Hidden Wasps

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This month saw the release of a new comic from Marvel:  The Unstoppable Wasp, which stars a new Wasp heroine who is the teenage daughter of Hank Pym (original Ant-Man) and his late first wife.

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The original Wasp, Janet van Dyne, is known as Hank Pym’s second wife and a founding Avenger.  In fact, she’s the one who named “The Avengers,” as seen at the end of issue #1 way back in 1963:

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Janet is perhaps most famous for her colorful variety of costumes.  In fact, someone actually went to the trouble of cataloging all of Wasp’s outfits from the past 50+ years.  Here’s just a few:

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Contrast the elder Wasp’s fashion sense above with younger Wasp’s mission, outlined in the comic panels below:

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Reviewers are mostly positive toward Marvel’s new take on the Wasp and its pro-STEM  message, especially for girls.  Unstoppable Wasp #1 has been called “relentlessly positive” with “infectious enthusiasm.”  Take a look and consider for yourself:unstoppable_wasp_1_3

I must admit, a mash-up of science, pop culture, and cheesy humor occurs in my classroom on a daily basis.  So of course I’m totally in favor of a comic like this.

In a universe known for its brilliant scientists–Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Hank Pym, Henry McCoy, etc.–Marvel is wise to put more emphasis on female contributions.

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And if you want more reasons for improving the gender balance in STEM-related work (science/technology/engineering/math) in the REAL world, take a look at some statistics here.

I’m not arguing that all students (male or female) should pursue STEM careers or college degrees.  But we do need students (and society) thoroughly educated in science and math, as well as ALL other disciplines.  Some folks add “Arts” to advocate for “STEAM” education.  I say throw in the Humanities, History, and Physical Education can call it “SHHTEAMPE” (Trademark 2017).

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Maybe you haven’t heard of The Unstoppable Wasp, but you might know about the movie Hidden Figures.  This recent film (based on the book) shares the story of REAL women and their challenges and contributions.

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Sadly, I haven’t seen this film yet. But it’s already one of my wife’s all-time favorite movies, so it’s only a matter of time.  Until then, Smithsonian Magazine‘s website provides an interesting overview, “The True Story of ‘Hidden Figures,’ the Forgotten Women Who Helped Win the Space Race.”

This feature also shares author Margot Lee Shetterly’s background (and ongoing) work in uncovering details about the people involved.  I appreciate the article’s final paragraph and quote from Shetterly, because it evokes super-heroics even as it emphasizes down-to-earth human effort:

“[Shetterly] hopes her work pays tribute to these women by bringing details of their life’s work to light. ‘Not just mythology but the actual facts,’ she says. ‘Because the facts are truly spectacular.'”

The impact of the people in Hidden Figures continues today, with reports about increased interest in STEM by girls and minorities.  I don’t know if The Unstoppable Wasp will have the same effect, but teachers may want to try both artistic resources in their classrooms.

Here are some other suggestions from “experts” talking with CNN about increasing girls’ interest in STEM.  I’d say that many of these ideas are applicable to all children and all subject disciplines.

What about you?  You don’t have to teach in a STEM-related field.  What “SHHTEAMPE” strategies do you use to make learning meaningful and memorable?

 

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Know Gimmicks

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gimmick ˈɡimik/  noun

  1. a trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity, or business.
    synonyms: publicity stunt, contrivanceschemestratagemploy;

    informalshtick

 Every Marvel movie features snappy quips, and one of my favorite lines from Captain America: Civil War comes from hero Falcon, when he and Bucky first run into Spider-Man:

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Gimmicks have a long history in comic books.  Specifically, let’s look at comic book gimmick covers.  Like any good “publicity stunt,” gimmick covers draw attention to sell more comic books. Typically these specific issues celebrate milestone anniversaries, debut series, or other special events.

The good folks at Comic Book Resources (CBR) recently shared their “All-Time Greatest Comic Book Gimmick Covers,” and you can read about it right here.

In this list, you’ll learn all kinds of neat history and trivia, including what made these gimmicks special.  Behold covers with poly-bagged pop-ups, glow-in-the-dark skeletons, embossed chromium and/or foil, die-cut claw marks, bullet holes, and more.

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My favorite is the Superman “Colorform” cover, where you can create your own battle scene using the reusable plastic pieces.  (iPad got nothin’ on Coloforms.)

