Monday, September 18, 2017

The Second Line


"The first line is easy. It's the second line that's difficult, because it's the second line that give the first line meaning."
-Nick Cave on songwriting

The first lesson of a new topic is relatively easy. Finding that special Into that gets the kids excited, catches their attention, fires them up to know more.

But that second lesson, that's where the teaching is.

It's true with just about anything. Once isn't as painful as you think it will be. Anyone can write one blog post. Go to the gym one time. Take one guitar lesson. Start a diet.

Following through is the hard part. Finding a way to maintain. To do the same thing without doing the same thing. Doing the same thing but finding a new angle to attack it from. I'm not even talking about from year to year. Teaching that lesson again next year isn't that bad. You've got a whole year to (maybe) think about how it went and (perhaps) come up with a better way to do it. Still, that's just the one lesson. Oy, I just realized I've constantly got old lessons cycling through my brain, just waiting for the curriculum to get back there again, so I can take them apart and try them anew.

Learning doesn't happen all at once, no matter what some of our pacing guides might suggest. Yes, the students might need to see that material again. But not in the exact same way. No matter how much that jerk part of your brain might want you to try it, teaching the same thing but LOUDER and S-L-O-W-E-R doesn't actually work. It's teaching the follow-up in a way that engages the kids who got it the first time while bringing along the kids who didn't that's the hard part. And the fun part.

"So how can I make the second lesson better?" you ask. This stuff is some of my favorite parts of teaching. Taking a lesson apart and turning it this way and that until I can see it in a new light. or taking it apart and focusing on smaller bits. That's always a great way to get a fresh look at a lesson. Besides, the odds are that the kids got chunks, concepts, ideas. The second lesson is workshopping through the Big Idea step-by-step like a mechanic or a doctor. Following the internal flowchart we have. "Do you understand this? If yes, go here. If no, go back and take this path."

The second lesson is where student choice and voice become a vital part of the teaching. If I can't see the way, maybe if I give the kids the ultimate goal and tell them "Ok, go!" they'll find their way to it. This has pros and cons. How can I ask the kids to discover what it is they don't understand if they don't understand it? But how can I not guide them to that skill, since it'll be so important outside of school? Ah, the beautiful, maddening balancing act of education.

I supposed this is the point in the post where I'm supposed to use the word "grit". So...grit. There. EduSpeak box checked. Moving on.

It's the second lesson that moves the first along. A popular term, at least among the curriculum I'm using, is "spiraling". As in, "This curriculum spirals. If the kids don't get it the first time it'll come back around." Which is fine in concept, but you can't start a fire by getting the wood smoking then moving on to pitching your tent and assuming the smoke will still be there when you're done.

Chase that second lesson. Cherish the ideas that come to you during the first lesson when it's too late to use them, the ideas that come on the drive home, the ideas pilfered from social media friends, and the ideas that wake you just as you're falling asleep.

Teaching is often working as hard as you can, and then immediately thinking, "Now what?"

Now what?

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). I have a new book about the student teacher/mentor teacher relationship called A Classroom Of One coming very soon. 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, September 12, 2017

Hooked on a Feeling


The Guardians of the Galaxy would be either the best or the worst teaching team ever.

Let's imagine they were all on the same grade level team. Quill would decide he was the team lead, even though he didn't have the seniority or organizational skills. Gamora would know she should be the team lead, because she does have the organizational skills and is more competent. Rocket wouldn't care who thought they were the team lead and would be off doing his own thing, grumbling, and either fixing or breaking the copy machine. Groot would have no interest in being in charge of the team, content to be every student's favorite teacher whether they were in his room or not, and whether they understood everything he was saying or not. And this would be Drax in every meeting.

Picture your team at school. If you can't figure out which one of you is Drax, guess what.

But under it all they all have good hearts. Each of the Guardians comes from a broken place, and they each have dealt with that in different ways. Bad pasts, bad leaders, bad experiences being created.

Rocket and Gamora became what they are against their wills, and they both harbor a tremendous amount of anger about that. As someone who bangs on and on about the mentor teacher/student teacher relationship, I am worried about creating Rocket. But it doesn't stop him from doing what is right, even though he's going to gripe the whole time. Not exactly the best person to have on a team, but he does get things done. Gamora turned her anger into a more productive energy, laser focused and deadly. I know teachers who I would not get in the way of when they're on a mission.

Quill felt abandoned and mistreated, and so he learns to depend on himself only. Like, say if you worked at a school with a terrible administrator who didn't threaten to eat you, but might as well have. Doesn't stop you from being good at your job, but doesn't exactly instill a sense of authority in you either. Still, who needs authority? Until you find yourself in a position of authority. At least a negative example is an example.

Groot and Drax are the easiest teachers in the school to get along with. Especially once you get over Drax telling you exactly what he thinks about your lessons. Like that time he saw your book report packet and didn't respond encouragingly.
I do know one thing for sure- this grade level would have the best music coming from their rooms at all times.

Thinking of ourselves as Guardians of the Galaxy isn't a good teacher mindset. Guards are passive. They wait for something to come after them. Same with Avengers and Defenders to be honest. Our superheroes are all reactive. Because in fiction it's the baddies who attack. If there were no baddies, the Guardians would bum around space having a good time. Heck, they'd probably become the baddies just to have something to do.

Teachers are aggressive. We attack ignorance. We diagnose and pursue. We defend our students, but we teach our students to defend themselves. Unlike the Guardians, who will move on to another planet, it is our students who will move on. We can't save them, we can't fix them, those aren't the jobs and aren't what's needed anyway. We can prepare them.

Teachers aren't guardians. We aren't superheroes. We are preparing others to be their own superheroes.

I guess that makes us Nick Fury?
If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). I have a new book about the student teacher/mentor teacher relationship called A Classroom Of One coming very soon. 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, September 4, 2017

On The Eve



On the eve of another first day, another year, another class. My thirteenth, their sixth. All weekend, and of course it's a long weekend, I've paced. I've fidgeted. Jiggling leg, ready to go.

I wonder what they're doing on the eve of their first day. New grade. New teacher. New room. With strange desks and off chairs and are those puppets we saw at Open House? "I heard he doesn't give homework." "I heard he plays music in class." "I heard there's something about cardboard."

"I heard he's fun."

On the eve of another year I take stock again of what's important. What'll be new? New student teacher. That's exciting. It means more opportunities for learning, for the kids and for me. New computers, 1:1. Something I've wanted for years, now I have. Ball's in your court, Robertson. Time to show you know what you're doing. Again.

