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:

TrEvolMug

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  • And outdated fashion and technology, of course.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.

superhero evolution

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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?

Elementary school pupils running outside

 

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.

 

marvel souvenirs

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.

solid word balloon

 

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

word balloons

 

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.)

Batcave_1999

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.

empty classroom

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?

sanctum

 

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.

dark classroom

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.

fortress-of-solitude-superman

 

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.

school parking lot

 

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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Teacher versus Teacher

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The holiday season is upon us, which means it’s time to watch the latest trailers for next year’s big superhero movies.

First up is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, opening in theaters March 25, 2016.

Soon after comes Captain America: Civil War, hitting the big screens May 6, 2016.

Notice any trends?  Take a look again at these images:

 

That’s right folks, 2016 is the year of the superhero stare-down.

Oh yeah.  It’s also the year of superhero versus superhero.  Sounds fun, yes?  (Almost as fun as a stare-down contest.  Hulk make puny human blink!)

Heroes fighting heroes is nothing new.  They’ve been doing it in comic books for decades.  That’s how Wolverine and the Hulk first met, back in The Incredible Hulk #181, published November 1974.

hulk wolverine first meet

Fighting is how Wolverine and the Hulk meet a lot of folks.

Marvel and DC Comics have occasionally joined forces to have their heroes fight it out, most memorably in 2003-2004’s JLA/Avengers mini-series.

JusticeLeagueVsAvengers1

 

Some of the previous films have already included minor skirmishes, too, such as Iron Man and War Machine in Iron Man 2 (life lesson: don’t drink and don an Iron Man suit).

 

Marvel’s “big three” heroes–Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America–first share the screen after a fracas in the first Avengers movie:

 

Then we also have Iron Man vs. Hulk in the second Avengers movie (Age of Ultron), which kicks things up a notch.

 

There’s no mystery why these fights occur.  Heroes duking it out with each other is loads of fun to watch.  And most of the time, they eventually work out their differences to defeat the REAL bad guys.

Heroes versus heroes is dangerous and entertaining, and the same is true for teachers versus teachers–but not in a good way.

Given the pressures involved with teaching, disagreements are bound to arise from time to time.  We don’t always see eye-to-eye when it comes to assessments, curriculum, scheduling, resources, management and discipline, and more.  Heck, there may even be some colleagues in your building or department that rub you the wrong way.

As teachers we must not allow friction to fester.  Ongoing bickering is noticeable and results in classroom snickering. Dampen combustible situations with grace and good-natured humor.  “Lie low” when you need to.

Resist the urge to blow off steam in front of your students. Avoid any gossip or rumor-mongering by students and staff alike.  Speak highly of your colleagues in front of others, pointing out strengths and past successes.

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Here are some other resources for fostering positive relationships with your co-workers:

The website We Are Teachers has an eye-catching blogpost entitled “How to Get Along with ANY Teaching Colleague (From the Whiners to the Kiss Ups!)”  Of course, it’s important to consider what kind of colleague you become on your not-so-good days.  Personally, I’ve been known to be the “negative Nancy” (Ned) during grouchy times.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (of the United Kingdom) has a helpful guide for new and beginning teachers.  Some useful advice includes “staffroom etiquette” and what to do if you have concerns about colleagues.

The National Education Association (NEA) provides ideas for building collaboration in your classroom via co-teaching.  Instead of negative energy, co-teaching harnesses positive teacher relationships and teamwork for successful student learning.

For a more in-depth examination, take a look at the book Teachers Working Together by Mario Martinez.  For a quick view, You can find excerpts here courtesy of Google Books.

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Hopefully these resources will provide you with inspiration and information on getting along with your fellow educators.

And if it’s just inspiration you need, remember the current holiday season and do your part to bring . . .

Chalk_Peace_on_Earth

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in a Name?

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Keen-eyed readers will notice that this blog has recently changed its official name from Teaching is for Superheroes! to Teach Like a Superhero!  (The exclamation point remains!)

