Tuesday, February 23, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 96- Love Complex- The Chat

I just wrote a post I'm more happy with than anything I've written in a while. I want as many people as possible to read it, not because I'm dying for hit numbers (do you see ads on this page? [ok, aside from my own books, which doesn't count]) but because why I don't need an audience to justify writing something I do like it when I have one. And this last post felt needed an important. 

Tonight's #WeirdEd will use this post as a jumping off point. A conversation starter. It's a lot longer than normal chat posts because it wasn't conceived as a chat post. 

So basically what you're reading right now is a post written to tell you to read a different post. The BlogFather pays me by the link.

Our Love Complex

Teaching should be fun.

That's so trite. It oughta be on a landscape background in a loopy font and have 15 retweets so an edu-thought leader could tweet the same thing on a different background and get 750 retweets.

We do this job for 180 days. More if you count weekends and holidays and add up all the extra time like we love to do. Like we're billing by the hour. Or like we wish we could. Is that why we mention how much extra we work? Should we bill hourly? Lawyers and tattoo artists do. I'm not immune to this, and I wish I were. No one wants to hear how much extra you work.

We want to be called superheroes, but why? We're human. We're people. We work with kids and that's hard but frankly I've seen what my mom does and some of the people she has to deal with on a daily basis and that's not much easier. She's not changing the future though. Just the present. Seems harder to change the present. The future you can aim at and adjust to. To change the present you have to steer into a skid you’re already in.

We teachers put a huge emphasis on the future. We should. That’s our business.

Teaching is a huge part of American culture, but its impact is almost completely under the surface. It’s not a flashy profession, it’s a slow burn, long game. I've said it before, but education is a heavily wonky conversation. It's not easy. Very little in education is straightforward. That's why political talk about schooling is so surface. "Yes, education is good. Yes, teachers should get paid more." Lip service, but we crave it like my three-year old craves Hot Wheels. Everyone knows to say these things. Everyone but the ambulating pile of barely sentient hair follicles known as Scott Walker.

I wonder if sanitation workers have similar gripes. I'm not comparing educating the youth of America with making sure the America they grow up in is clean and nice-smelling, but we both probably feel left out of the conversation a lot. Do they gather together and wonder why no one else is talking about the new sanitation laws that are being passed by the Secretary of the Interior? (I'm not sure what government agency is in charge of this, stay with me.) I'd bet anything they think they should be paid more. Their job is very important to the present of our country. Are there sanitation worker memes? A rainbow over a landfill with pretty text, "If Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness, That Makes Us Angels."

I'm as guilty as everyone else. I want teaching to be recognized as important and listened to as such. Ignore the clown shoes I sometimes wear and remember that important is not synonymous with dour. This job is fun. Kids are fun. Kids are goofy as hell (whether you you let them be or not). And here's where the dour people come in, "Well testing has taken all the fun out of schools." To you I blow a raspberry. I fart in your general direction. I started teaching under Bush the Lesser's Reign of Testing. I worked in a district where, no joke, my language arts curriculum was dictated to the page and the minute. We still found ways to have fun. That year I had my tattoo artist come into my room and teach my students about creativity. I've always taught in a testing grade and I've always striven for joy anyway. This job is fun.

We’ve gotta lighten up about it sometimes. This superhero thing that's going around? That's not convincing anyone. Everyone wants to be a superhero. "I'm a prison guard, what's your superpower?" "I'm a fireman, what's your superpower?" "I'm a server, what's your superpower?" I was a server and that job is hard. Is it equal to teaching? No, of course not. But it could still be a superpower. Do you have any idea some of the dopey superpowers that have existed in comic books? I was a lifeguard. That's a superpower. You're literally saving lives. In the present tense.

We should expect respect because teaching is a profession that deserves it. We should demand to be paid a professional wage. We should stand up for ourselves and our kids. We don’t need to hide behind our love for our kids. We adore reminding everyone that students come to school to be loved and damnit that means we love our students and you should pay us more and respect us more because of how deep our love is.

I'm not sure many jobs get paid by how well they love.

...Ok, I can think of one or two.

But in the public's eyes that's not our job. Our job is to educate our kids. They don't care, really, what the nitty-gritty is, just like we don't care what the newest sensation in garbage collection is. We want it done the best possible way, and we’re decent humans so we want the people who do it to know we respect them by how we treat them and how they are paid. They don’t need to be superheroes. And neither do we.

Stop the cliches. Everyone believes the children are our future. One- Whitney told us. Two- It is literally true. We don't need to remind everyone of it.

I love you all, every single person who teaches. This job is hard and you know it like no one else. You’ve been called to it and that keeps you in it when it gets hard. I want you to keep teaching and keep making yourself a better teacher for your students. I want you to internalize that pride because you're good at it and you love it. Not because someone calls you a superhero.

