Monday, October 29, 2018

NOW That's What I Call High Quality Math Engagement

As a reflective educator who is constantly trying to prevent his ego from overwhelming his sense of skill, it's important that I recognize that the biggest flaw in my I'm A Creative Teacher shtick is my math instruction. I'm not a bad math teacher, but I'm also not coming up with all kinds of fancy ways to teach it that are crazy engaging and nifty like I am for the more language arts-based subjects. My math instruction is effective, but more workmanlike. As such, my goal for improvement the last few years has been math instruction. When I go to a conference I always choose at least one math-centric session in the hopes that I'll grab up something good. The last time that happened was at iPDX when I saw one half of the Classroom Chef team, Matt Vaudrey, run a wonderful session on discourse.

It's happening again.

At the end of the school year last year my principal sent an email to the 4th and 5th teams asking us if we'd like to participate in a summer math training. I agreed and spent three days in a library at a nearby elementary school getting some strong math discourse knowledge dropped on me. Also a lot of binders that should be Google Drive folders. Which...whatever. That's my hang up. Then I went away and set up my classroom, trying to remember all the stuff I learned and find ways to implement it.

But that was not all. Oh no, that was not all.

What's you biggest complaint after a professional development, dear reader? Clarification- After a good professional development. If you're anything like me (and if you are, congratulations on being so attractive, smart, and modest) the thing you think most at the end of a big PD is, "That was great, but one shot isn't really enough. Regular refreshers and supplemental trainings would really help this be usable." Friends, be careful what you wish for.

I'm not complaining. Not really. But that summer math training came in a package that included regular trainings/math studio days during the school year. I didn't realize this. It might have been in the initial email I skimmed. Either way, I'm having to take one or two sub days a quarter to go to a school, meet with the trainer and my group from the summer, get trained up, and watch some sample lessons in a math studio class. Yes, I can see you in the back with your hand up- A math studio is a specific class in our district that has been earmarked as the one where the teacher will specifically be using these strategies and when we have a training we will also observe her class being taught. So it's both classroom and practical. Really, it's everything you'd want out of a training, save for the sub day thing. But if it makes me a better math teacher it's worth the time this year.

And it's paying off.

I tell you all that as a preface because it's important to me that we see the value in trainings like this, and it's important to me that cool ideas that aren't my ideas are not passed off as such. We're all stealing. Trust me, I try to let you know when something works that I've thought of whole cloth. Or I will as soon as that happens. I 100% stole this project from the math studio class and modified it to suit where my fourth graders were at.

There should be number block representations in that last column, dunno what the computer did with them.
We were working on addition and subtraction, along with place value and representing numbers. This was a few weeks ago, for those of you overlaying your math pacing guide with the time of year. I'm not that far behind. I created the above four by five grid of math problems represented in the traditional way, as word problems, in expanded form, as place value charts, and in number blocks (not pictured because of some weird computer glitch). Also, for those of you looking closely, there are one or two mistakes in there. Total accident, but they actually played into what happened next so I'm ok with my mistakes.

I printed sixteen copies of this sheet, one on each color of paper I could dig up in the copy room. So 16 copies because a) that creates groups of two students, mostly, and b) I was shocked I could find 16 different colors of paper in the copy room so I went with it. Then I cut the little squares out, paper clipped each color together in no particular order, and put the paper clipped squares into envelopes. This took longer than I'd prefer, but sometimes you gotta suffer for your art and all that inspiring meme-fodder. Then it got fun.

I love presenting projects to my students like this- I had them partner up. Then I held an envelope up without speaking for long enough that they were salivating at the thought of what might be in there. It works, it's all in the presentation. And I proclaimed, "Within these envelopes are small squares! These squares are related in some way! Your job is to organize them! This i all the direction I will give you! Tallest person from each group, come to be and receive your envelope!" I love giving non-specific directions. 