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Gimmicks are fun, but they can also go horribly wrong.  To wit, CBR contributors also compiled the “All-Time Worst Comic Book Gimmick Covers,” which you can read here if you dare.

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These unfortunate “shticks” include lenticular artwork, face-shaped die-cut covers, duplicate monochrome colors, Magic Eye illusions, body heat-sensitive “thermochrome,” and more bullet holes.

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Gimmick comic book covers have mostly disappeared, but new ideas (or old revivals) pop up from time to time.  The same is true for educational gimmicks.  Teachers must be vigilant in protecting their students (and themselves) from too many gimmicks, fads, and ploys.

 What are some of these educational gimmicks?  For a start, take a look at the following graphic highlighting “20 Years of Educational Fads,” put together by Te@cher Toolkit (“the most influential blog on education in the UK”).

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You can read more here about each gimmick, myth, fad, and/or hearsay, and see how much you agree.

Such new (or repackaged) educational ideas begin as noteworthy or eye-catching.  A financial boost often jumpstarts such initiatives.  But eventually the dollars dwindle away, followed by fading enthusiasm and support.  Given the effort and time spent by various stakeholders, you can imagine the subsequent feelings of resentment and distrust.

Please note that I am not poo-pooing all gimmicks.  After all, I’m the guy who forked over cash to get this hologram-highlighted wrap-around cover:

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And this foil embossed beauty:

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And even this one:

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 (Yup, that’s a special #0 issue mini-comic glued to the cover of the #1 issue regular-sized comic.)

Gimmicks can be good for a laugh.  And sometimes they are a breath of fresh air.  Used right, gimmicks can make cute mementos, quick distractions, and useful object lessons.

Nevertheless, it’s important to distinguish between a novel trick (that’s fun for a little while) and a credible research-supported practice (that stands the test of time).

What about you?  What educational gimmicks have you enjoyed, advocated, and/or suffered?

Teacher Evolution

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Don’t get riled up by this blog post’s title.

We’re not talking about Charles Darwin and biological evolution.  Although if you’re into that stuff, you can find all kinds of humorous imagery like this:

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And if you like teacher accessories, you can snag this image on a mug, t-shirt, apron, mouse pad, and more HERE.

The type of evolution this post deals with is that of teachers (inspired by superheroes, of course).

 

YouTube user (and movie fan) Burger Fiction has put together some nifty videos highlighting every film and television appearance of various superheroes.

The most recent hero featured in these videos is Marvel’s Captain America, which you can watch here:

 

You can find similar “Evolution of . . .” clip collections celebrating heroes Iron Man, Superman, and Batman.  Each video includes vintage footage and obscure appearances alongside iconic sequences (live action and animation alike).

What I find most significant in these highlight reels, though, is the ongoing development and expansion of each character over time.  Like these heroes, effective teachers undergo change and growth through the years.

This is where the term “evolution” truly applies, going back to the word’s original meaning in the mid-1600s.  Thanks to the Online Etymology Dictionary, we know that evolution’s English origins arose from Latin “evolvere,” meaning “to unfold, open out, or expand.”

This same evolution process occurs for both teachers and superheroes.  And the parallels don’t end there.

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Like Captain America above, many teachers would rather forget some of the earliest footage of their work.  Everyone looks back at their initial efforts and cringes at what they see:

  • Sluggish transitions.
  • Awkward pacing.
  • Stilted dialogue.
  • Clumsy execution.
  • Poor methods.
  • Novice mistakes.
  • Cheesy humor.
  • And outdated fashion and technology, of course.

 

But observe what happens when the years go by.  As time advances, so do your abilities and confidence.  In fact, the most recent footage is downright awesome and exhilarating.

Am I talking about superheroes or teachers here?  It doesn’t matter.

Be brave and dig up old footage of your teaching.  Take a quick look and notice how your teaching has unfolded, opened up, and expanded.

Watch a more recent video of your teaching and be encouraged by your growth.  And if you find you still exhibit cringe-worthy tendencies, challenge yourself to fix those bad habits.

If you need inspiration or ideas on “teacher evolution,” here are a couple of useful articles: one dealing with National Board Certification, and another focusing on a teacher’s journey of “personal transformation” that includes burnout, pink slips, and awards.

Evolve your teaching.  You don’t need a multi-million dollar Hollywood budget, either.  Just the guts to get better.

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Super-Souvenirs

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Last time we talked about lessons learned from conventions, whether the audience is teachers or cosplayers.

