Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Singles and Doubles Keep Us In The Game

A popular teaching cliche is, "It's a marathon, not a sprint."

That cliche doesn't work as well as its users want it to. Any distance runner will tell you that however difficult you imagine a marathon is, it's harder than that. There's a saying in distance running: "Run until you can't. When you can't run, walk. When you can't walk, make sure you fall forward." Distance running is all about pace and suffering and attempting to find the balance between the two. Then it’s about realizing there is no balance and embracing the suffering until you slowly lose your mind and experience the popular delusion known as a "runner's high," which is really just your mind giving up on you seeing reason and deciding to let you die in peace.

So, if we use “the marathon” metaphor to talk about teaching, we're implicitly talking about embracing the suffering and pain that comes with an endurance event. Words create thoughts and meaning, and as hard as teaching can be the mindset that teaching is finding a way to survive and pace out suffering is a negative, hurtful one. Teaching isn't a marathon.

But sports metaphors are fun and, while not perfect, scan fairly well. So, let's move away from marathons and sprints to something that better represents teaching: baseball. As American as apple pie, 4th of July BBQs, and taking voting rights away from people of color.

Teaching is baseball, and lessons are at-bats. Sometimes, we strike out. Sometimes, we knock a lesson out of the park. Most of the time we just want to get on base.

Baseball teams live and prosper by getting on base. Singles and doubles keep teams in games. It's a rare batter who steps to the plate looking to cream the ball, sending it in a beautiful arc into to the centerfield stands. And it's an even more rare batter who can actually do it. Odds are if you swing hard for the fences, you're gonna screw yourself into the dirt. In fact, the last time baseball fans got excited about a bunch of guys hammering homers, it turned out they were cheating.

We want to do the best for our kids. We want every lesson to be a home run, out of the park, fans up on their feet, fireworks shooting in the sky while their teammates mob them at the plate. How amazing would that be? What a teaching day. What a fantasy land. In the end, Mighty Casey has struck out.

Day-to-day teaching, the real work, isn't about home runs. It's not about those lessons that consultants and keynotes go on and on about. Those are great goals. Those are great to have in a pocket. But setting that standard every day and attempting a home run at every at-bat? You're gonna pull a muscle.

Baseball is a cumulative game. Base hit there, double there, maybe a walk, and you've got a win. Major league baseball teams play 162 games over the course of a season. If batters go cranking for the fences every single game, they aren't going to finish the season. Their muscles won’t tolerate that stress.

Players accept that. Good baseball players know the game is more important than their stat line. Maybe they didn't have the flashiest game, but they know the work is grinding out a few solid doubles that moves the team along. In a healthy, sustainable way.

ESPN helped popularize the highlight reel, a quick burst of all of the flashy awesome that happened during various games all over the league. Highlights out of context from the game are pretty but meaningless. The game is so much more than that. Because of this, I have major concerns about the connected nature of education. Not in an old-man-shouts-at-cloud, "You kids today with your twitters and your FacePlus" way, but in a, “what do we get when all we see is the highlights” way. When the conversation is so focused on those Big Lessons, the ones where you dress up and plan a ton for, what happens to the day-to-day lessons? Don't tell me every lesson is like that, every day. I'm teaching day-to-day. I've got a class of 31 fifth graders and a student teacher, plus a MakerFaire to plan, hoops to jump through, and assessments to grade. Because all that's real teaching. We should be sharing all that.

Encourage the home runs. Love them, they are super cool. Create experiences. But that's not the job. The job is to teach, to create lessons that build on each other. Lessons that grind sometimes because the grind of repetition makes learning into practice into habit. What comes after the home run?

Now, you might think I'm a cautionary teacher, slow to adapt and try new things. On the contrary. I’m a cliff jumper when it comes to teaching. I will jump off just about any cliff if I think I'll find a way to fly on the way down, or of I think there's strong student learning to be had at the bottom. But that's not day-to-day doubles-and-singles teaching. Jumping off cliffs all day isn't healthy. Eventually you misjudge the wind and become stuff on a rock. And I’m not jumping alone, my whole class is holding hands and trusting me, jumping with me. It’s irresponsible of me to repeatedly dash their learning against the rocks because I want the awesome lesson more than I want the learning.

