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.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Design Is An Art/Design Is A Science

"Touch" by Sienna Morris
There is an art to education. The best teaching comes from the heart and its got soul. It has a beat and you can dance to it.

But it's not that easy. Oh, that it were.

The best teaching is a science. It fills needs, checks boxes and crosses any letters it comes across that need to be crossed. It uses data honestly.

It is in the blending of the two that teaching comes alive. That is where we can both reach our kids on an emotional level and an academic one. To ignore one or the other is to cut off an arm and try swimming upstream. To cut off both would just be ridiculous because then you sink to the bottom and get pulled downstream by the current, bouncing off of rocks and fish until washing up on shore only to be found by bewildered fly fishermen days later.

Blending is key. Finding the balance. Too much of the art and things get out of hand in class. Learning becomes a little too unfocused and while that appeals to some freer spirit teachers *raises hand* it doesn't do as much good for the kids as we'd like to say. Too much of the science and things dry out, get stiff and brittle, and shatter the first time they run into a trout. We're all going to ignore that this metaphor requires something to be dry and brittle while bouncing along the bottom of a stream and move forward, nodding and smiling.

The word that we should be focusing on in education then, is the word that best combines science and art. No, not scart. And not arence. That would be as nutty as an education blog about arms falling off and teachers being so much flotsam in a stream.

The word we're all looking for here is DESIGN.

We use design all the time. Lesson design. Classroom design. Assessment design. Curriculum design. Dry stream bed design. Design is the melding of art and science into something that is aesthetically pleasing and evidence-based.

Let us come back to the image at the top of this post. I'll bring it down here so you don't have to scroll. You're welcome.


This piece is by a Portland, OR artist named Sienna Morris and it's called "Touch". If you look closely at it you'll notice that the woman is not made of simple brush strokes, but a seemingly random series of letters and numbers. What you're actually seeing is the chemical formula for Oxytocin written over and over. Oxytocin is responsible for the bonding of partners or children. This is science made art. This is art because of the science.

This is "Heart" by the same artist. Here again she uses science, this time "cardiac equations like stroke volume, ejection fraction, and cardiac output", to make art, and art to bring the science to life.

What she does is what we do. She takes two things that are so often put into silos and joins them in beauty through smart design. These images are what our lessons strive to be. Our projects. Our classrooms. How can we take the numbers and make them fly? How can we take the flights of fancy and make them true and clear?

Teaching and learning, purposeful design of these experiences using art and science, will bring us closer to the universe.

"Universal Propreoception" by Sienna Morris
If you enjoy Sienna's work please throw her follows on all the social medias and if you have some coin to spend on art check her out


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.  I am not tumbling armless down a river somewhere.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Painted Nails


I like painting my nails. Sometimes blue, sometimes green, rarely black, though I admit that would fit my idiom. I didn't think hard about what impact this might have on my classroom the first time I did it. I was bored, there was nail polish, and suddenly I had colorful fingernails (and cuticles and fingertips and knuckles right down at the end of the finger [hey, painting with my left hand is hard]). Then I went to school.

Minds were blown all over the classroom.

"What happened to your nails!" "Mr. Robertson, did you know your nails are painted?" What happened to them? I have no idea. *pretends to notice* Oh my gosh! What happened! I had no idea! They look nice though, don't they?

Smaller students passing me in the hallway got in on the SHOCK too. "You're a boy! Why are your nails painted?" Ahhh, now we're getting somewhere. I'm not going to pretend I did it the first time planning to blow kids' minds and expand their worlds, but that's part of why I do it now.

"Only girls can have painted nails?"

"Yeah!"

"Just like only girls can have long hair, right?"

"Yeah..."*notices my long hair* "Wait..."

This is normally the end of the exchange. First, it's happening in the halls or in my classroom, so neither of us have the time for a long conversation. Second, if I'm talking with a kindergartner or first grader, and while I know they're more capable of a detailed conversation than the average person might be, I'm not trying to get deep into their psyche. I'm not going to pull out my phone and start googling pictures of The Cure and Dave Navarro and Marilyn Manson (Pro Top- NEVER google pictures of Marilyn Manson at school). I'm trying to plant a seed, drop a pebble into the pond, turn a preconception on its head. These micro-mind trips add up. Kids are sharp and they start making connections without them being spelled out. Same goes for my older kids. We can have a longer conversation, and I can connect it to whatever I need to justify it, but that's not how I want these interactions to work. I want a quick match under the subconscious stereotype, then walk away to let it cook. We will see this information again.

