by Dr Ben Stone
“Look mister, there are some rules that you’ve got to follow”
“Yeah, what kind of rules?”
“First of all, keep him out of the light, he hates bright light…Second, don’t give him any water, not even to drink…But the most important rule…never feed him after midnight.”
You’re probably wondering one of two things at this stage, depending on your knowledge of 1980s pop-culture:
- What on earth is this blog about?
- Why is this blog referencing Joe Dante’s 1984 comedy-horror cult film: Gremlins?
Prior to a recent teaching session, I was discussing with a colleague about how we felt the session may go: “I suppose you have always got to be prepared for the gremlins” I said, and we chuckled. We repeated the same phrase a few days later, realising that our wireless clicker had inexplicably reversed left and right. I can’t count the various mishaps that occurred in sessions I have witnessed: computers failing, tutors disappearing, printers misprinting, and the list goes on. Our instinctual cognitive reaction to all these events probably protects us from curling up into sobbing balls of human anxiety:
“That will never happen to me!”
I recently wrote another blog “From taught to teacher: the dark side of the moon” in which I introduced myself as a Foundation Year 2 trainee, preparing a teaching session on Prescribing Safety. Like we should with all sessions, see this blog as the debrief; an epilogue to the prologue. As you may have anticipated already, it did not all go to plan.
As Edward Jenner and Randall Peltzer, of smallpox and Gremlins fame respectively, both teach us: prevention is key. On the day of my session delivery I had prepped my facilitators, adjusted my clinical hours and organised my printing materials into one electronic folder. However, I had not prepared for the actions of those photophobic, hydrophilic and nocturnal hyperphagic beings. No, not the students.
The first mishap occurred 25 minutes before the start of the session; a facilitator emailed in unwell. A vital component to my session was to have facilitators for each group to answer questions and, well, facilitate. I am fortunate to have colleagues willing to step in at the last minute, but this meant the countdown to showtime was spent trying to condense two hours of material into a 20-minute rundown. The Gremlin of others.
The second occurred 25 minutes into the start of the session. “Is this everybody for today?” A familiar question for regular teachers. The need to appropriately introduce students to a session vs having enough time to deliver your material. The devilish realisation that you wasted the 20 minutes you spent prepping the extra facilitator that is no longer needed. The Gremlin of time.
The third occurred shortly after that. A face at the door.
“Sorry, I’ve actually booked this room”
“’Sorry, I’ve actually booked this room,’ who?”
Like a punchline delivered by an overexuberant parent at a teenage house party, it had me in tears. The room, seemingly booked on an eternal rolling reservation, had been available on the booking system and utilised for other means. Whilst we could fortunately share the room space, I no longer had use of the computer. The Gremlin of technology, the Gremlin of misfortune and the Gremlin of “…” all at once.
Gizmo is the name of the original mogwai gifted to the protagonist in ‘Gremlins’, whom, despite the actions of his kin, never becomes mischievous or ultimately murderous. It would have been very easy for this string of mishaps to derail the session completely, like the mogwai upon Kingston Falls, but that never happened. It was at this stage I appreciated the journey here, to the dark side of the moon. It wasn’t perfect, but the materials and content I had prepared could be utilised by the students. It was adaptable. I learnt that even when it looks like everything is going wrong, there will still be something right: not every Gizmo becomes a Gremlin.
In the final moments of Dante’s film, Randall gives the following advice:
“If your air conditioner goes on the fritz, or your washing machine blows up, or your video recorder conks out, before you call the repairman, turn on all the lights, check all the closets and cupboards, look under all the beds, ‘cause you can never tell. There just might be a gremlin in your house”
It is many months since I first made that prescribing error. I have learnt about educational theory. I have learnt about human error. I have learnt that teaching is not just about turning up on the day, with your colleague’s slides and hoping to “wing it”. I have even learnt about fictional villains from 80s cult films. But most importantly, I have learnt that there is always more to learn in the educational sphere. So, in true reflective fashion, what are my three things to take away from this day?
Be prepared. Be adaptable. But most importantly:
Don’t let Gizmos become Gremlins.