Among the many factors that contribute to teacher burnout, Keeping Up has to be on the list. And the connectedness of educators and teachers contributes to that. It's on us to temper the home runs we share with embracing the on-the-ground, daily-grind teaching. To take a breath and celebrate doubles and singles. Moving kids around the bases slowly but surely. Supporting each other with high-fives and totally not-at-all weird butt slaps.

We should stop letting success and failure be dictated by people who aren’t in the game, playing every day, getting dirty, getting hurt, getting up to do it again. You know what a hit looks like in your class. Listening to an outsider’s look is one thing, but don’t let someone who isn’t picking up a bat be the final word what’s fair and foul.

Play hard. Look for runs and every opportunity to score. Celebrate the bloop singles that turn into doubles and triples somehow. All the while, know that those doubles and singles are advancing runners and adding up to a winning season. And it’s a damn fun game.

Post-Script- This metaphor works to the point, but it’s not a sports metaphor so it doesn’t fit in the post itself. 

To take a quick look at the other education metaphor that circles this, Moonshot Thinking is great. Aim high (don't tell kids if they aim for the moon and miss they'll land among the stars because that's bad science and you know better). But remember that we didn't decide to go to the moon and *poof* go. We exploded. A lot. Once we figured out how to not explode we edged into the upper atmosphere...nope, no death here. Guess we can do a lap and see if we die doing that. Nope, still ok. The landing is rough, what with the crashing into the ocean like a rock and all, but it's doable. Still not ready to go to the moon though. Now we practice the stuff we need to go to the moon. We do a bunch of laps around Earth running scenarios and procedures. Now we're ready. To fly around the moon, look at it, check it out. Then, finally, we land on the moon. That's a moonshot. 

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.

Monday, March 12, 2018

March Madness (Now With More Madness)

It's March! Which means it's that time when people who watch college basketball (even peripherally) build brackets only to have them immediately destroyed by some freshman phenom no one has ever heard of before, and the entire internet hates Duke like they're the Patriots or the Yankees.

Not to get all Pokemon Go! on you, but this is probably a great cultural touchstone to build educational efforts off of . What can we, as teachers, make into brackets to have kids debate or vote on? How can we get creative with our bad selves and not teach our students about gambling nope nope nope, but the power of ideas, especially when there's a sixteen-person office pool riding on those ideas? Let's look at some potential brackets. I'm not going to build the entire however-many field because this is your project, I'm just giving ideas. What do you think this is, Teachers Pay Teachers?

I want to point out that I bet your lists will be better than mine and, if I was smart, I'd have asked Pernille Ripp and Jess Lifshitz to weigh in on these.

Children's Book Bracket
Have your kids make a list of 32 children's books, then debate how the plots, messages, and characters come together to form the best cohesive whole. (You can do this with Characters as well, of course)

Duke Stand-In- Charlotte's Web. Perennial favorite, classic.

Sleeper Pick- Diary of a Wimpy Kid #1-64. You know they'll pick this.

Who Should Win- Every Dr Seuss book. Don't argue.

Poet Smackdown
Who's collected worked best stand the test of time?

Duke Stand-In- Depends on the age of the students, but probably Dickinson or Angelou.

Sleeper Pick- 2Pac. Unless you have young kids. Then Shel Silverstein. And yes, I'm tickled to put 2Pac and Shel in the same section.

Who Should Win- You think I'm gonna say Seuss again, don't you? Well I'm not! But I'm gonna go with Poe because the dude's name is practically Poet so I don't really know how he could not win.

Book Settings
So many places, so little time. Who is the best. Again, depends on the age of your kids. Where would they rather go? Why? What would they do there?

Duke Stand-In- Narnia. Classic. There's a Jesus lion and a fawn and disgusting desserts.

Sleeper Pick- Hogwarts is the modern Narnia, so I'm not sure it's a sleeper pick any more. I've got kids super into Minecraft books right now, so that would probably do better than I expected. And maybe Coraline's Other Mother's house, choosen by the kid who was only half-paying attention.

Who Should Win- Hogwarts. They have magic.