So much pressure, on the eve of another school year. Pressure from myself, to be my best. To find yet more creative ways to teach, be more flexible and responsive to the kids and what they need. Pressure on myself to finally get better at my weaknesses. "I will collect better data," I say to my understanding admin. She knows my room doesn't work that way, but I know the district does. So much pressure to find a better balance between the two, better than last year or the year before.

Of course, this is the eve of a whole new group. So the center of gravity has shifted once again. Which is part of the fun, balancing on a moving platform.

On the eve of the year, trying to find more goals. But goal setting in teaching is strange. The goal posts move, and there are so many. Each kid has dozens. Each classroom, each subject. I will be better at teaching math creatively. I will be better at assessing reading explicitly and recording it. I will use my class set of computers. But not too much. But not just to substitute. No digital worksheets. Unless there's a sub. Maybe.

On the eve of new building, new creation. A whole new start with a whole new crew. I hope they like me. I mean, it doesn't matter if I'm their friend.

But still.

Another marathon. But marathon is a bad metaphor. In a marathon all you have to do is run. There's so much more to it than that. Triathlon? Still too easy, too simple. Decathlon then. But without the breaks, and over and over, with different weigh discs and hammers, different height hurdles. And all with a smile and a laugh.

On the eve of another community. How well will they gel? Last year we struggled. This isn't last year, this is new, fresh, shiny. Use last year, absorb, integrate, move forward.

On the eve of so many long days and long nights. On the eve of another adventure bundling joy and stress together. Finding ins, finding paths, finding the wrong way to say something on the way to the right way.

An eve of I hope I remember how to do this.

An eve filled with excitement and nerves. It'll probably never go away.

I hope they're excited this eve. I hope they're ready. I hope I am. I am. I hope.

Let's go already.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). 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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Buzzwords and EduSpeak by Sarah Joncas


Sometimes I wonder if people in education fully understand most sentences from meetings, books, and PDs. It seems like every day contain more acronyms and buzzwords, all expected to be memorized and fully understood. But what’s at the heart of it? What words actually matter? What actions actually matter? If school is for students, we need the best way to cut through the buzzwords to find what we value. Not in teacher-speak, not in alphabet soup acronyms, but in simple plain English.

Tonight’s chat will run a little different - BW# is a “buzzword bonanza” challenge related to each question. When you see BW1, tweet BW1 with the buzzwords around the topic with the #WeirdEd hashtag. Use more than one tweet if needed, just like Pokemon your goal is to catch them all. Then, Q# relating to the buzzwords will be sent, and answer with A# and #WeirdEd. Let’s challenge ourselves in answering Q’s is to use as few of the buzzwords as possible and move past alphabet soup.

Let’s get some buzzwords and some real answers as we survive this busy BTS season! 

This post was written by Sarah Joncas.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Talking About Talking About the World

Regarding #WeirdEd- I want to talk about what we're going to talk about. Unfortunately, I'm at the tail-end of my vacation and I've been on the road for days and days with my family and tomorrow, Weds, Aug 23, is the last travel day and I won't be able to lead the conversation we're going to have during the chat. Even with stuff like this, which I wanted to get to last week, family gets put first. I'm afraid this won't be the last time we'll have to talk about it either. But it can't not be talked about. This chat isn't about a section of education, it's about all of it. To turn a blind eye is to admit you're ok with Both Sides talk and to pretend teachers don't have a part to play. I don't care if other chats do it, I don't run other chats. But #WeirdEd is mine and it ours, and the teachers who come to #WeirdEd want to be honest as much as they want to have goofy chats. I tapped Nathan Stevens to run the chat this week because I trust him and he's got interesting views on things. The blog is mine, the questions will be his. Thank you.

The president is unhinged. Let's get that out of the way. I know this because I've been paying attention for the last two years, but also because tonight he gave a speech in Arizona that was a ranting, raving bucket of lies. He's as mad as a bag of cats.

It used to be controversial to say something like the above about the president. People would still say it, but there would be a significant portion of the population who would be like, "Woah woah woah, hold on now. Let's look at this rationally." But now? Nothing you could say would feel like it's far enough. He's openly courting white supremacists. His main cheer leader is David Duke, the former Grand Dragon of the KKK. There are Nazis marching in the streets of America, and he thinks that pretty cool. AND THAT'S JUST STUFF THAT HAPPENED IN THE LAST WEEK.

School is starting again soon or has already started. Students are back in classrooms, teachers are finding new and interesting ways to reach their new and interesting kids, and things are moving along. Curriculum is being delivered. But there's an undercurrent through everything because there's a man in the White House who courted nuclear war on a whim from a golf course. Every teacher, even more than last November, is thinking, "What do I say when he comes up? Or when the Travesty Of The Day happens? How do I handle this?"

There's some great stuff going around on twitter under #CharlottesvilleCurriculum to help with that. Well, part of that. But what about the rest? What about what's coming?

The go-to answer in these cases is Listen To The Kids. Let them talk, let them share. We can't endorse one politician over another, but we can talk about various political positions. We can discuss racism and white supremacy because those are real things that are really happening (have been happening but are now more on the surface than ever), and that's called Current Events. That's in the PBiS lessons, my friends. Bullying, lying, and the like. It's all there. One way or another we're going to talk about it.

We're supposed to provide a view of events that allows students to make their own decisions, right? But this isn't a Both Sides issue, no matter what the Russian puppet says. How could we teach what's happening and not point to the swastikas and say, "This is awful. This is wrong. This was wrong before, it's wrong now, and it'll be wrong forever. There are no two sides to this." There's no two sides when one side's position is, "Most of you don't deserve to live." That's not a side that you need to hear.

I like to think that kids will know that. What will be harder is teaching the white supremacy stuff, because that's in deep. Again, making the classroom a safe space for kids to talk is going to be what starts this process. Teach history, talk about the statues, when they went up and where. This stuff fits into Common Core. Kids should be reading more non-fiction anyway.

Talking about talking about all this is a first step. But it's the easiest step. Reflect, look inside, decide what you'll do when you say the words "white supremacy" to your class in an educational, pedagogical way, and a parent in one of those red hats comes red faced into your room the next day. Is that conversation worth the truth you'll be having in class? It should be. This is probably something administrations should be addressing head-on with their teachers immediately.