Students immediately started pulling all the cards out and doing that thing students do- Not being thoughtful or organized at all in their initial look at the cards. Just flipping them over at random. Pushing them around. Going much too fast. Slowly most pairs reached the same conclusion and hands waved, "We're done!" What do you think they had done, dear reader? Did they grid it out? Of course not. They made five piles. A pile for each different kind of problem. When three groups did the same, which I'm totally going to pretend to have expected, I stopped the whole class. "I see lots of you organizing the cards into similar piles. Yes, that's organizing them. No, that's not what I want. Keep trying."

SO MUCH math discourse, my friends. It started naturally. They had to have it. They had to start talking to each other about what they were seeing. "Oh wait, this one equals 1,349! I saw a thousands block...look! These are the same. No, see, because blah blah blah." Some groups got it faster than others, of course. Some floundered. To those I suggested maybe a short walk around the classroom would be in order. Not to steal ideas, of course. Just to see. 

Soon a group was done. Almost. "Mr Robertson, we've still got all these blank ones." 

"Hmmm," I say. "Interesting. Blank ones you say? Do you think those are in there on accident?"

"" the students reply. They know me by now. They know the class mantra this year is, "Everything Has A Reason."

"Hmmmm," I say again, nodding and pulling at my chin. "I wonder why they're there. Good luck." Then I walk away, mentally rubbing my hands together like a Bond villain right after the world's greatest super spy stumbled into my trap again. And I listen with my Teacher Ears for the, "Ohhh! Look look look! This row is missing that kind of problem! And this row...OH! OH! Mr Robertson! We figured it out!"

Bwahahaha. I love teaching without saying anything. 

Once enough groups had figured it out Phase Two went into effect. The groups had to pair up with another finished group. Then switch sides. Group A looks at Group B's card grid, and Group B looks at Group A's. Then Group B has to explain to Group A what they see Group A did. Group A has to listen without interrupting, then they are allowed to ask clarifying questions. Then it reverses. In the parlance of the internet- Much discourse. So math. Very disequilibrium. Such thinkings. 

To be clear, this whole process took the entire math block, just over an hour. And some partnerships didn't finish. But they still got to talk to another group and see what was done. 

The kids loved it so much, and I was so blown away by how well it worked, that I determined I would do it again. So last week I built one for multiplication. You can see that below.

Again, no idea why the graphic representation isn't loading, but trust me, it's cool.
This one was greeted by cheers from my kids. Yes, I said it. They were so pumped. I wish I could be all chest poundy about this, but all I'm doing is finding something that worked once and hoping it'll work again. The only credit I take it seeing that it was a good idea, modifying it, and then chasing the dragon a second time. 

This time, just because I like playing with fire, I invited my principal in. She wanted to see what I was learning from the training, and she never gets invited into classrooms. She's always got to schedule something for an observation or whatever. But she's got the soul of a classroom teacher still, so it's fun to ask her to come in. 

It went even better the second time! They knew the trick going in this time, so everything went much quicker as far as grouping the cards, even with it being multiplication and my making some of the relationships between cards a little more unclear. Instead of making them group up, though, I used what seems to be every teacher on social media's tool de jure, The Grid of Flipping. (I swear, if you even think Fl!pGr!d on twitter their social media team will smell it and send you a dozen Stepford-like helpful tweets. I'm good, back off.) I set up a grid, set the video time limit at five minutes, and had the kids explain their thinking to the camera on their Chromebooks. Then they needed to watch at least two other explanations and reply to those with sentences like, "I like that you", "It's interesting that you", "When you did x I was y." 

At the end of all that we talked about the habits of mind and the habits of math discourse that we used during the game (I called it a game, a rose by any other name can still trick students into thinking it's a game), which was also valuable. Kids talking about when they used reasoning, when they used mistakes and perseverance, when they used modeling, and so forth. I am not too modest to say that my principal was blown away. She praised my kids for their work and their thought, she gave me some nice pats on the head, and my kids were jazzed.

So much so that at the end one girl raised her hand and asked if we were going to do it again when we finished division. I told her I was thinking about it but that I was also thinking, now that they seem to be experts at it, what if I gave them twenty blank squares and they had to set the whole thing up? Friends, remember, this is a math lesson. It's a heavy lift math lesson. There's a lot of cognitive load happening. It's not easy. And what I'm proposing is even more difficult than I think they expect. But they were so high on math at that moment they cheered the idea. I'm not making that up, I wouldn't lie to you. I would tell you if a collective groan went up, but it didn't. 