Painting my nails paid off in spades for a kindergartner earlier this year. Another teacher came and found me after school one day and pulled me into his room. There was a bummed out little dude sitting in there. "He asked his mom to paint his nails red because he loves The Flash and some of the kids in his class were making fun of him," the teacher explained to me. Then he called the kid over. "Hey, check out Mr. Robertson's hands." The kid sulked over (small human sulk-walking is both sad and adorable at the same time) and I displayed my hands like a professional hand model. He had that wonderful long take that kids pull off better than any actor ever.

Sullen glance.

Slow registration that something is amiss.

Longer look.

Sunrise expression.

"Hey! You painted your nails too! Mine are red! Because I like The Flash!"

"Dude, I love The Flash. Your nails are way cool. Mine are blue because I like blue."

"I know. Your hair is blue."

"Oh yeah."

Completely made the kid's day. I'm not the coolest person in the world, but five year olds seem to think I'm alright. So if Mr. Robertson paints his nails that means it's ok for him to, and that means his friends can suck eggs. He didn't say that last part, I'm projecting.

I want to be clear that I'm not trying to make this a "Look at me, doing anything for The Kids" story. I didn't do it For The Kids. I did it because it's fun, sometimes I forget that I did it and then I get a little dose of happy when I catch a flash of color out of the corner of my eye, and it might lead to quick conversations that might lead to bigger conversations. We never know what might help a kid out or start changing a kid's mind. It might be right at the tips of our fingers.

...

"Right at the tips of our fingers." I mean, come on. What a great closing that was. Seriously. It was right there and BAM, I nailed it.

...

...nailed it. heh. Admit it, that was cuticle. Ok, it's time to polish this post off and put it to bed.

When I edit this I'll probably have to clip all that. Scratch that. It looks good stuck on, even if it does artificially lengthen the whole thing.

Now I have gone too far. Time to break it off.

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, January 16, 2018

Lighting Fires With Educational Arson by Sarah Windisch




Language is one of the most powerful tools we have.

Look at the news right now for an example of what happens with it breaks down, when it offends, when it is wielded to harm another - whether purposefully or under the guise of information.

There’s a reason the pen is mightier than the sword.

I am a poet. The imposter syndrome is allowing me to tell you that, Friends of WeirdEd, to make a larger point this week. That point isn’t, “Go buy my book. It’s available at bit.ly/EdArson and everyone should read it because it’s very good.” (That is an extremely valid point, however, and you should.) [Ed. Note- go buy Sarah’s book, it’s real good.] The point is: a poet writes with an economy of words and a precision of language that is meant to create a universal understanding.

That’s the part you should picture meme, by the way: a poet writes with an economy of words and a precision of language that is meant to create a universal understanding.

I know, I know. So many people get turned off by poetry and the analysis foisted upon it that looks more at the construction and rhyme scheme than the beauty of the words. I mean, I’m glad you can tell the difference between a haiku and a cinquain, but in a short form like that, with such strict structures, why are those the most descriptive words that could possibly be chosen?

When Adelaide Crapsey (this one’s for you middle school teachers - I know you want to teach about this poet) says “frost-crisp’d” in November Night, how much better is that than “rattling” or “brown” or “autumn”?

Playing with language to find just the right word forces you to clarify what you think. It’s the compositional equivalent of listening to understand, not to reply. Slowing down. Making ideas clear and sharp. If you want to be understood - and this is the fundamental piece - and create understanding with another, there should be no static in your statements. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have room to learn and change and grow. It means that you say what you actually mean. You can explain it, but because of the precision of your words, you may not need to. And, because your ideas are crystalline, others can look through them to see their own beliefs and how they align or diverge.

Allow me to present an example from a book of poetry mentioned earlier, Educational Arson. (I hear it’s phenomenal and the author is very clever.) The poem that people want to talk to me most about is on page 43, under Blisters and Scars:

How will anyone ever know

You’ve tried if you cover up

Hide

Scratch out

Every bit of evidence

Whether it’s flattering

Or not?

