Physical Space

Scary Stories from the Art Room (Ep. 115)

It is Halloween, and Nic is here with one of her scariest stories from her teaching career. (WARNING: You may want to skip this one if you don’t like blood.) Listen as she tells how her own scary story improved her teaching and eventually made her school a safer place for everyone. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: Today is October 31st, 2019, Halloween. We are going to talk about the scary stories of the art room and yeah, there’s plenty of scary stories. But I am going to warn you ahead of time. If you get weak to your knees when you see or hear about blood, this is not the episode for you. You might want to just, you know, wait until next week for the next one. But if you can get through a gory story, there is a nugget of truth at the very end of this podcast that you might be able to use in your classroom. I encourage you to listen if you so dare. This is Nic Hahn and this is Everyday Art Room.

The year was 2002 and I had just finished up my first year of teaching at a high school in Kiel, Wisconsin. This was the end of my time with Kiel actually because I was going to teach summer school one more year and then my husband and I were going to move to Minnesota. So I took this job because it was available to me, but unfortunately, my fiance, who was also a teacher at Kiel was released due to budget cuts. So he, over the summer, decided to take a job back home where he was going to work on construction and then he was going to move to Minnesota to start a construction management job. So he left education altogether. I, on the other hand, was in love with education and was going to seek out other jobs as soon as I got to Minnesota. But for the time being, I was going to teach summer school.

I was really excited because it was the first time that I was going to be able to work with elementary on my own. This was going to be a lot of fun and I had a lot of plans for them. But very sad because it was the last time that I was going to see my fiance before we got married. He was going to show up and two days later we were going to get married at the end of the summer. I was very sad because this was the last day that I was able to spend with my dear beloved.

So what does one do? Well, one packs an amazing lunch, a picnic lunch to be exact, with meats and cheeses and fruit and a little champagne. I just had to make a couple of jobs happen before summer school was to happen and so I went into school. I was the only one in the building as far as teachers go, but there was a secretary in the front of the school who was there as well.

I drove my car there. Had my picnic lunch right in the back. We were going to meet up, Tim and I, in an hour. So I had a lot of work to do and a little time. I let myself in with my keys and realized I had all the keys in the house. I had my husband’s keys as well as mine. But no worries. I’m going to go back and pick him up in just a little bit. Amongst all of the jobs that I had to do to prepare was a pile, a huge pile of paper that I wanted to cut down to the right size. I was working on this diligently when I was looking at the time and realizing I’m running out of time. I need to go so that I can have this beautiful lunch with my husband. Well, fiance.

I started cutting and cutting and cutting. And then I thought, well, yeah, this was going well, but maybe if I take a few more sheets, it’ll go a little faster. Well, this required my whole body weight. So now I’m standing on my tiptoes and crushing it down. It was going through and cutting okay, let’s say. The next pile I added just a few more and I knew this was going to take a lot more bodyweight to make it go all the way down. I held my hand down tight to hold the paper in place. I use my entire body weight and pushed down as hard as I possibly can.

Unfortunately, my thumb was over the guard. The paper cutter did indeed stop, but it was only because it was cutting my thumb. I didn’t know what had happened right away, so I looked around the room and grabbed the first thing that I could find and that was a rag, a clay rag, and I put it over my thumb. I then walked over to the office and attempted a phone call. I called home where my husband … Fiance. He was a fiance at this time. My fiance picked up the phone and said, “What happened? Okay, I’ll be there right away.” That’s when I realized I had both of the car keys. He had no way to get to me. I called him back and then I said, “Hey hun, I’m going to go up to the front and I’m going to get the secretary. We’ll see. I’ll see what I can do. I’m cut. I don’t know what to do.” I was panicking by this time.

Unfortunately, the art room was on the other side of the school, so I had a very long walk. As I was walking down the hallway, my sight began to narrow. Black started filling in the sides of my eyes and I was feeling woozy. Eventually, I did make it all the way down to the office where I asked the secretary if she could possibly help me. “Absolutely,” she said. She threw her chair back and went and got her keys to her car. She ran out into the parking lot. By this time I was feeling very, very woozy and she asked me to get in. She pulled the car right up. We got on the road and I was only about five miles from my home. We decided to go to my home rather than the doctor’s office. I had both keys with me this time. As we started driving down the road, I saw this giant man and he was running away from us. I look closely and I said, “Hey, I think … I think that’s Tim. I think that’s Tim. Can we stop and pick him up?” Sure enough, it was Tim.

He was extremely out of breath. What he decided to do was run to me. He was going to get on the road and run the five miles to come find me. About halfway through he realized, “Wait, what if she tries to call?” This was before cell phones. So, therefore, he decided to turn around and run back. Now if you’ve met my husband, you would know he is not a runner, so this was 100% out of love. He got in the car huffing and puffing and was very concerned. The secretary did drop us off at our house and I still had not looked at my thumb. I turned my head and I asked him to take a look. “Do you think I need stitches?” I asked. He took a big gulp and said, “Yeah. You know what? I think we will go into the doctor. Let’s just … Yeah, let’s go get that checked out.”

We got in the car and headed right to our local doctor who is actually a parent of one of my students. He looked at my thumb too. I still have not. He said, “Yeah, we’re going to need some work on this. So I’m actually going to give you some medicine to help you calm down just a little bit and we’ll get started on this.” Wow. Whatever he gave me was absolutely amazing. I was joking in no time, still not looking at my thumb. Talking about his daughter and school and summer school and our upcoming wedding. Life was good.

