Summer Break 2017

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Summer Vacation is well underway, but today (June 21) is the official first day of summer.

“Teach Like a Superhero!” is also taking a summer break, but here are a handful of highlights from the previous academic year:

Job Juggler – Batman’s butler Alfred has many jobs, and so do teachers!

D-List to A-List – Superheroes can go from D-List to the A-List, and so can your students!

Flame On! – How to avoid teacher burnout, with help from the Human Torch, Ryan Gosling, and Julia Child.

Leave a Legacy – How do teachers truly influence students . . . and generations to come?

 

Enjoy your summer!

And honor Adam West’s memory by catching some waves!

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Job Juggler

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A recent Batman comic book story features Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s trusty butler, donning the cape and cowl to be Batman.

Below is one page of the comic, and you can find a nifty preview of this scene here, so take a look to see how it plays out.

alfred as batman

 

Alfred’s temporary stint as the Caped Crusader prompted website Newsarama to make a top ten list, where they ranked different jobs performed by Batman’s butler.

alfred batman tas

 

Of course, “butler” was the #1 job.  But you’ll also find a range of occupations such as surgeon, actor, spy, super-villain, and more.

This list includes many jobs performed by your typical teacher.  Consider the ways in which teachers must act in the following roles:

alfred 1943 detective

 

 

Detective – Teachers may not solve crimes, but they must investigate, question, and examine evidence from their students’ behaviors and performances in order to make conclusions about learning and lesson planning.

 

 

 

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Actor – Teaching is NOT theater, but there are certainly times when teachers must add some theatrics to catch their students’ interest and elevate the content.

 

 

 

alfred doctor

 

Surgeon – Let’s go with Doctor here to be more general.  There’s a reason teachers have to annually renew training on how to deal with blood-born pathogens. Schools have nurses, but teachers often deal with students’ minor injuries on the front lines. Just ask any teacher with playground duty.

 

alfred hugging

 

 

Father – Alfred has been a “father figure” to numerous heroes.  How many teachers have been accidentally called “dad” or “mom” by their students?  It’s universally subconscious.

 

 

 

I would add even more jobs to Newsarama’s list for Alfred, and argue that teachers also juggle these jobs during a typical school year.

alfred tailor

 

Tailor – To put it figuratively, teachers must tailor their lessons to fit students’ needs and standards requirements.

 

alfred helping figure out

 

 

Assistant Problem Solver – Alfred has been Batman’s trusty assistant when it comes to numerous bat-cave experiments and analyses.  Likewise, teachers “facilitate” learning when they help students think through problems and challenges.

 

 

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Sparring Partner – Sometimes the role of assistant includes acting as an antagonist.  Like Alfred (seen here with a young Bruce Wayne), teachers can provide a safe avenue for students to “wrestle with ideas” and face opposition.

 

 

alfred ding dong

 

Comic Relief – Like fighting crime, learning is an endless venture.  In addition to all of the jobs needed above, an effective bat-butler/teacher can share a sense of humor to reduce stress and lighten the mood.

 

 

What other roles does Alfred perform for Bruce Wayne/Batman?

What about teachers with their students?  How many different jobs do you juggle?

 

alfred mentor

 

Super-Rich

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i am batman

When it comes to superheroes, a lot of people claim they relate the most to BATMAN.

It’s not the tragic orphan story or fascination with flying mammals that builds the bond.  Rather, it’s the fact that Bruce Wayne is a “normal guy” like the rest of us.  He’s no alien, mutant, or mystical being with special powers.  Instead, Batman saves the day using sly sleuthing skills, martial arts, and handy homemade gadgets.

I don’t know about you, but my detective prowess and hand-to-hand combat skills are so-so, at best.  My weakest link to Batman, however, is in my lack of gadgetry.  (I don’t even have a smartphone.  Guess I’m more like Captain Caveman.)

capt caveman

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Recently, “comic historian” Thaddeus Howze did some detective work of his own and estimated the cost of Batman’s crime-fighting technology.  It’s a nifty little article with a breakdown of every gadget used by the Caped Crusader, including his cape made of memory cloth polymer.

cost of being batman

What’s the final bill?  Totaling up every batarang, bat-vehicle, bat-cave amenity, and bat-salary (Alfred don’t work cheap), Howze estimated the cost of being Batman at around $682,450,750.

