The Impact Emotions Have on Learning.

When I was ten years old, my father took me to my first professional hockey game. Before that, the only experience I had with live hockey was at the local rinks around Watrous. Watching the men play on a Saturday night was a highlight of my week. We would stand in the front row and lean over the boards, banging our hands against them when our team would make a great play. There was no plexiglass to protect the fans, so we needed to be very aware of what was happening on the ice. I recall errant pucks or sticks striking fans; I was very fortunate not to suffer a similar fate.

Mom dropped dad and me off at the Watrous station, and we boarded the east-bound train. The sun had set, and we had just finished supper at a local restaurant, The Cameo. We would travel through the night and arrive at Winnipeg the following day. I was so excited; I thought I’d stay awake for the entire journey, but the rocking of the train car soon lulled me to sleep. Dad woke me up as we approached our destination. “Bruce, wake up. We’re pulling into Winnipeg.”

The taxi driver took us to our hotel, where we registered and settled into our room. We spent that day touring around Winnipeg, and I remember that we ended up at the mall. I’m not sure why we went or what we needed to buy; what I do recall, however, was having to evacuate the building quickly. I can still hear the woman’s voice on the escalator saying, “I think they found a bomb in a wicker basket”. To this day, I do not know if that is the real reason we left the mall, but I do remember dad telling me that everything was okay. I always felt so safe with him.

When the time came to go to the game, we boarded the city bus and made our way to the arena. I had seen this building on my TV at home while watching Hockey Night in Canada; however, I was awestruck by the sheer size of the structure. I remember the massive portrait of the Queen hanging in one end of the rink, the seemingly endless rows of seats, and the pristine, white ice. It was so different from the ice back home; the ice tinted a rusty brown due to the hard water used to resurface it.

We watched the players warm-up before the game, and I still remember how huge these athletes looked. They whizzed by us at speeds I did not think were possible; remember, until that time, I had only watched our local men play hockey. As the players returned to their dressing rooms, I remember hiking up the steep stairs to our seats in the nosebleed section. I could not have cared less where our seats were; I was in heaven! After the game, we went back to the hotel, got a good night’s sleep, and took the train back to Watrous in the morning. This trip is a memory I cherish with great fondness. As I get older and think back to the journey we took over forty years ago, I still remember a few things as if they just happened.

What I find interesting is that I do not remember the actual game. I know Winnipeg lost; those dastardly Boston Bruins beat the Jets 2 to 1. All that money dad must have spent on that trip, and I cannot remember a single play. What I do remember, however, are the feelings. I recall feeling excited, curious, scared, amazed, and safe. Most of the images in my mind from that trip have long faded away. However, the ones that do remain are those images associated with strong emotions.

I remember going to the train station, and to this day, I can still see the fluffy snowflakes falling under the streetlight’s glow. That image linked to the excitement I was feeling at the time. I remember how the train car window felt cold against my forehead as I looked out at the stars in the endless prairie sky. I recall imagining what the big city of Winnipeg would be like; that memory tied to my curiosity. I remember dad’s big, strong hand as we left the mall, that feeling tied tightly to the fear I was experiencing at the time. In my mind’s eye, I can still see that massive arena, that memory engrained in my brain through my sheer amazement. Most of all, I still remember how safe I felt for the entire trip. I have always been a very anxious person, and the memories of dad holding my hand, putting his arm around me at the arena, and letting me sleep against him on the bus ride from the rink to the hotel will be with me for the rest of my life.

We teach our students every day. We plan lessons and think of the best ways to deliver our content. We assess and provide feedback. All of those things are important; however, those are not the things that our students will remember. Their emotions and memories will bind together. They will not remember what you taught them; they will remember how you made them feel.

We get to have an impact on our students. Ask yourself, what do you want your students to remember forty years later? Do you want them to remember how to identify a comma splice or label the parts of a plant cell? Or do you want them to remember a teacher that cared for them? Do you hope they recall a teacher who maintained high standards who, simultaneously, took the time to get to know them? What mark do you wish to leave?

Forty-plus years later, it doesn’t matter who made the great plays on the ice or how the popcorn tasted; what matters is that I learned what it means to be a great father. I learned that it’s not about how expensive the seats at the arena are; what matters is those seats are side-by-side.

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About the Author: Bruce Mellesmoen