Expect More Of Students

Normally, I teach graduate secondary education teacher candidates; this month however, I’m teaching undergraduate elementary education candidates.

On the first day I canceled class in favor of a chill book club, now I’m the most popular prof of all time. We drink tea and eat donuts while reading half of Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed and all of Tracy Kidder’s Among Schoolchildren. Kidder is a non-fiction writing marvel. Like me, Among Schoolchildren is old; unlike me, it’s still really excellent.

Schools change so slowly, over three decades later, Among Schoolchildren still rings 90% true. The core of the book is one Holyoke, Massachusetts fifth grade teacher’s struggle with a particularly challenging student. Can she get him to cooperate and do some work without the herculean effort derailing the entire class?

This article, “New Peer Mentor Program at Centennial Elementary” just caught my eye because it was my daughters’ school and some friends work there. And because I was thinking about Chris Zajac, the teacher, and Clarence, her challenging student.

What if Clarence needs responsibility more than rules and restrictions. What would happen if Clarence, and Chris’s other challenging students she regularly struggles with, were asked to help some younger students with their school work? And to be role models of sort.

Would they rise to the occasion? Would they feel better about themselves? Could that create positive momentum; improve their school experience; and make Chris’s classroom a more peaceful and productive place?

Rich Beyond Measure

That’s a wrap. The semester is over. Grades are (mostly) in. Back at it January 7th for one month-long course. Then my academic year will be a wrap since I’m a half-timer. Don’t hate me because you ain’t me.

It felt kinda weird returning to work in early September after such a long sabbatical. Pre-sabbatical, I handed off my administrative duties, so I was teaching full-time for the first time in a long time. And while I was gone, even more colleagues who I enjoyed had moved on. By “kinda weird” I guess I mean somewhat disconnected.

After all these years, I sometimes feel as if I should’ve assumed more administrative responsibilities somewhere along the line. I mean what kind of sad sack is back exactly where he started 22 years earlier?

And yet, as I read final papers, and email messages, and hand written notes of appreciation, I feel like finally, I might be getting this teaching thing down. Of course, putting that in writing means my “J-term” course will probably be a disaster, you know, pride coming before the fall and all.

Every educator is different, but for me at least, the “secret” to teaching well is the same as living well, the more selfless, the better. Maybe it was having no administrative responsibilities that enabled me to see and hear my students more clearly this fall. More specifically, maybe it was not being in a hurry, maybe it was taking the time to listen to them and to read their words even more closely. And then to respond to those words.

The more authentic and present I am in the classroom, the more my students appreciate my teaching. They also appreciate the thought put into our more accessible, shorter, more thought provoking than average reading list.

My students’ end-of-semester gestures of appreciation make me think I’m still doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time. Consider one student among many, a physically imposing, politically conservative, first year footballer whose domineering dad tolerated no negative emotions.

“When I found out I had to be in a mandatory writing seminar as part of the ‘First Year Experience Program’ (FYEP) titled ‘The Art of Living’, I dreaded it. I despised writing, especially that of a personal nature. All of the essays and discussions I would have to participate in would be about my life, inner thoughts, and feelings. I figured it was just another stroke of bad luck. My goal for the semester was just to survive, and hopefully improve on my personal writing ability after a few failed attempts. However, I found out very quickly that this was just the class I needed. It turns out that my destiny was not to have an unfortunate event take advantage of me, but was to have an unbelievable stroke of luck being placed in the Art of Living writing seminar.”

Further in:

“This unexpected change of heart provided me with energy and enthusiasm. Writing my fourth essay became something I enjoyed, not something I dreaded. I wrote about my stance on modern love and the concept of soulmates, which was the strongest stance in any essay I had written. I wrote about my own experiences with love, and how in my eyes the person I want to marry will be able to fill my heart with love. I wrote about how that love would allow me to experience the six varieties described in Krznaric’s writing: eros, pragma, ludus, agape, philuatia, and philia. . . . I had ended up doing the exact opposite of what I had initially thought I would: I wrote about my definition of love, my love life, and I loved doing it. By writing from the heart and being vulnerable with my audience, I was able to capture their attention and provide details that I otherwise might have excluded. My paper connected better with my readers, and it was relatable. Over the course of this semester I had not only grown as a writer, but I opened my mind and grew as a person.”