So for anyone making over half a billion dollars, your dream of donning the Dark Knight’s identity is within grasp. The rest of us “regular folks” will have to live vicariously through our Batman toys or video games.  Or both.

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Teacher-Rich

Teachers need gizmos, too, which we give fancy names like “instructional technology,” “curriculum materials,” “educational manipulatives,” and the like.  Unlike Bruce Wayne, we don’t spend from billion-dollar bank accounts.  One year a biology teacher told me her entire department’s annual budget was $600.  (That buys you about twenty frog dissection kits, which by their very definition are perishable goods.)

For a lot of teachers, we purchase classroom supplies using our own money.  A 2015 Horace Mann Educator Survey found that 57% of teachers spend at least $200 of their own money on classroom materials every year (14% spend $600 or more).

Furthermore, 80% of responding teachers said they have abandoned projects because of a lack of funds.  (“Abandoned” is a strong word, like Batman would give up on nights he ran out of smoke bombs.)  I suspect many teachers found cheaper, alternative projects.  Of course, there are many ways to seek additional financial support at local levels (fundraisers, community drives, etc.) as well as through worldwide services like DonorsChoose.org.

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Money, while helpful, is far from the most important element in cultivating successful classrooms and making a lasting impact.  To elaborate on this point, let’s look at an example from the world of sports.  (See?  I’m not completely nerdy.  Or maybe just a sports nerd, too.)

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The front sports page of a recent USA Today newspaper highlighted two stories side-by-side, convenient for comparisons.

The first was an editorial about football player Kam Chancellor finally agreeing to resume playing for his Seattle Seahawks team.  The Pro Bowl safety had been holding out–missing the first two games of the season–with hopes of getting a better contract.  Interestingly, Chancellor still had three years left on his current four-year contract, worth about $7 million a year.

The second sports story was much more prominent, accompanied by multiple color photos, nearly a full page of text, and a second full page photograph tribute.  The subject receiving this recognition?  The late Yogi Berra.  Headlines and highlights included phrases like “one-of-a-kind,” “true national treasure,” “American icon,” and “the sweetest man you ever met.”

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Fun fact:  The highest annual salary Yogi Berra ever received for playing baseball was $65,000 in 1957.  Compare that pay with Kam Chancellor’s, and then consider whose name we’ll remember in a hundred years.

I’m not making any claims about the value of an individual’s contribution to sport or society.  And I admit there are significant differences–different sports, different teams, different centuries.  Nevertheless, I did some calculations myself (inspired by comic historian Thaddeus Howze) and here’s what I found:

The average American median household income in 1957 was $5,000, compared to $52,250 in 2015.  Considering the salaries given above, Yogi Berra made about 13 times more than the average household in 1957; Kam Chancellor earns about 134 times more than today’s average household.

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At this rate, we’ll be living in a Hunger Games world by the end of the century.  Tempting as it is, let’s not dwell on the excessive amounts of money given to today’s professional athletes.

Let’s focus instead on building toward a better future by investing in children:  their learning, their growing, and their getting along with others–famous or nameless, poor or rich, every man and every woman.  This is the work that’s truly worthwhile.  Heroic, even.

Super-Rich

Spider-Man and Superman

Instead Batman or Iron Man or other affluent heroes, teachers can probably relate better to middle-class champions like Spider-Man or Superman.

Peter Parker started out as a teenager just scraping by, trying to earn a few bucks by taking photos of himself in costume.

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                Peter Parker–Inventor of the Selfie!

Superman may be a super-strong flying alien, but his day job is an office gig with bustling desk areas, broken copier machines, and bland coffee.  Not far from a teacher’s workplace, eh?