He continued during this time to work on my thumb. It turns out my thumb was not only cut, but almost cut off. It was just hanging there. Oh, I told you. I told you this was going to be a gory story. It was hanging there just by the meat on the other opposite side of the cut. The bone was completely broke in half and my thumbnail was split as well. He sewed it back together and put an entire large, so large, gauze on it. He couldn’t cast it or anything like that because it was an open wound as well. So I walked out of there with a giant gauzed thumb and a beautiful picnic and my husband, fiance, and I did enjoy that picnic where I just giggled the entire time.

The thumb thing did become quite an issue over the summer. I mean I still had summer school and I had to teach all students with a big giant gauze on my hand and I wasn’t able to wash dishes. And of course at that time, being so young and new to the world, I didn’t have a dishwasher. So I brought in my sister. Still owe her big time. I had to go to my bachelorette party with a tiara on my head and a giant thumb giving everybody a thumbs-up covered in gauze and having to hold it up above my heart so that the blood would flow correctly. I don’t know. There was some reason I needed to hold my thumb up above my heart at all times, or most of the time. I was also on pain medication at the time, so there was no celebration with liquids that were offered to me. But there was a big thumbs up given to everybody. Yeah.

And you know that picture that you have to take, well at least 20 years ago, when you do get married, you have that one picture of close up of the hands and the rings that are now united? Well, that picture was quite interesting as well. My thumb, by miracle and that amazing doctor at Kiel, Wisconsin did indeed stay connected. I didn’t lose my thumb completely. However, my thumbnail does have two nails that grow out of it. It cut through the nail bed and I have two nails that grow at different rates. I have to wear nail polish a lot of the time to try to keep the two nails from splitting and causing infection. So I guess there’s one advantage when I do have two truths and a lie that I play with a getting to know you game, two truths and a lie. I can always say I have 10 fingers and 11 fingernails. I don’t know. I’d rather have a thumb intact, I guess.

So let’s fast forward to current day where I am part of a Facebook group, and I’m sure many of you are as well, of art educators. There’s several different groups. One for the middle school, one for the elementary, one for the high school, one in general, and every so often someone will post a picture of their broken thumb and how they had cut off their finger or cut their finger in some way on that stinking paper cutter. I’m telling you, this is a disaster. Every single time that post goes up, there are 20, 30, 50 other art teachers that post the same thing, send pictures of their missing thumb or their broken thumb. Tell their stories of how they too cut their finger on the paper cutter.

This is not a unique story to me. This is an art education hazard. And there’s actually quite a few hazards in art education. The Art Of Ed University has some articles on this. When I type in safety onto their website, they have everything from clay and kiln safety. Jessica Balsley, actually quite a few years ago, did a little video, paper cutter hazards and how to keep your classroom safer. She also has everything from … She did another article on safety tips for pregnant teachers and lots of ways to use hazardous materials such as Exacto knives with your students or just printmaking tips and tricks just to keep that safety involved in your classroom. So buzz over there, check out safety tips from the Art Of Education University.

But that’s where this story is leading us. See, the most recent time that I saw a post on Facebook, I noticed that there was again several art teachers that had the same thing. And I was frustrated because I know that there are paper cutters out there that are completely safe. Completely safe. And where we would not have this issue with cutting our fingers off. And good for you guys that never cut your finger off. I’m proud of you. Way to go. Safety first. But I, on the other hand, feel that this is super important. So what I did was I screenshot whole bunch of pictures from this conversation that was going on amongst our teachers and I decided to send it to not just my principal or my curriculum person. I did send it to them as well. But in our school, and I think in many schools, we have a health and safety person. This health and safety person has funds for safety in the school environment. It’s different funds. It has to be for safety.

So I wrote this woman and I said, “Hey, take a look at these pictures. I want to show you this. And this is a common thing. Look at how many people have said on this one thread that they’ve had this issue as well.” I truly was expecting no response whatsoever, but that’s not what happened. I gave a solution as well. I gave a link to the paper cutter that I would recommend that would be more safe. It is expensive. But it cuts through an entire ream of paper in one easy swipe. Yeah. Yeah. You heard me right. 500 sheets of copy paper. Boom. Just like that. I usually do 250. But that’s two cuts instead of the hundreds that we have to do all the time.

So this paper cutter was sent to her as a solution and she replied and said, “Huh, that is a concern. How many schools would need this?” Well, I thought about it and I thought really every school, because we send out papers all the time to parents and every school uses paper cutters on a regular basis. We have volunteers who just sit there and cut paper sometimes. We all need it. So I shot for the stars, right? And suggested that every school have one in their main office. She wrote back and said, “Okay.”

So this extremely amazing paper cutter is going to be in the main office in a common area of every 20 schools that we have in ISD 728 to keep their staff safe. Now, this does not replace the old time paper cutter, but what it does do is it allows us to be more efficient with the big projects that we have to do for cutting the paper. And for the small cuttings, we can just use our normal paper cutter. But we aren’t trying to so much through and causing problems with safety.

This story was brought to you not only to have a scary story from The Art Room on October 31st, but also to give you fresh eyes. Look around your room. What needs a safety address? What can you do to change your habits with the paper cutter? Who can you bring in to see your concerns with safety in your classroom? Do you have a health and safety person that you can go to? If so, invite them in. Show them your concerns and then come up with a solution. Quite possibly, there is money dedicated to safety for your classroom. And if so, that means that you can have a safer environment without pulling money out of your valuable budget that you have set aside for your students and their materials.

On a final note for today, with this podcast, we always like to provide lots of links for you to get more information. Today on this podcast, you can check out the link that brings you to Mini Matisse, where I wrote a post all about the paper cutter that I was referring to. I even have a video of how I use it and how easily it works and how safe it is. All right, enjoy and I will see you same place, same time next week on Everyday Art Room.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.