Plastic bag CPR

There is a saying that goes “practice makes perfect”, but I’ve had several people point out to me that a truer statement is “practice makes permanent”. If you do something over and over, it will stick — whether it is the right thing or not.
This principle was brought home to me very clearly by some stories that my instructor told during the First Aid training I had at the beginning of the year (provided by Red Cross).
The first story involved a person who went to the aid of a shopper who had collapsed in a shopping centre. After ascertaining that the person was not breathing, they proceeded to put a plastic bag into the patient’s mouth and then performed CPR. Needless to say, the patient died.
The second story involved a teacher coming to the aid of a student who had gone into anaphylaxis due to an allergic reaction. The teacher fished the life-saving epipen out of the student’s bag and quickly jabbed it into her own leg instead of the student. I never did find out what happened to the student in this situation.
The question is: what on earth possessed these people to do these strange things when clearly it wasn’t going to help their patients?
Answer: that’s how they had practiced it during their training.
You see, during our training, we practice CPR on plastic dummies. Part of the mechanism is a plastic bag that goes inside the dummy’s throat and holds the air as we breathe into the dummy’s mouth. In the extreme stress of the moment, the poor first-aider from the first story simply reverted to doing what she had done in her training. The situation is similar for the second story — the teacher had practiced putting the dummy epipen into her own leg and so did exactly that with the real-life epipen. (Our instructor had the presence of mind to make sure we used the dummy epipens on each other.)
Of course, these stories came home to me as a teacher because I see the principle in action all the time. I see so many students doing practice exams with all their notes handy, when they are not going to be able to do that in the real exam. I also see students being sloppy with their writing and saying they’ll do it properly for the exam, even though I know full well that they will write sloppily in the exam despite their best intentions.
But the students don’t just inflict this upon themselves — we teachers do it too. We show students a short cut to do something in a particular case, hoping to fix it by showing the “proper way” later, only to find that they keep trying to do the short cut even when it’s not appropriate. And we also find it so hard to avoid doing things for the students — thus forcing the students to practice letting someone else do it for them.
I’m hoping the message of the plastic bag CPR helps me remember to get the students to practice what I want to make permanent, rather than something else!

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