Nevertheless, we can't Both Sides this. We can't let evil, actual literal evil that's so evil when a video game or a movie needs bullet sponges the player or viewer won't care about dropping they go with Nazis because who cares, live in schools or in this country.

Education is an inherently political act. Education acts against ignorance, and if you can't see that there's one side building a wall to Keep America Ignorant I'm not sure what else there is to say to you aside from please maybe not teach anymore because you're ok with someone who hates the students you teach.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Good Drumming vs Bad Drumming

First, watch this video, because it's the whole point of the post and if you don't watch it nothing that follows will track as well. It's four minutes long.




Brandon Khoo just answered the question of how you can tell a good teacher from a bad teacher.

I am in love with this video and Brandon Khoo's patience and clarity when answering what was probably meant as a jokey question. Because this is an important question: How can you tell something good from something bad? This seems like a subjective question. I think it's good because x, and you think it's bad because y. That's ok, we're allowed to think those things, because that's what opinions are for. But he spun it into a deeper question about the meaning of good and bad, and made what seems unquantifiable understandable.

There's an old story about the Beatles, possibly apocryphal, where an interviewer asked John Lennon if Ringo was the best drummer in the world. John responded, "Ringo isn't even the best drummer in The Beatles." John was a jerk.* This narrative of Ringo being good enough but not great, the lesser of the Fab Four, is always going to surround Ringo. Unfairly, as Brandon explains in the video. Ringo's job was to serve the song. That's what he did, every time. The Beatles weren't great because of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The Beatles were great because they were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr coming together, creating something as a whole. Look at any of their solo projects. Still great, but not the same. You couldn't put just anyone behind the drum kit and create The Beatles. It had to be Ringo.

Brandon does two types of drumming in the video. He Drums, with flash and fills. And he drums to serve the song. One is incredible to watch. The other makes the whole incredible. So which is better?

What makes a teacher Good is a  question that's tossed around all the time. Test scores? How the students feel in class? Quality of projects? Whether or not they talk to the whole group? Lesson creativity?

A good teacher is the one that best serves the learning. It's easy to become a Teacher with a capital T. A Good teacher best serves the song of each student, and our classrooms are the most eclectic mixtape ever assembled. Ringo didn't just keep the beat, he created the backbone of some of the greatest songs ever written. Sometimes he just needed to tap gently on the side of the snare. Sometimes he needed blisters on his fingers!

Some lessons, some students, need the apps sometimes. Sometimes we need the tech. Sometimes we don't. There's an urge to chase the flashy teaching. All The Apps, All The Tech, All The Time. What hashtag needs to be in my classroom this week? We lose the song in the technique. We, and I include myself in this, should try to teach more like Ringo. Strip it down, streamline it, and find the groove that each lesson needs, the beat for each student.

It wasn't a flash drum solo or a million fills that propelled The Beatles into the atmosphere. It was this.




*I think I'm going to make the above video part of any professional development I run and see what conversations come out of it.

**Full disclosure- my favorite drummer of all time is Neil Peart. Which, if the metaphor I'm working with in this blog post carries any weight at all, says something about my teaching. In my defense, Peart is never more indulgent than the songs he's writing need him to be. He manages to be incredibly complex without derailing the music. Peart serves the music first too.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). 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, August 7, 2017

The Goal Of Teaching





“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”



-Maya Angelou

This quote is not wrong.

This quote should not be the goal of teachers.

I can see why teachers latch onto it. Dr. Angelou tapped into a basic human truth here, as she did so often and with such facility. But here's the thing- teaching is more than basic.

This quote is a great way to live. It's a fantastic guiding light for leading people and for being a human in general. But I am not going to look at the parents of students in my class and say, "Your son might not remember what I teach him, but he'll remember it was fun."

I imagine their response would be something along the lines of, "Aren't you a teacher? Shouldn't you be teaching my kid things so he remembers them?"

I don't teach for the test. I don't teach for an assessment. I don't teach to get praise from my administrator or superintendent or parents. I teach because I love it and believe arming students with knowledge will prepare them for the present and the future.

But wait, as they say on the QVC, there's more! Because I believe teaching to be a holistic practice that cannot be split into sections and retain truth, I also teach so that students learn to learn. I teach so students love to learn. I teach so that, in case students do forget what they learning in my class, they know how to get it back.

However, I want to do my job well enough that they don't forget. I'd like to think I'm finding ways to teach that increase student retention of the information I am presenting in class. I believe this is called learning. As a fifth grade teacher, I appreciate it when the kindergarten, first, second, third, and fourth grade teachers teach their students in a way that they retain the information. I imagine that my students' future sixth grade teachers, seventh grade teachers, and on up through high school and college, would appreciate it if the students who were in my class remember the things I taught them way back in fifth grade. Because learning is a continuum.

Maybe it's because I teach stuff like multiplication and reading comprehension. Skills that will be used over and over in a student's life. I'm only familiar with third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade curriculum. Those are the only grades I've taught. At some point, perhaps, the actual information taught loses value.

There is a tendency to take a smart thing, and the above quote is a very smart thing, and make it a guiding principal without considering the ramifications of that choice. There is a tendency, in other words, to go whole hog into a philosophy before attempting to make that philosophy mesh nicely with previously held and also true beliefs. Now, I believe in loving something like crazy, and going into things full bore. But I believe more in ideas and philosophies as gears in a larger machine. The power of gears coming together, gears of different sizes spinning at different speeds, but all their teeth fitting and working as one to create more power than any one gear could alone. Anyone who's ever tried to ride a bicycle up a hill will tell you it's easier with more choices than on a fixie. Tools for jobs.

My job, as a fifth grade teacher, is to teach the fifth grade curriculum. This is a fact. I assume, though maybe I've never been explicitly told this, that part of that job is to teach the fifth grade curriculum in such a way that the kids will remember it. Will they remember everything? Probably not. Let's be realistic. But do I teach everything with the goal that it will stick and stick forever? Yes. I want to teach so well, I want my kids to learn so completely, that they will remember the information forever. Like the other quote says, "If you shoot for the moon and miss, you'll still end up in orbit around the Earth or possibly sailing out into space forever, light years away from the nearest star."

Dr. Angelou's quote says nothing about students or their learning. She was a smart woman. If she meant for that quote to also say, "people will forget what you taught them" it would say that. But it doesn't. It says "what you said" and "what you did." Maybe the lesson to take away from the quote is if people are forgetting what you do and say, do they should do it and say it instead. Hey, that meshes nicely with project-based learning and student voice.

