This summer, I saw my life unfold on the silver screen — yes, my life has been adapted into a feature film. The flattering part of it was that when it came to casting, the executives at Disney spared no expense when choosing who could play me. Some of you may have seen it with your families on at theatres: The Jungle Cruise starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is a retelling of my life as a Jungle Cruise Skipper at Walt Disney World in 2010 — or atleast, that’s what I’ve been telling myself ever since production began.
For a brief period of time I was a tour guide down the Amazon, Congo, Nile, and Mekong Rivers all while entertaining hundreds of guests daily with puns. It was a really great time, and I can’t think of a Boulder attraction; I never took my time there for Granite; Oh wait… I forgot, the formations were Sandstone.
Orlando was the first time I remember being paid to make a fool of myself — a natural precursor to the world of teaching.
Because of this experience, and other times I’ve taken to a microphone, people are quick to assume I am free with my expression and opinions. I have no problem talking to others, and I am happy to be “put on the spot.” But, even a professional fool worries about how others perceive him. It’s one thing to be paid to perform a script where the character is a fool — it’s another thing altogether if people actually think that I am a fool.
I do not come up with great or creative answers when I am “on-the-spot” or if I am making a first impression. I like rehearsal; I like thinking time, and I like to feel confident when I’m revealing myself or expressing my opinion.
This year, more than any other, I’ve been so aware of students needing processing time, practicing time, and delicate approaches. At my school, during our teacher prep week, I heard many other teachers reminding each other and me that we need “low-risk” activities. It’s a valuable note in 2021. Some students are returning for the first time in about 18 months to in-person school.
A low risk activity is something that likely won’t embarrass or expose our students. The term implies that we’re not forcing students to be performatively vulnerable in the name of “bonding.” An example I saw of this was when teaching our student tour guides to play a game called “Eleven.” In a group of four, students would all reveal with their fingers a 1, 2, 3 or 5 — hoping their group totals 11. It’s random, it’s silly, everyone hopes to win. It is low risk because no one has to expose their opinions or personal information. They still laugh, form memories, and grow comfortable with one another, but there’s little risk of embarrassment or judgment.
Concepts like this can be implemented throughout our classrooms – and not just during boding times. We can and should be cognizant of the level of ‘risk’ our students are enduring when we ask them to perform academic tasks. Students may not be revealing personal opinions, but they still may be anxious about sharing what they got for ‘question 7’ on any worksheet.
We can incorporate low-risk behaviors by any number of options. Ranging from not grading work at all to allowing students to rehearse their presentation with a small group first, we can all take extra steps to keep things “low-risk.”
Our most outgoing students, and our introverted students alike can benefit from teachers being cognizant of this anxiety.
I think back to my days on the dock of the Amazon River – it was the time of my life and something I am eternally grateful I did; however, I know for certain that if I was asked to show up and make up puns without practice, time to memorize a script, or weeks of training, it would have been an utter disaster.
In an unprecedented school year with an unpredictable path ahead, we owe it to our students to think deeper about how we do everything, how and when we ask questions, and take a moment to empathize with their nerves. We must set them up for success by letting them feel at ease.
If you enjoyed this blog today, my name was Skipper James, and this was brought to you by The World Famous Jungle Cruise; if you didn’t… My name was Dwayne, and you can process your complaint with Mickey Mouse.