The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.

Teaching Strategies: Hump Day

Today is Wednesday. For reasons not quite clear to me, this day is generally known as Hump Day. I find it a somewhat annoying term, and yet I see it all around me. Perhaps that is why I find it annoying. Who knows for sure. When I was serving a two-year mission for my church, there was a common way of describing periods of the mission: first entering the mission field (as we called it) was the Bump. Six months later was something or other that was never defined often enough for me to remember. One year in was the Hump. 18 months in was the Slump, when the missionaries began to think about going home. And at the end was the Trunk, when the bags were packed and the missionary went home. Fortunately, we don’t break down the work week that much. Our society is content to focus on the middle of the week, which we seem to dread while also looking forward to it.

I guess I am fortunate enough to find myself in a profession that allows me to enjoy what I do every day. Yeah, I get tired at times, but I still love my job. I look forward to each day. I hope someone will smack me when I start counting down the days until the end of the week. I don’t have a problem with counting the days until a break or until the end of the school year. But spending all of your time looking forward to the weekend? That seems a bit counter-productive.

Which is why I write about this as a teaching strategy. The strategy isn’t actually Hump Day, of course. Nor is it the recognition of the concept or the use of the term. Rather, it is the opposite. One of the most important things a teacher can do is to simply love coming to work, each and every single day. I’ve met the teachers who are their to do their jobs, as they think of it. And I’ve met the teachers who understand that their jobs are a lot more than what the contract says. I watched Mr. Holland’s Opus yesterday, and I think that this scene captures beautifully what I am talking about:


Fortunately for the music students at John F. Kennedy High School, Mr. Holland learned:


So the next time you find yourself thinking of Hump Day and then looking forward to the weekend, just remember: the teachers who rush to the parking lot with gusto as soon as their work day is over are rarely the teachers for whom after-school assemblies are planned and former students come back 30 years later to celebrate.


6 responses

  1. The reason I hate that movie is that Holland surrendered his true passion and taught because he had no choice. He didn’t “learn” anything as you say. He gave up. And then, at the end, when his great composition is showcased it was a paltry and repetitive piece of tripe. The great ugly bitter irony of that film is that the man had a dream but nothing with which to ever accomplish the dream. He taught because he was a coward and ultimately a failure. Rather than being a great inspirational story, that film is a slap in the face of anyone who ever wanted to accomplish something real in their lives.

    March 24, 2011 at 9:15 am

  2. You are free to hold that opinion, but I completely disagree with you. It is one of my favourites because Glenn Holland gives up one dream (becoming a rich and famous composer) as he recognises a different passion, sharing his love for music with others.

    To label a man a coward and a failure because he does not doggedly hang on to one thing is patently absurd and ridiculous. Yes, Glenn Holland entered education as a fall back to pay the bills until he could do something else. But then he realised that he needed to continue working to care for his wife and child. There is an amazing moment in the film where he suddenly understands how to share his passion for music for his students.

    He never gave up his passion for music. He only gave up his young man’s wish to be a rich and famous composer. Also, I take it as an ultimate insult for you to insinuate that a man who taught passionately for 30 years did not accomplish “something real” in his life. Whether that is what you intended or not is irrelevant; it is what you said. How said that a man who himself has been an educator for decades would dare say that a life dedicated to education and sharing one’s passion is a life wasted. Shame on you, sir.

    March 24, 2011 at 10:17 am

  3. Remember we’re talking about a movie, so don’t get your panties in a wad. Bear in mind also I have not watched (indeed have refused to watch) this film since it first came out.

    That said, Holland wanted to compose music but did not pursue that passion. I don’t know that he wanted to be rich or famous. The constraints of his family’s situation (as you say) caused him to fall back on teaching. We all have to make concessions. Still, the concessions rankle those who must make them.

