Fintervention 

​Last week our black goldfish, Kicker, indicated a desperate need for help.

It was pretty obvious. One day he was floating at the top of the tank, unable to swim. Still very much alive, he seemed trapped at the surface of the water. After a day or two of this, I wondered what, if anything, could be done.

I researched the condition: Swim bladder disorder. Kicker has all the symptoms.

I applied the recommended solution: Feeding him cooked, skinned green peas (I wonder who discovered this and how?).

Problems ensued. Most of the green pea chunks that I tried to feed Kicker either came apart or sank too quickly, before he could get to them; although Kicker can move, it’s limited. He has great trouble maneuvering and navigating. I watched with increasing concern – how long can a tiny, ailing fish last in this suspended state?

I did more research. One site recommended putting the green pea chunks on a toothpick.

Voila!

As you can see in the video clip, it worked.

Each day I am able to make sure Kicker eats his peas. He sees me coming and excitedly tries to meet me, paddling himself backwards, sideways, upside down, whatever way he can, to get his sustenance.

Kicker’s still kicking, but he’s not well yet.

Another layer of intervention is needed, apparently.

I can’t help but think of all the children who struggle with reading.

Very quickly, their needs become obvious – these readers cannot keep pace or go deep like their classmates. The reasons are varied and must be explored; a diagnosis must be made, an approach must be developed. Research-based strategies that worked for others can be employed, but time is of the essence – is it working or isn’t it? Is the child making progress or not? How long can a child float at the surface in such a suspended state before the condition worsens? What are the long-term ramifications? What else can be tried for the sake of the child, whose future is at stake?

To not do anything is to . . . well, in Kicker’s case, it’s to watch him die.

When I first started teaching, a well-respected teacher told me, “You can’t save them all.”

Those remain some of the most chilling words I’ve ever heard.

What if that was my child?

Would I not do everything in my power, seeking the advice of others, hunting down books on interventions and overturning every virtual stone in cyberspace, to find answers? Would I not TRY?

As I write, Kicker watches me from his tank. He’s waiting for me, for whatever help I can give him. When I go to him, he will meet me and do the best that he can. I will try another research-based strategy today, as I don’t know when his window of time will close.

We owe the children no less.

 

If you’d like to read Part One of Kicker’s saga: Flipover

slice-of-life_individual

 

Flipover

 

This is Kicker, a goldfish given to my soccer coach son by one of his teams.

Kicker is not well, as you can see. In fact, we thought Kicker had kicked the bucket, but then we noticed a little fin and mouth movement.

After watching the tiny creature floating helplessly on its side for a morning, I wondered: Can this be fixed? Can poor Kicker be helped?

An Internet search on “floating goldfish” reveals that goldfish are susceptible to a disease called swim bladder disorder or flipover, frequently caused by overeating. The swim bladder is what gives the fish its buoyancy; it cannot function properly if other organs are swollen and pressing on it. This essentially paralyzes the fish.

Kicker has been flipped like this for three days. My thought now: How much longer can this little fish last?

And, being an educator and a writer, I cannot keep from seeing deeper meanings, metaphors, analogies.

I’ve often said that teachers are becoming paralyzed with regulations – too much, too many, suppressing the natural artistry and creativity that comprise great teaching. Expectations are needed, certainly, but when so many are placed on schools, on teachers – on students – what happens to freedom of movement and growth? How many teachers feel like Kicker, floating helplessly near the surface, unable to do anything about it?

In turn, how many students feel that way?

Is there a remedy?

For Kicker, there may be.

Green peas.

Yes, really. My search tells me that feeding cooked, skinned green peas to a fish affected with swim bladder disorder often alleviates the condition. The experts say not to feed the fish for three days after the onset and then to try the peas.

I gave it a shot. It’s very hard, by the way, to get food in the mouth of a fish that can’t swim. But Kicker fluttered his fins and opened his mouth, clearly trying his best.