Best Dystopia
Dystopian fiction is all the rage with "the kids" these days. They love them some bleak near-future settings, as they should since hey, look at the country. They're basically planning ahead. Also, how great is the title "Best Dystopia"?

Duke Stand-In- Panem is where it's at if you've got the right age kids. It's basically the modern example of dystopian literature for the youths.

Sleeper Pick- Forks, Washington. Twilight was dystopian, right? It looked dystopian in the previews. All grey and ugly and boring.

Who Should Win- Oceania. I just finished 1984 again and damn, that book is bleak and a little scary. No one did it better.

Best Number
I should have one of these in here for Math. And it's fun to tweak math teachers, quite honestly. So a best number bracket it is. Just pick 32 numbers. Then have the kids debate them...or something.

Duke Stand-In- 1. I mean, it's number one. It's the best.

Sleeper Pick- 7. Biblical. Prime. Feels good to say. Seven is sneaky.

Who Should Win- 19, because if you add up the two digits they almost equal 10, and that's pretty coo and rare. You don't see a lot of two digit numbers doing that.

Create a big list of scientists, make the kids research 'em and choose who is the most important of them all. Make them fight it out, in a pit, with lions and stuff. Using science.

Duke Stand-In- Edison.

Sleeper Pick- William C Dement.

Who Should Win- Bill Bill Bill Bill Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Again, like Poe, he's got Science right in his name. And two TV shows. Did Madam Curie have two TV shows? I'd have to google it but I do not think she did.

I've gotten you started down the path. You are welcome. I think by now it's pretty clear I wanted to plant the idea of an educational bracket or two in your brains and then let your Teacher Madness go to work on it, mulling and churning until you come up with the best idea for your class and subject. Now I've gotta pick one, seeing as I wrote this whole thing. Maybe I'll make, nay let, my student teacher come up with one. Yes. That's what I'll do. I'm the best mentor teacher ever.

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

Should Teachers Be Armed?


No. You're a dangerous person with no ability to think critically or plan if that's your solution. 

How about dealing with the actual problem, which is easy access to guns? 

Arming teachers...you can tell that you never need to listen to a person's opinions ever again if that's what they think we should do. That non-thought immediately invalidates every other opinion that person has ever had and will ever have.


The solution to drowning is more water? The solution to being on fire is more fire?

I could bring up all the other concerns, like training and funding, but just by doing that I'd be giving credence to the brainless, zombie-like moaning that is "arm teachers". You know what, I take that back. At least zombies value brains. 


When someone brings up "arming teachers" to you laugh in their face. Loudly. Until they leave. Just point and laugh. There's no "discussing" things with them because they do not live on your planet. "But Doug, we should hear all sides." Nope. There are sides that we, as a culture, can all agree don't need to be heard. Like, for instance, "You know those people who spend all day surrounded by children, doing their best to create an environment of love and trust so that they may guide the growth and education of said children? Give those people the means to kill that entire room." See how ridiculous that sounds? Because it is. That's what those arguments all boil down to.


Hell no.


Don't give these people air. Don't legitimize their anti-idea. Mock them. Treat them like the jokes they are. 

And vote every single coward who supports them out of office, wrecking their platform until they can hold meetings in a phone booth. Because phone booths don't exist anymore and neither should they.


Now here's a silly video about this not funny topic.

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Teaching With Music Videos

There's nothing like a great music video. It's a unique artform, constantly redefined, perfected, and then redefined again. Little movies set to music that sometimes have nothing at all to do with the song, and sometimes follow literally every single thing that happens in the song. There's no doubt that the first person everyone should think of when they think of perfect music videos is Michael Jackson. Everyone has their favorite MJ video, and I'm gonna go #onbrand and say the exceedingly weird ten minute claymation mindtrip that is Speed Demon is up there. And there's this video by Journey, which is the Greatest Music Video Of All Time. I will fight you. Air instruments. Creepy mustaches. Uncomfortably tight jeans. A great freaking song. ACTING! It's the best.

But using videos in class is different. How can we connect out love of music and the visual art that springs from the music to what we're doing in class?

It's not that hard, once you get your head around it.

My favorite Compare and Contrast lesson in the whole world uses music videos.

First I show "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz. I tell my kids to look and listen for clues telling them what the song is about, what the emotion of the song is.

