Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lessons from Feeny: You're Your Own Enemy

We recently got a lot of snow so we yet again had snow days and yet again I decided to binge watch on Boys Meets World which means I am getting more lessons on teaching from Feeny.

In the 5th season, there is an episode titled "The Eskimo." The premise of the episode is that Feeny gets very annoyed that Shawn is doing nothing his senior year because "he has learned it all," Corey won't stop trying to take care of him, and Topanga won't stop butting into the boys' lives. He gives them all their own assignments: Shawn must get Super Bowl tickets, Topanga must butt out of the boys' lives, and Corey is to make sure they all succeed. If they don't complete these assignments, they will fail. This proves to be a nearly impossible task.

Shawn almost is able to get the tickets by standing out in the cold but is beaten by an Eskimo. They assume the message is that "as long as we try we will be fine." So they go back to Feeny with this message and he asks where the Super Bowl tickets are. The gang becomes frustrated and try to figure out what Feeny is actually trying to teach them. Shawn realizes that at every point in his life, there has been "an Eskimo" in his way and he has always given into the fact that his hardship will win. He is determined to prove Feeny wrong and says he is going to San Diego (they are in Philly) to get the tickets. Corey tries to stop him because it is crazy but Shawn tells him to get out of the way and Corey does. 

Corey and Topanga report back to Feeny that they failed because Shawn went even though they said for him not to. Feeny smiles and tells them 

"Shawn isn't going to go to college and succeed because you want him to. He has to want to and believe that he can. And the only way he can do that is on his own." ~Feeny
"Then why did you want me to help him?" ~ Corey
"You need to know that you won't always be able to" ~Feeny
"Yeah, pretty soon we're all going to have to do stuff on our own without someone's help. Right Mr. Feeny? I think I know why you're going to keep giving us assignments until our last day with you." ~Topanga
"You're butting in Ms. Lawrence." ~ Feeny
"So fail me. That's life." ~Topanga
"But you won't be perfect anymore" ~Feeny
"No one should be perfect. Besides, you learn from failure." ~Topanga

Feeny shows the group that although you love your friends, what is stopping you from truly growing is yourself. Topanga is frightened about not being perfect and this desire for perfection causes her to never learn since she never makes mistakes. Corey learns that he is preventing his best friend from growing by trying to take care of him and Shawn learns that he is the only one standing in his way.

This is a lesson that is very difficult for high school students to learn. They are constantly hounded by their parents that they aren't perfect so they strive for it to the point where that is all they know. This prevents them from ever actually learning a lesson because the idea of failure is so frightening to them that they refuse to take any risks. They are the students that get super upset when they don't get an "A" on their paper. They are so upset that they get angry instead of learning from it. They don't come to ask me how to get the "A" they just complain that it was too hard and give up. Which then moves them into the second group of students. 

If they don't strive for perfection, they do the opposite and say "well, I will never achieve anything because I'm not good" so they become their own worst enemy. Many times I've talked to a student that was failing and they say "I"m just not good at English." I have to look at them and say "How do you know when you don't try?" They shrug and say "I have never been good so why try?"

How do you as a teacher fight this? The years of perfection or the years of being told they are not good? Sadly, there does not seem to be one single good way of doing this because Mr. Feeny is correct; they can only learn that on their own. The best you can do is keep pushing them and believing in them which is a difficult balance. You need to not accept the excuses but you need to tell them "you can do. I know you can." One day, it will click with them. Sometimes it will take two years of pushing them, like one of my students that I taught two years in a row, or sometimes it will only take a few short months. Either way, once they can see that they can do it, they will forever believe it. You just can't give up on them.

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