I refuse to wave the white flag and resign myself to the belief that the content of my teaching is so unimportant in the long run that my students will just forget it. Because if the students won't remember what we teach them, why teach them anything? Why have curriculum? Why all the planning and goals and study?

In fact, why should I go to any professional developments? That's learning. Is my learning so unlike the learning of my students that I am expected to retain the information long-term but my kids aren't? Or should I be picking PD based on how I'll feel at the end? "Well, Mrs. Principal Lady, I don't remember what I learned, but I feel really good about learning, and that's what matters most, isn't it? PD credit, please."

What I teach matters. How the kids feel also matters. These are not different ideas. They go hand-in-hand. They work together, like gears in an engine. Teaching the information well involves helping the students appreciate the process of learning. But the teaching and learning of information is vitally important.

If I have truly taught the information in a way that the student took on board and integrated into their existing knowledge then I have done my job well. Part of the doing of that, part of what makes that possible, are the connections and relationships formed in my classroom. But the connections are not the end goal. It's not good enough that my students remember how they felt. I need them to learn and to remember. Because love of learning isn't enough. It's only part. Knowledge must be gained and retained for it to be any good.

That's the goal.

Post Script- If an answer to any of this is, "Google has made knowing or remembering things obsolete," may your phone battery never die, and may you someday find the urge to depend on yourself again. Google cannot critically think using a base layer of knowledge. Google is a gear in the machine too.


If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). 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, July 31, 2017

Teacher Parenting


I have two children. My wife and I call them the Weirdlings. Before you think it odd that we'd give our kids a collective nickname that echoes my own sobriquet, their name came first. In fact, we decided our kids would be called Weirdlings before we were pregnant, before we were married, before we were engaged. It was one of those long-term relationship vacation conversations, and we acknowledged the truth that we're both goofy nerds, so our kids, at that point totally hypothetical, would have no chance and no choice. They'd be weird. They'd be Weirdlings.

This is a post about Weirdling One, our eldest. For those of you looking for education thoughts in this space, we'll get there, I promise. Enjoy the journey. It matters.

He's four years old. Four and a half, I guess, since when they're this small those fractions still matter as a lot happens in those first six months. That's still a significant fraction of the child's life. He's smart and funny and, if pressed to describe him in two words I'd say, "Blurry noise." He hasn't stopped talking since he was born, and he hasn't stopped moving since then either. He's great and great fun and greatly exhausting. He's a Labrador. He loves you immediately and fully and do you want to play come on let's play watch this look at me I love you come on.

Recently he and I have started having trouble getting on. Not huge trouble, he's four. He's not sneaking out in the middle of the night and staggering in at 4am smelling of cheap apple juice with stolen Legos hanging out of his pockets. When he tells me I'm the meanest daddy it doesn't come with the vitriol only a teenager can summon up. In fact, he rarely tells me I'm the meanest. He's got a favorite stuffed monkey, who is named Monkey because when we named him we didn't realize that Monkey would be The One. Monkey has been around since Weirdling One was ten months old. When hurt or scared or tired he wants, in order 1) Monkey, 2) Momma, 3) Me. I don't begrudge Monkey or Momma third position. I get it. They're both pretty great at snuggles. So he doesn't normally tell me I'm the meanest, he tells Monkey. These are normal four year old grumps. These aren't the problem.

The problem is recently he began lying to me. About all kinds of things, most of which are things that, to quote every parent and teacher ever, "...would not have gotten [him] in trouble if [he'd] just been honest in the first place." I don't know what triggered this change. It started all at once, out of the blue. I didn't think we were giving consequences that would be so awful that he'd do anything to avoid them. I think it's probably a developmental phase (and wife research corroborates that). Funnily enough, he did just finish his first half year of pre-school, and I'm curious if he learned it there. Darn kids at school, teaching him bad habits. (That's a joke, I'm not blaming his school, his teacher was amazing.) The lying is about silly things, but things that become less silly when he looks me in the eye and protests, "No, I'm serious. I'm not lying. It's true. Really." Emphatically. Repeatedly. There will occasionally be the throwing of his brother beneath the bus.

The thing he doesn't realize, probably because he's four, is he's got the exact wrong parents for this. My wife was a teacher, and I am one, and we both have the Teacher Senses that allow us to detect Obvious Lies (I mean, he's four so he's not exactly fooling the CIA here anyway). We know the tricks to get a child to confess to a lie without meaning to. I'm guessing these are muscles non-teacher parents have to build up after they have kids. I want to stress here that I'm not saying being teachers makes us better parents. I'll get to that.

In my classroom I believe in positive reinforcement, the five positive statements to one negative statement ratio, focusing on catching kids being good rather than catching them getting into trouble. I'm pretty good at all of that in a room full of 5th graders.

I found myself struggling to remember those things with my own kid. It's one thing when a student lies to you, it's something else when your own kid looks you dead in the eye and makes claims you know aren't true. And I was having a really hard time handling it well. It was so frustrating and took me completely off guard. He's four! Really, this already? My wife doesn't get the lying, he only does it to me. In fact, he's told her the truth and then admitted, "I lied to Daddy about it."

I'm not flying off the handle with him. But I have let my reactions go right around my Teacher Brain, straight to Idiot Parent Brain. I just started taking toys away. My thought- He loves his toys. This will work. Then I did the thing I repeatedly tell student teachers not to do- I made a promise/threat/condition that I did not want to follow through on. "Next time you lie to me, I will take away your bike."

Why would I say that? I'd never say that kind of thing in my classroom. This was different somehow, he's mine. And, of course, because he's four, he lied to me again the very next day. Because I hadn't actually done anything to help him.

I was so frustrated. With him, sure, but mostly with myself. What a stupid thing to do, taking away his bike. He loves his bike. I love watching him ride his bike. He and his brother ride bikes all the time. Now, because I said a stupid thing, I have to do the stupid thing. A thing I know isn't actually going to help the behavior.

I'd have asked Dr. Google what to do, but no matter what symptoms you put into Dr Google it turns out you've got cancer of the eyeball and seventy-eight seconds to live. So instead I did exactly what Weirdling One does when he's upset- I called my mom.

Mom used to work for the City of Where I Grew Up as a parenting counselor. Basically, if the county took away your kid for some reason, she ran and taught the classes you had to take. She also, if I do say so myself, did a pretty good job with me. My sister too, I guess. But my sister is second, she had to practice on me.