 

I nearly forgot one of the best rewards of attending conferences and meetings . . . the STUFF!

The swag . . . the loot . . . the prizes . . . the souvenirs.

This past weekend I participated in a state teacher conference, and I got a few of the usual convention freebies — posters, books, pens, highlighters, candy, a shirt, and more.  Someone I know even won a free corn snake!

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Take me home!

 

The best convention prize I ever got was a children’s book about Buzz Aldrin, signed by the astronaut himself!

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This very same weekend I came home and took my family to Marvel Universe Live!  (Think “Disney on Ice” with superheroes on motorcycles and high-wire acts.)

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The show was full of explosions, stuntmen (and stuntwomen), along with cheesy comic book dialogue. Best of all, it’s the only way (so far) you can see live-action Avengers fight alongside live-action X-Men and Spider-Man.

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My kids loved the show (me and the wife, too), and they also loved the souvenirs.  Just like conferences and conventions, this event had gobs of stuff to take home.  Such trinkets cost money, though.

But where else are you going to get an exclusive Marvel Universe Live! Prelude Comic Book?

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Or giant-sized Program Book (with embossed cover)?

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Or Captain America Boomerang?  (It works, too . . . in theory.)

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Or official Marvel Universe Live! cotton candy (with superhero mask)?

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My family bought all of these beauties – BONUS!

 

Another lesson learned from this weekend is that teachers give their students an array of souvenirs over the course of a school year.  And I’m not just talking about content knowledge.

Every year, I ask my pre-service teachers to imagine their students at the end of the year.  In an ideal world, what will those kids be like?  What skills will they possess?  What traits, habits, and feelings do they have?

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I’ve written about this before in a more scholarly setting. To be brief, the new teachers end up with a short list of about ten items.  The same types of traits and skills always emerge.

Teachers want students who are . . .

  • Critical Thinkers
  • Creative
  • Problem Solvers
  • Caring and Kind
  • Hard Workers
  • Curious
  • Lifelong Learners
  • Collaborative
  • Effective Communicators

And students who possess solid content understanding, of course.

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Souvenirs are an important part of comic book conventions, education conferences, superhero stunt shows, and even school classrooms.

Some are free.  Others are pricy.  Cost does not always correlate with value.

What are your classroom’s best souvenirs?

Consider what “souvenirs” you provide for students over the course of the year.  Make sure they are treasures that last a lifetime.

 

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Con Season

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This blog post is unique because I’m writing it from San Diego, where I’m attending a convention.

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No, not THAT convention – San Diego Comic-Con International – although the Convention Center is just across the street.

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The above photo is what the Center looks like this week.  During Comic-Con, it appears more like the photo below:

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Or this one:

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Or this one, if you’re lucky:

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Like I said, I’m not lucky enough to be in town the same time as Comic-Con.  But I am lucky enough to be at a convention with hundreds of other educators.

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This particular “con” is focused on accreditation of teacher preparation programs.

The topic may sound dryer than San Diego heat, but it’s not too bad.  Most sessions are led by educators, who know a thing or two about engaging a crowd of semi-disinterested individuals.

Here are three take-home lessons I’ll share with you (and take home from California):

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No excitement here.

1. A convention center without fans, celebrities, and cosplayers is like a school building without students, teachers, and staff.  A brilliant building with fancy facilities is a wonderful thing to behold; but it only makes a difference when it hosts a crowd of excitable and exciting characters.

 

 

2. What convention are you attending next?   I’m not talking about a district-required in-service necessary for churning out continuing education credits.

Seek out a teacher-focused conference or convention that expands your network of colleagues, refines your thinking, and builds on your repertoire of strategies.  Better yet, sign up to SHARE a session or workshop with your professional peers.  

 

 

 

3. Someday I hope to visit San Diego again and attend Comic-Con.  Until then, here are some conferences I’ve attended (or will attend) recently.  Check one out, if you’re interested.  Or find something else that more closely matches your field of expertise.

-Kappa Delta Pi International Educational Honor Society Biennial Convocation

-National Science Teachers Association Regional Conference

International Meeting of the Association for Science Teacher Education

-Kansas Association of Science Teachers “KATS Kamp” Conference

-Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation Spring Conference

 

Where are you going?

You don’t have to attend a “con” somewhere far away or expensive.  Most of those I go to are within driving distance, and many times you can pay a discounted fee to attend only part of the convention.  In most cases you get what you pay for, though, and it’s healthy to expand your horizons beyond your home district or state.

