The Blackboard Jungle  

Hockey stars love dancing

Randy Klassen and Paul Mansfield were members of the bantam rep hockey stars.

At the time, I didn’t really know what that meant, but over time, I learned that these bantam rep stars were to be revered.

Down the hall they all would come, as if in some kind of elite procession, usually led by Randy and Paul, wearing identical blue-and-gold jackets with their names professionally embroidered on the right sleeve.

I really did admire these boys. They had a sense of purpose, and they knew all about hard work and accomplishment.

The problem was that this particular group of boys, many of whom were in one of my Grade 7 physical education classes, believed they had cornered the market as to what constituted an acceptable PE activity.

Intermittently, we’d play floor hockey, my purpose being to throw these ferocious little hockey players a piece of meat to keep them happy.

I’m really not a fan of playing floor hockey in PE because more than half the class is sitting on the sidelines for half the time.

My plan didn’t work anyway because my future NHLers complained that floor hockey was dumb because they couldn’t body check, to say nothing of the fact that the teams were mixed.

They liked gymnastics though because, in those good old days, we could climb ropes to the ceiling of the gym. Apparently, that practice has disappeared.

My hockey Spartans would compete with each other to see who could get to the top first, and how many times, thereby setting a high standard for the rest of the class.

Now, as every self-respecting PE teacher knows, there’s a point when it’s time to do the folk dance unit. I was dreading this.

“OK, everyone come over and take a seat,” I said as they came out of the change room in little groups. They sat on the floor and waited as others joined. 

Randy and Paul finally emerged with their entourage and sat at the back.

One of the greatest challenges of every teacher is to start something new in such an awe-inspiring manner that the students will break down the door to get started.

It’s those first few words that have to grab them, to penetrate their brains, rendering them convinced that what is coming will practically change their lives.

“We’re going to start a unit on folk dance.”

My class groaned. Eyes rolled up, mouths frowned, voices grumbled.

“Hey! You’re going to love this!” I wasn’t an effective public speaker, but I believed what I was saying.

“Mr. Knight, folk dancing is stupid,” chortled Randy from the back of the class, followed by lots of nods and affirmative rumblings.

In my heart I disagreed. I liked folk dancing. But then I’d never really held a hockey stick either.

I persisted. I got them up, created a circle and began to teach the first eight steps of the “Troika” amidst their taunts and moans. Strangely, the protests began to subside. We got about 16 beats into the song, then I introduced the music.

I held my index finger above the play button on the tape deck. “OK. Remember, four big beats, then we start.”

They all stood motionless awaiting the awe-inspiring event that would change their lives forever.

I pressed play, then, it happened. They started to move. I saw smiles. I saw laughter. They were doing it! They were enjoying it!

I hit stop.

“Hold on a minute,” I said. “What is going on here? I thought folk dancing was stupid. You guys made me feel like a dentist pulling teeth at the beginning of this class. Do you mean to tell me that you are actually enjoying this? I can’t believe this. This is not supposed to be fun.”

I was on a roll. “Since folk dancing is not fun, there will be no more smiling or laughing.”

Of course, they knew I wasn’t serious. But I think we all learned a lesson that day. The kids learned that, although folk dancing is not cool, it’s actually fun.

I learned that the outward appearance of my students doesn’t always reflect what is going on inside them. The next folk dance class, they all complained at the beginning, but by the end were all laughing, smiling and having a wonderful time.


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About the Author


Richard Knight is a retired educator living in Kelowna. During his 30 plus years as an educator, he taught pretty much everything from primary to the junior high (now called Middle School).

His experiences generated many memorable stories, which is what this column is about.

He also gained some valuable experience at the university level as a faculty adviser in the Faculty of Education at UBCO.

Until recently, Richard wrote his column The Blackboard Jungle for The Daily Courier.

This was a mixture of fond memories and some political commentary. Now, Richard would like present his column on Castanet.

He can reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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