The Zamboni Factor – An Olympic Lesson for Teachers of Children by Todd R. NelsonBy Todd R. Nelson
Snoopy knew the answer: Why is it a chore to shovel snow off the driveway, but clearing snow off the skating rink (or four-square court, or removing snow for fort building) is a pleasure?
One winter day when I arrived at school, four kindergartners were eagerly clearing a mere dusting of snow off of our playground basketball court. They were doing quite nicely with only a couple of sticks that had been converted into “plows.” But then I offered them real shovels. They got a special gleam in their eyes. It was tool time. It was a promotion. Three shovels were fetched in short order and the team went to work. Real tools make it real work and elevate the worker to professional status.
This is “The Zamboni Factor.”
Kids actually compete for the chance to clear snow off of any prime play surface. And who hasn’t shared Snoopy’s fascination with the big machine that resurfaces the hockey rink? Witness the Seoul Olympics with professional ice groomers imported from the United States—with their Zambonis.
No game can take place until the zamboni has prepared the way, which means the zamboni driver is The Man. In some ways, it’s a more inviting role than playing goalie or center forward. On the elementary level, everyone wants to take the beveled shovel and walk back and forth across any piece of ice, methodically clearing the surface for the waiting players. The shovel driver is The Man.
Part of the principle at work is the fact that snow removal is a chore, while “zamboni/shovel” driving is a job. It’s official work, a community service, practically requiring a uniform, training, and fullfledged union membership and licensure. It is a role on which others depend, and, of course, involves specialized equipment. Being The Man, trumps working for The Man. I see a correspondence therein to many of life’s little tasks. It extends beyond snow removal and ice resurfacing…and school.
The professional literature on the zamboni factor contains several subcategories that may sound familiar to kids at my school. Research shows, for instance, exactly why running the vacuum cleaner and helping with the dishes in the school kitchen are such attractive jobs (note: not chores). Even students who hide under their beds at the slightest parental suggestion to vacuum their bedrooms are the first to volunteer when classroom mess requires a canister vacuum cleaner operator and long hoses and attachments. Students who suddenly claim mountains of homework more pressing than doing the dishes at home, will jump for the yellow gloves when our cook needs assistants after lunch service in the clean up area. There may be more to it than wearing the official yellow rubber gloves.
The zamboni factor is more than some sleight of hand that gives profound meaning to ordinary tasks. The power isn’t just in the tool. I think it signifies the meaning we seek in tasks, the link between good work and good works: taking pride in the work we do, and being offered work that feels valued.
Sometimes, for young workers like our students, it simply means tweaking the perception of work by a few degrees to create a job. One could learn about physics and the laws of gravity by studying equations on paper. But how much better to set up an incline plane in Mr. McWeeny’s classroom and start the NASCAR of marble runs.
The golden section might remain a rather abstract geometric concept, until it allows you to draw an intellectual connection between the Parthenon and the White House or, heck, the local municipal Library. Tool belts everyone! Now we’re drivin’ the “zamboni.” Concepts turn into public works.
Once the ice rink out back of school was frozen good and solid, we saw even more zamboni drivers at work. It never fails. It’s good work, if you can get it. Good jobs attract good workers, and we’ve got ‘em. And no one plays while the person driving the “zamboni” is getting an important job done. Huzzah for the zamboni drivers! We’re hiring. Form a line behind Snoopy.
Todd R. Nelson is a former Maine school principal who has spent a lot of time watching the Olympics. Guess his favorite event. And just why is no one medaling in Zamboni driving?