    And I did not say teaching was not something real. I said that, in the context of the film he wanted to be a composer–that was his reality. He should have been a composer. Instead he taught, and as I recall he wasn’t always that great or impassioned a teacher. Teaching for him was the next best thing, the second choice, the imposed reality. His “real contribution” in his own head was always to have been the composition of music, which is what he agonized over throughout the film, struggling to produce that one sappy bit of schmaltz that was showcased at the end, when his working life was at an end. So the man sacrificed what he truly loved, struggled along as a teacher, and then at the end his students honor him by playing for him his one composition. Heartwarming. Still, that scene is so disgusting to me because he essentially failed in both spheres. His composition died on the vine and he was embittered by his teaching experience. It’s a lose-lose situation.

    And I will say this, too, though it may earn from you a double (maybe triple) shame: A classroom is not a holy of holies; it is not sacred ground; it is a snake pit where one must struggle with the asps of apathy, ennui, ignorance, arrogance, laziness, entitlement, and even outright stupidity, and where one must dedicate all one’s energies to people who (most of them) neither nor value, nor remember, nor even recognize the sacrifice one must make to share insight and knowledge. And I won’t even go into the warping of the soul of the educator, which grows mean and small with the exercise of authority and judgement over others’ lives and work. Though I can certainly find good things about teaching, I refuse to glorify it and I will not regret the day I walk away from my last classroom. The sigh of relief will be heard round the world.

    March 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm

  4. I think you have seriously misinterpreted the entire film, and find it a shame that you refuse to watch it again. As a point of fact that is shown throughout the film, Mr. Holland does work on composition. It is also made abundantly clear that his passion was music, first and foremost. He had gone from being a performer to being an educator with the idea that he could teach for four years, saving everything, and then he could devote his time to composition. But then a baby came along. He made the choice to continue teaching, and to pick up extra work in the summers. But he still continued to work on composition, because it was a project of his and something he did to take a break from more stressful activities.

    Also, at no point does the film suggest that he was embittered because he had to teach rather than compose. Nor was he embittered by his teaching experience. He hated his job initially, until he had a break-through in his class and discovered the joy of teaching. In the final scenes of the film, he fights with everything at his disposal to keep his position alive – the position of a music teacher. In short, the film portrays the story of a man who is passionate about music, and finds an outlet for sharing that passion through teaching.

    Concerning your complaints toward the profession in general, I will only state that my own experiences have been that what you describe as the rule has been the exception, instead. Clearly, your mileage varies.

    March 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm

  5. Yes, he works on his composition. He putters with it in his spare time. But you know he feels the futility of the situation. He has no time for it. Gradually, it diminishes in his life. That’s the whole point. Here is a man with a dream, a dream that was sucked away by the exigencies of life. Teaching (forgive me) is sloppy seconds (your term, if I recall a past conversation) to composition. And the way Dreyfus plays the character, you sense his frustrations throughout. He is never fulfilled, though he might be gratified with his work. He has essentially died on the vine. That little clip you posted with Olivia Dukakis shows very clearly he’s not even in the game. All I can tell you is the film struck a very raw nerve with me and I’ve never been able to leave it alone. It still irritates me thinking about it. By the way, it is this whole thing that also most irritates me about our mutual acquaintance (initials J.C.), who is in my view a living, breathing Mr. Holland. And as far as whether my experience is the rule or the exception, we’ll leave that conversation until you’ve taught 25 years and you have a better perspective on what you’re getting yourself into.

    Don’t take that last sentence the wrong way. I honor you for being a substitute teacher. I was a substitute teacher myself.

    March 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm

  6. And if you actually bothered to watch the movie again, you would know that he quickly understands what she means. Which is why he stops being a “stuck compass” who “hates that woman” and becomes the teacher that everyone loves.

    Once you’ve bothered to watch the movie again I’ll be willing to discuss it further.

    And sure, my opinion of the profession may change after I’ve been in it for 25 years, but I’ve been in the education system one way or another for 23 years now, and I base my experiences on all of those years, not just the three that I’ve been paid to be a part of it.

    March 24, 2011 at 6:23 pm

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