I laid it all out for her, and when she started giving me advice and tips it finally struck me- These are exactly the things I'd be telling a new teacher who came to me with this problem with a student. "You should come up with a sticker chart and he gets stickers for good choices and when he gets five he gets to choose a reward." "You need to make sure the consequence is a logical extension of the poor choice." "Make sure you're focusing on the good things."

It's here that I point out that my wife also came up with the sticker chart plan and we just hadn't gotten around to implementing it yet because I was ignoring the teacher instinct that says Start as soon as possible too.

"Why didn't I think of these things! I know these things! This is how I'd teach it." I said.

"Because it's harder with your own kids. You're not teaching, you're parenting. You don't know what you're doing, you're figuring it out. It's ok."

I guess I needed someone to say that. An outside view. Extra eyes that see things that I'm too close to. I just kind of assumed being a teacher would help me be a better parent. I think it helped, but it's also not the same. Much in the same way that becoming a parent has made me a more empathetic teacher. Having kids didn't magically improve my lessons or grading or feedback, but he helped me better see the parents on the other side of the equation.

I'm incredibly lucky, because Weirdling One is an amazing kid with more love and joy in his body than you'd think one person could contain. We're going to work together, along with Momma, to help him see that the truth is the way to go. Here come sticker charts and all those other things that are worth trying. We'll work through this phase and whatever phases and challenges come after. If I can, I'll use what I've learned teaching. Mostly, I think, my wife and I will muddle along as best we can.

And when Da Squish hits this stage, we'll be a little more prepared. Of course, he's very different from his brother, so who knows what that preparation will be worth.

Post Script- I want to note that I could have asked my Dad for help too. Still probably will. Especially since he's going to text me about four seconds after reading this post asking how his grandson is doing.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). 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.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Truth, Health, and Students

Today part-time White House resident, full-time golfer Donald Trump made an announcement regarding tweeted while talking out loud to Fox News that the armed forces of the United States would no longer be a place where trans-gender people are welcome.

At the same time the Republican Party is busily attempting to strip health care from millions while having no replacement plan of their own.

These are facts, and though anyone still supporting Trump has a purely theoretical relationship with facts, facts are still important.

These two events (no, a tweet thread isn't normally an event but the president* is too much of a coward to hold a press conference so we have to pretend twitter like a place the Kommander-In-Chief ought to speak from) directly and indirectly impact our students. See, you knew I'd get to education eventually. It's all coming around. Since they impact our students, we are not doing our jobs if we don't talk about them and look at them from our classrooms.

The president* openly speaking of trans people as unable to properly serve is an open attempt to lessen them. If you need me to go into why that's the case, you need to spend a little time in a room thinking about it. No one should have to hold your hand and say, "You see, all people deserve to be treated like people." If you counter with the "cost of their health care" line we've been fed I'll know you actively avoid facts. Short version- What he said is wrong.

We have trans students. Every single school in the country. And the second-highest highest post in America, right behind Putin, just singled those students out and told the country they are not good enough to serve. This will reverberate through the trans community, and will continue to embolden those who would rather hate than think. Since election hate crimes have become more and more prominent on campuses. This tweeted policy continues to make that ok. It's a continuing Othering of anyone not straight, white, and Christian. Othering is the opposite of education.

Our classrooms are supposed to be safe spaces. You cannot learn if you are surrounded by hate. Teachers need to be barriers, force fields that dissipate the hate before it can get inside the room and the school. It's summer break, but we can't pretend this is going to go away before we once again stand before our students. We must keep in mind the hate being spread from White House, we need to know that our schools and students don't exist in a bubble. We must have open conversations that emphasize truth and safety. If you don't feel your students are old enough to handle an explicit conversation about trans rights, there's still conversations about those different from us. Read The Sneetches. Discuss. Slip the message in there.

The attempted dissolution of the Affordable Care Act has a less obvious direct impact on our students in school. Especially for all our classes where no student ever gets sick or hurt ever. I know my fifth graders are always perfectly healthy in every way and never need to doctor. I mean, except for the kid who needed surgery. And...well, you get the idea. It would be foolish to assume a successful revocation of the ACA does not impact our kids.

How many of our kids are using health insurance for off-campus appointments? How many of our kids will lose out on the basic human right of being healthy if the GOP manages to repeal? And how many school-based experts will lose their jobs in the ACA is repealed? You think, "What can we do about that?" Call. Vote. March. Discuss. Don't ignore.

This is less a conversation we have with our students, unless you teach older kids. I wouldn't delve into the health care debate with my fifth graders, but I would talk about helping those in need with real life examples. We should be aware of what it means to our kids, and we can talk about it among ourselves as professionals who teach in the real world. Many teachers talk about preparing students for The Real World and doing assignments that would matter in The Real World. We need to walk the walk amongst ourselves too.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fueled by Coffee and Love by Mari Venturino

You may remember that I hosted a very special #WeirdEd happy hour back in April (The Story of Tonight) where we swapped stories and shared ideas. That was in the middle of a very crazy book-creating process. Well, guess what? It’s published!

Fueled by Coffee and Love is a collection of real stories by real teachers. Each contributor shared a story from their teaching journey. Some stories will make you smile, some stories will make you think, and some stories will make you cry. These are our stories.

Still not convinced? The intro was written by the one and only Doug Robertson! And, if that isn’t enough, all proceeds from this book will be donated to classrooms and teachers. (Ok good, you’re convinced. Go buy a copy, then read on.)

Jennie Magiera mentioned Chimanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk in her ISTE 2017 keynote--if you haven’t seen this TED Talk, take a second to go watch it before we chat.  Adichie says, “Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, TED Talk, The danger of a single story). It is a dangerous thing to allow others to tell our stories, especially when they are doing so for political or economic gain.

This project started in February 2017--my AVID 8 students were starting 20Time projects, and I decided to do one myself. My inspiration for this project stemmed from news media and politicians telling a one-sided tale of what teaching and education is and is not. I feel frustrated that the individuals making decisions about our profession have little idea of our day-to-day joys and struggles.

FBCAL - Social Media Release Graphic.png

What I thought would be a small and manageable project exploded (in a great way) and turned into a full-scale book project. In March through May, I gathered stories and facilitated the editing process. A total of 53 stories came in! Then, it took May and June to finish the editing, final formatting, getting a logo and cover design created, and getting the whole thing published. (Shoutout to Ray Charbonneau & y42k Publishing Services for making the self-publishing process easy.)

