Chalk Boards, Mop Buckets, and Lessons Learned

I’d mentioned briefly in my last post that there are things I’ve done over the course of my life that make me look back and shake my head. I don’t really have any regrets, but some things I could have done with out. Unfortunately these things of which I speak were definitely events during which I really learned something. On the bright side, they make for great stories, and thus, good blog fodder.

Generally speaking, I do not learn well by reading instructions. For a lesson to sync in, I really need to handle it first hand, and experience the process. I find that I can sit in the passenger’s seat, and go somewhere dozens of times without learning the route. If I’m not driving, I pay very little attention to where I’m going and how to get there. In fact, even if I am driving, if someone is telling me turn by turn which way to go, I can almost guarantee, I will forget before the trip is over. The only real way for me to memorize a route is to see it on a map, and navigate there myself. GPS will get me there, but that’s just as bad as someone navigating for me.

I know, “typical guy, doesn’t read instructions, doesn’t ask for directions,” right? Well, perhaps.

In earnest, failure is really my best teacher. I can’t retain information unless I’ve failed at it a couple times first. There’s a quote (or so they say, here and there on the internet) from Thomas Edison, who was asked about failing to make a light bulb 700 times before finding the winning combination. There’s some debate as to the number of times he failed, and even some debate as to whether he was asked the question at all, but the sentiment is there… “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Anyway, the point is, the more unfavorable the results, the more I tend to take away from the lesson.

One such occasion was in high school. (…actually most such occasions were in high school…)

I was never a model student, and it wasn’t unusual for me to jump at the chance for extra credit, especially if it didn’t involve any homework-like activity. After all, the whole reason I needed extra credit was because I didn’t like things like homework… I’d do things like take notes on the chalkboard for the teacher, so he didn’t have to write. My hand writing was neater than his anyway, so it worked out for everyone. I’d clap chalk erasers out the window. I’d stack the chairs at the end of the day for the cleaning crew… things of that nature.

One such task was to erase and wash the chalk boards. I remember standing in the middle of the room and looking at the chalk boards. This was, of course, one of the few rooms that had chalk boards on three out of the four walls, and they were all covered in chicken scratch. Except of course, the one on which I took notes. That one was perfect.

Still though, I’d have been there all afternoon with a sponge and a bucket. There had to be a quicker way. In a stroke of genius, I ran to the men’s room around the corner where the janitor kept his things. I happened to know the lock on the janitor’s closet was broken (…don’t ask why) so I figured I’d help myself to the mop and yellow bucket. Thinking myself the smartest guy in town, I wheeled the thing down the hall to the classroom, where the teacher was giving one on one tutelage to someone else who was falling through the cracks. I definitely had the better deal, I thought.

This is the part when I get to the lesson that I learned.

Figuring I’d be done with all the chalk boards in short order, I slapped that nasty mop up on the board and began working my way across the room like a wild man. I got about 2/3s of the way done, before I learned that you should really change out the used water from the yellow mop bucket before washing chalk boards. In my excited haste to get the job done, I really (honestly!) didn’t notice that the water in the bucket was something more accurately described as sludge.

Too late to quit now… Somehow I finished the job, and got out of there before anyone started complaining that the room smelled like vomit. I think I missed class the next day, probably for some invented reason. I don’t know if I got that extra credit or not, I thought it best not to ask.

To this day, I can’t help but grin every time I see one of those yellow mop buckets.

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