A Savior Complex does not suit us and will not save us.

Be a Teacher. That’s what the profession needs. That’s what our kids need.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Bad Science and Swimming Underwater

Sometimes I feel like my classroom is a laboratory. But not in a good way. Not in a everything is organized and scientists are scientifically sciencing with detailed notes and data tables.

My lab is more like that room where people throw things at the wall. Sometimes it sticks. Sometimes it slowly oozes down. Sometimes it hits the fan.

I should be better about this. I should be more detail-oriented. There's a lot of times where I try something and in the back of my mind I know that somewhere on the internet someone has already tried this and they know a better way to do it. And yet, I don't look. I don't want it.

I trust my instincts deeply. I wrote my first book before discovering edutwitter, which means I had faith that the ideas in that first book, good or bad, were mine. I discovered them. I did the troubleshooting and the testing and the trial and error. My subjects were my students. We learned together, we fell together, we rose together, and we corrected together.

Social media has given me ideas but I rarely try to get details for those ideas. I'll take the inspiration but I don't want the work. This is a harder way to go about it. I'm not taking the harder way to be difficult or cool. I take it because then I trust the result. I know how I got to where I got and why I got there. With lessons, plans, ideas, projects, grading, whatever. The ideas are mine or my students'. 

Isn't this bad for my kids, though? Seriously, if there's a book out there that has a great way to teach x aren't I being a bad teacher by not seeking that book out and reading it? Why reinvent the wheel? 

Honestly, because I like reinventing the wheel. My wheels look different than your wheels. And on top of that, my wheels this year are different than my wheels last year. I think it's better for my students in the long run. I'm not advocating ignoring all research or brushing off anyone's ideas and knowledge. But I do want to take your skeleton and hang my own skin on it (that got macabre).

I'm sure this all relates back to my belief that teaching is more art than science. Because it's more art that means it's more about discovery. We're in it together, my kids and I. Together we make art. I'm the guiding hand, I have to be. That's my job. But when there's an easier way I don't always take it because art isn't a smooth process. It doesn't have to be hard, but it shouldn't be someone else's. 

Have faith in your bad ideas. Make them good ideas. Smooth them out. Don't go somewhere asking for permission or approval. Get it done. And if the idea is really that bad you have two choices- bury it in the backyard or put it back in the oven to cook longer.

When I was a lifeguard we used to train doing underwaters. It's exactly what it sounds like- you swim as far as you can underwater. There's two parts to being able to swim a long way like that. The first is skill- you should understand the best way for your body to cut through the water. The second is mindset- you have to decide to Go. You cannot question it. You accept that it'll hurt and you get past that. I learned this as a swimmer and a butterflier. I got faster when I decided to just go and not question. An underwater hurts eventually. Your body fights for air, your lungs burn, and the only way to keep swimming is to relax into the pain. And when you do you learn to trust your body because it'll go farther than the pain would have lead you to believe. 

I learned to trust myself in those laps with my heart pounding in my ears and my eyes focused squarely on the back line running the length of the pool. I trusted that I could do it. I could make it and make it farther than I had before. 

This is part of who I am as a teacher. It looks like confidence, but it's more properly defined as trust. I'm going to try a new thing, I don't know if it'll work, and that's bad science because it's new to me but probably but not new in general. But I'd rather trust myself to find the best way for my students than ask around too much. 

Bad science, but good art. Have faith in what you're creating. You still get to laugh maniacally.  

And I will allow that there's got to be a balance, and I know there are teachers out there who balance the science with the art much better than I do and I want to sit at their feet and learn from them. This is where I am now in my continuum. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 95- Fictional Presidents' Day

Today a guy running for president of the United States tweeted a picture of a gun with his name engraved on it and one word, "America". Say what you want about this, but this is the message he chose to send to the world about himself. (Or what he wants us to think about him. It rings as hollow as the bullet points he dreams about to me, like a kid acting like he thinks the other kids want him to act.) Politics are an educational issue, and we've not shied away from politics before. What do we want our leaders to know? What should they think? How involved should they be?

But, since we already hit that, I thought I'd take advantage of the recent holiday to talk about what we imagine our presidents could be like. Let's look at our fictional presidents and see how they have inspired our country. What great feats have these (still almost all) men accomplished? Flying a fighter jet at an alien spaceship*. Sleeping with a lobbyist. Caving to the Cylons. Getting baddies the hell off his plane. Being shouted at by Corbin Dallas' mom. Being the only president who is also a wrestler and a porn star.

