Monday, January 20, 2020

Why is Your Scientist a White Man?


"Ok, you're all doing great work but I need everyone to stop and listen for a second. Hands off your computers, please."

I try not to interrupt my students when they're in the middle of work time. Especially when they're working well. There's no better way to break the spell of a focused class like sticking your One-More-Thing-Teacher-Face in front of it. I try to avoid it at all costs but doing all the explaining and expectations and whatever before the student work part starts. But something always comes us. It's the nature of the work. So then it's a judgement call of "Should I put this fire out fifteen times between all my groups?" or "Let's just stop everyone, get it taken care of right now, and move on with the work." In this case I choose Option Latter.

The project in question was one I like because it manages to fulfill a few boxes of my Flowchart O' Good Projects- It uses technology in a creative way, it allows for student creativity but within narrow boundaries, it assesses what a less creative but more straight forward project could, and it can be expanded upon later and blown up real big.

My students are reading a story called "Invasion From Mars". It's the first few minutes of the "War of the Worlds" radio play by HG Wells in script form. We get to talk about the genre of audio plays, dissect the text for clues about what it happening, describe actions and events, look at cause and effect, all kinds of good stuff. In my class, if students see a script, they're gonna want to perform it. I call this the Give a Mouse a Cookie Principle. But just reading the script out loud is no fun, and it's not very engaging. There's only three real speaking parts in the whole thing. How to get everyone involved?

Technology! Did you know that you can use Google Slides to create a stop motion movie? It's true! Just build a character out of shapes, copy the slide, move the shapes very slightly, copy the slide, and repeat. The more slides you have the finer you can make the movements the smoother your animation will look. Students get very into this and you'll soon have slideshows of 200 slides. Then expand to presentation size and click through very quickly. To add audio download Screencastify (or any other screen capture extension) to Chrome, turn it on, and the kids are now the voice actors, folly artists, as well as the animators. This is not the quickest process in the world, but if your goal is to get your kids to slow down, read the text carefully, see what's happening, and summarize it in some way it's golden. They have to read with fluency and expression because they're acting. They have to pay attention to the text because their animation needs to match the story and so does their folly (sound effects).

It's great fun. Like I said, they'll beg to do this again which means you can release control and move from the students animating a pre-written script to animating one that they've written. They'll beg to write a script.

The three main characters in "Invasion From Mars" are The Reporter, The Farmer, and The Scientist. There's also a cop, another reporter, and a crowd but they don't count. In the text The Reporter is called Phillips, The Farmer is called Mr. Wilmuth, and The Scientist is called Pierson. Students take their time designing these characters. And it was during this that I noticed something interesting and troubling-

All three characters were being animated as white men by every single group in the room. In the illustrations of the book Phillips is a white man and he's referred to once as "Carl". Mr Wilmuth is given a gender in his name and he's illustrated as a white man. And Pierson is illustrated as a white man. So you might think, "Well, that's why the kids are animating the characters like that. They're taking their cues from the text. You know, like you want." Maybe, EXCEPT later in the story the alien climbs out of its smoking space ship and, while that's also illustrated in the story, the description in the text is pretty sparse, and every single animated alien across every group looks different. So why are all of my kids, the groups with more girls, the groups with more boys, the groups with students of color, the groups without, every group is animating the human characters the same?

I had to say something. This is a chance, an organic teaching moment, that you cannot let pass by. It's real and it'll give us a chance to talk about bias and reality and what they're presented with every day and it will, hopefully, change how they interact with the world.

I focused the conversation on Pierson, The Scientist. "Please raise your hand if you're animating Pierson to look like a man." Wait one two three. "Look around. All of you did. Ok, if your hand is in the air find me proof in the text that Pierson is a man." Wait four five six.

Someone calls out (we're allowed to call out in my class in these kinds of situations, it's a conversation), "Uh...I don't think it does."

My turn. "Huh. That's interesting.So why did you make Pierson a man?" Someone will be brave. Someone will say it without thinking about what they're saying until they've already said it, which is perfect and what this needs.

"Because Pierson is a scientist."

Then I wait. I don't need to do anything right now. I need to let that hang in the air for just a moment, watching them, waiting for what's coming. "Heyyy!" one student exclaims. "Waitaminute! Girls can be scientists too!" Let it run through the room for a minute. All it took was the spark, the kids will blow it into a flame. Now I can poke, because her Pierson was a man too. You can't believe how quickly they rush for the keyboard to start making corrections.

"But wait! There's more!" Everyone freezes again. "Raise your hand if you animated Pierson with what could be called white skin."

No matter how comfortable your class is, bringing this up will always get a moment of caught breath, a slight pause. Racial conversations can be hard and the classroom needs to correct environment to have them. Mine does, but that doesn't mean they're willing to jump right in all at once. They're fourth graders. But still, every hand goes up. "Leave your hand up if you can find in the text where it says that Pierson is white." Every hand goes down.

"I want us to all sit with this for a second. We can have a bigger conversation about this if you want, or I can let you think on it and we'll come back to it later, but isn't it interesting that every single person in hear read Scientist and though White Man? That's a problem, isn't it? Sure, Pierson absolutely could be. In fact, based on when this was written in history that's exactly what the author probably imagined when he wrote it. But that was 70 years ago. You are smarter than that. You are more open than that. No one is in trouble, and I'm not going to insist that anyone change what they've animated. But, I am going to insist that you think about why you did what you did. I want you to change your animations to reflect what you think."

We talk at this point in class about what implicit bias is, because that understanding will inform every single thing we do and it's important that that lives in their heads now. Someone will ask about Phillips, The Reporter and Mr Wilmuth, The Farmer. I'll tell them that the story does seem to specify their genders, but I'll ask if it matters. "Sure, at one point Phillips is called Carl, but does that mean you can't slightly alter the text to make it Carol? And the farmer too. What do you want them to look like, not what did the illustrator make them look like?"

