A man rests beneath an apple tree. Suddenly, he is beaned on the head by a falling apple. Eureka! He formulates the law of gravity.
A woman glimpses key scenes of a popular Netflix series. Suddenly, she is stabbed in the gut by a provocative Orange. Eureka! She formulates a plan to save her sanity.
The most gratifying moments of my career in education have been when I’ve witnessed students’ eyes light up after struggling to master a skill or apply a concept, often after days or weeks of frustration and uncertainty: those “eureka” moments that remind me why I teach.
In one unexpected flash of insight, students unearth an idea or revelation previously mired under strata of confusion and chagrin, and they find confidence as they realize the significance and implications of their discovery.
One night last fall offered a moment like that for me. My husband and I had assumed our standard positions after dinner: he and I on either end of the couch with our dog, Dash, asleep between us. He was watching an episode of “Orange Is the New Black” as I applied myself to my email inbox.
Between responding to parent requests
“Mrs. Hershey, we R leaving after school 2morrow for a trip to see [my son]’s cousins in AZ for 2 wks, will U give him his homework in class 2morrow so he doesn’t fall behind, thx.”
and student inquiries
“why do i have a C in ur class??????????????? right back 2night PLZZZZ”
I looked up from my laptop to the television.
SCENE: FIVE INMATES ARE PLAYING A GAME IN THE DAYROOM, TRYING TO GUESS THE CELEBRITY BEING DESCRIBED BY THEIR PARTNER
(DRAWING A SLIP OF PAPER FROM A HAT)
Crazy dude–believes in aliens.
Yes ma’am! (SHE DRAWS ANOTHER SLIP OF PAPER)
Okay, okay. Umm, basketball. Uh, nerd glasses.
Man, what the —-?
TASTEE (IGNORING CINDY AND DRAWING ANOTHER SLIP OF PAPER)
Yo, chick whose husband died real young.
The white Michelle Williams!
SUZANNE (MONITORING THE CLOCK)
Time! You’re outta time!
TASTEE AND POUSSEY ERUPT IN CELEBRATORY DANCING AND LAUGHTER
Ah, to be one of those women, I thought. I LOVE games! Balderdash, Scattergories, Cranium, Scrabble, Charades, Pictionary…
When was the last time I had the mind space, not to mention the TIME, to sit around with friends and play games?
Those women are privileged. They are entitled to generous free time to spend with their friends without lessons to prepare on Sunday nights, without standardized tests to panic about, and without a stacked inbox of endless emails to respond to. They clock in and out of their jobs at the prison kitchen, laundry, electrical shop, commissary, or library, and they spend the rest of their time as they wish. Sigh. They have it all.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute. What? “Have it all”? I recognized the emotion driving my delirious reaction: Envy.
Just as soon as I identified it, it vanished, driven out by dominant waves of reason and logic.
But envy overwhelmed me again when I caught part of a scene later in the episode during which another inmate was reading in her cube.
Reading. A book. That she had chosen.
I tried to recall the last book I read that wasn’t a young adult novel. (Not that I don’t enjoy YA fiction, but my “Want to Read” list on Goodreads was growing at a rate that threatened to overtake my “[Have] Read” list before too long.)
I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t (twice) entertained the evil green that night. Yup: I was envious of inmates in a federal correctional facility.
And that, friends, was the night I knew I needed to act boldly to combat the resentment, anger, frustration, anxiety, and inadequacy that had tormented me as a teacher. Time to step away, take a break, play a few games, and hit the library for some of those books on my “Want to Read” list.
Tell me about your “eureka” moments below.