Then we talk about what we see. They start slowly at first. "She sounds sad." As with everything else, my best tool is "Why? Tell me more." Make them dig into the song. The hardest part for me is not going into everything I see happening in the song. Because I want to talk for ten minutes about it. How she sings the song always looking up and away from where she is and what that tells us. That it's sepia-tone adds to the already melancholy feeling. It's a song about a rainbow, and yet there's no color to be found. She never smiles. Her tone of voice is deeper, somber. The tempo is slow. This is a sad song, full of longing.

Then we watch "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Brother Iz.

Same song. Same lyrics, with very few changes. But it's a completely different song. How is that possible? What does this song express? It's so happy. It's full of love. I have to give my students context about Hawaii, telling them that it's the Rainbow State. Iz is over the rainbow already. His voice is high, his uke sings happily. It's vividly colorful. There's a party at the end!* This is a song about what's over the rainbow. He took a sad song and made it better.

* Ok, it's a party, but it's also a funeral. This is a posthumous video, made after Iz died. That's how Hawaii celebrated his life. This little glimpse into another culture blows student minds and adds to the lesson.

This is a compare and contrast lesson, but suddenly it's also a lesson on tone and intent. It's a lesson on making inferences and meanings both hidden and clear. There's so much!

And you can do it with any original and cover, assuming it's a well done cover. Think comparing the Nine Inch Nails and Johnny Cash versions of "Hurt". Bring music into your classroom. Expose your students to songs and artists they might not learn about for years yet. Help them think critically about all media, not just the stories in their books.

There's also Music Videos As Inspiration. I'm gonna bang the drum about OkGo forever, because I love having my kids make stuff and OkGo videos make them want to make.

They're the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie of music videos. If you show a student this video, they're gonna want to make a Rube Goldberg machine. And you're gonna let them because the learning is amazing. And when they finish remind them that it needs to be set exactly to music.

Or this one

This lesson goes, "Watch this video. Now tell me how it was done without looking it up. Guess." Then I let them look it up. Then we get to talk about gravity and parabolas and planning and timing and editing and practice.

Speaking of practice, and these are the last two I'll do, check out Walk Off the Earth.

Hi, yes. I'd like to teach my students about rehearsal and planning in a fun, engaging way. Oh, I could show them this, point out that there's zero edits in it, and then have them discuss how it's possible to have that many people doing that many things in time, and how everything that happens is dependent on everyone doing their job? And we could tie that to group work or projects? Sweet.

I could also use this one

No, seriously folks. Complain to me about working in small groups and needing everyone to do their thing after watching that.

There's a million million music videos out there. Find some to bring to your kids. Expose them to music you like while also whipping some education on them.

I'll close this post with a video I open many of the professional developments and sessions I run with.

If you're not with me after that, my session probably won't work for you.

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, February 26, 2018

Be the Engine


Let me tell you a story about a time I was disappointed in educators.

Two years ago my school opened our MakerSpace. Another teacher and I had hatched the plan together and in a matter of weeks and months we'd made it a reality. We were, and still are, quite proud of what we'd built. The MakerSpace represented a new dimension of learning at our school, and it was something that no other school in the district, elementary, middle, or high school, possessed. We were on the cutting edge, leading the way. And we were excited to share our journey and bring others along for the ride. As I've written before, when you're a True Fan of something, all you want is for others to understand your passion.

There was an EdCamp at our campus, another thing we'd pushed for along with a few other teachers, and afterwards we grabbed a small contingent of teachers from another school who had heard about the MakerSpace and wanted to see it for themselves. Like the proud parents we were, we showed them everything, talking them through the process and the phases we had planned going forward. "Here's where the bots are, and the kids are coding. And over here is the supplies for all kinds of making. Over there, of course, is the Lego stash. Every MakerSpace must have Lego." They nodded and smiled and made all the appropriate appreciative noises.

Then they killed the mood.

One turned to the other two and said, "I wish X and Y were here, they'd love to do something like they. They'd be all over it."


They'd do it. Yeah, it's really cool, and I can see the value in it for the school and the students. Someone else would totally be all over this.

