Old Teaching Injury 12/29/21

History with Richard Bleil

Chemistry can be, for many students, a dry subject. Not for me, of course, because I love the topic with a passion, but unfortunately, not all chemistry teachers love it as much as I do. In far too many schools, the person teaching chemistry doesn’t even have a chemistry degree and is often openly disinterested in the subject (an attitude that students are quick to pick up). Frequently schools will have somebody teach it with a degree in any science or math (usually biology), but often not even that. I have known gym teachers who were “saddled” with chemistry, and while I’m not denigrating gym teachers (I know nothing of the subject of physical education), it’s unlikely many of them enjoy chemistry. Mostly, I’m talking about secondary schools here, but sadly, far too many university professors are not much better. They know the subject (a degree in the subject is required to teach it), but they are often at research universities and under pressure to publish and get grants, and therefore are not so interested in teaching.

As a university professor at an institution small enough that I could focus on my teaching (my first passion) rather than research and grants, I had to fight this disdain taught by many secondary chemistry teachers for the subject every year with a brand-new group of students. It’s not an easy task and I’m sure my success rate will show that I failed far more often than succeeded at convincing students that chemistry is both fun and useful. Still, in the efforts to get students to relax, I was a very animated professor. For example, I told a lot of jokes, something students would complain about every year, often just because it seemed “unprofessional” to the students. They weren’t offended, but they just didn’t like it. Kinda sad, really.

On top of my infamous sense of “humor” (if I dare call it that as most were a hybrid between dad jokes and science humor), I was also a very active professor. If I could “act out” a concept for my students, I would do so, like the year I was talking about gas pressure. On discussing how pressure is caused by gas particles hitting the edge of the container, I literally (as I often did) flung myself against the brick wall in the auditorium. I know, but believe me, it was a great mnemonic device to get students to understand and retain the concept.

Now, most years, I would hit the “meat” of my shoulder and no harm would be done, but, sure enough, there was that one year that I just hit the wall wrong. My shoulder went all wonky, and no, I didn’t go to see the doctor. I figured if I was stupid enough to injure myself, I wasn’t about to make insurance pay for it. Besides, aside from the fact that I couldn’t raise it all the way over my head, it was basically fine. Fortunately, I have not been robbed and was never told to put my hands up.

But it was clearly not healing. On the (unfortunately exceptionally) rare occasion that I would have a special someone rest her head on my shoulder, it would start to ache, a dull ache at first and eventually would have to ask her to let me move my arm. Sleeping on that side always failed as, again, the aching would force me to turn (so much for “spooning” in that direction). Eventually (years later) I did ask a doctor about it, who informed me that I had, apparently, injured the “sack” around the shoulder joint. Eventually it should heal, but aside from very extensive surgery (not worth it for the level of discomfort) it should heal on its own.

There was an upside, though. I can honestly look at somebody nowadays, and say, “oh, it’s an old teaching injury”. I mean, seriously, how many people can say that? Like today. I went to my gun club, and realized that I have become that gun collector nut that I used to laugh about, saying “just how many guns does one person really need?” Well, for me, apparently, it’s ten, but in my defense (if you’ll pardon the pun) I’m all about variety. I have so many different calibers (from .22 to .50 magnum), styles (revolver pistols, semi-automatic pistols and rifles, and a bolt-action rifle), and designs that it’s just fun to be able to choose the one I want to fire on any given trip.

Today, I bought my tenth (and probably last) firearm. I’ve never fired a shotgun, and the configuration of a pump-action was something I didn’t have in my collection. And, yes, I fired six rounds from it (it can only hold three shells, so I refilled it twice). THAT is a powerful gun, and guess where you brace the shotgun to fire it? Yes, right in my old teaching-injury bum shoulder.

Maybe it’s not a bad thing. Guns are dangerous things, and I’ve come to learn that firing most of my guns hurts. If you’re going to be shooting, maybe you should pay with a little bit of pain. With the shotgun, it’s the sore shoulder. With my semi-automatic, it’s usually thumb pain from loading the clips. With my more powerful handguns, it’s pain in the hand and arm. Still, some things are worth the pain. Like eating particularly hot food, knowing full well what it will be like when it completes the journey (if you will). I’m still going to be shooting (at the range), because I enjoy it so very much.


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