 

Find a super group of teachers to encourage and educate you – and you can do the same for them.  They’re waiting for you!

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Word Balloons

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The latest superhero flick is Deadpool, which is making news for its “hard” R-rating for humor and violence.

If you don’t know much about Marvel’s “Merc with a Mouth,” here is a fun tutorial courtesy of artist Ty Templeton.

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The movie itself is doing great commercially and critically, even getting approval from Betty White herself.

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I’ll bypass seeing the film in theaters, waiting for a toned down, broadcast-friendly version on TV.  (But from the sound of things, a cleaned-up edited version would last about 15 minutes.)

The “sound of things” is actually the topic of this blog post.  Specifically,

What is the sound of your voice?

We’ve talked before about the importance of what teachers say in the classroom (namely questions).  But it’s also important to consider how you say it.

What’s your tone of voice when you talk in class?  How loud?  How fast?  How much variety?

In comic books, characters speak in “word balloons” (or “speech bubbles”), and it’s fascinating to notice the unique techniques creators use to convey dialogue on the page.

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Just like people, comic book heroes have unique voices, and letterers (the folks who draw word balloons) often use specific styles for particular characters.

For instance, Deadpool always speaks (and thinks) in yellow word balloons.  No one is sure what it’s supposed to sound like, aside from a mix of sarcasm and crazy.

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Take a moment and consider what your words would look like if someone drew balloons around them.

Are you snarky to the point of annoying?  (Do you need to tone it down?)

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Or maybe you’re more robotic, like the android Vision.  (Should you add more emotion?)

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DC/Vertigo’s Sandman hero Dream (a.k.a. Morpheus) talks in wavy inverted speech bubbles.  (Are you putting your students to sleep?)

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Or does your voice reflect the tenor of Ghost Rider, Marvel’s Spirit of Vengeance?  (To quote Educator Harry Wong, remember to stay “calm, real calm.”)

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Some teachers start quiet and docile, not maintaining healthy classroom boundaries.  And then when students get too far out of control, these teachers release a verbal attack like Marvel’s Inhumans hero Black Bolt.  (Deal with the small things sooner, so you don’t have to explode.)

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Eric Wong at the Sequart Organization wrote a nifty article about the different ways comic books communicate sound.   As you examine these examples, think about the sounds in your classroom.  What is helpful?  What is hurtful or distracting?

Teachers should record their classroom instruction and interactions from time to time.  You don’t have to sit down and watch an entire lesson.  Just listen to a few minutes and notice what your students actually hear.

Acknowledge the fact that nobody likes the sound of their own voice.  (Blame science.)  But who cares?  Either out loud or in your head, ask yourself,

“What can I do to sound better?”  

Here are some ideas:

1. If your voice is monotone and flat, study television news anchors to learn about adding variety in pitch. (And drink more coffee.)

2. If you have a tendency of erupting, take a deep breath and stay calm (but firm).  (And eat more chocolate.)

3. If you have a snarky streak, save it for open mic night at the comedy club.  Students respect teachers who show them respect first.

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So whatever kind of “word balloons” you use in the classroom, make sure they fit the space and focus on learning.

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Secret Hideouts

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In our previous post, we talked about getting along with your fellow teachers.

On some occasions, the best method to maintain positive relationships is giving yourself some space.  “Lying low” is one way to think of it.  In order to lie low, you need a secret hideout.

Recently, images of hero hideouts have appeared in previews of upcoming movies.

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First, we have news from Entertainment Weekly about the new Batcave appearing in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS:DoJ).  Jacob Hall at SlashFilm.com describes this hideout as “swanky” and “full of flashy technology and design choices that a proper billionaire would make.”  He also provides a nifty comparison with Batcaves from the 1989 Batman film (Tim Burton, Michael Keaton) and 2005’s Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale).

Next, Marvel provided concept art of the Sanctum Sanctorum, appearing in the movie Doctor Strange.  Though not as well-known as the Dark Knight’s Batcave, Doctor Strange’s hideout includes just as many gizmos and trinkets–albeit on the magical side.

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Whether you’re a teacher or a superhero (or both), a good secret hideout serves two main purposes.

First, it’s a place to keep all your stuff.  Teachers are known as perpetual pack-rats.  Those fortunate enough to have their own classroom can keep a regular supply of tools and resources within immediate reach.