This is at once a small thing and a Big Thing. It's a small thing because it's all about getting my students to look at text in a different way. But it's a Big Thing because they need to see the biases they carry with them all the time. This story is perfect for that conversation too because it comes up organically. I'm not forcing something to happen, I'm letting it happen and then calling it out. I believe in Education Circles we call that a Teachable Moment. I'm also not shying away from it, which is so easy to do, especially as a straight white man teacher. "You would like to center me in this story? Awesome, I should be centered in all stories! Straight White Man to the Default!" I can't let that happen. It's not good for my kids who aren't straight white men and it's not good for my kids who are. Decentering takes work. It takes specific calling out. It's these small and big things that will help bring the change we're working towards always. And, just as a CYA (Cover Your Ass) in case a parent gets grumpy for whatever reason ("Why are you having political conversations with my child?"), I'm not having the conversation, I'm pointing out something and guiding things while students come to whatever they'll come to. Also, I'm about to teach the colonization of the continent through the Oregon Trail so the No Political Conversations thing is well out the window anyway.

It's our job to help students see the world and understand it, and that includes the world inside themselves. A lot of teaching, so much of it, is a time release capsule that we put into a kid's head and then step away from, maybe never to see the result of. It's my job, it's our job, to find these chances to make the world a better place and take them. Wherever they appear.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Professor

A friend sent this to me and I can't find who drew it to credit them.
If you know please let me know.

Author's Note- Like most of my stuff, this does not immediately come to an educational point, even though this is an education-based blog. Like most of my stuff, I do have a teacher-centric point and you just need to trust me and come on the journey.

Neil Peart is my favorite drummer. He is a lot of people's favorite drummer. Somebody said that Neil Peart is your favorite drummer's favorite drummer. Neil Peart was the best for a million different reasons.

Neil Peart died on Tuesday, January 7th after a three and a half year battle with brain cancer. It sucks. A lot.

First some context for those of you reading this who have not yet been initiated into the world of wonder and rock that is the greatest rock band to have ever existed- Rush. Rush was three men- Geddy Lee on bass and vocals, Alex Lifeson on guitars, and Neil Peart on drums (except the first album, which featured John Rutsy on drums). Rush is a progressive rock band from the Great White North. Even if you don't think you know Rush you've heard Rush. You probably know "Tom Sawyer" or "Limelight" at least. Rush didn't write hits. Rush didn't write for record sales. Rush was, in the words of Geddy Lee, "The most popular cult band in the world." The easy pigeon hole for Rush is that they wrote twenty minute long prog rock odysseys with seventeen time changes, and that's true, but only for a few early albums. Eventually they moved away from that and wrote five minute long prog rock adventures with fourteen time changes.

Prog rock gets a bad wrap, a lot of it is the fault of prog rock bands. People will hear a millions notes a minute and songs so long that the listener and the band need a road map, a snack, and a power nap to get all the way through it, and say, "That must be prog!" And at one point it was. But, much like punk, by defining progressive rock with boundaries you box it and therefore take what is progressive about it away.

Rush was progressive in the most real sense of the word. They were constantly evolving and changing. Every Rush album sounds like Rush. A neophyte to the band could listen to the self-titled debut and to Clockwork Angels, their final full length published forty years later, and say, "Yep. Same band." And not just because, love it or hate it, Geddy Lee's voice is unmistakable and never really changed that much. But while it's still Rush, the band has changed, and if you care to listen with your ears on you can hear that. Most of my favorite bands, like jazz-rock-orchestra shapeshifter Frank Zappa and Canadian prog-extreme-atmospheric-pop-metal genius Devin Townsend (and even Metallica, who always evolved even when we weren't thrilled with the evolution at least they did it), never made the same album twice. But they always always made the album that was true to them in the moment. Rush mined their hearts and passions for songs and expected us, the fans, to come along...or not. Their wider popularity ebbed and flowed but after a certain point they never failed to sell out any EnormoDome in whatever town they were coming to. Because authenticity matters.

Even though he wasn't the literal voice of the band (he was fond of saying, "Singing is the worst job, but drumming is the hardest") it was his words that sprang from Geddy's throat. Neil wrote nearly all the lyrics to every Rush song. I say nearly because he was the lyricist but he'd give the words to Geddy, Geddy would decide what was too much to sing or too complicated or didn't flow right, make changes, give the words back, and Neil would edit from their. In a band of three guys you can't have factions or people ganging up on each other. It wouldn't work. Rush worked together like only three good Canadian boys could.

And what words he would write. Diving into the lyric sheet of any Rush album is a journey that is akin to diving into your favorite piece of literature. Bring a dictionary too because his vocabulary is bigger than yours. He's not showing off, it's just that, much like his giant drum set, if he's got the exact right word he's going to use it. Neil read voraciously and you could hear that in his lyrics. Whether it's a massive science fiction story about government control of art and individual thought and accomplishment, a five minute metaphor about the things that separate and alienate us from each other, or processing the loss of his daughter and wife within a year of each other Neil was clear and quoting his heart.

He also rode bicycles and motorcycles, taking long adventures through the back roads of countries the band was touring in instead of traveling in ease and boredom in the bus the whole time. These treks led to books about his travels. For those of you paying attention, yeah, he was a motorcycle riding author and musician who loved to read. No wonder I feel such a strong connection to him.

"Ok great!" I hear you cry, dear reader. "But what does this have to do with teaching? My recess/bathroom break is almost over and you still haven't gotten to the point."

Neil talks about building drum parts like I think about building lessons and projects. Correction- Like I aspire to thinking about lessons and projects. His drumming is famously complex and layered, with a million things happening at once. But the secret that other prog drummers sometimes miss is everything, every flourish and hit, is in service of The Song first. Like our lessons should be. So how does he write these complex drum parts? By starting simple. Play the beat. Play the beat until the heartbeat of the song is strong. Then add something. Does it work? Can he do it? Ok, now add something else. Change it slightly. Can he play it? Ok, repeat. He builds these massive palaces one beat at a time, checking and revising each time. That's why they call him The Professor. No one thought about playing drums like Neil thought about playing drums. He wasn't a drummer. He was a composer.

Now I think about how I try to build things in my classroom. You always have to start with The Point. What's the point? Ok, now what can I add to flesh it out? How can I add technology or movement or choice or making? Where are the places it can be given to students more freely? How do I grow it bigger, fancier, but always in service of The Lesson. Done right, at the end I've created something big. What makes what I do, what we do, different from what Neil did is that's only the first step. He needs to be able to play that complex behemoth every night on tour with exacting accuracy, and I need to be able to hand it over to ten year old so they can create something with it on their own. He builds something to set in stone and make perfect. I build something to be broken and re-purposed. But the process is the same.

