I teach some of the biggest, toughest, meanest looking boys in town. They are big, but they are not mean at all, and I’m finding that they are not all that tough either, underneath all that thorny exterior. They are a bunch of softies.
I promised them that if they behaved well in our lessons on the cardiovascular system, that we would dissect sheep’s hearts on Friday morning. Every time I met them in lessons or even in the corridor they would ask, “are we really going to dissect hearts on Friday, Miss?” “Of course we are boys, I promised, didn’t I?” They would shrug and jostle about. “We are going to dissect sheep’s hearts!”
Friday morning came. I met them at the door. There was the usual, “are we really going to do this?” followed by my warnings that anyone behaving out of line would be sidelined. These bulky six-footers almost skipped into the room. They sat down, as excited as a group of giggly girls. Several told me ,very seriously, that they had been looking forward to this all week. I called the register and not one student was absent.
After instructions and set-up, the hearts came out. And suddenly my big boys lost their nerve. “I’m not touching that!” “Do I actually have to touch it?” “Can you do it miss?” “Why does it smell miss?” “MIIIISSSS IT’S SICK!” “Taaaake it away miiiiiiisssssss!”
Two or three had the opposite reaction. Sudden reservoirs of concentration and initiative over took these students and they dug straight in and produced a wonderful dissection.
The others alternated between the back door for air and the table for more gore and then the back door for air again.
One decided he could handle the gore but not the concentration part, and every time I looked at him he was madly cutting up pieces of heart tissue with a scalpel and a scissors and anything else he could find, Masterchef style. We had a tray of shredded heart meat left over from his dissection.
One student with his arm in a sling worked one-handed, randomly stabbing at the heart and exclaiming about how gross this was (with a big smile across his face), jabbing and smiling, and jabbing again.
When I tested them on their knowledge of the heart as a calm-down afterwards, the most I got was about fifty per cent retention. I will work on this, but I think I have them on side now.
My biggest student felt really unwell after the whole traumatic experience, and I did feel sorry for him, but I had to laugh when he lifted his head from his hands and groaned “I hope our next practical is something to do with flowers.”