There's a cliche that's often given to the Big Bad in action movies, something he says near the end when the Good Guy has torn through all his henchmen like so much wet toilet paper. Because it's given to the Big Bad I guess we're supposed to assume it's a thought that exists in the realm of the negative. It's not something you should think or say if you're trying to be a Good Guy.

"If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself."

Admit it, when you read that you pictured some generic villain getting decisively up out of his comically evil throne, grabbing a ridiculous weapon, and marching out the door to almost, but not quite, defeat the Hero.

Teamwork is the name of the game in education. Together we are strong. Baddies work alone so they can claim all the power to themselves.

Both things can be true. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. You can't wait, or assume someone else will do it. This is more akin to the kinds of bullying lessons we give students. "If you see something, say something. Step in, be a friend."

There's always someone else more qualified. Someone who knows more. But their plate is just as full as yours. And everyone knows a teacher's plate is never quite big enough for the serving we're given. So what if we put our plates together? Share the spill over some?

That makes this is a delicate line to walk. How to encourage teachers to take the initiative and take things upon themselves when they're already so full up? My best answer is Trust Yourself and Be Honest. Make priorities and, sometimes, sacrifices.

Today me school culminated a Right Brain Initiative program with a giant school-wide celebration. We'd had someone from the Obo Addy Institute at our school teaching each class traditional Ghanian drumming for a week. To end this, my grade level decided we'd turn our end of the hall into Ghana. Kids were grouped into specialties, time was taken every other day for a few weeks at the end of the day for research and work, and today we opened the classrooms to every other class in the school. It was amazing, and it was all thanks to the other two teachers on my team. I came along, but they were the engines. As always, it's more complicated than I just made it sound. Our administration saw the value in what we were doing and she let us take that time, and she gave us all of today. She knew the learning the kids were doing would be long-term beneficial.

It took my team members standing up with a great idea and charging forward with it. It took an engine.

What if every teacher picked one pet project every year? What if every teacher decided to be the heart and engine for one thing? Something they didn't think someone else should be in charge of. It doesn't have to be a massive project. But something. A school driven forward by sixteen engines running their own classes but also more. To be clear, I'm a working teacher and I know the extent of what I'm asking. I know we've got families and responsibilities and the job is enough as it is. Teachers get very prickly when asked to do more, for good reason. We're taken advantage of enough.

I guess the difference is, this isn't taking advantage. This isn't someone else adding something. This is choosing a passion project as a person or group, and being the heart of it. Getting others involved, sharing the work but taking the lead. Risking it and standing in front of your staff to present a Big Idea.

We're already the beating heart of our classrooms. I'm not taking away from that. I want to stress my deep understanding of that because I'm legitimately worried some will read what I'm saying as "Teachers aren't doing enough." That's not what I mean. We do enough.

But if you could pick one thing, big or small, to do more than enough with, what would it be?

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Fear of Data

But what if I actually suck?

I'm undergoing an ongoing attempt to understand my aversion to data and, by doing so openly and honestly, improve my use of it to better teach my kids. A few months ago I set the table, explaining the basics of how I feel and the goals I'm setting for myself. Not long ago I was on the Chasing Squirrels podcast with Chris Cluff, and the subject came up again. In talking to Chris about it I voiced another aspect of my aversion to data which I hadn't covered the first time.

What if one of the reasons I avoid taking a good hard look at data is because it'll reveal that I'm not actually that good of a teacher? What if that Imposter Syndrome that sits so high on the list of Teacher Fears all of us had is actually justified and the numbers prove it?

It's so easy to say, "Numbers do not define my students. They are more than their scores." That's all true. Teaching cannot be quantified with standardized tests. Not completely. But, I mean, those numbers must mean something, right? They aren't random. The tests, while not ideal, are also not the garbage fire we make them out to be. They do take up too much time, they don't fully assess a child's learning or knowledge, they are often a blunt tool being made to do surgical work, but they do turn up results that aren't total bull.

Part of my argument, and the general argument, for making in class and more open student choice is the learning is still happening, and it will be reflected in assessments. I don't stress myself or my students about The Big Test At The End or the DIBELS tests or any of the other hoops we jump through any further than telling them, "I expect you to do your best on everything that happens in this class. That's the baseline. So you'll do your best on this Big Test just like you'll do your best when we build trebuchets." And I expect the learning and perseverance and problem solving to transfer, with a good helping of explicit instruction on my part. And my principal, may Admina the Goddess of Principals bless her, trusts me when I tell her it works.

