Don’t Fear the Reaper

Anytime you’re about to do something stupid courageous, a special moment exists. In this moment all the negative thoughts and fears go out the window and the only vision that you see is you reaching the goal flawlessly. Courage requires that you take action in that moment and hope for the best. In my own life I’ve worked on being able to take the leap in that moment and I’ve enjoyed the benefits of that mindset everyday as a teaching.

As a young kid, I remember being afraid of heights. I recall once not walking close to the edge of the viewing platform of Multnomah Falls because I simply couldn’t bear to look over the edge. However, sometime after that in my life, I found that jumping off ledges produced excitement. I began to take more and more risks while skiing. The small jumps I’d hit became forty foot table tops, and then eventually cliffs in the back-country. This newfound sense of adventure spilled over into other aspects of my life. I began to take up rock climbing and soon found myself climbing up to the edge of the cliff and rappelling down. Bridges over rivers and lakes soon became a challenge to conquer during the summer months. While on a trip in New Zealand, I accomplished one of my life goals and went bungee jumping. This transformation took time, but in every instance it took emphasizing the moment of clarity, and downplaying the fears in my own mind.

Each day as teachers we make approximately ten thousand decisions. According to recent studies, only air traffic controllers make more in a given workday. In each one of those decisions we have options about how we should proceed. There is always the way that gives into fear. If you are afraid that the student will flip out when you try to take the cell phone, you may just ignore it and say you’ll do something later. Or there is the middle ground of just saying to put it away. The route that we all know we should go would require us to take the cell phone away from the child because that is what we said we’d do at the beginning of the year. In that moment, your brain processes all this different scenarios and eventually you make a decision. Our decisions usually come down to in the moment snap judgments and we must train ourselves to not go the route of fear.

I am always cognizant of fear in my own life. Fear may underline realistic negative outcomes. When I go to the mountain in winter, the reality exists that the next cliff I jump off could have an avalanche zone below it, a rock in the landing zone, or I could end up off balance and land terribly wrong. However, because of this fear I take action prior to making the decision. We always have someone scout the landing zone first to ensure its safety. Additionally, I am well aware of the height of a cliff that I can handle based upon my own skill. This helps minimize the fear with rational behaviors.

As teachers, we must be highly aware of the fears we face on a daily basis. All teachers fear fights, ugly language, a lesson getting destroyed, or student failure on a daily basis. Beyond that we have vindictive administrations, inept policy makers reviewing our work, and pressure to make our classrooms look the way somebody else thinks they should look. The worst thing we can do is think that we are alone in these fears. First year teachers seem to think that veteran teachers or their peers have it all together and don’t deal with these issues. We all deal with these things, and thus we can minimize fear with rational behavior and positive preparation.

I wish teaching were as easy as jumping off a cliff. Unfortunately, these social fears tend to be much more paralyzing than any physical fear. Consider me, the death-defying free-skiier who jumps over precipes without a second thought and still gets tongue-tied when confronted by the cute brunette with the curls at the bar. The only explanation is that there are different facets to fear. The only courage that it takes to jump off a cliff is a complete disregard for your own body. To take a social plunge, however, requires that you put yourself as a person on display and face the ultimate fear of rejection. As teachers, we face this everyday from our students. We are constantly trying to sell a product whose benefits our students probably won’t fully realize for many years to come. Ultimately, we’re afraid that the short-term struggles will overwhelm the long-term benefits. To ease this, we need to work together to take proactive steps to ease our fear so that when the moment comes we all have the stupidity courage to take the plunge for our students’ benefit.

–John Harlow

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1 Comment

Filed under John Harlow

One response to “Don’t Fear the Reaper

  1. CollegeStudent

    Hi, I started reading ULOT a couple weeks ago and would like to comment how much I’ve enjoyed it, especially this article. The different facets of fear is something I definitely agree with as well as the fear of rejection.

    Also, awesome how you jump off cliffs and rock climb.

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