Readers have applied this to their own lives, their lives as teachers, as students, to their students, they’ve read it to their students about trying. About failing. I never, out of all the poems in the book, would have guessed that this would be the one that resonated most. But look at the language. I’m going to blame it on “scratch out.” Scratch out an incorrect answer on the test. Scratch out “whore” in the bathroom because you tried to love the best way you knew how. Scratch out the feelings into your arms and legs because seeing your own blood is the only way you feel anything anymore. Then you cover it up. You hide it. Because it’s not flattering. But no one will ever know. Because you’re not saying anything at all. (Disclaimer: these are not my experiences, nor those of my readers that I know of - they are creations of my fertile, but probably accurate, imagination.)

That’s poetry analysis.

That’s precision of language.

That’s listening to understand.

That’s probably something that could help soothe our aches as humanity.

Struggle and play with language.

Tussle with it. 

Emerge victorious with

Confident vocabulary.

But words cannot be precious

They must be malleable

So that your ideas

Can be honed

Refined

Sharpened

And the pen remains

Mightier

Than the

Sword

__

Sarah Windisch is a music teacher in North Idaho. She blogs at slwindisch.blogspot.com, and enjoys spouting off on Twitter @slwindisch. Her first book of poetry is called Educational Arson is available on Amazon for your reading pleasure.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Practicing Teacher




I'm going to start calling my classroom my practice.

Lawyers get to practice the law. Practicing lawyers. Doctors get to practice medicine. Practicing doctors. Teachers teach. Why don't we get to call it practice? (Just to get it out of the way, "teaching practices" is different and you know it, Pedantic Reader.)

Lawyers barely hide it. Matt Murdock says he practices law. When he's in court trying to put the Kingpin away again, he's practicing. He's still not ready for the final. He's still working on it. His office is called a practice. Even the building doesn't feel prepared.

Doctors barely hide it. They call what they do practicing medicine, but when you're in your underwear on the table suddenly everyone knows exactly what they're doing. If I had looked at his business card it would have said "gastroenterology practice", but the MD wasn't like, "Time to practice sticking a camera up your butt."

I can't be in a parent conference telling some concerned mom that I'm practicing teaching on her kid. That makes me sound like a mad scientist. Even though that exactly what I'm doing. If we embrace the idea of constantly growing then we're constantly practicing teaching. Every day I'm practicing teaching math concepts. I'm going to try a lesson, then I'm going to reflect on it and change things, then I'm going to do it again. Over and over. That's practice. I know, I was an athlete, I've practiced stuff. I assume that's why most schools have coaches.

When do doctors and lawyers practice their practices? Why do they get away with calling what they are actively doing every single day practice? Today's lawyers had teachers teaching them how to practice law. They didn't have teachers practicing teaching them how to practice law. That's Inception-levels of practicing. The universe (or university) would fold in on itself. No, their teachers didn't have the luxury of practicing teaching. They had to straight up teach their bright-eyed law students how to practice.

Yet, school feels so important. Every single day is another chance to reach a kid, help someone learn something, make a connection. Get a win. That's not what happens in practice. That's game time, while being much more serious than any game. Can you practice during a game? If sports movies have taught me anything, you can. Kinda. Hit the cut-off man, Evelyn. But that's not when you really get a chance to get the reps in. You do that during practice. Before and between games. You know, when I'm lesson planning (practicing writing lessons) and grading (practicing giving feedback). So I don't ever have time to practice teaching? In person, with the kids?

I reject that. The language we use to describe what we do matters. I am growing in my teaching. I am constantly experimenting, refining, and tuning how I educate my kids. In short, in my classroom I am practicing. I'm teaching my kids to practice. Together we run our practice.

Room 17 is the Education Practice of Robertson & Partners.

