Cover Photo: You've Been Buttoned by Tim Baldwin

You've Been Buttoned

Growing up, we all had a small collection of buttons. Some of us wore our buttons proudly for a day. Some pinned our buttons to our bags. At school you might remember the one kid who had plastered her bag with a monumental medley of colors and images which caused you to wonder whether a bag even existed beneath the collage of pins strapped to the kid's back.

Buttons were a great way to dress up the faded bag handed down to you by your older brother or sister when the bag had long passed its expiration date. You would hide the bag's blemishes with smiley faces and peace signs. Then, to personalize your bag , you would include buttons of your favorite bands. Maybe KISS, Green Day, or even the New Kids on the Block were included in your envied array of buttons.

Whatever you had, your buttons represented the places you visited and the things you loved. Each button was a timeless memento printed on a thin paper disc, shrink-wrapped on a cheap piece of tin and lovingly pinned to your bag. Until a few days ago, I thought these cheap, but fun little trinkets, had passed their prime in favor of their modern counterparts, the meme. But a meme you cannot hold. A meme, existing only in digital format, does not possess the palpable immortality inherent within a button.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a Foundations of Technology (FOT) Class to observe critical thinking in instruction. Apparently I was supposed to see how the instructor fostered an environment in which a high level of critical thinking could occur. The intended result of this peer walk-through would be to create a continuum of conversation around the topic of increasing levels of critical thinking in our school-wide instruction. So I chose FOT because it fit two requirements: it was outside of my content area and it was taking place during my planning period.

During this class, tenth grade students were to create buttons using a template on Microsoft Word. The template was already populated with images the instructor had previously inserted as examples of what the students were supposed to do. Basically, the students were to find images on the web or through clip-art and replace the instructor's images with the images they found on the internet, which they then carelessly copied without giving credit to the original source. Not much critical thinking was happening here, unless you count the times when students screwed up the template and had to figure out how to fix it, or simply gave up (or didn't try) and opted instead to ask the instructor or a friend for help.

As I walked around the room, I went through the motions of putting tally marks on various and vague descriptions of behaviors I observed being demonstrated by the teacher and the students. Did the students identify a problem and try to solve it using more than one method? Did the students persevere until the problem was solved? Did the teacher ask open ended questions? Did the teacher give students a real world problem to which they had to apply real world skills? To be honest, I thought it was a stretch, but I did my best to find the critical thinking, however minute, in everything the students were doing.

For about ten minutes, I continued my rounds of observation and note taking and managed to apply a great deal more critical thinking than some of the kids in the room were applying to their projects as they chose pictures that they pasted into the template, then chose an appropriate color for the accent ring around the picture. Maybe that was the point. Maybe it was I who was supposed to think critically in my mission to discover critical thinking which I could implement into my own teaching practice.

Scouting out and endeavoring to discover active critical thinking, I came across a student from my English class. He managed to find several pictures of myself on the Internet, which is really not that hard to do with a quick name search. If you'd like, you can search my name and you will find numerous pictures of myself which you can also download, but I'm not sure why you would want to. But this kid did. He copied the picture and pasted it into the template then looked up to see that I was looking at his work.

"Sure," I said, "if you really want to use my face, you can. No need to ask my permission."

He got the hint, then asked for permission. I obliged his request because I really didn't care one way or the other. When I left after doing my rounds of critical thinking observation, I headed to my office, then reflected upon my findings. When I was finished, I dropped the peer observation on a pile somewhere in my office knowing that it would be one more thing that we were told we had to do but there would be no follow up, and, like the paper, I completely forgot about my picture potentially being used on a button project for FOT.

I forgot, that is, until this week when the creator of the button walked into my classroom and sat down next to his friend. Because of their banter throughout most of my classes and their various antics, I refer to these students as Waldorf and Statler (the two crotchety old critics from the Muppets). At the start of the class period, I began class with my usual overview of my expectation for the day before launching into the lesson. Then I paused to take notice of the button worn by Waldorf, the creator of the buttons, then noticed that his buddy, Statler, wore a different button.

"I see you found a second picture," I said to Waldorf.

"Yes," he said, "And I made one for Statler. I figured he'd want one once he saw mine."

Looking at the two buttons pinned to their t-shirts, I noticed Waldorf's button had a caption below my face:

"PONDER"

And so I did. And in my pondering, I concluded that I have certainly made quite the lasting impression on these two students. I imagine they will have those buttons for years to come and they will one day, maybe in twenty years, be cleaning out a junk drawer and each will find his button respectively. They will ponder and, in their pondering, they will tell their kids about me and my class. And so, I too will be an immortal memento simply because I allowed a picture of my face to be used for a FOT project.  

Tim has been teaching English  literature and  composition to middle and high school students since 2007.  In 2013, his love for creative writing was reawakened when he began to truly put into practice  what he is teaching: a regular writing routine.   Currently he his working on his first novel and continues to write shorter pieces of fiction and nonfiction.  Here on Catapult he hopes to enjoy the company of passionate writers and readers by sharing his own work and enjoying the work of others.

His other work can be found at www.timothyrbaldwin.com