Monday, December 26, 2005

Pushing the Button

As I landed in Columbus a few days go, I found myself unable to resist my superstitious act of raising my feet off of the floor just before the plane touched down. A friend of mine taught me to do this when I was eight years old; she told me it would help the plane land safely and gently. I have done it on every plane ride ever since, even after my high school and college physics classes verified that the weight of my two feet could never impact the landing of a Boeing 747. Yet, at the age of 28, I cannot stop my feet from rising into the air as the ground rises to meet me.

This time as I landed, I thought of the show Lost. A month or so ago an episode aired in which the main character, Jack, discovers an underground cove that has been housing an ongoing science experiment for years. The sole remaining "guardian" of this experiment has to push a button every 700 minutes (I can't remember the exact amount of time). He does this because he was instructed to do so by a video; he has no idea what the button does, or what will happen if he fails to push it. When he meets Jack, he runs away, leaving Jack to take over the task. At first, Jack finds it ridiculous to push a button that may be meaningless, and it becomes clear that science experiment may simply be a test of human nature--how far will we go to protect ourselves from the unknown? When does habit take control of our reactions and decisions? I wonder how many times I "push the button"...what do I do out of habit, or out of fear of the unknown? What do I do in my profession solely because I did it that way last year? Sometimes I feel passionately about things that I keep from my students for fear that I'll fail, for fear that I'll somehow lose a piece of something I love. I hate to fail, and and I absolutely hate to be out of control. Perhaps this is also why I raise my feet--it makes me feel like I'm playing an active part in landing the plane. Because of our team, I keeping trying more and more new things in the classroom, and though they've gone well, I know that something's going to fail at some point. The hard part for me will be to try it again, knowing that it might fail again, instead of falling back into my safety net. Not that everything old is bad--it's just that I need to keep questioning myself.

Luckily, our students seem to be game for change.

Unluckily, at the end of the show, Jack pushes the button.


Blogger Barbara S. said...

Failure? Yes, some things we do (or are going to do) will not work the way we think it ought to work. But then, we get up and try it again. I always tell my students when they are problem solving, if you get to a dead end, turn around and walk back and try another street. It would be easy to fall back into our "old routines" but as a group I hope we can support each other when the tough times come and push each other to move forward. Sometimes it is two steps forward, one step back...but we will progress!!!

9:25 PM  
Blogger Karl Fisch said...

Certainly that's a lot of what this project is about - reexamining the assumptions we have been making about teaching and learning and about what we have "always done" and see if they hold up under closer examination. But I do think there is a significant difference between you and Jack (other than salary) - I can't imagine that you push the button very often without thinking about why you are doing it.

Yes, I imagine you sometimes stick with something that is safe and controllable when you have a new idea that might work better, but might also end up in disaster. But even when you do, what you're sticking with is probably not horrible, and most likely pretty good. Jack is pushing the button without knowing why he is pushing the button, out of fear of the unknown. You are pushing the button out of fear that trying something different won't work as well and will negatively impact your students. I think that's a world of difference.

You're 28. Assuming you stick with this profession until retirement (please say you will), then you have the equivalent of your current lifetime ahead of you of teaching. When you worry about failing or losing something you love, think about the idea of teaching the same way you always have for the next 28 years. Do you think that your safety net is going to feel very comfortable for that long - or will it start to sag and fray and eventually the cords will break and you will plummet to the circus ring below?

Yes, sometimes you will fail when you try something new, but your students will love you for it. Because you'll acknowledge the failure, and you'll ask them what you should try differently next time, and then you will go out and try again. And they will both respect and love you for that - and they will be the better for you trying new things, even though some of them fail.

So keep questioning what you are doing and why you are doing it, and whether there might be a better way, but don't question yourself.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Barbara S. said...

Yeah, exactly! Karl, you said it like it is!

8:18 PM  

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