I laughed at/with them and told them, "I'm so excited that you are so excited about this. I'm also so excited that you all decided to react like that while the principal was in the room, so that's for that."

I love getting deeper into mathematical discourse and finding creative ways to increase the cognitive load my kids are carrying, while also making them more independent and helping them see themselves as mathematicians. 

If you have any questions about the projects I wrote about here, math studio, ideas to make my math instruction better, or anything else, please leave a comment, shoot me an email at theweirdteacher@gmail, or send me a tweet at @TheWeirdTeacher.

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 TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released 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, October 22, 2018

Sketchnoters of the Lost Ark
This is a story about how I finally internalized what it means to accept my students and what they need rather than holding my ground and making sure they always did what I thought they needed. But, because it's me, there's a trip to get there. It's a good trip, there's a whip and a hat and an idol. Come with.

Innovation can be planned. Brilliance can come from meticulous attention to detail and not letting the smallest detail go unnoticed. See every Stanley Kubrick and James Cameron film for examples of this. See the teacher down the hall who really knows the curriculum front to back and builds lessons like you've never seen, down to the minute, and then manages to pull them off more often than not.

People like me love saying that accidents are where real learning occurs. That it's the unplanned moments where flashes of brilliance are allowed to come through. That boundaries and constrictions, self-imposed or otherwise, can lead to real creativity.

I'm also reflective enough to constantly wonder if I'm justifying my own peccadilloes by saying all that. That being the case, I'm pretty invested in this particular line of bovine excrement. I do believe in the beauty of limitations and the value of forced creativity. For myself and my process, the end of my rope is where I find a lot of my best ideas. Accidentally. Or not. Luck is preparation meeting opportunity, so sayith Roman philosopher Seneca, quoting American philosopher Oprah.

My go-to example when I talk about this is always JAWS. One, because it's one of my favorite movies, and two because it's literally the perfect example of this. If the shark had worked, if Robert Shaw hadn't been a drunk, if Steven Spielberg hadn't gotten screenwriter Carl Gottlieb to be on set and live with him during filming, if Richard Dreyfuss hadn't panicked about his career and decided to play Hooper, and again, if the shark, THE TITLE CHARACTER, had worked, JAWS wouldn't be the classic it is. It had to go wrong in order to force Steven Spielberg to think around every corner and create a truly terrifying adventure in which you don't see the title character at all until over halfway through the movie, but you don't need to.

In this case I would rather use a different example. Still, oddly enough, a Steven Spielberg film though. This time I want to talk about RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, the first (and best, followed by Last Crusade then Temple of Doom and that's the only three, fight me) Indiana Jones movie.

This is a story that everyone who is a fan of the movie knows, it's been told over and over, but to be sure everyone is on the same page, I'll recount it one more time. First, watch the scene in question.

HE SHOOTS THE GUY! Perfect. Except not what was planned. They storyboarded a huge sword fight between Dr Jones and Giant Sword Guy. Giant Sword Guy, this is true, trained for three months for this fight sequence. And there should be a big fight. That's what happens in these movies. The good guy, being the good guy, has a fair fight. But Indy instead has a perfect character-defining moment and, with patented Harrison Ford annoyance, pulls out a gun and shoots Giant Sword Guy dead. No fight. Why was there no fight? Because Ford was incredibly ill with food poisoning. He couldn't do it. So they improvised and instead of a marketplace-spanning sword fight that, in hindsight would had hurt the fight with the Giant Nazi At The Plane later in the movie because of the repetition, we get a five second reaction that no one who saw the movie will ever forget.

Totally unplanned. Complete on-the-day rewrite to fit the situation. Nothing to do but what you can and hope it works out.

