The End of Everything

Teaching is a complicated mess of ideologues, pedagogues, and demagogues. Across this great country are a panoply of public, private, charter, magnet, and assorted other types of bodies of education focused on any number of ideas on how to teach and educate the ages of one to eighteen. My future boss at the alternative high school here has a saying about taking on the things that need doing – imagine the thing that needs doing is an big ol’ elephant. In order to deal with the elephant in the room (or wherever depending on how you’re waxing your metaphors) you have to eat the elephant. And in order to do that, you have to take each bite and work through it, moving on to the next bite as soon as you’ve mastered the last being patient enough to know that eventually you’ll eat the blasted elephant. It’s just going to take time.

To wit – in the last thirty or so years the focus on changing the lumbering behemoth elephant of education has shifted (if we were ever there in the first place) from taking it bite by bite to Frankenstein-ing our way through it by genetically modifying its offspring to fit each creators vision of change in education.

Copyright Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

What we’ve done is pulled a Calvin and Hobbes with a Transmogrifier until we’d duplicated so many genetically modified pedagogical ideological demagogical elephants that we’ve lost track of the one we’d started to eat/take bites from and the amount of elephants in the room has overwhelmed all of our senses (the smell – can you imagine?) to the point where we just don’t know where to go but maybe the ways we’ve done it before will still work or if we pay this consultant to fix it or we go to this conference like cattle that’ll fix the duplicating pachyderms. The cycle is self serving and self destructive but we in education keep doing it because we see no way out. It’s too complicated, it’s too much, and we can’t fix it.

I would argue that’s not entirely true. You see, I’m 37 years old. I’ve been around the sun nearly 38 times and I’ve found in those long 365 days around the blazing ball of energy that we often trip ourselves up in the complications and the complexity of the issue. That we look at the elephant and go, “You want me to eat that thing? You crazy!” I was talking to one of my fellow educators in my district this last week and he said something that stuck in my mind’s craw. He was mentioning how the idea of massive and systemic change in education has become the thing to crow about doing in our buildings but that we deceive ourselves (much like the men, elves, and dwarves in Lord of the Rings did with their rings of ‘power’) in thinking that if one or two teachers do it, we’re in the clear. That we can stamp our halls as changed. That if our True North was remodeling everything we do, we’d never stop in one classroom. That we’d get a metaphorical (and literal if we needed) wrecking ball and swing that sucker at just about everything we do.

He said to me, “This is not the end of everything, just the end of everything you know.” I look at the educators I’ve worked with both in field placement, student teaching, and now in my second year of teaching – and he’s not wrong when we think it is the end of everything. It’s the way its been done, why change it? That going 1:1 is too much. That throwing the desks out of the room is too much. That remodeling the room with different kinds of seating is expensive and cluttered. That flipping the room is something we need to wait until next year to think about. That dimming the lights and flipping on some lamps is just going to make kids sleepy.

What if we took a step back and realized that we’ve gone as far as we can on our own knowledge. Accept that that is not a bad thing. That we all only have so much within us to contribute before we must put our hands hesitantly on the wrecking ball controls and swing for the fences. That the future of teaching, of education, of classroom management, of student relationship building, of student work, of student and staff motivation, of classroom and building culture, of everything we do – is there for us to leap into with wild abandon.

That this kind of remodeling does not mean you trash what you just smashed. Remodeling means you use the pieces you had before to add in the new knowledge that you didn’t know. Risk is inevitable in life. Captain James T. Kirk said it best in an episode “Return to Tomorrow” of Star Trek: The Original Series. He said,

KIRK: They used to say if man could fly, he’d have wings. But he did fly. He discovered he had to. Do you wish that the first Apollo mission hadn’t reached the moon, or that we hadn’t gone on to Mars and then to the nearest star? That’s like saying you wish that you still operated with scalpels and sewed your patients up with catgut like your great-great-great-great-grandfather used to. I’m in command. I could order this. But I’m not because, Doctor McCoy is right in pointing out the enormous danger potential in any contact with life and intelligence as fantastically advanced as this. But I must point out that the possibilities, the potential for knowledge and advancement is equally great. Risk. Risk is our business. That’s what the starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.

Star Trek: TOS “Return to Tomorrow”

In many ways, our classrooms should be like the USS Enterprise under Kirk command – willing to see what lies beyond in the unknown of the Final Frontier – and accept that we have no idea what will be there when we arrive. That we are willing to discover, and learn in order to start knowing something new and different through the exploration of new frontiers in education. When we think about the Original Series and that iconic five year mission to explore, “strange new worlds”, I have to wonder if in some respects we lose that in education. That drive to step into the unknown, the uncomfortable, and the new. I wonder if we could learn to do that in our rooms, our teams, our buildings, and eventually our districts.

I do have to be honest – this isn’t a new idea. Plenty of folks out there in the teaching, educating, and more world have been preaching and beseeching this for quite some time. I think we’re constantly approaching a crossroads in education as educators – we chose to hang a left, or a right…but most times we chose to keep on going the well worn road we’re trucking down. I feel like the conversation I had with my fellow teacher has me pumping the brakes on my metaphorical motor so that when I see that crossroads, I won’t blink and miss it. That I won’t be speeding past trying to keep up, get it done, and feel that feeling that I’m doing the right thing.

That I’ll start muttering, ” “This is not the end of everything, just the end of everything I know,” when I roll to a stop at those crossroads. That I’ll take the risk in turning left or right. That I’ll make the risk my business. My students deserve to have things done differently. That we can, as a class, take those risks together.

It’s going to be an interesting drive from here on out. You can accept, adapt, reject, or wrestle with this content as you see fit – I’ll never say I know it all, or that I know the one way to do any of this. You’re not alone in your travels, friends. I’ll be right there with you.

I’m going to close this post out with a song from Alanis Morissette. The song is, “Hand in my Pocket”. I did some digging around for the meaning because as I was finishing this post the song just really stuck with me. Synderella over at Songmeanings.com had a perspective – and I’ve decided to adopt it. They said,

Hand in my pocket = symbolizes hesitation, apathy, indifference, disengagement, reservation, misgivings, fear

The other one is…
giving a high five
flicking a cigarette
giving a peace sign
playing the piano
hailing a taxicab
= all symbolizes the openness and enthusiasm to experience and seize what life has to offer

Even with the all the uncertainty of the hand in pocket, as long as the other hand is doing all these things above, everything is going to be just fine, fine, fine.

Synderella, Songmeanings.com

So, with all the uncertainty of the risks ahead – everything is going to be just fine, fine, fine. First time I’ve ever connected with an Alanis song, but I’ll take it.

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