Neil was widely considered the greatest drummer in his genre for a long time. It would be easy for someone who was The Best to be happy being The Best. But that's not who he was. Neil wasn't happy with his drumming and wanted something more. He found a teacher, Freddie Gruber, thirty years into his career and dedicated himself to relearning an instrument he'd mastered a hundred times over. He learned new styles, new techniques for playing, new ways of thinking about beat and rhythm. The best in the world went back to school to be better.

The connection to education and what we do seems pretty obvious, my friends. If he can see places to improve, and be brave enough to deconstruct his practice in order to build it back up stronger, anyone can. And should. He said when he got together with the band again after doing that the other two said he still sounded like him, and for a minute he was disappointed. "But of course it still sounded like me. The difference was the clock at work had changed, and as we played we could all feel that."

Neil gets labeled as a sourpuss sometimes, and if you watch him play you can honestly see why. It does not look like a man having a good time. But Rush songs are hard and no one has higher standards than Neil himself. He compared playing a three hour Rush show to running a marathon while juggling and doing complex equations. You try to smile. He was also deeply shy and never did the fan meet and greets. Leave that to Geddy and Alex, who actually enjoy it. It was never that he was above it, he just didn't like it. He'd say that, "extroverts will never understand introverts." This is a lesson I need to take to heart more often in my own classroom, and something some education speakers should probably have pinned to their shirts before they start talking about what good teaching looks like.

Shy though he was, he was also fun and funny and silly. Those sometimes get put in two different camps as though you can't be both at the same time. Watch either of the wonderful Rush documentaries- "Beyond the Lighted Stage" or "Time Stand Still"- to see that. Or just listen to "Limelight" and hear what he has to say about fame from the man himself.

One last education lesson than I take from Rush and Neil and then I'll let you get back to your life, especially if your life consists of investigating the decades of Rush material I'm jealous you're about to discover for the first time or rediscover or just listen to for the thousandth time.

My favorite Rush album is Hemispheres. It's the one with a naked guy standing on a brain on the cover. It's also their Big Long Complicated Album. It's got a side-long beast called "Cygnus X-1 Book II" (Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage is on the album Farewell to Kings and clocks in at a mere ten minutes) that's just science fiction and virtuoso playing nirvana. That's not the song that's the lesson though. The song that's the lesson closes the album- a nine and a half minute instrumental called "La Villa Strangiato". Here's what I love about that song, and why it inspires me as a teacher, an artist, and a creator- They wrote a song that was too hard for them to play when they wrote it.

They wrote the song, and then were determined to record it live, as a band, in one straight take. Nine and a half minutes of perfect playing. And they couldn't do it. They spent days trying to get it exactly right. Eventually they had to break it up into smaller chunks and record it that way. BUT that doesn't mean they can't play it all the way through. "La Villa Strangiato" was a staple of the live set. You've never been a music nerd until you've sung passionately along to an instrumental song.

How inspiring and empowering is that? That these master musicians could overreach themselves and fail. Would write something beyond their own abilities. If Rush can do that I take plan a project that I don't know will work. I can step beyond my technological knowledge to bring my kids closer to a greater learning goal. I have to be willing to go so big that failure is a true reality, learn from it, and then learn to do it anyway later on.

Neil has a million great quotes, but I want to leave you with him quoting someone else, because it sums up why he means so much to me and so many others and why I just wrote a Rush-length blog post about Neil Peart. He would use this line often. It's from Bob Dylan, taken from a 1978 Rolling Stone interview: "The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do for anyone but inspire them?"

Thank you, Neil.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Recess Rules


How many rules do students really need at recess?

Let's leave the classroom aside for this post. In the classroom I feel students need no more than four rules- Be Respectful, Be Safe, Be Responsible, Make Good Choices (provided the kids build that list themselves), and that those four rules can all be boiled down to the simple, easy to remember catch-all- Be Cool. That's The Rule in my room. Do the students know I came up with the idea not because of Fonzie but because of Jules, Honey Bunny, and Ringo? No, and they don't need to until they finally get to that movie and wonder, just for a moment, why "Be cool" sounds so familiar.

I can only speak for my current school and the ones I've worked at in the past when I say often there are way too many rules at recess. And, as so often happens when you have too many rules, they conflict and don't hold up to scrutiny or questions.

Here's the most egregious example, and it's from my current school. I have no problem admitting it's from my school because I didn't make it up, my students know I think it's ridiculous (I'll get to that), and I've brought it up a few times.

At recess, the students at my school are not allowed to play Tag. HOWEVER, they are allowed to play two-hand touch football. 

Imma leave that right there for just a second. I'll let you pick your jaw up from your keyboard or the bathroom floor (ew, come on) or wherever you're sitting and reading this. I'll wait as you go back and read it again. I'll look you dead in the eye and shake my head when you silently ask me if there's a punchline coming. Nope, dear reader. There is not. This, as much as it sounds like a joke, is not one.

The kids at my school cannot play Tag at recess. This is a school rule. It's been there longer than I have. They can play two-hand touch football. "What's the difference!?!" I hear you ask. Friends, I have seen students ask that very same question. They've asked it honestly, with no trace of Gotcha or disrespect. They've asked it because their teacher, me included but not only, encourages them to question rules that are confusing. This is part of being a good citizen.

The reason? The reason that I heard today makes as little sense as the rule. "Because there's a ball." That's basically it. The recess person in question went on to try and justify it with "There's lots of things out here that we're worried students could run into." No, this does not make it better nor does it justify No Tag But Yes Football.

How many rules are there like this out there? How many don't make any sense at all?

Now, before I start really hammering on those who run recess duty I will make acknowledgements- There's a lot of freaking kids out there at any one time and not very many of them. That can be overwhelming, I'm sure. And they honestly don't want kids to get hurt. Be honest though, this is an excuse that gets used to make their jobs easier. I get it. More rules make your job easier. And we've all heard the story about the one time one kid was playing on the monkey bars unsafely and slipped and fell and broke both arms. We know that happened. But one event does not an unsafe play area make. You can't use one story that happened forever ago as justification for rules that don't actually make sense or keep anyone safer. I mean, this is recess, not the airport. (This is where I rant at you for a solid five minutes about how unbelievably stupid and insulting it is that we still or ever had to take our shoes off at airport security.)