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And like Clark Kent, teachers can rely on a mostly steady paycheck.  But that’s not what makes us rich.  Remember the favorite phrase quoted by many educators:

“Teaching–We’re not in it for the income; we’re in it for the outcome.”

Academy, Asylum, or . . . ?

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It’s Back-to-School time, and hopefully everyone is off to a terrific start, implementing new district policies and applying Harry and Rosemary Wong’s wisdom about “the first days of school.” (Routines and procedures, practice, practice, practice.)

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Batman is back in the news too, mainly the upcoming Ben Affleck movie version with Superman a la Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns miniseries (e.g. short pointy ears). I’m sure we’ll have more to talk about that topic and teaching connections in the future (e.g. short pointy ears).

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Comparison courtesy of artist Dean Trippe @deantrippe

In the near future, a bunch of new Batman-related comics are coming out. Namely, two series start this fall, as announced by Entertainment Weekly.

One title is Arkham Manor, in which Bruce Wayne (Batman’s nice face) decides to donate his Wayne Manor to house Gotham City’s criminally insane. The mansion that’s known for masking the underground Batcave has now become the new location for Arkham Asylum. There goes the neighborhood.

Arkham Manor     Gotham Academy
 

Another Bat-title from DC—Gotham Academy—focuses on the city’s private school for rich kids.  Plaid skirt uniforms and everything.

(Side note: I’m curious about the depiction of Gotham’s public schools.  If you are curious as well, the best we can do is watch the movie Dangerous Minds and assume that instead of being a former marine, Michelle Pfieffer’s character is Selena Kyle after giving up the Catwoman costume in Batman Returns. It almost works!)

As for the comics, we’ll see what happens as both series progress in the months to come. The reason I bring them up here is to encourage all of us teachers to consider our school environment.

Academy?

Does your school building feel like an academy? It’s a fancy word, coming from the Greek “grove of Akademos,” where Plato did his teaching. Good company, no? People nowadays use the term “academy” to refer to a special institution for scholarship or for the advancement of the arts or science. 

You don’t have to teach in a special institution to advance the ideas of scholarship and appreciation for culture. Wherever and whatever you teach, consider how you can promote an “academic” attitude in your students. I’m not talking about being a snob or out of touch with reality. But we can still create an environment where learning is looked upon as a noble endeavor and great adventure.

Sometimes our schools have too much adventure, though, and may even feel like an insane asylum.

Asylum?

Does anyone in your school drink from a mug like this?  

crazy mug

Or post this sign in their classroom or office?

crazy sign

 

Schools can often feel like a facility for the mentally unstable. Beyond the humor, though, there is some truth to that notion. Think about our students’ mental, emotional, and physical states. Most of them are, in fact, a little unstable. A little “shaky,” so to speak. They should be. They’re still growing up.

And that’s why we teach them. During a school year, teachers introduce students to hundreds of ideas and skills. Our students should investigate, reflect, and practice the content, all the while strengthening (and stabilizing) their foundations—intellectually, emotionally, and more. This learning process is often challenging and frustrating, even destabilizing at times, and ultimately rewarding.

Learning can create a sense of vulnerability, and students need a safe place to learn—no matter what kind of school or classroom. 

We looked at the origin of the word “academy,” so let’s do the same for asylum. Although often associated with housing the mentally ill, the word “asylum” comes from the Latin word for “sanctuary,” a “safe or secure place.”

We can never protect kids from every unsafe event or bad influence, but we can all do our part. None of us can do it alone. Heck, even Batman has the Justice League. (And Alfred. And several Robins. And Nightwing. And the Gotham City Police Department. And the Outsiders. And Batman Incorporated. And Batmen of All Nations. And Ace the Bat-Hound.)

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Fight the good fight with your trusted colleagues, mentors, and friends. (And pets.)  You get to pick who wears the cape.

Good luck in the coming year in whatever classroom you teach. Wherever you are, it can be both an academy and an asylum for your students. And so much more.