Not that big of a change, really, except that the new name rolls off the tongue a little more easily.  Another change is the primary web address:  http://www.teachlikeasuperheroblog.com.  This new URL is not very short, but it gets to the point.

(I tried a shorter address, but “www.tlash.com” sounds like an eyeliner product.  And a good of an excuse as any to share this meme inspired by Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

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If all of this http://www.mumbo.jumbo stresses you out, don’t worry.  The old web address, http://www.teachingsupeherheroes.wordpress.com, still works and will lead you right back here.

This post is not just an announcement about blog name changes.

Let’s talk about names of superheroes and names of teachers.

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I remember two things from my very first teacher back-to-school in-service meeting.  The first memory is a litany of details regarding health insurance and employee benefits.  The second memory is our assistant principal reminding us all that we are “Mr. Smith,” not “Smith” or “Mr. S.”

His point was to start the school year establishing a professional identify and requiring our students to address us as such.  It may seem like no big deal for a student to abbreviate your name (“Mr. B.”) or leave off your honorific (“Bergman”).  Some teachers may even welcome such nicknames to foster a more relaxed classroom environment.

But we must always be careful to not get too comfortable with our students.  Stop and consider the range of impacts this lackadaisical habit could impart.

I’m sure I’ve allowed my students to call me all sorts of things and get away with it.  But it does help to maintain a level of respect among everyone – teacher to student, student to teacher, teacher to teacher, student to student, and more.

Proper names matter among superheroes, too, and not just with maintaining secret identities.  Personally, I cringe whenever I read superheroes calling each other playful nicknames.

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They’re heroes, not BFFs!

Superhero nicknames have long been a staple in comics.  Witty banter and clever monikers keep the “funny” in funny books, after all.  And it helps convey some characters’ personalities.

Wolverine, for example, with Colossus:

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And here (off-panel) with Professor Xavier:

Chuck

The best name-caller, of course, was Stan “The Man” Lee, who was so proficient he even came up with nicknames for his real-life co-workers (e.g. Jack “The King” Kirby, “Jazzy” Johnny Romita, “Merry” Gerry Conway, and many MANY more right here).

Like any good joke, though, overuse of superhero sobriquets can get tiresome.  Especially among champions who should focus their attention on more important things – like fighting bad guys and saving the world!

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What’s worse, many of these affectionate nicknames can actually undermine the job of life-risking heroics.

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“Spidey” for Spider-Man works fine for his hip quippy character;  but take a look at other heroes and their less-dignified labels:

Batman = “Bats”

Superman = “Supes”

Green Lantern = “GL”

Ugh.  Apparently, characters in the DC Universe have a thing for abridging names.  Marvel nicknames, though more colorful, can still cheapen a heroic legacy.

The Mighty Thor = “Goldilocks”

The Hulk = “Ol’ Greenskin”

Iron Man = “Shellhead”

Captain America = “Cap,” “Winghead,” “Star-Spangled Avenger”

We come back to Captain America because it’s maybe the clearest example of a noble hero who’s legendary status is downgraded by casual familiarity.  And it’s not just by fellow heroes, but even by us regular citizens.

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Call me a Stick-in-the-Mud (“Bromidic Bergman”), but superheroes deserve a little more formality.  The same goes for teachers.  Although it may seem cool for kids to use teacher nicknames, be careful with letting things get too capricious or contemptuous.

So whenever you hear a student or colleague refer to you as  “Mrs. T” or “Thompson” or “Yo, Teach,” gently remind them how they can address you more properly.

Just remember, it’s not “Mr. F.” It’s Mr. Fantastic.

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And it’s not “Incredible;” it’s Mr. Incredible.

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And it’s not “Marvel;” it’s Ms. Marvel.

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Actually, the original Ms. Marvel goes by Captain Marvel now.

But never “Cap.”