But it's recess. We're literally preventing running at recess unless the kids are playing one specific game? I'll be honest, I've always been annoyed by this but right now, this moment, as I type this, it's really setting in and getting under my skin. I've not spent an extended period of time rationalizing it, I've just always heard it, been annoyed, and then moved on to more important things. But holy crap the more I think about this one rule the madder I get. They have to play two-hand touch football to play a Tag-like game? Road apples! I'm going in to my administrator tomorrow morning and having another word about it. And I think it'll go better than the last time because my current admin is a sub, my former one having just, sadly, been promoted.

Back to the wider topic at hand- Does recess need specific rules or can the general school rules be applied to recess as well and leave it at that? You probably need some game/equipment-specific rules. Tetherball lasts x rounds and then the next person comes in. You can swing on the swings y times if there's a line of kids waiting. Something something handball something.

I'm inclined to proclaim loudly and overly-broadly that students should be trusted more and given less rules during their free time. They get ten minutes and then another ten or twenty after lunch. Let 'em run. Let 'em get hurt. Let 'em do the learning on their own. Let 'em build their own rules for recess. It works wonders in the classroom. I know it'll be harder with the whole school. Maybe students could elect a safety committee. Kids choose a group of kids who come up with reasonable recess rules as a group, vote on them,, run then by the adults, make adjustments as needed, and Robert is your mom's brother. I like this idea too and I'm running it by a partner in crime tomorrow morning first thing. This is part of the reason I blog about topics like this- I need to think out loud and being in the car isn't really helping me think right now.

What rules do you have at recess at your school?

Monday, December 16, 2019

Anxiety and Me


Let's get a little personal with mental health, why don't we? This will, of course, tie into teaching, but that's not really the point either.

For a while now I've been suffering from pretty extreme bouts of anxiety. I didn't always recognize these as such, however. Let's go back- When my first child was born I found out that Paternal Postnatal Depression is a thing. I knew that women could experience something like this, and we were on the look out for that. Had no idea it could happen to me too. I'm the Dad, I didn't carry nothing. Nope, knocked me flat, and for a while. I ended up going on medication and doing talk therapy for a while to help me through it. It also made me hesitate about going for Weirdlings Two and Three because I was worried that it would come back. My wife is incredible and we got through it together and it didn't come back with either of the other two.

Looking back, I've had anxiety in some form or another for as long as I can remember. I always chalked it up to being a control freak. If you, dear reader, and I go for a drive, I will insist on driving. Even if we're friends. Even if I trust you. I'm a bad passenger. Control freak, right? Seems like it. Especially since this feeling never happens to me on my motorcycle. Then I'm really the only person in charge. I can't even hear you if you're riding with me.

If we're stuck in traffic I'm going to start freaking out, feeling trapped. Because I literally am. I'm trapped in this car in the middle lane surrounded by all these other cars and what if I need to get out I can't no one is moving so I can't move we're just stuck here and why won't anyone move. Driving makes this better, but not all the way because I'm not in control of the situation.

Airplanes are worse. I hate flying. No, not true. I hate boarding the plane, being stuck in the aisle, getting to my seat, not being able to get up from the time when they button up the big door until we're at cruising altitude. You can't get up at any point during that! You're stuck in your seat no matter what. What if your stomach gets upset (a related problem we'll get to)? Too bad. Stay there and suffer until we tell you you can stand up. And then we're in the air and I'm fine. Until..."Passengers need to return to their seats and prepare for landing." And then it's another twenty minutes/eternity until we're at the gate. The entire time I have my eyes closed and I'm mentally repeating, "I'm ok, I'm alright." over and over. No exaggeration, no joke. I hate it and I'm miserable every time.

I thought I was just a bad traveler.

On top of that I've always had stomach issues. Issues that we've mostly fixed with a change in diet, turns out I'm lactose and gluten intolerant. Good to know. That helps but didn't actually fix things because now I've trained my body that when I'm stressed my stomach hurts, but when my stomach hurts it stresses me out. So soon I'm stressed that I'll be in a situation that will stress me out and upset my stomach, which sets my stomach off.

But recently things have accelerated and gotten worse and worse. Examples, because it's important to me you, dear reader, know what I mean. To be clear, these are the most illustrative examples, certainly not the only ones-

A while ago a friend of mine and I went to see Nick Cave, one of my most favorite musicians on Earth. Because of a trick of the tickets we ended up in the second row. He was right there. He could see us. We could see him. We were supposed to be in the back, where the cheap seats were. Being that close was incredibly exciting, but also so very stressful. I was completely unable to fully relax and enjoy the show because the back of my mind had this flashing red light the whole time. He was great and I loved it and I still couldn't fully connect.

I went out on Black Friday, something I never ever do. But my local record store that I love was doing a Black Friday thing and they were going to have a limited number of the new Opeth album and the vinyl reissue of Geddy Lee's solo album "My Favorite Headache." Yes, I could buy these online but I love Jackpot Records and I want to support local business. I got there at nine for a ten o'clock opening because I knew there would be a line and damned if someone else would get my albums. I was fifth in line. Score. I was fine at 9:00. I was fine at 9:15. At about 9:30 I started having to talk myself into staying in line. At 9:45, after waiting forty-five minutes, needing only to wait fifteen more, I was actively pacing and eyeballing my car, which I could see from the line. I was having a detailed conversation with myself about, "I should just go home, I could get these online. It would be fine. I should just get in my car and go." Ten minutes to go, still pacing, it's getting worse. I'm miserable and my heart is pounding and I know all of this is stupid because I'm fifth in line. When they open I'll be right in there. I'm not worried about not getting the album. What am I worried about? I have no idea.

I've heard people who have panic attacks describe the mental spiral as "you keep thinking of worse and worse scenarios, which keeps escalating your panic." That's not what was happening to me. There was no "worse and worse scenario." There was no thinking involved. I just had to get out of there or I felt like I would be sick. Once again I'm whispering to myself, "I'm ok, I'm alright" over and over. I'm pissed that I want to leave and trying to use that anger to keep myself in line for five stupid minutes more. Finally they open the door. I go right in, find the two albums I wanted in about two minutes, pay, and I'm out of there. I enjoyed exactly none of the experience of being in a record store with a bunch of other music nerds who got up and waited in line to buy vinyl, something I really like.

