I really like duct tape. I always had a roll in the classroom, and used it for emergency repairs, to anchor equipment in labs (like the bases of Bunsen burners) and to cover electric cords on the floor and tables. I used it to build hanging shelves for plants in my greenhouse. I repaired textbooks and lab notebooks with it. I would caution students (in jest, of course!) that I had duct tape, and I wasn’t afraid to use it! With a small tool box and duct tape, there isn’t much that an enterprising biology teacher can’t handle.
I came out one day at work and discovered that my car had been hit on the bumper. I put duct tape on it and that was that.
A few years later, pushing my cart to the collection area in the parking lot, a woman stopped me. “That man just hit your car!” she said. Yep, he had. The crack on the bumper was now much bigger. The man who hit me was still there so I confronted him. He was an African, spoke with a British accent, and was pretending that he hadn’t hit my car. “Don’t lie to me”, I said in my best teacher voice. “If I walk to the front of your car I’m going to see the paint from mine, so just admit that you did it and apologize!” He did. Looking at his earnest, apologetic face, I suddenly saw my refugee students from Mali, Congo, Burma, and Sudan reflected in his manner and voice. One of my best friends, an immigrant from Nigeria, would kick my butt if I caused this man trouble. I thanked him for the apology, and when I got home I put on more duct tape. That crack was now much larger, but duct tape was on the job!
Backing out of a parking spot at Best Buy a few weeks ago I suddenly hit something. You guessed it, there was another car backing out at the same time and we were in each other’s blind spots. The bumper was now completely crushed in. No amount of duct tape would fix this! It had to be repaired. The other party, a visibly shaken up elderly woman who had been parked in the handicap spot, could hardly communicate with me. I found myself comforting her and telling her it was OK; since her car was undamaged, I would just take care of mine and we would call it a day. I decided to pay for my car repair out of pocket since it was kind of a no-fault deal, and I needed to get it repaired anyway. The repair was an economic blow at a bad time, but how could I make an insurance claim when the bumper was encased in old duct tape?
So I asked the auto repair shop where I should take my car to get it fixed, and took the car to the local shop they recommended. The girl in the office seemed strangely familiar: she was a former student! Yeah! The business was owned by her father, and she worked there in the office. She was the only person there who spoke English well.
Aside: I taught Sheltered Biology one year, and she was a member of that class. All of those students were non-English speakers and many were refugees trying to cope with a crash landing into our culture, struggling to learn a new language, and finding biology, a subject area that uses a new vocabulary every 6 weeks, a definite challenge. Students huddled together, shared visual materials, copied from each other, utilized lots of body language and built shared support books. We did lots of hands-on activities, labs, and watched video after video. It was the best of times and the worst of times.
There was lots of discussion in Spanish, parts were ordered, and the crumpled bumper part was removed. We agreed that I should come back the next week to have the new part installed.
Today I arrived at the collision repair shop, nervous about the cost, and discovered that there was a problem. The broken bumper part had disappeared somehow and the red reflector and the mud flap were missing. While the shop workers searched for the missing part, there was a phone call from the paint store. When the part had been taken there to get matching paint another shop’s employee had mistakenly taken it with them to Boulder (a city 45 miles away!). It had just been returned. Amazingly, this stranger had taken the time to return the bumper before we even realized it had gone missing.
Half an hour later the wandering bumper piece was back. The beautiful new bumper with perfectly matched paint was on my car flashing its reflector and mud flap like a pro. Stumpy (my car) looked great again! I turned to my former student and asked her how much I owed.
“Oh, we’re not charging you for this”, she said. “You’re my biology teacher!”
Teaching: the gift that keeps on giving! As I drove away with tears in my eyes I reflected on duct tape, kindness, and how I am connected to so many people over distance and time through this little car bumper. Car injuries often bring out the worst in people, but with a little caring and duct tape you can find that people are essentially honest and kind. What a lucky, lucky person I am.