After reading my recent article “People, not Passwords: Why You Need a Catchphrase or Two to Define Your Challenges This Fall,” one of our colleagues wrote in with a catchphrase she plans to lean on especially hard this school year.
Julie Holderbaum is an English teacher at Minerva High School in Minerva, OH. For years, she has used a catchphrase question in her room for helping herself and her students maintain perspective: “Is this a mosquito wing thing?”
The line comes from Thoreau's Walden:
Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on the rails.”
In her message to me, Julie wrote,
I usually teach this quote in our excerpt from Walden later in the school year, but this year, I'm teaching it earlier. A train is not derailed by a nutshell or mosquito wing on the train tracks. We cannot let ourselves get derailed by something that will be inconsequential in the long run.
Julie went on to give the example of wearing masks during in-person instruction.
Is wearing a mask all day going to be unpleasant? Is it going to get in the way of best practices we've long used? Yes.
But, as Julie wrote,
…at the end of my life, I doubt I will look back and say, “Wow, I had a great life except for that one year when I had to wear a mask while teaching.”
Masks aren't fun. Masks and social distancing get in the way of a lot of the instructional and pedagogical moves that we've learned to rely on in the years we've been teaching prior to this one. But masks are, in the lifelong scheme of things, mosquito wing things. When faced with a mosquito wing thing, all there is to do is accept what's happening and make the best of it. Anything else is chasing after the wind.
So perhaps mosquito wing things can start to help you, too. I wanted to share Julie's shorthand just in case.
For more on why catchphrases work, see:
- My article: People, Not Passwords: Why You Need a Catchphrase or Two to Define Your Challenges This Fall
- Dan Coyle's book: The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups (paperback | Kindle | audio)
Thank you to Julie Holderbaum for giving me permission to share her idea.