River Deep, Mountain High

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 06 2012

Airplane Analogies

A random thought occurred to me as I sat there waiting for my connecting flight to depart from Atlanta over break: on a bad day, teaching is a lot like what I’d guess is the least favorite part of an airline attendants job: reading and modeling safety guidelines. Hear me out on this one.

As the pleasant attendant demonstrated safety features critical to saving our lives in the event of an emergency, I observed that no one was paying attention! Why not? Well, we all feel we have heard this spiel before and although we probably didn’t really listen the first time, we don’t feel a sense of urgency because the likelihood of the information being relevant is very low. Furthermore, each individual passenger has a set of priorities that take precedence over what this well-groomed, but otherwise uniform authority has to say. I’d much rather talk to my neighbor, listen to my music, read something unrelated, or simply go to sleep. God forbid we actually have an emergency that requires prior knowledge and preparation!

Whoa! Wait a minute! This sounds a lot like teaching on a bad day. The students think they know all that you could possibly say and find little reason not to tune you out. “Oh, that’s a neat picture on your PowerPoint, Mr. B. Moving on…” You can stand and deliver your little first-year heart out, but it is to no avail. “Why won’t they listen!” you wail! “Don’t these kids realize this is a matter of life and death!?”

Well, no, they don’t.

For many of them, just getting on the plane is a matter of life and death. Having not eaten that morning, they’re waiting for you to finish, so they can get to the cafeteria. Moreover, to their credit, they probably have heard it all before because of your shoddy curriculum that rehashes the same topic repeatedly (albeit “more deeply”) rather than progressively advancing. Hmm…

As I returned to the Delta, via Delta, I noticed a nifty innovation on my largest connecting flight: TECHNOLOGY! Taking automation a step further, every seat was equipped with it’s own mini-LCD screen. When it came time for the safety announcement, these screens turned on and everyone’s screens played a recording featured a female and male attendant describing and modeling the safety procedures in great detail. I was fascinated but when I looked around I observed that people were paying even less attention to the video than they did a human being! So much for 1:1 instruction…

I’ll stop the airline analogies there for now (I’ll leave “charter jets” alone), but the bottom line appears to be this: we are trying to help students get to their destination, college, but it will be too late by the time students realize the perils of not making it to their destination. Tragedy strikes.

3 Responses

  1. katb

    This is so, so true. We do the same thing in PD or in grad classes – tune out the speaker – but my corps mates remind me that at least we do it without punching/hitting/screaming/crying or throwing things.

  2. This is an awesome analogy. I’d imagine that in case of emergency on a private/charter jet, others would lead you to safety while holding your hand. And then they’d serve you lunch.

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Remove Barriers, Raise the Bar

Mississippi Delta
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