A few years ago I had a student who would not stop drawing in class. Constantly doodling. Every time I turned around her paper, journal, whatever, was covered with art. We had All The Talks, my friends. All The Talks about time and place and I promise I'll give you a chance to draw and grrrr please do what I'm asking and go to recess so I can pull my hair out trying to find yet another way to convince you to stop drawing all the freaking time and focus. Until finally I gave up. I ran out of ideas. My barrel, it was empty and I had no more barrels to go to. I had her stay in for a second from recess, not as a punishment but for another chat, and I said, "Ok, draw. I don't think I can stop you without having to be some ridiculous version of a teacher that I don't want to be. So draw. But please, draw what we're talking about. I'm fine with you drawing, but if we're talking about the story, draw the story. If we're doing math, draw the math problems. Deal?"

She looked so relieved and agreed. I sent her away, not sure if I was doing the right thing, worried I was giving a student permission to space out with no consequences, but also thinking about who she seemed to be and trying to trust both her and my end-of-the-line instincts.

And it totally worked! She was on task. She did know what was going on. She drew and stayed with us. Her mom came to me near the end of the year an told me that no teacher had ever tried that with her before and it was the first time she really felt connected to school. I take no credit for this, it was a last ditch accident. Sketchnoting might have been a Thing at this point, but I didn't know it existed until five years later at ISTE. When I saw it I had that gratifying moment of, "Hey! I do this too. I didn't know I could have named it though!"

A last ditch accident tied to one other thought. She was a really good artist. Practice makes perfect and all that, right? And in my head I could see her getting famous. A gallery opens and she is interviewed by a major outlet. She's asked if she had a teacher who helped her. Here time timelines diverge.

In the darkest timeline where the interviewer has a goatee, my former student sighs and says, with steel in her voice, "I had a teacher who refused to let me draw. He put his foot down. I draw like this to show him how wrong he was."

In the light timeline she smiles and says, "I had a hard time with drawing too much in school. Until I had this one teacher, my favorite teacher, probably the best teacher I ever had, or anyone ever had (this is my imagination, remember). He helped me use my talent for my education. It helped me continue to draw."

Obviously I'm self-aggrandizing for humorous effect (as far as you know), but those scenarios did play into my decision. I'm glad they did. I think about her all the time, every time I see a student who isn't fitting in to the learning the way I'm expecting. She allows me to trust myself and every student after her that they will find their way to the learning, I just need to make sure the barriers are removed and the bridges are in place.

Total accident gave us one of the most iconic Indiana Jones moments ever. Total accident helped me define who I am as a teacher. 

Accidents are good. Take that Cameron.

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 TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released 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, October 15, 2018

One For The New Kids

This one goes out to all the new teachers. And those of us who still feel like new teachers no matter how long we've been at it.

This isn't an easy job, but it's the only one I've ever wanted. They say that if you love what you're doing you'll never work a day in your life. That's not true, not with teaching. You'll love what you do and you'll work hard every day. You'll grind and struggle and it'll be worth it because this job is more magical than any other when it all comes together.

This is not the same as advice that says you should sacrifice yourself on the pyre of Being A Great Teacher. That's a lie too. Don't burn the candle at both ends, don't be the candle that burns itself out to light others. You need to burn and burn brightly for a long long time, and sometime that means finding the fuel just for yourself. Anyone who tells you different is selling something or trying to get something out of you for free. The most valuable tool in a teacher's belt isn't technology or connections or curriculum. It's rest. And we all remember that first year. The idea of being fully rested sounds like the punchline to a bad joke. I know that too. You can't help yourself, you go home and think about your kids. You stress about your class. You wonder if you're doing right by them.

We still do that too. But those of us who have managed to find the healthy balance are able to put that aside and have faith that what we're doing actually is the best we can do. That's the goal. Not to be content with what you're teaching, or how, but to accept that you are doing it to the best of your current abilities. That's how we sleep at night, and how we come to school fired up the next day. The day might not be perfect, but at the end we're pretty sure that what we did was done as well as it could have been done. They can't all be home runs, and that's ok.