Kicker seems to be a little livelier this morning – he’s always greeted us, wagging his whole body just like a dog, whenever we approach the tank. Today he’s twisting a bit more, fluttering his fins and tail excitedly. He even gyrated himself all the way over, a complete 360. He’s still not very mobile or upright yet – but I see better movement, and I am hopeful.

Back to teachers, to students: What’s the remedy to glutted systems?

Certainly not adding more. Green peas won’t cut it here – if only they could! – but perhaps they hold a metaphorical answer. Perhaps the answer lies in boiling away, skinning back, getting to the inside part, the valuable part, the part that matters most. Education is not something to be done to children any more than professional development should be done to teachers; growth and learning come from a place of inspiration, desiring to know more and having authentic opportunities to explore, to ask “How can we make this happen?” or the greatest learning question of all time: “What if …?” It all comes from tapping what’s within, not from exterior layers upon layers, causing figurative flipover.

Goals and standards are necessary. They can be met, exceeded, in fact, with inspiration, creativity, and freedom – these lie at the heart of educational wellness.

Our survival depends on it.

 

If you’d like to read Part Two of Kicker’s saga: Fintervention

slice-of-life_individual

 

Thinking fast

Fish

Image: 甘 泉 CC BY

A carnival came to town when my older son was three. The highlight of this event, you might surmise, was our elephant ride. If you ever plan to ride a real, albeit relatively small elephant, here are some tips: Be prepared to rock precariously from side to side. Hold on with your knees. Wear jeans, because elephants have unexpected long black hairs that stick straight up to pierce your legs. I felt quite exotic, but, alas, it was not the pachyderm that made the boy’s day.  He was completely captivated by the silver goldfish he won all by himself, playing ring toss.

On the way home, envisioning an inadvertent water bomb disaster involving the plastic baggie and the sidewalk, my husband said, “Son, let me carry the fish for you.”

Our boy, who was walking an inch  or so taller, puffed his little chest out. “I won’t drop it!”

“So, what are you going to name your fish?” I asked, trying not to hover.

“Flipper!” Oh, the power of television syndication. The boy held the bag up to his face, beaming. “Hey, Flipper!”

Transferring Flipper from the bag to a large jar was tantamount to a birth: “Be careful! Don’t let him fall!” Our boy watched with big eyes, nearly holding his breath, as I poured his prized possession into a new living space.

We placed the jar on the living room mantel. I explained: “Fish are not supposed to be carried around. They need a safe place. Flipper will be fine here and you can look at him all you want to.”

The boy seemed content with this arrangement. “All right.”

For the next day or two, he could be found in the living room at random moments, staring up at his fish. I listened from the hallway: “Hey, Flipper! Are you hungry? Do you like swimming in your jar? This is your new home!”

Then: “I love you, Flipper.”

Flipper was the first thing he looked for in the mornings and after his naps. He was taking a long nap later in the week when his dad and I had to leave for a dinner meeting. I prepped the babysitter: “He will want to check on Flipper when he wakes up. The boy loves that fish.”

The babysitter chuckled. “That’s so cute!”

The dinner meeting ran longer than expected. Knowing our son would be in bed for the night, my husband and I entered the house quietly. The babysitter met us at the door, wringing her hands:

“Let me just tell you that as soon as you left, I went to see that fish. He didn’t look so great. I tapped on the jar to see if he would move, but no. A floater. Totally dead. I thought ‘What am I going to do? I gotta get him out of here before the boy notices!’ So I flushed him. I figured I’d think of something to say later. Then your son woke up. He said he needed to use the bathroom so I took him. Just as he was finishing the last few drops, he points at the toilet and goes: ‘Is that Flipper in there?’ Heaven help me! I didn’t know the fish hadn’t gone down! I had to think fast. I said, ‘Wow, look at that! You just peed a fish!'”

Exactly what we told the boy about the absence of Flipper and his jar on the mantel is lost in time; all we remember now is the ingenious save – of the moment, if not of the poor fish.

Reflect: When has thinking fast served you well? When have you switched gears in the middle of something to rescue the moment?