This was the last straw. I made an appointment for the doctor. I described all of this to her and kept hedging, "I don't know if it's anxiety or of I'm a control freak or if it's just my stomach or what and I don't know." She stopped me. "Everything you are saying is textbook anxiety. That's exactly what this is."

Then she asked me a question I had already thought quite a bit about, because I am reflective and I had noticed this trend. She said, "You're a teacher. Does this happen to you at school?"

"Nope. Never." And it's true. I'm obviously at this point not trying to be a tough guy and impress you. But it doesn't happen in my room. I'm sure it happened at the beginning, but it's been years since I've felt any kind of anxiety in my classroom. I've been stressed, sure. Exhausted. But not like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Not like I had to escape right at that minute how can I get to my car or at least outside I need to get away. Nope. Doesn't happen to me in my classroom. Doesn't happen to me when I present at conferences. Doesn't happen to me when I keynote. I get nervous before that last one, but that's more like a racehorse in the gate than actual fear.

Why? I think it's because of the control thing. What do I have to be anxious about in my classroom? This is, more than just about anywhere else, my space. I mean, it's my students' space too, but I am its architect. That has to be the reason I'm basically anxiety-free in my room. Now, if you tell me I have to be trapped in a PD all day I'm gonna have some spikes. But if I'm running it? None. But if, during that PD, you ask me to go out to lunch with you, I'm going to drive. The second I'm out of the classroom it's back.

Which explains why I hate field trips so much. It's not just that the bus makes me motion sick after all. Maybe it doesn't, but the anxiety does. Either way, field trips suck.

I'm still trying to process what all this means. I'm doing what I can to get better. The doc recommended me to a talk therapy person and we're trying out medication to see if that will help. Hey, you know what's fun? Teaching the week before Winter break, but adjusting to new anti-anxiety medication at the same time! Now why does my stomach hurt? Is it stress? Side effects? Both? Weee!

I wonder if what I notice about my anxiety in relation to my classroom rings true for other teachers. I wrote this and shared all of this because it's important that we are real people. I know how I come across, hyper-confident-to-cocky, silly, irreverent. That's all me, but I bet some of it is coping mechanisms too. When I get anxious I either talk a whole lot or cannot talk at all. Some of you have probably met me at a conference and got a weird vibe. This might be why. Though, like I said, I'm mostly ok when I'm presenting. But in the halls of ISTE, surrounded by a billion people? Yeah, I don't like that at all. I spent the evenings of my last ISTE, the last one in San Antonio, in my hotel room watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. Because TNG is great, but also because it was just easier.

And let's not even get into how I think I've turned my phone into a coping mechanism. I'm sure that's SUPER healthy.

I don't know how to end this post. I'm tired of not being able to enjoy things like concerts and amusement parks and drives with my family and movies and going to dinner and trips to the record store. I'm tired of waiting for the stress to jump out and making choices that will just let me avoid it if I can. I've become such a homebody because it's just safer and easier. Maybe you can relate. Maybe knowing this about me helps you, dear reader? Hopefully the medication does its job, and if it doesn't hopefully it's not hard to find one that will. Hopefully you're all doing as well as you can out there. We're all in this together.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher

Monday, December 9, 2019

A Very December Q&A


I asked and you responded with questions that you asked so I could respond. We've got ourselves a chock-full Q&A tonight so let's get to it, shall we?


Ok good, we're starting the education Q&A off on the right foot. I use color safe shampoo and conditioner and dye it with professional-grade dye after a really good bleach because my hair is dark and needs to be lightened a whole lot.  The meaning of life, the universe, and everything is, as everyone knows, 42. Pineapple is yummy and goodness unless it's on a pizza. Cookies should have firmness to them, more on the crunchy side than the soft side.


 I stop when I feel like I've done everything I can at the moment. I think very long game a lot of the time when it comes to bigger problems because, frankly, I've got too much going on in my classroom to do any more than that most of the time. I work inside the system so I fight the fights I can and spend a lot of time teaching my kids to think and question and help bring down inequitable systems as they grow. I am doing the work too, but I can't kill myself fighting the system on a big scale. I'm doing my work well, writing when I can, marching when I can, and speaking for teachers. They want us to throw ourselves on our swords in exhaustion. Gotta outsmart them.

Redefine "weird" for yourself. Weird doesn't mean standing on desks with puppets and blue hair. Weird doesn't mean doing voices and a ton of making projects. Weird doesn't mean upending all the expected norms in big, loud ways. Weird is just unconventional, it's different. Everyone interesting does something outside the norm.

However! If you honestly don't feel like you're doing anything weird or different then I suggest starting by looking at what you consume. This is a big soapbox for me but watching Friends and The Big Bang Theory and listening to Coldplay will not invert your thinking. Buy an album that you're not sure you like, but you can't define why, and listen to it until you either like it or know why you don't. Buy something that sounds like noise. Watch a show you'd never watch. I deeply believe that you cannot put out what you're not taking in. What weird things do you consume? Honestly, deeply, strangely, confusing things than no one around you is watching, listening to, or talking about.

Morgan asked a TON of good questions, especially for an education student. I'm going to get to just this one because there's a lot of questions here and the rest are in the thread which you can find by clicking on her tweet.

I don't like Teachers Pay Teachers. I have investigated this for myself because I need to know why I have visceral reactions to things and I think there are two reasons. First- I started before the internet was a thing we could use for teaching. Every single thing I did in my classroom I built or stole from someone at my school. And I think that made me a better teacher. I had to depend on myself. There was no shortcut, no massive community at my fingertips, no easy way. I grant that this also makes me sound like an Old shaking his fist and grumbling, "You darn youths with your Teachers Paying Teachers and your Facebooks getting ideas without working for it!" But I think the struggle has a lot of value. Because of my second point- Every single thing you buy on TPT has to be changed to fit your classroom. Nothing from there should be used whole cloth with no modifications. They are built to be general but your classroom is not.

Steal ideas. Here's how I use Pintrest and TPT- I'll google an idea or a subject, find the skeleton of something, close it, and built it myself. Important Note- I like this process and the time it takes, and it takes a lot of time. New teachers do not have the bandwidth I have. But I think the struggle makes my lessons more creative and deeper. You're going to be doing a million things and those lesson plans right there are going to look real good. But they're easy to get addicted to, and there's zero difference between that and just using your curriculum whole cloth and thoughtlessly. Instruction should be flexible. But don't kill yourself.