Of course, be sure you keep items organized and secure, especially when it comes to valuable and hazardous materials.  When I taught chemistry, I always kept my chemical closet locked, opening it only when I had to retrieve something.  Students were NEVER allowed to enter, or even stand in the doorway.

Call me a little overprotective or OCD, but I never had a student lose a finger (or thumb).

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Unfortunately, the teacher maxim to “beg, borrow, and steal” often results in bulging file cabinets and saturated bookshelves.   For most teachers, the classroom is not their second home, but their second storage unit.

If you don’t want to rent a third storage unit, take time to thin out your collection.  What materials and equipment do you truly use?  Gather all non-essentials and dust-collectors and give them to new teachers hungry to fill their room and repertoire.

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That chapter test is in here somewhere . . .

Don’t delay your purging until Spring Break or Winter Break or Summer Break.  (Honestly, those breaks fill up with other essential tasks.)

Take a few minutes every week or so to stroll past a shelf or peek into a closet.  If you see something you haven’t used in over a year, pluck it out.  Find a better use in someone else’s hands — another teacher, student, Goodwill-collector, garbage-collector, etc.  (Maybe check with your boss first.)

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If Batman ever decides to donate his dinosaur, I’ll take it!

 

In addition to improving safety and equipping others, cleaning out clutter results in a more tranquil classroom.  This is a bonus for students and the teacher. Less junk means fewer distractions during learning time, planning time, and quiet time.

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Ahhh . . . Paradise!

 

Primary purpose #2 for secret hideouts is providing a space to relax and unwind.  Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum is described as his place to “escape from this reality.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

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Maybe you can’t escape reality, but every teacher needs daily moments to himself or herself.  These slivers of quiet time don’t have to be lengthy.  Plan periods typically fill up with trips to the copier, chasing down students and staff, catching up on emails, and more.  You may have a few minutes, but don’t plan on it (especially if you’re relatively new).

I mentioned lying low from time-to-time (again, especially if you’re new), and one of the best ways I found to do this was eating lunch in my empty classroom — door locked, lights off, maybe some soothing music playing in the background.

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Ahhh . . .  Peace and quiet!

 

I didn’t always do this.  In fact, at my first school I typically spent my lunch hour (i.e. 20  minutes) shoveling food down my gullet in the teachers’ lounge.  The lounge was closer to the cafeteria — when you’re a bachelor, cafeteria food is tasty, easy, and cheap — so I found a spot among my colleagues and ate while they gabbed.

I was so busy eating, I didn’t have time to talk.  All that quiet listening gave me tremendous insight about students, staff, school history, and more.

But every once in a while, a dismal mood would hover over the staff lounge.  That’s when I hoofed it back to my classroom for silent dining.  For fifteen minutes, I had entered my personal Fortress of Solitude.

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Not all teachers have a classroom to call home, however.  In such cases, it’s vital to understand that a secret hideout doesn’t have to be a permanent area.  Maybe you can find a closet or hallway nook for a temporary respite.  (Schools are full of interesting little spaces.)

Superhero hideouts come in all shapes and sizes, spaces and places.  Take a look at Newsarama‘s list of the Greatest Superhero Hideouts and Headquarters.  You’ll see everything from skyscrapers to satellites, mansions to alleyways.

 

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Perhaps it’s more accurate to think of a secret hideout as a state of mind.

When I began teaching, I lived two blocks from school and walked everyday to work.  My students repeatedly questioned why I didn’t take my car.  I usually answered that driving isn’t all that new and cool after you turn 20.

Honestly though, the brief, brisk morning walk energized me.  And the journey back and forth was always time well spent, giving me precious moments to preview and review my day.  So I guess my first secret hideout was a two-block stretch of sidewalk.

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Some days it felt as cold as the Fortress of Solitude.

 

I know another teacher who drives to school, but always parks in the spot farthest from the building entrance.  His colleagues joke that he picks this spot to avoid any car dings and scratches — whether unintentional or intentional.

The real reason, he says, is so he can spend the lengthy walk thinking about an individual, and how he can make a positive difference in that person’s life that day.  He told me if there’s ever a morning he can’t come up with someone’s name, he’ll quit teaching.  That was a few years ago, but the last I heard, he’s still teaching.

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So whatever you have for a secret hideout (and wherever it is), consider how you maintain that special space to keep it user-friendly.  And use that space to reflect, retool, and recharge in your efforts to be a better teacher.  

No Danger Room required.

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