My Wood Shop Teacher Tries His (Mangled) Hand at Computers

My 7th grade wood shop teacher looked like a busted Santa Claus. He was a fat old man with a long white beard, tiny spectacles, and rosy cheeks. He was not jolly, though, unless you can stretch "jolly"'s definition to mean grumpy and confused.

The word "busted" also applies to my teacher because he was missing a finger. I know that sounds cliche (remember Mr. Slurm, the shop teacher on Pete and Pete who was missing a hand?), but have an idiot work with power tools for a few decades, and he's bound to lose a digit at some point.

Forget blackboards and textbooks, the best teaching aid Mr. Claus had was his finger - or lack there of. He used his mangled hand to terrify us about the dangers of working with the electric tools. Granted, you must stress safety before letting preteens go wild with rotary saws, but convincing us we were likely to lose a finger was not the right approach. Neither was his other story, which in retrospect was probably as true as it was appropriate, about a girl who didn't use the safety as instructed and they later found her bloody body. It would make for a good campfire tale; maybe Mr. Claus's true calling was as a camp counselor.

I was scared. Not just scared enough to be extra mindful of safety precautions, but too scared to do the assignments. Call me crazy, but I found the idea of constructing a birdhouse less appealing than keeping all of my body parts.

Fortunately for me, the power tool portion of my class was over pretty quickly. It was 1997, and educators were starting to realize that kids needed to learn how to use computers. This class that was once devoted wholly to wood shop had been expanded and redubbed "Technology Education" to also include computer skills.

Rather than hiring a teacher who was computer literate (or even just plain literate - sorry, Mr. Claus), they made my shop teacher instruct the computer portion, too. Mr. Claus looked at computers not just with confusion, but with fear. You'd think it was the computer that stole his finger! "I'm too old to learn computers," he'd tell us, which might be a fine excuse were he not supposed to be teaching us about computers. He'd mess up his computer almost instantaneously and spend the rest of the period "troubleshooting" (i.e. cursing and rebooting), while the students were left to amuse ourselves. This was before most computers had the internet, so we'd just sit there and play Minesweeper or word process dirty things for fun.

Santa's most comprehensive lesson was about using clip art. We spent multiple classes looking through clip art galleries, selecting our favorite images, and printing out hundreds of copies of them. It was an insanely stupid activity, yet still preferable to the dangers of wood shop. Still, I don't know what I expected to learn about computer proficiency from a man who used the hunt and peck method of typing with just his index fingers. On second thought, maybe that's not fair: it's not like Mr. Claus could type with all of his fingers on the proper keys.

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