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Open Night at School

Updated on November 27, 2017
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I have been teaching mathematics in an Australian High School since 1982, and I am a contributing author to many mathematics text books.

open night

A teacher does not have the luxury of having a bad day, especially when they should be on their best behaviour. Nowhere is this truer than when my school opened their doors one evening to showcase all that is good and proper.

Was the day really a bad one for me? You be the judge.

It is axiomatic that School Open Nights are illusory. Just as a felon in court will don appropriate sartorial attire as a sham show of respectability, a school will seek approbation by revealing only that which appears good and proper. The evening is contrived to reflect an inexhaustible supply of resources feeding a curriculum-rich delivery by teachers whose sole reason for existence is to teach. The package is gift wrapped with rhetoric and paid for by parents with a promissory enrolment card.

"As you know, Open Night is coming up," I reminded my math class. "It'll be good for our school if we all contribute in some way."

"Do we have to?" was the mood before my judicious combination of cajolery tempered with warnings of harsher math tests elicited grudging cooperation.

Disappointingly, the first flourish of ideas produced the usual offerings: poster and book displays, hands-on activities and video presentations.

Teng, however, was thoughtful. "What about guest speakers?" he suggested.

"That's no good," Julia protested. "We're showing off the school, not outsiders. Right, sir?"

Before I could reply, Jimmy came to the rescue. "Why can't we make a maze that the parents can find their way through?" he stated excitedly. Thinking on a grander scale, I enthusiastically embraced Jimmy's idea.

"Is that real math, though?" Rosa asked.

"Yes," I said. "We can demonstrate the Wall Follower algorithm, which is that the exit can be found by continuously resting your left hand on the wall as you walk."

"How do we make the maze?" Zoran wanted to know.

Several suggestions immediately surfaced but were discarded on practical grounds; large plants in pots, blankets draped over suspension ropes and portable whiteboards. I noticed Alex surreptitiously folding a sheet of paper, the genesis of a paper plane. His origami provided the solution.

"We'll use fluted cardboard, won't we Alex?" I stated as a warning not to test fly his paper model. Alex stopped and looked at me expectantly. Predictably, Jimmy was confused.

"What can you do to cardboard using a flute?"

"It means we fold the cardboard so that it can stand upright," Alex promptly disabused him as an act of redemption.

The Principal hesitated when informed about my reason for requisitioning the school hall. "Another outlandish construction, Mr Ekmar?" he asked dubiously.

"We're using corrugated cardboard," I assured him. "Nothing can go wrong."

Preparations began in earnest with a contribution by Mrs Stanton's Art class of Lost, a mural reminiscent of a Salvador Dali painting. Thematically provocative, it comprised more than one hundred cardboard panels, each seven feet in length. Yao and Wen researched labyrinths and used chalk to reproduce their choice on the hall's polished floorboards. The remaining workforce painstakingly perforated and shaped each panel, contiguous sections were formed using cloth tape and the collection aligned along the contours of the chalk lines. Meanwhile, a refreshment stand was being organised by Francesca, Helda intended to supervise the information booth and Antonio took charge of the lighting and sound system.All was ready.

Judgement day attracted many parents and students to the hall. Inside, near darkness prevailed. As Daniel and Stavros ushered patrons through the maze's entrance, a recording of A Walk In The Black Forest provided aural stimulation. Visually, a series of strategically mounted spotlights imbued Lost with an aesthetically pleasing luminescence. True to the legend of Theseus' intrepid pursuit of the Minotaur, the maze trail delineated circuitous pathways, dead ends and branching corners. Recalcitrant explorers who could not apply the Wall Follower algorithm and those who found the walls claustrophobic were summarily extricated by Chris and Janice. During the evening, congratulations flowed freely. Even the Principal was seen to smile, an unprecedented event.

Although it was late and almost everyone was gone, vestiges of euphoria from the evening's events remained. I ambled into the hall for a final constitutional and was well into my labyrinthine journey when fate intervened. The spotlights ceased their glow, A Walk In The Black Forest abruptly stopped and doors slammed disturbingly.

Impulsively and with some embarrassment I called out, "Hey! I'm still in here." With no response forthcoming, I pushed with considerable force against a wall to effect an immediate exit. The walls of Jericho did not collapse as expected. Instead, the Domino Effect came into play with ludicrous results. As each panel fell, its neighbour followed sympathetically, creating distinctly audible swishing sounds as air was displaced.

In the darkness I took a step forward in the direction of what I imagined was the exit when something brushed against me. Startled, I lost my balance and fell prostrate underneath some panels, entombed. "Here rests the pharaoh Ekmar," I yelled self deprecatingly. The ludicrousness of the situation did not escape me and I began to laugh. Minutes later, doors swung open and lights were activated. I raised my head and saw Dan and the caretaker hovering above me, assessing the situation. After pronouncing me injury free they laughed convulsively, even as they gently assisted me to my feet.

Sombrely I reflected on the vicissitudes a teaching career entails.

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