I also think teacher should share what we make with other teachers for free. BUT we don't get paid much so I don't want to stand too firmly on that particular hill. Make your money.


African or European?


Oy, this is a whole lot!

I stay energized with a lot of coffee. Also I honestly love what I'm doing and I'm very happy where I am. I have as much freedom as I could ask for and I know that my admin (at least for the next three weeks) has my back. I also work with some other teachers, one in particular, who has my brand of crazy when it comes to projects and Big Ideas and he and I bounce off each other well.

I don't care if other teachers don't like how/what I'm doing. There's no conflict in that direction because I honestly couldn't care less if someone doesn't like my way. If I don't like their way I need to first evaluate if they're just different than me and I don't like what they're doing personally or professionally. If it comes up and it's a real concern I'll bring it up as tactfully as I'm able. But I do a lot of, "Watch me go, I'll model it my way as I run off doing my cool things with my happy students."

The most valuable thing I've learning in teaching is either- Have a hobby, have a reason to go home OR we live on singles and doubles and anyone who wants us to be hitting home runs all the time is selling snake oil.


I used to! Every Wednesday from 7-8pm PST #WeirdEd happened for over 200 chats. It was so much fun but I eventually ran out of gas because I believe twitter chats should mean something. They should be special. Most are the same mouthwash swishing to the other cheek. Same questions rephrased. Same answers. Right answers rather than a chat to actually talk and exchange ideas. Authors asking questions from their own books and then quoting themselves in their answers to their own questions. "Themed" chats that aren't- "Welcome to Star Wars chat! You have to pass certain tests to become a Jedi. How do you handle tests in your classroom?" That's got nothing to do with Jedi, it's am act!

I don't. This starts right at the beginning of the year- first day. I don't assign seats and I don't assign desks and I don't keep track of who has sat on what when. I have more important things to deal with. This is because Trust is a Number One foundation of my class and if you don't trust your students to find a place to sit and share, you don't trust your students. They know that too. Every morning everyone is expected to trade chairs. You can't sit in the same thing twice. They self-monitor and they appreciate the responsibility. I don't have an issue with it after the first week. They don't squabble over them either. I have a ton of different chairs, there's too many to fight over.

Don't assign chairs. If your classroom is built on trust you've gotta walk the walk. Students don't have to earn our trust. They should start with it.

Oh my. Ok, so I'm not great at this but I'll share what I do and I'd love more ideas in the comments. My intervention time is M, T, Th, F from 1:00-1:40, right after lunch. Some students get pulled out for various reading groups, the rest, about 20-22, stay with me. I have a Five Station Rotation-

  • Read To Self- Student read out loud into Flipgrid, and then watch themselves read back and count mistakes.
  • Vocabulary- I have a bunch of those Word, Sentence, Definition, Picture, Synonym worksheets and students use the week's vocabulary words.
  • Free Write- Write whatever you want.
  • Listen to Reading- We use Storyline Online and the kids listen to a story.
  • iReady Reading- Do iReady.

Each station lasts 20 minutes, so kids get to two a day. It's not perfect, I stole it from the teacher across the hall because she's better at stations than I am, but it seems to be working pretty well so far.

This could be (and I'm sure is) a whole book. So I'm only going to answer in one way with the caveat that it's not The Way and only an option.

Making stuff. Project-based learning and finding ways to incorporate making into the classroom is a great way to reach everyone. Good making projects mean everyone will create something different, they'll iterate their learning, and they'll work to their level on their own. You need to make reflections and stuff happen, there's no learning until the kids think about it, write about it, generalize it, and talk about it. But find opportunities to make something.

I'll give an example- We were reading a story in the Journey's book about tree kangaroos two years ago when I taught fifth grade. It was drier than a consultants PD session in the fourth hour. But in part of the story the book said that the researchers caught the tree kangaroos by climbing a tree and scaring the animal out of it, then netting it on the ground. We thought that was terrible, so I challenged my kids to come up with a better way. We designed traps. Students had to justify their design, and in doing so had to read the story because it had all the information about the animal. Your cage will trap the animal's tail. Why won't the animal leap out? How do you get the animal in and out without hurting it? It got detailed and amazing and they learned a ton from it. But you didn't need to read at a 5th grade level to have ideas, build them, or explain them.

One more, I think. This is starting to run long.


McGonagal was a Gryffindor, so that's probably the correct answer since she's easily the best teacher at Hogwarts. Though I bet a Hufflepuff would be good too for certain kinds of students. I worry than a Ravenclaw would get irritated with the kids who didn't catch on quickly enough and , well, Snape and Slughorn were Slytherins and one hosted dinners for his favorite students and the other literally abused a kid for seven years because his mom wouldn't date him.

I think personality goes a long way, but I also think that's a loaded statement I just made because it sounds then like there's A Personality that kids will like the best and we all know that's simply not true. I'm an extrovert who is loud and funny and unable to be serious for an entire day unless the room has REALLY screwed up. But I have quiet, calm, more serious friends who just have the mischief dancing in their eyes who's students like them just as much or more than mine like me.

I think the most important personality trait a teacher can have is the willingness to Yes and commit to it. Default to Yes in the case of new ideas. Complain when complaints need to happen, don't be a gross toxic positivity person smiling all the time like there's no war in Ba Sing Se. Push back on bad policy, but not just because it's new or sounds hard. Pick your battles. But default to Trying.

Ok, there's a ton of questions I didn't get to which you can find in this thread. Thank you to everyone who asked a question. I think we'll do another of these soon. It was fun.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Losing a Leader


At the end of this month my principal of the past five years will move on from our school to the district office. This is what happens when there's unnamed upheaval (unnamed in that teachers can tell something more is happening up there but no one up there will be specific with exactly what) in the upper levels of the district, which are causing people to leave, which are causing spots to need to be filled. A spot opened up near the beginning of the school year that my principal would be perfect for, the district asked her to apply for it, and she got it. These things happen and I'm not here to complain or litigate the timing of things, even though taking our principal mid-year is a real annoying choice to say the least. What makes it worse is the job she's getting will be perfect for her and she's going to be extremely good at it, so I can't even complain about that.

