand, the MacGyvers of education tackle the school day like champs.

In the melting pot of a public school classroom, teachers probably make thousands of knee-jerk decisions in a day. Diversity in cultures and ability, differences in personalities and behavior, variances in skill and attitudes require teachers to be ready for the unexpected. This balancing act is precisely why teachers like Mrs. Humphries are vital to the education profession.

We are certainly blessed to have many teachers just like her — with savvy minds and pockets full of dental floss.

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