"Doug," you shout. "Surely you can't make these presidents relate in some way to education? I mean sure, once you wrote a whole chat about narwhals, but this is going too far!"

Oh is it, audience who lives in my head? Movies are where we put our aspirations and our dreams (see Bartlett, Jed) and our fears (see Bush, Jeb!**). In the movies we imagine a leader who looks upon an asteroid falling from the sky and knows just what team to call. This, without a doubt, is a president who can handle Common Core. President Scroob, even with his head on backwards, would know that we're overtesting our students. When the Martians attack (having learned about Earth culture from Matt Damon) Jack Nicholson will be there to defend our education system. And we know Jack Stanton (who's fictional in name only) could talk his way through any funding quandary.

*WHY are we getting a sequel? Who asked for that?

**he's not fictional yet, but he will be

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 94- Seven Deadly Sins

I have no idea how we've never done an edchat about one of my favorite topics- Sin. But, this being #WeirdEd, we can't just talk about any old sins. That's too lightweight. Here at #WeirdEd we go straight for the Deadly Seven Sins, or the D7s as those of us in the sinnin' biz like to call them.

I know you, reader. And I know that for just a moment you hesitated when you saw this topic. The Seven Deadly Sins? About education? Are we even allowed to talk about sin when we talk about teaching? Why, talking about sin and teaching even sounds like it's its own sin! We've discovered an eighth sin! It's not Deadly though. At worst the sin of connecting teaching and sin is a Severe Injury Sin (SIS). It's probably more of a Finger Wag Sin (FWS). Still though, look at all of you, sinning for your professional development.*

The idea for the chat is very simple. Sinfully simple. I'll post a sin, you connect it to education. I'm going to give you very little guidance past that. I trust you, you're smart humans. If I can give my students an assignment that amounts to, "Demonstrate you understand how the sun works somehow. Ready, go!" then I can give you seven one-word prompts and you can jump off from there. I'm even reluctant, like we often are in our classrooms, to give you example answers here. You know, how you're modeling a writing assignment and in your example you mention that there's an elephant named Geoff and suddenly you've got seventeen anthropomorphic animal stories? I don't normally jump into our chat for just that reason- I wrote it, and I wrote it specifically so there are no right answers, but by giving an answer I influence what you think is the right answer. But this one will be fun. What might you come up with for Lust? How honest will people be about Sloth?

Like always, I encourage you to reach past the east answers. Anger will be really easy if you let it. #WeirdEd isn't about that. You've got the time and the people to dig in. Greed can go a dozen different ways. Don't always trust your first instinct. Let it roll and grow. Build off other answers. What can we learn about our own teaching and predilections when we frame it in the context of sin?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 93- On The Spot

Sometimes I find myself asking my students a lot of questions. Often I find myself asking my students to ask me questions.

Which one is harder?

I'll wait...

Right. Having them ask me questions is harder. Not for me, but for them. Asking a student to ask a question puts them on the spot. "What do you want to know right now?" That's intense, but we do it anyway. Well, I do it. I lead them. I beg for questions. I announce that by questioning they take their learning into their own hands. I emphasize and model the safe space of our classroom. And then I ask if there are any questions.


Nope. We got it, Mr Robertson.

I have a theory that, like most of my experiences with students, I'm not alone in this. It has happened often enough in my classrooms over the years that I must be happening in other classrooms too. How do we get students to ask questions? Good questions? Leading, deep, prying questions? And I don't want, "Well give them something they're interested to ask about." Part of our job is to help them be interested in new things. Fifth graders don't show up in my room interested in the American Revolution or multiplying fractions or crafting the perfect paragraph. This is not a fault of theirs. But it is my job to make it interesting. One of the ways we make things interesting is by picking it apart with questions. Some old guy Bill and Ted brought back to San Dimas High School felt the same way. Asking questions is a whole different ballgame though.

Stacked on top of this is the problem with a lot of edchats- the questions themselves. Writing questions that spark discussion is hard. The better we can get at writing questions we'd ask each other, the better we can be at asking questions we'd ask our students. Or so claims the base on which this week's entire chat teeters.

I won't be moderating tonight, it's the Weird Wife's birthday and we'll be trying a new place for dinner with the Weirdlings. The moderator, probably Shawna or Lauren, will toss out a suggestion and/or a criteria. If you fit the criteria it's your responsibility as a member of the chat to throw out a question. Then everyone else answers the questions. This will probably get messy and confusing and might crash and burn. (And if anyone says, "Define connected educator" I will find you and I will tweet all of Webster's Dictionary at you until you understand that questions like that are awful and unhelpful and boring as lack-of-sin*.)

Have fun, kids.

*"boring as sin" doesn't make any sense. I've sinned a lot and it's rarely ever boring.