So what happens when we sit down to look at data and instead of letting it roll off my back because I'm affecting disinterest because hey man I didn't want to be invited to your club anyway I take it more seriously and it shows that my way doesn't work? And I've built this whole classroom and philosophy on sand? What if it really shows that I'm not good at this?

I think this plays a bigger part in my fear of data than I let on. Now, my data has never been as bright and shiny as some other teachers to being with, but it's easy to shake that off when the default position is "Your data doesn't matter, maaaaaaan. My kids aren't numbers, maaaaaaan. You can't just assess us with your toy." Now that I'm making an effort to understand it and use it, now that I'm honestly and openly trying to put stock in it and see it as a useful tool...what now? I have to face up to problems in my instruction. Holes that the making and freedom don't effectively fill. Gaps I'm creating in my kids' learning.

It's good to see the gaps, it means I can fill them. But it's not all the fun to sit in a meeting (or alone in your classroom) and look at numbers that tell a story contrary to the one you thought you've been writing.  What if the data shows I'm bad at this?

Then I see that, pout and stomp my feet, gnash my hair and pull my teeth, and find ways to get better. I remember that nothing is everything in education. I internalize that my class is doing things and learning things in ways they never would have if I didn't give them the chances to explore and build and fail safely how we do. I look for more effective ways to balance that with other methods of instruction that are less natural for me but better in the long run.

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.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Gimme Four Down Low For Risk and Failure

I've wanted to learn an instrument since forever. But it's always been a want that was far away, a Soooomedaaaay want. Someday I'll buy a drum kit or a bass. Someday I'll learn an instrument. Someday.

That day, friends, was today.

And I'm totally freaked out about it. Excited. But also kinda freaked out.
Pictured- Excited but freaked out
Some musical background on me- I played both the violin and trumpet in middle. When I say "played" what I actually mean is "held". I didn't do the work to learn either of them. They didn't speak to me. I never learned to read music. I'm pretty sure that I guessed at half the notes when we did our recitals. And then I discovered swimming and that was the end of my musical extra-curricular activities. As far as playing went.

In high school I fell in with a bunch of guys who would become my best friends and remain the only people I really still talk to from those years. One of them married my sister. Traitors. They were all musically inclined and started a metal band. I was the Fan. I hung out. I was Young Neil from SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD. I did not play.

In college I had to take Music For Children for my education program. But to get into Music For Children I had to take the prerequisite Fundamental Structures of Music. I almost failed two classes in college- Human Anatomy and Physiology (remember, with the skinned people coloring book?) and Fundamental Structures of Music. We had to learn to read music. We had to learn to really read music. And, like, discuss what was happening. We had to learn a short piece on the piano. With one hand playing one thing and the other hand playing something completely different. I remembered my struggles in middle school well, so I'm sure I didn't go into this with the best mindset, but man I sucked it up in that class. I also probably didn't practice as much as I should have, but it was one thing in one class. And I have another excuse- I was in college. Needless to say I basically bombed that course.

The follow-up to that story is that I still had to take Music for Children. How stressed was I? So stressed, dear reader. I just barely passed Level 1, how am I gonna survive this? Easily. Music for Children was singing carpet songs and basic recorder and tambourine and all that cool stuff teachers who aren't music teachers but want to teach music stuff need to know. I'm pretty sure Fundamental Structures of Music was later dropped as a prereq. Long after it would have done me any good.

Fast forward all the way to today. The Bug had bitten me a week ago. The Music Bug but also something else. The Challenge Bug. I like learning new things. I know every time someone says "growth mindset" they owe some edu-author a gold doubloons, so let's just say I like being uncomfortable and expanding my horizons. Can't talk the talk with my kids if I don't walk the walk. But I'm also not doing this just to use as an example in my classroom. That's a happy accident.