You're probably got at least one kid you're never going to forget. And not in the good way. A kid that, more than any other, has you banging your head against the wall (metaphorically and otherwise). We've all got that kid in the first year. Mine was a little third grade boy who had had a rougher nine years than I've ever had. The anger and defensiveness he shrouded himself with was overwhelming for first year, oh-so-young Mr Robertson. I did what I could and man did I do it badly. He called me a motherfucker almost every day. I wasn't special though, he called the principal and special ed teacher that too. Kicked at us, struggled everyday. Would make progress, then backslide. His world was spinning and I was not trained to help him like I would have liked to have been. But how do you teach that? We all did our best for him. This story has no happy ending, he was finally expelled near the end of the year because we found a pair of scissors in his desk that had been flattened out so that the blades pointed horizontally, and he'd wrapped tape around the center as a grip. You can do a lot to keep a kid in your class, to try and help, but when that is found in a desk it's no longer up to you. I have no idea what happened to him. I hope he's ok. I wish I'd known more, been better, done more. But I have to believe I did what I could.

I also look back on that year and remember being irritated I had 23 students, because contract said I should have 21. Young fool, I can't remember the last time I had thirty kids. And I complained about low twenties?

When the year is hard and you're feeling overwhelmed, remember that you're probably focusing on the one or two or four kids that you're having the hardest time reaching. Natural. But that means there's thirty who are having their own quieter struggles and successes. Don't tunnel on the ones that are easy to see, and don't focus on what you perceive as negative. It's so easy to see. It's like when you're in a group and you tell a joke and everyone laughs. Everyone except that one guy right there. What the hell is his problem? Notice that everyone else got the joke. Notice the learning everyone is doing. And remember that the person who isn't getting it probably has a good reason and you can work to find that too.

Don't save your kids. You're not a superhero. You're not a magician or an entertainer or a mechanic. We don't fix kids because kids aren't broken. Don't buy into the hype that makes us heroes, the narrative about "some kids don't have anything to go home to" that centers a cultural normality that isn't actually normal. Someone loves the kids in your class. That doesn't mean that the kids aren't having hard times, going through hard things. These two statuses are not mutually exclusive. Don't negatively judge your kids or, through your assumptions, judge their parents or guardians. Start at accepting and giving the benefit of the doubt. Just because the parent or guardian wants the best for the kid in a way that's different than you do doesn't mean they don't want the best for the kid.

No one is really good at this job for at least three years. Probably four. That doesn't mean don't try, it means know the learning curve is steep but worth it. It also means that as you get more confident you won't rest on your laurels. Getting more confident just means you can try harder things and fail bigger. But it won't really feel like failing bigger because your expectations will have grown with your skills.

Watch more experienced teachers, notice things, but don't try to emulate just yet. Take small things, but don't go whole hog. You need to learn all the basic tricks before you can start in on the fancy stuff. Judge yourself against yourself using what your kids are learning and how you feel teaching it. Don't watch the person across the hall and judge yourself against them. Be you. Teach like yourself, and that means taking the time to find who you are. Take what works, break what doesn't so that it will. It's better to break and repurpose than throw away.

Reflect with others, talk it out, but watch for poison. That doesn't mean don't complain. Complaining can get things done. It doesn't mean be relentlessly positive, hiding your head in the clouds is exactly the same as hiding it in the sand. But find that balance where you notice if you're being more negative about your kids than you are being positive. Always lean to positive. Use negative to solve problems. Be confrontational (in a professional way) with people if they aren't giving you the help you need. Fight for you, fight for your kids. What some will label as negative and critical and mean others will see as open and honest and willing to have mature conversations.

Teaching is a great job. It's the best. Kids are hilarious and fun and sharp and so much more entertaining and interesting than most adults. Discovery happens all the time. We get to attack and destroy ignorance of all types. Keep that front and center in your mind. Be who you is, enjoy the job, and come to us for help. No one expects you to know it all. Find mentors who you can trust in your building. They are there. You'll probably cry some days, that's ok. Teaching is hard. Honestly reflect why you felt that way and know it's ok.

Oh, and don't put your work email on your personal device. The district didn't buy it for you, they shouldn't expect you to work from it. Draw the line and hold it.