One of the biggest challenges in this project was recruiting a diverse cross-section of teachers, especially including teachers of color. Because this project grew out of my group of friends and PLN, I know there is some diversity of authors and I also know it isn’t representative of all teachers. (And, since I don’t know all of the authors personally, I’m making this judgement based on their stories, bios, and Twitter profiles.) This is something in the forefront of my mind as I plan for Volume 2.

Get yourself a copy of the book on Amazon--while you’re there, buy a second copy to gift to a teacher who has made an impact on you!

If you’re interested in writing and/or editing for FBCAL Volume 2, please fill out the interest list and I’ll email you once Volume 2 gets rolling this fall. Find out more about the project on the Fueled by Coffee and Love website. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Blixa Bargeld, Hating Guitar, and Connections to Teaching


I'm reading the hardcover book that comes with the super deluxe edition of Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and it's full of interesting and insightful essays about the band and their process. As a person who buys Blu Rays for the special features, this level of depth is exactly the kind of thing I want. I haven't been a fan of Cave for long, but I'm not sure if I've ever fallen this hard this fast for a musician. I can't get enough.

One particular essay, the third in the book, is called "A Beautiful, Evil Thing- The Music of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds" by David Pattie. It's wide ranging, covering the band's dissonant yet gorgeous discography and discussing just what it is that makes them sound the way they do. A section of this essay is about one of Cave's earliest collaborator's, German noise innovator Blixa Bargeld. Bargeld has a lot of interesting things to say about the guitar, and it made me think about teaching, because I'm an education nerd and I find connections to teaching in everything. The below link goes into my connections in some detail, but I think anchor deletes posts after 24 hours and I wanted to try to write about it too. So listen if the link is still active. Otherwise, read on, MacDuff.



Here's the section in question-

When conventional instruments were used they were radically changed - guitars were placed on the floor and played with bows or electric razors. As Bargled told Johnson, such music could only be played by someone who hated the guitar; or, at least, hated what most musicians play on the guitar. "I thought it was a good decision to play guitar because I claimed my hatred for playing guitar in several interviews...It's probably good to play an instrument out of hatred of what other people do with it rather than play..."

However, there was more to Bargeld's playing than simple hatred. He told Guitarist magazine in 1997 that he wanted to find a way into playing guitar without playing guitar. "To me playing any instrument is a thinking process...I'd consider myself more like a singer. I come up with an idea for what to play on the guitar due to the value of how much sense it makes in a singing context.
 Bargeld, in other words, didn't simply approach the guitar the way the Barbarian hordes approached Rome. His function in the Bad Seeds was to provide something more subtle - a nagging sense of sonic disturbance."

There's so much in there that speaks to the way I approach education in all facets. Look at the first paragraph, he's saying that he hates the way other people play guitar, and that drives him to do something wildly out of the ordinary, something destructive and dissonant, with the instrument. 

Now think about how teachers use their textbooks. Or their Chromebooks. Or run edchats. Or write. Or even just how they teach. When I see people doing something badly- or it doesn't even have to be badly, it might be objectively well done, but boring or reductive or the same old thing- it makes me want to do the thing, but do it better and differently. It motivates me to try and find a way to break the form. Do I? I dunno. I probably just make a mess a lot of the time. But breaking things makes messes. I'm sure that a lot of guitar people listen to the way Bargeld plays and dismiss it as noise. I realize that I'm dangerously close to comparing myself to someone I'd happily call a musical genius (or at least a musical madman), but it's more about connecting him to teaching than comparing myself to him.

How often have you looked at a bad administrator and, even just for a moment, thought, "I'm going to go back to college, get my Masters in administration, and become a principal, just to show you how badly you suck at it and how it could be done so much better"? How many professional developments have you sat in that made you want to gently pull the presenter to the side, sit them down, and then finish their session yourself? If you answer, "Never, nope,not even once," to those then you are infinitely less judgmental than I am. But don't those bad PDs stack up? How many bad sessions can a teacher sit in before you have to go Ivan Drago on the whole system and say, "I must break you."

What about all the other tools of our trade? Yes, textbooks can suck. But don't throw them out. Break them. Turn them inside out. Find a way to use the tool- the instrument, if you will- in a way that sings for you and your students. 

Ah, there's a different between what Bargeld was doing and what we do. The Bad Seeds grew out of The Birthday Party, a post-punk band Bargeld wasn't a part of but loved, and who made a career out of antagonizing and attacking the audience. Not something we can do in our classrooms, though I'd love to see a professional development leader try to do it. In fact, I try to do it in my own way. Find ways to push the envelope. 

This brings us to the second part of the selection, which can be summed up in the final words, "a nagging sense of sonic disturbance." This is something education should aspire to. You want to talk about change agents and getting outside your comfort zone and growing by risk taking? What you're talking about is creating a nagging sense of sonic disturbance. Slipping inside the groove of education and vibrating just out of sync, slightly out of tune, but still in a way that enhances the overall effort. Make education more interesting by creating friction. 

But create it in an intelligent way. I'm not about to go charging around, crashing through walls and breaking things for the sake of breaking them, as fun as that is. That's mindless and it's just as easy as following the song exactly. Anarchy is easy. It's much harder to be smart about the chaos, to strike a tone that rings out but still rings true. 

I think we can learn a lot from Blixa Bargeld's guitar playing. If we're serious about changing education, about shaking up the status quo, then we need to be looking at the people who actually do that for inspiration. 






If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). 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.

Lecture is Bad...Right?

I'm at ISTE17, a giant edtech conference/sales pitch. A buddy and very smart human I know named Don Wettrick turned me on to this new mini-podcasting app called Anchor. So I decided to try it out.

My first mini-cast is ruminations on the nature of lecture, and whether it's really as bad as we make it out to be.

*EDIT- Turns out these only last for 24 hours, so if you didn't listen before I guess it's gone*


Monday, June 12, 2017

Battle of the Disney Non-Princesses: Judy Hopps v Moana

*I know this is a teaching blog. This particular post will have nothing to do with teaching. Why? Because it's mid-June and this sounded like fun.

ZOOTOPIA and MOANA are two of Disney's most recent films, and two of the company's best. Both are funny, feature fully-fleshed out characters, tell engaging stories, and have leads that don't fit into the traditional Disney Princess archetype. But between Judy Hopps and Moana, who's the better character? Let's break it down and find out who the Best Disney Non-Princess* really is.