My principal leaving has brought up a whole host of emotions in me. I've already had this conversation with her, so she knows this stuff. But reflecting out loud helps me process, and I never know if admin somewhere else will read this and learn from it. Because there are things an administrator could learn from what I'm about to write.

My principal for the past five years has been the best boss I've ever worked for. I literally could not have asked for a better administrator. I've worked in a lot of schools and under even more principals and vice principals, and they've ranged from good to middling to downright awful. I know what I'm looking for in a boss and who I'll work well under and who I'll chafe with. You get by in any situation, but I firmly believe that teachers, if able to, don't leave schools. They leave administrators. I know I did. My last VP was a nightmare on two legs.

My principal hired me the day of my interview. I rolled in straight from teaching session at a three day conference in Northern California. I'm in Gresham, as far north in Oregon as you can get without actually being in Washington. I'd gotten the call with the offer to interview the day before, and it was the last day of the conference. So I finished my last session, jumped on my motorcycle, drove the three hours home, changed, grabbed interview clothes, got in the car (it's a long way to go on a bike after a long day), and hit the road for a four and a half hour drive while my wife found a hotel. I got to town at probably one am, crashed out, and was up at six for an interview at seven. First one of the day. Got there, had to dissect some data (weeee), teach a mock lesson to the panel, and do the interview thing. I felt like I nailed it. Afterward I went to get lunch, more coffee, and get ready to drive home.

As I was getting my Baja Fresh I got a call. Not from that interview, but from a different school in the same area who I'd had a video interview with a few days before. They wanted to offer me the job. I begged off, telling them I needed to think about it for a few hours and I'd get back to them. As I was finishing by lunch I got another call, this from the school I'd just interviewed at, also offering me the job.

Holy crap. Two offers in one day? When does this happen? I was still in town too, which meant it was my turn to interview the principals. I went to the video interview school first, met the principal, got a tour of the school, and talked to her for about a half hour. She was very friendly and the school was nice. Then I headed to the school I'd been at that morning and toured the school and chatted with that principal. I asked her all the questions I wanted to know, about technology and teacher freedom and data and creativity. She gave great answers and I was feeling convinced. Then I asked her, very specifically, "How driven by data are you? Will I be tied to a curriculum?" And she said magic words, words that made my mind up right then and there. She said, "Well, we have to use data, that's part of what comes down on us from the state and the district. But I believe that teaching is an art as much as it is a science, so as long as teachers get results I want them to be creative. I think students respond to that." I'm going to put that in big bold text now so you know how important it was to me.

"I believe that teaching is an art as much as it is a science, so as long as teachers get results I want them to be creative. I think students respond to that."

Oh yeah, this is the place for me. I took the job on the spot. It's a risk. Principals say all kinds of things they don't actually mean. But she felt like she meant it. And she pretty immediately proved that she did.

I have told bits of these stories in the past in this space, but they're important to make my wider point. When I started at my school I became friends with the other guy teacher in fifth grade, a kindred spirit of creativity. It wasn't long before we were talking about making stuff in the classroom and investigating these things called MakerSpaces what what would that be like, how cool would that be? We picked out a room being used for storage, built a wishlist and a plan, and went to her office to pitch her. We fully expected to be shot down. One does not simply walk into your principal's office and ask for five thousand dollars to do something brand new. But you gotta take the swing, right? She listened carefully, asked good questions, and then said yes. Yes! Told us to come to the PTC meeting coming up and pitch them because they'll love it and they'll give us money. Told us there was technology budget we could use. Hooked us up with an amazing parent who got hyper-involved and became the third arm of the team. Did everything we could have asked for and more, all without a shrug or an "I dunno..." or a question that this would be good for kids. The MakerSpace is still there, still being supported, she still believes in its power. If she didn't it would have been converted into something else long ago.

A few months later we went back to her. Since the MakerSpace is cool, how about this thing called a MakerFaire? Could we do that? It would be a lot of work but we could get one going by the end of the year. She said yes again! She found the money and time. She backed us up in front of the staff. The MakerFaire is still going strong. She's still involved, still helping us, still encouraging the teachers who might not be as enthused as we are.

This can do, yes let's do it attitude of hers has heavily influenced my own teaching. I am and always have been a jump first, ask permission later kind of human. This does not always sit well with administrators. I know plenty of principals who need the Why and Wherefore first. I know more who look at the schedule not as a playground to work within but as a sacrosanct text to be followed to the minute. I don't work well in those scenarios. My principal never pushed those things. She understands that sometimes reading runs long, especially if we get caught up in the story and are suddenly in the midst of building tree kangaroo traps. She knows that construction is math so even though we're not exactly on where we need to be, the kids are learning what they need to learn. She trusts that if she comes into my room and sees cardboard everywhere and the room looks like a giant mess, the kids are learning. Why should she trust that? Because I tell my students, "If Mrs Cook comes in here and the room looks like this she's going to wonder what on Earth we're learning. She's going to ask me what you're learning. Do you know what I'm going to tell her? Ask the kids!" She comes into my room while we're building and knows not to ask me what's going on. She asks them not what they're doing, but what they're learning. And they know, so she's cool with it.

Our deal has always been as long as my data doesn't slip, she trusts that what I'm doing works. My data doesn't slip. My kids love coming to school. My discipline is contained. We're good, and she believes that's what learning and teaching is.

Last year she suggested me for a construction pilot that ended with my kids building benches that now exist around my school. I didn't seek that out. She brought it to me. She trusted me with it. It paid off, we did amazing things. And we're going to do amazing things again this year with a fifth grade class led by my kindred spirit co-conspirator.

I went to her when I didn't understand a bunch of what she was talking about in a data meeting and said, "I don't understand what you were just talking about in this data meeting" and she took time after school to walk me through it. She didn't say, "Why don't you know this?" or "You ought to figure this out." She was a leader, appreciated me saying I didn't get it, and showed me the way. I've never worked for a principal I've been comfortable saying, "This stuff that you're talking about like we all get it? I'm drowning and don't get it at all" to. That's a crazy thing to say to your boss. Unless your boss is awesome. (I think I wrote about this after it happened but if I did the blog is buried among the however many are in the archives here. You dig, there's a lot of good stuff back there.)

We had this conversation about leadership.

I don't know if everyone knows how good we have it. I feel like teachers have a hard time seeing outside of our bubble sometimes and there's always something to pick at. Real problems need picking, of course, and no one is perfect. But the things we are able to do right now, the freedoms we are afforded, these are more precious and rare than I think some realize.