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 TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released 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, October 8, 2018

The Technological Singularity as a Lesson in World Studies Class by Dr Punita Rice

When I taught 7th grade World Studies, I looked forward to teaching a lesson about the technological singularity at the end of each school year. If you're not familiar, the technological singularity is the term for the idea that technological advances will start coming so fast that we'll reach this moment where everything will start changing so fast we can't even keep up. That moment is usually identified as the moment when “the invention of artificial superintelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization” (More via Wikipedia here. Btw, some folks think this moment -- the singularity -- is really, really near).

Anyway, I used the concept of the singularity -- whether it is near, or only theoretical -- as a frame for having students apply the concepts we had been studying all year: political systems, culture, geography, economics. Throughout the year, we had used those concepts as lenses through which to study specific key events and time periods in history. (If you've ever taught a social studies or language arts class, all of what I'm describing sounds very familiar). And then, at the end of every year, I’d do this lesson based around the theoretical concept of the technological singularity (if you'd like, you can see the lesson here).

And through that lesson, I always found that my students had really, really, learned a lot about the things they were supposed to have learned all year. They were able to take the ideas we had examined all year long (how political systems work, for example), and then apply that knowledge. They were able, even, to come up with ideas for how the singularity might impact, for example, political systems: 

  • They understood that in some political systems, leaders are chosen through voting, and so, some students suggested that the singularity might mean people could vote from home, or vote instantaneously.
  • They knew that a political system's leadership should, ideally, reflect the needs of its people; so, some students imagined that technological advances could enable governments to have greater insights into what people want, which might influence how policy is made. 
  • ...and they came up with many more ideas for how the singularity might impact political systems, and cultures, and geography/settlement patterns, and economics. (By the way, you can read more of the crazy ideas my students came up with for how the singularity might impact the world here. And I’ve thought about some ways the “singularity” might change the role of a teacher -- you can read some of those musings here.)

The point is, by building a lesson around the singularity -- this seemingly unrelated to our course content, and admittedly weird topic -- I was able to give my students a cool learning opportunity. They not only got to demonstrate their creative thinking skills, but they also got to apply knowledge they'd been absorbing all year.

As Doug, the original Weird Teacher writes in this post, "you just gotta find your weird and run with it as hard as you can." Teaching this lesson was one of the ways in which I ran with my weird.

This was a guest post by Dr. Punita Rice. If you liked this post and you’d like to read more content from Punita, you can find some of her recent writing at, or recent blog posts at She's also writing a book, about South Asian American students’ experiences in K-12 settings - you can learn more about it here. She's on Twitter @PunitaRice.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Would You Kill Baby Hitler? OR Dear All Men

What are we going to do to stop predatory white men from getting away with rape and the dehumanization of women?

Correction- What are we going to do to stop it from happening?

Men, I'm talking to us. This is our job. Dr. Ford and the other women who have been coming forward with their experiences, knowing full well the GOP will bring to bear all manner of smear tactics, they're doing what they can. They're doing the hard work. I'll admit, this is the first place that I was conflicted about writing this. I initially thought, "This is a women's issue. I want to support the voice of women here and share their stories." But see, I did that here already. (Holy cow, that was a year ago.) And while it's vitally important that we hear AND BELIEVE women, they're already having those conversations. They know, and believe each other. Except for the big percentage of white women who still insist on supporting Trump because...economic anxiety makes you a Nazi? At this point I don't know how to reach them. The people they're supporting have already come for them, and they still didn't stand up.

But they aren't the ones committing the crimes. They aren't the ones normalizing this behavior with "locker room talk" and "I LIKE BEER!" That would be those humans like us, the self-defined men. This is learned behavior. It comes from somewhere.

Consent is a constant hidden lesson, and it's our job to make it visible. Here's a simple, at-home, personal example. I've got two young boys. They're rough and tumble. Tickle fights happen. If you've got a small child, you know it's fun to make them squeal with tickle laughter until they can barely breathe. But they're laughing, we're all having a good time. I'm also not stopping. I'm bigger, so they can't get away. I could keep tickling until it's not a game anymore.