Getting Their Start
Moana yearns to leave her island even before she realizes that she has to in order to save the world. She's never been beyond the reef, never sailed, and only knew what lay out there through stories told by her grandmother. Encouraged by the ocean itself, Moana toddles to the water every chance she gets. She's motivated by discontent and a rebellious streak at first, and later through a sense of duty.

Judy Hopps wants to be the first prey-species police officer in the biggest city in the world. She has wanted this her whole life, and everything she's ever done has been pointed towards accomplishing this goal. She has only wanted to help people and stand up for the little guy. How often does a person say what they want to be in elementary school and then follow through? She knew herself well from an early age.

Edge- Judy Hopps. Judy knew what she wanted from the beginning and did everything she could to achieve her dream. While Moana eventually came to her mission's true purpose, Judy's motivation was always pure altruism.

Degree of Mission Difficulty
Moana has to sail across an ocean, capture a demigod, defeat two other unexpected monsters along the way, defeat a supernatural being, and save the entire world. She's never sailed before, she has no real way to convince Maui to do anything, and she's a mortal in the realm of gods and monsters.

Judy Hopps wants to be a cop. She gets to go to cop school. She's trained by a polar bear who's a hardcase, but who wants her to do well. She goes into her mission as well prepared as a bunny could be. While her original mission is to hand out parking tickets, she's soon thrust into a web of deceit and corruption that threatens the tenuous fabric of the society in which she lives. She has to save the day in a small time period with no official resources.

Advantage- Moana. Come on. Yeah, the ocean helps her, but she doesn't even know how to make a canoe go when she sets out. Judy gets all the training in the world. Judy has to fight a savage jaguar and an angry sheep. Moana fights a billion coconuts, a giant crab, and a lava monster.

Companion
Moana's companion is a demigod who has no interest in helping her. All Maui wants is to get his hook back, be magic, be awesome, be adored. He's more powerful than her, and has all the information she needs to be successful. Without the help of the ocean, he could leave her at any turn and there's nothing she could do about it. His arc isn't complete until he swoops in, Han Solo-like, in the final confrontation, sacrificing his hook, his magic, and maybe himself in the process. He has a song that will be stuck in your head for the next three days. You're welcome.

Judy Hopps' companion is a fox who has no interest in helping her at all. All Nick wants to do is run his hustles, not work to hard, and have a good time. He knows his way around the city better than her, and tries to take advantage of her naivete. Judy out-thinks Nick and hustles him into helping her. His arc lets him find his way to her way of thinking on screen, through her caring and example. He rejects her not to save himself, but because he feels mistreated by her, and rightly. He has to welcome her back and they plan together to solve the final problem. In the end he too becomes a cop.

Advantage- Judy and Nick. Both Nick and Maui are selfish to start, but Nick's evolution is clearer and a clearer result of Judy's influence. Also, once the pen recording isn't held over Nick's head he sticks around. Maui constantly tries to ditch Moana and uses her as bait at one point. Nick has the better arc and is a better companion.

Other Supporting Characters
Moana travels with a chicken too dumb to live, the ocean, and has the most adorable pig you've ever seen.

Judy's world is full of colorful animals. A sloth named Flash, a fat cheetah, a nudist yak, a mole Godfather.

Advantage- Moana. Hehe eats two different rocks, can't eat food given to him, and manages to frustrate the ocean. Hehe is the coolest chicken ever.

Idris Elba
MOANA does not have Idris Elba in it.

ZOOTOPIA has Idris Elba in it.

Advantage- ZOOTOPIA and Judy Hopps

The Rock
MOANA has The Rock in it.

ZOOTOPIA does not have The Rock in it.

Advantage- MOANA and Moana

Drive
Moana is forced to do something no one from her island has done in memory. She does it without training, and fighting a demigod the whole way. She fights through storms and learns on the go. She's inspired by her ancestors and Lin-Manuel Miranda. She, in turn, inspires a demigod and her entire village.

Judy Hopps overcomes everyone in her life telling her she can't be a cop, a bunny has never been a cop, she'll be nothing but a carrot farmer. Even when given no resources she finds a way to hustle and think her way around problems.

Advantage- Moana because seriously, she literally doesn't know what she's doing and does it anyway.

Refusal of the Call
Moana at her weakest point, when she finally gives up her quest, is after a crushing defeat and being abandoned by the one other person who can help her. She asks the ocean to choose another, and comes around after being visited by her grandmother's spirit. This moment is touching and beautiful and shows the power of love and family and how it can inspire. She goes on without Maui.

Judy Hopps voluntarily leaves the ZPD when she sees that her good intentions lead to terrible outcomes for the very people she was trying to protect, coupled with being confronted with her own biases. She runs from the world, hiding at home, leaving her task incomplete. A chance encounter with a former bully helps her solve the case, return to Zootopia to find Nick, and save the day.

Advantage- Judy Hopps. There will be flack for this choice, but as touching as Moana's moment is, Judy's comes from within and helps her grow as a person because not only does she have to solve the case but she also has to admit she's wrong to Nick. Judy screws up big time, is forced to confront her ignorance, and move past it. Reflection like that is harder than realizing you've got to face a lava monster.

Humor
Moana's funniest line is when she shouts at the ocean, "Fish pee in you! All day!"

Judy's funniest line is when she says, "I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but we are good at multiplying."

Advantage- Judy Hopps. ZOOTOPIA is a riot. MOANA has its moments, but it's nothing compared to Judy keeping it together in a nudist colony, Chief Bogo dancing in his chair to his Gazelle app, an extended Godfather riff in the middle of a children's movie, or, "Blood blood blood and death."

Song
Moana's theme is How Far I'll Go. It's a mission statement and a beautiful sequence in the film that lays out everything we need to know about the character. And did I mention it's beautifully animated and performed?

Judy's theme is Try Everything. It lays out Judy's character. It plays over a wonderful sequence that introduces us to the variety of the world.

Advantage- Moana. Duh. This one isn't even fair. Try Everything is fine, it's catchy, it's got a good message. But it's up against a breathtaking moment, one of the most gorgeous two and a half minutes ever animated. In fact, here, watch it again.



See? No contest.

Destiny
Moana is not a Chosen One. The ocean does not choose her because it's her destiny. It chooses her because she saves a turtle over grabbing the shell. She's doing what she's doing because it needs to be done.

Judy Hopps is not a Chosen One. The Great Bunny never comes down to her and anoints the rabbit that changes the world. She's doing what she's doing because it needs to be done.