Over a decade ago I decided I wanted to ride motorcycles. I found a class and took it. I was nervous. About looking dumb. Failing. Getting hurt. At the time the TV show "Orange County Choppers" was popular, and I vividly remember looking at those guys and thinking, "These guys are morons. If they can figure this out, I can." Learning to ride was the best thing I ever did that isn't getting married or having kids or becoming a teacher. When I was single my motorcycle was the most important thing in my life. Now it's the most important non-human object.

Half a decade ago I decided to take up triathlon. I could swim, hated running, and knew how to ride a bike but didn't own one. I felt foolish going to my brand-new wife and saying, "I wanna spend money on a bike and then train a whole bunch on do a triathlon. If I hate it I'll do one, sell the bike, and be done." I borrowed a bike from a friend, learned to not hate running, but not get fast, trained for a few months, felt sick with nerves the morning of, and fell in love with a sprint triathlon (500m swim/12mi ride/3mi run) that hurt so bad. But I didn't puke and I didn't walk and I didn't crash the bike. A few years later I was on the Big Island of Hawaii crossing the finish line of the Honu Half Ironman (1.2mi swim/56mi bike/13.1mi run). Still slow, still loving every painful, awful, wonderful second.

Around the same time I decided I could write a book. I didn't know if anyone would read it, but I had to try. So I did. And people actually liked it. But writing it (and every book after, but slightly less so every time) I felt a cycle of exhilarated, dumb, scared, nervous, excited. Who am I? Who will care? Is this any good? Same basic emotions as before I started that first motorcycle class, and then practiced figure eights on my street. Same basic emotions as when I wobbled down the street and fell off my bicycle because I couldn't get my clips unclipped from the pedals at a stop light. Dumbass. Oh well, get up, let's go. None of these stories are directly related to teaching, but all of them inform everything that happens in my classroom and every pedagogical choice I've ever made, from moving schools when it sucked too much to taking the legs off desks to getting more into making and projects and robotics. I don't know how to do this. I'm gonna look stupid. I'm gonna go anyway because I want to.

I needed a new project. A new thing to make me feel stupid and anxious. A new personal risk, putting my ego on the line and getting it punched in the face. So back we come to music. Remember, where we started all those paragraphs ago, when you were younger and didn't have so many lines in your face? I bought a bass guitar. And I'm gonna learn to play the thing. Well.
Pretending to be badass while actually freaking out
about holding my very own bass

Ibanez sells a really good starter kit
#Ibanez #MuchBranding
Here's the big difference between learning the bass and learning all those other things. I never had a negative experience with the others. Not a major one. I knew I could write. I knew I was physically capable of most of the triathlon stuff. Those worries were mostly about the amount of dedication and work the thing would take. But this? I've got baggage about music. I honestly have a knot in my stomach when I think about what I'm going to do. I'm constantly telling that jerkass that lives in the back of my head to siddown and shaddup and stop talking about middle school and the piano in college and come on dude, really? This is a risk for me. I have the fear. But I'm also older and more mature (relatively). I know what real hard work is, what struggle is, what sucking for a while is. I know what time commitment really means. You have to if you want to not die during a half Ironman or finish a book and then edit the damn thing and then rewrite it and then finish it again and then edit it again and then and then. I have the tools to fight the fear.

When we talk about risk, those emotions are what holds us back. I believe, deeply and fully, that who we are outside of the classroom impacts who we are inside in ways we can't even explain. I believe that if we want to take risks in class we need to make that part of who we are in more aspects of our lives. I believe if we want to accept multiple points of view or try other things we need to take ourselves out of our comfort zones in hobbies, in the media we consume, fully. Envelops exist so that there are envelopes to push against.
Pictured: Metaphorical envelope
I'm excited to learn the bass because I want to learn the bass. Because bass is cool and different. Because Geddy Lee and Les Claypool and Mick Harvey and Cliff Burton and Brad Whitford are the weirdos who hold the line and push everything forward at the same time. Because when I say I'm a "rock star front man of a never-ending education funk machine" I really do not-so-secretly wish the rock star part was true. Because I know the time commitment is going to be huge and I'll have to find other things to cut, but it'll be worth it in the end.

But I'm also excited because I know that on this personal journey I'm going to learn so much about teaching and learning. It'll be professional development sideways, which is often the best way.
Pictured- The Squee
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.