Watching this young man blossom into a superb, sensitive discussant was a joy:

“One of the most influential changes to my (writing) process was in-class discussions. They allowed me to deepen my understanding of the prompts while listening to others’ thoughts and feelings. I could formulate my own stances in response. It allowed me to consider outside opinions and beliefs and flush out my ideas. They made my essays even more thorough because I gained not only different pieces of textual evidence but I learned about different experiences my peers could connect to the readings. Being able to have personal, open conversations in class also made the texts more applicable to daily life. The discussions helped shape not only my essays, but the way I looked at the world as a whole. I could consider expanding my varieties of love as Kznaric wrote, or I could consider the lifestyle of Stoicism written in William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life. These discussions opened my heart and mind to the different ideas we discussed in class, and allowed me to incorporate those into my essays. This class broadened my life views and expanded my horizons.”

Because I’m half-time and I get paid over 12 months, and I max my retirement contributions, and I add family dental insurance and a Health Saving Account in for good measure, my take home pay for November was $34.37. But I feel rich beyond measure.

Thursday Assorted Links

1. Why kids love garbage trucks. There are a lot of theories. Not just kids though.

“. . . Toubes and I immediately agreed that garbage trucks can also be pretty mesmerizing to adults because what they do is so visually unusual. Toubes is himself the father of a onetime garbage-truck aficionado: “My second son was sort of obsessed, and when we asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said a garbage truck,” he told me. “We were like, ‘You want to drive a garbage truck?’ And he was like, ‘No, I want to be the truck.’” And when his son ran to the picture window to watch the garbage pickup, “I’d go to the window and watch along with him,” Toubes remembered. ‘Like, Actually, that is interesting.”

2. How much should teachers talk in the classroom? Much less.

Therese Arahill, an instructional coach in New Zealand:

“I join their discussion, … answering their questions. It’s an attitude. Moving away from teacher ego, toward student voice, student agency.”

3A. Cut from the same cloth. Artist Myfanwy Tristram was irritated by her teenage daughter’s extreme fashions — until she took an illustrated journey into their origins.

3B. What do Gen Z shoppers want? A cute, cheap outfit that looks great on Instagram. This can’t be good for their mental health. Can it?

4. Is your city infrastructurally obese? If you live in Gary, Indiana, yes, most definitely.

5. The best documentaries of the 2010’s.

The Bane of Every Teacher’s Existence

Students act out. The question is why?

  • It’s personal. They don’t like you. Never have, never will.
  • It’s karmic payback for the way you treated your teachers.
  • It’s a religious conspiracy. God placed them in your classroom to make your life as miserable as possible.
  • It’s in their nature, they can’t help it, their brains aren’t fully developed.
  • They are compensating for too little attention elsewhere.
  • They’re so hungry, they’re distracted.
  • They’re distracted and upset about other outside-of-school life challenges.
  • They don’t understand what you’re asking them to do.
  • They understand what you’re asking, but don’t have the necessary background skills and/or knowledge to successfully complete it.

Most of the time, it’s the last two. How frustrating would it be if you felt yourself falling behind your peers?

 

Avoiding The Pointless, Downward Negative Cycle

I’m in the Trump Trap. I doubt I’m alone.

It’s impossible to ignore the President, but paying attention to him only feeds his narcissism and seems to make matters worse. To ignore his lies and race baiting is to condone both. I argue with a friend when he says “Obama was worse,” but that doesn’t accomplish anything. How to escape this pointless, downward spiral of negativity?

My friend, while totally exasperating on things political, has redeeming qualities. Among others, he’s committed to his family, he’s funny, he cares about those he works with. Why don’t I just focus more exclusively on those attributes?

There’s a direct correlation between how people feel about themselves, more specifically how secure they are, and their propensity to see the best in others and affirm them. If you don’t feel very good about yourself, if your insecurities win the day, you’re unlikely to sing anyone else’s praises. You don’t send thank you cards. You don’t risk any awkwardness by directly and specifically telling others what you most appreciate about them.

As if life is a zero-sum game. That there’s only so much positivity or praise to go around.

We can focus on the good in others, and name it, without any cost to ourselves. At all. Focusing on the good in others, and naming it, creates positive momentum that makes political disagreements less consequential. My friend’s politics are whacked, but he is not the sum of his politics.