 Advantage- TIE. Chosen One stories are boring and played out. It's not interesting when someone is told they are great. It's interesting when someone chooses to be great. Moana and Judy both choose their paths no matter what obstacles, starting with their parents, are in front of them.

CONCLUSION
Moana takes the advantage in six of the categories.

Judy Hopps takes the advantage in six of the categories.

MOANA and ZOOTOPIA are two of the most important, empowering movies we've had in a long time. Strong female leads taking the audience through great stories and tackling a wide range of issues that may or may not be under the surface. How can you choose between Moana and Judy Hopps? Let's celebrate the world they are trying to bring about.

*Yes, Moana is technically the daughter of the Chief and therefore could be called a princess, but when Maui calls her one she denies it. Plus, she's still a non-traditional example of a Disney princess. 

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). 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.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

How to Train a Student Teacher

People often say to me, "Doug, you are extremely handsome and modest. Also, you are a fantastic mentor teacher to the student teachers lucky enough to work in your classroom. How do you do it?" So, in the interest of helping the education public at large and with the help of my current student teacher, I made this handy instructional video.

You're welcome.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Whatever Is Worse


It's time again to investigate saying and aphorisms we hear all the time and take for granted as true. The above is a Truth in education, and in business as a whole. You'll hear, "The worst thing you can say about something is it's the way we've always done it" anywhere you go. The point of the saying is to encourage people to constantly be evolving, changing, keeping up with the times, thinking outside the box. Of course, if everyone is thinking outside the box then we've just underestimated the size of the box, and it might be a little bigger than we first though. That box gets bigger all the time. Still, the Theory of the Growing Box, which I just now coined, accommodates the idea that the worst thing, the most dangerous thing, is satisfaction with status quo. One of the great philosophers of our time, George Carlin, said it best when he proclaimed, "The status quo sucks!" He's right, naturally. The status quo does indeed suck. Coincidentally, that's one of the few Carlin quotes than can make it unedited into an education post. Which is good because can you imagine how pissed George would be about one of his quotes being edited for content?

We love hyperbole. In point of fact, we think hyperbole is the greatest thing in the universe and beyond. Hyperbole is not only better than sliced bread, you can slice bread with hyperbole. Hyperbole is so great Bono dressed up as hyperbole for Halloween (he didn't pull it off*). This love affair with hyperbole explains why we're so drawn to this statement. The Most Dangerous Phrase. Dangerous. This phrase robbed Bruce Wayne's parents. This phrase makes Maverick look like a Cessna pilot. Kenny Loggins wrote a song about this phrase.

It's not though. Oh, it's bad. I can't stand it. It drives me bonkers when it's used as a reason to not try something new, but I don't think it's as common as we're told it is. Maybe I'm working in the wrong schools, or I guess it would be the right schools. Teachers can be reluctant to try brand new things, but it's rarely because they're clinging to the Old Ways and more because a lot of teachers are cautious creatures and they want to understand the New Thing before trying it with kids. A completely reasonable feeling. Growth Mindset is a new hotness phrase, but it's not a new hotness idea. This is where you wave your hand around and say schools look the same as they did in the 1950s and I say you're looking at surface things and we have a long discussion about whether or not the majority of teachers actually want what's best for kids and are busting their tails to achieve that or if they're holding tight to Old Ways for comfort. It's where I talk about the three states, four districts, and four schools I've worked in over my eleven years and how at every site we've evolved and changed and yes some teachers dragged their feet but it was almost all out of discomfort and not unwillingness. And you say, "But rows and worksheets and homework, oh my," and we move on from there.

"We've always done it this way," isn't the most dangerous phrase in education.

The most dangerous phrase in education, in anything, is, "Whatever." I can work with someone who says, "This is the way we've always done it." There's a root there that's easy to see. But a shrug? Shrugs are harder to work with. There's a lot of root causes of "whatever", and they get gnarled and deep. Apathy is a killer. Does it come from being beat down by bad teammate, bad admin, bad state leadership, frustration with an incompetent Education Secretary, one of those classes? Apathy takes a long time to get to. An apathetic response means not only does the person not burn with desire, their pilot light has gone out.

"Whatever," is the worst. It's a useless response. Even in regular life, asking your significant other what they want for dinner. "Eh, whatever." Ok, that's not helpful at all and you get a wish sandwich** now.

When I was just a Weird Child I was a swimmer. My first swim coach was a woman named Lisa who was, let's say, intimidating. Coach Lisa was intense. A great coach, but a formidable woman. My mom got me a thirty minute private lesson with Coach Lisa before practice one day. I got there and Coach Lisa asked me, "What do you want to work on?" You're smart and you know where this is going. I was young, my mom booked the lesson, I kind of shrugged and said, "Whatever." Coach Lisa was not amused. I got a private lesson on, "You're paying for this time. This is for you to improve, and you don't know what you want to improve on? You didn't think about it before you got here?" It taught me a lot about focus and goal setting and being prepared to learn. But also on the insult of a shrug.

Apathy speeds entropy. Apathy hurts more students than "we've always done this" ever has. At least the teachers who are dedicated to the way they've always done it are dedicated to something. Apathetic teachers aren't dedicated to anything. They're moving on whatever momentum got them started.

I want to be clear that, like the "we've always done this" crowd, I don't think there's as many dangerously apathetic teachers as Betsy DeVos and others selling things want us to believe. Those archetypes just fit their narratives, yet another reason for teachers who have the fire in their bellies to let it burn bright and pass it on to others.

Some of you are done for the school year. I still have three weeks. I'm not fighting apathy, but there's a little part of me that can feel summer right there, just out of reach. Part of me that knows we're basically at the finish line and come of, one episode of Bill Nye isn't going to hurt you. Maybe two. You know. It's not apathy, but it's related. I beat that little voice down with cardboard and yet another project I'm not sure will work. You beat it down some other way.

 How we've always done it isn't ideal, but it opens the door to the real danger. We must be aware of the tendency towards apathy within all of us. That part that looks at the world and wants to toss up hands and let it all go. It's such a mess out there, it's so big, and I'm in my classroom toiling away. And that's when we turn to the kids, the true cure for apathy. Each kid is a peddle in the pond. Each student is a strike back against apathy and helplessness.


*dude's name means "Good" He wanted to call himself Bono Vox, like "Good voice" in Latin. Why does anyone take U2 seriously?

**to quote the Blues Brothers, "A wish sandwich is the kind of a sandwich where you have two slices of bread and you wish you had some meat."



If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written two books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome). 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.