I don't. But I could. And I could even hide behind, "We're playing! They're laughing!"

What a message.

I have to be very aware that when I'm wrestling with my boys, and often they start it because Daddy is tired when he gets home from work and wrestling is not on the To Do list, the fun stops the second they lose the power to stop the game, the second it doesn’t stop when they want. Sure, they squeal with laughter when we play Get Away From The Monster. It's all in good fun. As long as I'm clearly communicating to them the whole time that when they say stop, we stop. There's two of them, so double-teams happen. They get carried away, so even if one says stop and I stop, the other is full-on going for it. He's having a good time. I need to be clear- The fun is over and everyone stops the second one person decides the fun is over and it's time to stop. They can learn this.

This is a teaching blog, so let's put it in the classroom- asking kids to come up and give answers and work at the board, and accepting kids who want to pass. That's not enough, though. We have to have the conversation. We have to be explicit about consent. We, in my class, talk a lot about listening to each other and respecting one another. Fourth graders still need reminders about how to play nice on the playground. We do group work, and they need to be taught how to work together. How to deal with conflict disputes. The lessons here become all kinds of interpersonal relationship skills, and one of those is the idea of personal responsibility. How are you responsible to your fellow humans? See each other as fellow humans. Equals. Peers. No one is less than. Every lesson, every moment, every read aloud choice, can emphasize that. It’s my job to make those lessons crystal clear.

Our other big task, my people of the male persuasion, is upending the social order that benefits us the most. Too many things in this country are broken and unequal, and when there's a problem in the store you find the manager. We're the manager, and we have been literally the entire time. It's time to see that as a problem. To explicitly point out gender and racial issues in the textbooks we use and the read alouds we choose.From kindergarten on up. Kinders can handle it. Kinder teachers are smart, they can make anything comprehensible to five year olds. Kindergarten is where you learned to see all these weird little marks and translate them into language that you can think in. Anyone who can teach that can teach anything. It’s all in the delivery. And if it starts there, the rest of us can continue the work. Overt and subtle, but always with clarity. See, for example, Tricia Ebarvia and the #DisruptTexts movement and chat.

There are some who would argue, “It’s not our job to teach politics.” At this point in the world, if you’re not willing to bring it up, then you’re openly ok with it and teaching politics by omission. If “Be a decent human to everyone, and stop when someone asks you to stop” is “teaching politics” then we should scrap this whole thing and start over. Being an ally isn’t enough. Call it out. Go on the attack. Educationally. As a teacher. Unless it’s not a student. If it’s a grown-up then layeth the smacketh down. Verbally. Unless they’re a Nazi. Punch Nazis.

Teaching is a long game and, as I keep telling my first-year-of-teaching grade level teammate, nothing happens quickly. We need to keep pushing, keep climbing. Keep teaching. I don’t know how to fix people like Brett Kavanaugh and those who would defend and support him. I don’t know if you can. But I’ve got access to the next group coming through, and I can help them see humanity as a whole worthy of respect. I can make choices that help that.

I’ve seen boys use girls or femininity as a punchline. I’ve heard the comments. At their age my kids don’t think they’re being “mean” yet. “Just joking!” So we talk, either me and the boy if it was a small incident, or we stop and have a whole class conversation if the situation calls for it, about why that was funny and how it actually wasn’t. I let them find their way to realizing it was disrespectful, guiding and prodding. The class knows respect is a whole group responsibility and, while I’m not advocating being cops, I am stressing that we’re all in this together and we can help point out, respectfully, when someone is out of line. It starts here, in elementary school. My boys can learn how to talk about women when they’re around women and when they aren’t (Spoiler- The same way). Then holding the boys responsible for their words and actions, something that obviously hasn't been done in the past, instead of excusing it with "boys will be boys" or some other rape culture encouragement. The laughter Dr Ford heard, the humiliation she spoke to, these can be prevented in the future.

Play the long game. Take that time travel question of “Would you go back in time and kill baby Hitler?” What if instead you could go back in time and give the kid the kind of education and world-awareness that would prevent him from becoming that monster in the first place?

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 the just released 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.