I'm incredibly nervous about having a new principal. I feel very safe and supported right now. I can do what I do because she trusts that it's right. We're going to have an interim principal for the remainder of the year and that will be whatever. I dunno. I'm sure it will be fine, but even if it's not it's only a few months. After that, what then? I acknowledge that this statement makes me sound like I think I'm a delicate special snowflake teacher, but my way of teaching is not normal and doesn't often read as normal. Especially if the administrator is a by the book type. We will rub each other the wrong way. What if the next person doesn't get it? Doesn't trust? I'm willing to be flexible, but I'm not willing to not teach how I think is best. I will be unable to fit into a "From right now to right now you're all to be teaching reading from the book" rigid schedule. The district is saying all the right things about what they're looking for in a principal for us, but the truth is no one will replace who I've been working with for five years.

A good principal makes all the difference. So does a bad one. All I want from a leader is trust and support. I've had that in spades and it has made me a better teacher. It has made our school a great place to work and to learn. What do I want in a new principal? Faith and trust. What do I really want? My principal to not leave.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Musical Chairs of Responsibility

Musical Chairs...get it?
My students want so badly to be responsible kids. They want to take responsibility for their behavior and own their choices. They want to know themselves and be proactive with that knowledge.

And now they're realizing just how complex all of that is when you try to put it together into a workable whole.

At class meeting last week a student raised his hand. I threw him our Talking Vader (some classes have a talking stick or some other bauble, I've got a little stuffed Darth Vader). He said, "I feel like I'm tempted to talk too much in the group that I'm in and I think I should be moved."

Some background before we go on- I do not create seating charts or assign seats unless absolutely necessary. From the first day of school my students choose where in the room they will sit and who they will sit near. This is because our classroom runs on choice and that can't just be lip service. If you say you do student choice, you gotta lean into it and make it a reality. Just because a student chooses a place to sit doesn't mean that's where they will always be, however. They know this, we talk about it a lot. "I'm letting you make this choice, but the most important part of my job is allowing you to be in an environment where you'll learn. Some of your seating choices might not be the best for your learning or the learning of those around you, so I will occasionally have to move you." That's my job as the teacher. Their job is to make a choice that precludes me from having to take any further action. They're nine. So some of them don't. Not at first, at least. This is to be expected and fine, it's part of learning the responsibility of having choices.

I will make one or two rules when it comes to seating- I do not want groups that are all students who identify the same way, our groups must be mixed. I do this because students in fourth grade still split up into "boys" and "girls" for one reason or another and I don't like it. Nothing in my class is split down gender lines, especially since binary gender lines don't exist. The second rule is anyone who wears glasses needs to choose to be near the front because I need you to be able to see the board even if you forget your glasses. That's it.

Back to my student who is trying to make the good choice by being reflective and asking to be moved to a group where he won't talk. He's in the front of the room because he's a student who needs that little extra proximity sometimes and because he has already been moved at least once for being distracted by and distracting those around him. Hey, he's nine. It happens. I'm here to help. He asked me for help. "I need to be moved."

Here's what I did not say- "Ok, how about you and this kid switch. Sweet, problem solved. Moving on." You, dear reader, are a teacher who is on it and I bet you know why I didn't say that. I bet you can even guess what I said instead. Let's see if you're right, shall we?

I said, "I am glad that you are asking me to do this. It shows strong reflective abilities and a willingness to be responsible. What group could I move you to that has no one you will be tempted to talk to?" You see, dear reader, this problem is not mine. It's the student's. Let us watch as he looks around the room, along with everyone else, and they all realize for the first time that the groups are divided in a very specific way, almost as though by letting them make their own choices, and then making small adjustments, we've engineered a relative balance in the room. Let's watch as he looks at one group and thinks, "I could go...no, he's there." To another, "Oh! Here. Wait no, then I'd be across from..." And so on. Yes, my child. You have friends at each of the other five groups, don't you? Whatcha gonna do?

He looks back at me with an idea in his eyes and I can say it along with him. He's about to suggest not just a two person switch, but a wholesale realignment of the classroom. He's about to set up a scenario in which I've got to pull up two diagrams, a graph, a map, and a horoscope in a futile attempt to somehow balance the room so no one ends up next to or near anyone else they will talk to. Newp, I think not.

Finally we get to the meat of the issue. Finally we get to have the conversation that we need to have about this.

"It is not up to me to keep you from talking. That is impossible. I can help, absolutely. And I will. I move you away from friends that you cannot resist talking to to the detriment of your education. However, there are too many of you to keep you away from anyone you're likely to talk to. I refuse to move you out of groups and into rows just to solve this problem. It won't work, for one, and for two, I despise rows with a fiery passion. And you will too once you think for a moment about how much group work we do, because if you make me put you into rows it won't be a sometimes thing. Instead, this is the point at which you need to choose what kind of a student you will be. We talk about responsibility all the time. We only have four rules in this class- Be Respectful. Be Responsible. Be Safe. Make Good Choices. And we often boil those rules down to the One Big Rule- Be Cool.

"Responsibility is easy when there's nothing pulling you in any other direction. But that's not the world you live in. You'll always be tempted. I'm tempted. I like the teachers I work with and we have to sit in some long meetings. You think I don't want to talk instead of listen sometimes? Of course I do. But I don't* because that's the mature, responsible choice. It's time for you to start learning that lesson for real."

We have a good talk about it. We talk about how it's hard and how they will fail. We talk about how I'll still move students who need moving for whatever reason. But it's vital that this is the point that they realize I'm not a superhero, here to swoop in and solve their problems for them. Some of them have already realized that when they asked me how to spell or define a word and I go off on, "If only there was a book...a book with all the words in it. A big red book..." or a similar riff but for Google or the glossary in the back of the book or whatever other academic problem that is not so major they can't solve it for themselves, at least partially.

Now, if you're near someone who is making you feel unsafe in some way, that's different. I'll help solve that problem right away. That's serious. Temptation to talk is not. I will not move your seat just because you're near someone you think you might talk to. I will be glad that you know you're near someone you might talk to. I expect you to take that information and use it. This lesson in a microcosm for literally everything in our class.


*mostly. Shut up, you do too.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.