I am a practicing teacher. And I always will 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

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Song of Joy- Teaching Students to Love What They Love


Last year I had a student who was obsessed with the video game Five Nights At Freddy's. Obsessed like only children and nerds can get obsessed. She had a Five Nights at Freddy's (hereby called FNAF because holy crap what a long title) backpack, a different FNAF shirt for every day, FNAF lunchbox, FNAF folders, a FNAF journal, her ID was on a FNAF lanyard. When she was given the choice to freewrite there was always a character named Freddy or Foxy. When given the chance to draw something and then add personalized details there would be the freaky-looking mechanical bear face. When given the assignment to do a biography about anyone on Earth she choose the dude who created FNAF. If her optometrist had carried FNAF glasses she would have worn those. If she'd been over 18 she would have gotten a poorly advised tattoo of the FNAF logo on her shoulder blade.

Because I am an Old, I was unaware this game existed until she walked into my classroom. Once she was there, I knew all about it. Rarely does a student make it so easy to make a connection, so easy to find an In to talk about. So often you've got to do the flowchart. "Do you enjoy sports? If Yes- Which?/If No- Do you enjoy video games?" and so on. But seeing as this kid was branded like a Wayne's World bit, all I had to do was say, "Five Nights at Freddy's? What's that?"

Know how I immediately knew that she was a true nerdy fan and not just some kid who mentioned the game once so her mom bought her the shirt? She didn't roll her eyes at me like I was an Old. Instead her eyes lit up as if to say, "Ah! An Uninitiated! Come with me on this journey, young padawan. I will show you things you have never imagined." A true nerd will never make you feel bad for not knowing about the thing they love. They're too excited about helping you to See The Light.

My class that year was good. Every year my class is good. But it was also challenging. They weren't rude kids, but, being fifth graders, teasing was becoming a Tool of Communication. A blunt object still, not honed or practiced, and lacking the know-how of When, Where, and Who. So it became easy for the other students who were looking for a cheap laugh to drop little barbs at her. "Again with the Five Nights at Freddy's story? Really?" While she registered these barbs, she never let them decrease her love of the game.

Naturally, I didn't let this go on. But you can't, as a teacher, just step in and say, "Hey! Be nice!" That doesn't work.* Specificity matters. Reasons matter. So instead I chose to talk to my class about joy.

"I hope that you find something that you love as much as she loves this video game. How cool is it that she gets so much joy out of this thing? It's not our place to steal victimless joy from others. We should rejoice in it." I shared my own story about growing up loving everything Star Trek. When the other kids at school were talking about the Sunday football scores I'd be saying, "Yeah yeah, great. But did you see how Data and Geordi had to reconfigure the primary power coupling because the Romulans decloaked out of nowhere and then Captain Picard did that thing where he diplomatically threatened them into submission and they ran away because that's what Romulans always do? What was your favorite part?" Then my students look at me in a way that I've been looked at many times before and will be many times again, and I smile. One kid might venture, "Star Wars is better than Star Trek." That student, by the way, is allowed to be wrong. We celebrate mistakes in our classroom. But it opens the gate to the conversation again. Why would you say that? Just to be funny? But at what expense?

School is about so much more than the lessons. We know that. The lesson are important, the kids need the curriculum as in their heads as it can get, Google or not. But school is also about creating wonderful, productive citizens of a loving world. That starts here, with helping kids be cool with their peers being into things they don't understand. That's a foundation of understanding and empathy we can build on. The new Star Wars movies, among other franchises, have been attacked by misguided people who miss the point of science fiction because they have women and people of color at the lead rather than yet another Chosen White Guy. Changing that poisonous attitude starts in our classrooms, teaching students that acceptance of what others love leads to acceptance of what others are and seeing others as real people. It will help prevent our kids from becoming awful people online or in person (I don't say 'in real life' because we need to stop pretending the internet isn't real life). Acceptance matters, and it's our job to reinforce that at every turn.

I have four rules in my classroom- Be Safe, Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Make Good Choices. That's still too many, so I sum them all up under one Umbrella Rule- Be Cool. I don't get my former student's love for Five Nights at Freddy's. I've looked into the game and it's way not for me. But it doesn't need to be. I'm not going to tease her for it. That wouldn't be cool.

School is a place for joy. Joyful learning, but also learning to be joyful. Joyful in that way that only the most dedicated fan can be. And cool to everyone, whether they love it too or not.

*unless you're a parent with more than one child, then "Hey! Be nice!" becomes part of your regular vocabulary.


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