One can be a good teacher, nurse, or executive, and liberally celebrate other teachers’, nurses’, and executives’ excellence. One can be a decent human being and routinely celebrate decency in others. We’re apt to recognize and publicly declare the redeeming qualities in others to the degree to which we feel okay about ourselves, the degree to which we like ourselves.

A few weeks ago, I made eye contact with another driver as I pulled into the Trader Joe’s parking lot. She was an acquaintance from church who smiled at me. “Finally,” the introvert in me immediately thought, “I’m going to get a chance to tell her how much I enjoy her blog.” Sure enough, halfway through my appointed rounds, she walked straight up to me and asked if I’d eat some fancy shmancy blueberry desert that she was thinking of making for a party. “Yes.” I assured her, and then said, “Hey, I’ve been wanting to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. I’ve been enjoying cooking more and I’m amazed at your creations. And you’re really funny.” For good measure I added, “You’re a very talented writer.” To say she was touched is an understatement.

Her blog deserves a wider audience. When that happens, I will celebrate her success. Because it will not detract from this humble blog.

With respect to the President and my friend, my inclination is to ignore the President. My vote will be my proof that I’m not condoning his calculating and inflammatory rhetoric which will only get worse once the campaign begins in earnest. As for my friend, I’m going to focus more on his redeeming qualities and our common humanity.

 

 

Weekend Assorted Links

1. What it’s actually like to be on House Hunters.

“My story will possibly burst your bubble about the show. If this is not something you want, stop reading now.”

2. On last day with kids, special ed teachers says they’re a gift.

She’s been a gift to that community.

3. New research shows how teachers are the key to boosting student attendance.

“The study doesn’t tell us what, exactly, those attendance-boosting teachers are doing that’s working.” What?!

4. Your professional decline is coming (much) sooner than you think. 

Particularly relevant given the first Demo debates.

5. How to fight neo-Nazis.

6. Where are they now? Yao Ming.

I love myself some Yao Ming. He wants to be anonymous. Check the first picture. Uphill battle.

The Mouse And The Man

Just received the meanest of text messages from the Bad Wife:

“I’m pretty sure I went 49 mph today coming down the hill between the Cove and Holiday Hills. Don’t have a computer so I can’t verify, but I’m pretty sure.”

There’s so much wrong with this text. First of all, what kind of person cycles without a computer?!

Secondly, I had just told the Bad Wife that I set a new cycling speed record during a group training ride in rural Lewis County (redundant). 48.8 mph.

I’m training for the annual sufferfest in Bend, Oregon in two weeks, the Central Oregon 500, which I turn into the Central Oregon 400, or last year 336, due to light snow on McKenzie Pass.

I am happy to report that I’m starting to feel some snap in my legs, but I coulda used a larger cassette on some of yesterday’s climbs. At times, I thought I might have to toss one or both water bottles overboard to breach the steepest pitches.

There were eight of us. I knew seven. Or so I thought. The eighth dude was someone I hadn’t seen in 15-20 years. The last time I saw him I was literally yelling at him at the finish line of the Black Hills triathlon. No, not in my character, but I watched him pass me on the bike, and then, totally ignoring the no drafting rule, suck another guy’s wheel for miles and miles. I did not reel him in during the run and did not take losing well. Keep in mind, this was before I studied Stoicism and got my shit together, by which I mean, got my ego somewhat in check.

Have you ever gotten so angry at someone that your anger ends up being much worse than whatever offensive action the other person committed? Me too.

Not immediately, but with just a little passage of time, I would’ve liked a do-over. As if an Olympic age group triathlon has any cosmic significance.

So imagine my surprise when The Drafter, a friend of a friend I learned, showed up for our group training ride. What to do? I intuited that he still remembered the psychotic break. Damn. Awkward. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. I know what to do, pretend I don’t remember any of it!

That’s right, as a friend puts it, I was way more mouse than man. Why the hell couldn’t I have apologized and said what I was thinking, “Man, sometimes I think back to that time I lost it at the triathlon and I feel badly, sorry for all that anger.” And we rode together for 3+ hours. And we talked about our 26 year old daughters and life. His daughter is a first year teacher in Brooklyn and he was asking me for advice to pass on to her.

Having obviously moved on even without an apology, he was more man than mouse.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m a loser and that’s the one thing you’ll be most correct about today. You’re also wondering who was stronger two decades later? The Man or the Mouse? He did challenge me on several of the steepest climbs. He really shoulda known better. Revenge is a dish best served cold.