Arch-Enemy

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Merriam-Webster defines “arch-enemy” as “a principal enemy.”  The Online Etymology Dictionary provides more of a historical background for the term, which arose in the 1540s.

Arch-” refers to “chief” or “first.”  “Enemy”  comes from Latin inimicus, which literally means “an unfriend.”

 

Every good superhero has an equally evil arch-enemy.  Superman has Lex Luthor. Batman and Joker.  It’s commonly held that a hero is only as good as his or her villain.  Check out this keen artwork picked up at Deviant Art!

First there’s DC:

dc archenemies deviant art

And then there’s Marvel:

marvel archenemies deviantart

Spiffy visuals, eh?

There’s even a fun quiz to see how many heroes and arch-enemies you can match.

Teachers also face arch-enemies, but who (or what) are they?

Depends on whom you ask.

For some, it’s the unprofessional treatment of professional educators.

For others, it’s “bad theory” and “convenient untruths” like learning styles and multiple intelligences.

We’ve talked before about both issues (click HERE and HERE for the former; or HERE and HERE for the latter). But this time let’s turn the focus on ourselves.

 

Sometimes a teacher’s worst enemy is himself or herself.

This past year, the Marvel Comics Universe featured a “Secret Empire” story in which Captain America was a sleeper agent for the nefarious Hydra. Say it ain’t so!

captain-americas-hydra-suit-revealed-on-the-cover-of-marvel-comics-secret-empire-01

It was all due to a personified Cosmic Cube girl messing with Cap’s mind. (Just go with it.)  Things all turned out okay and Captain America is back to his super-heroics, having punched himself in the teeth with Thor’s Mjolnir hammer.  Comic books – yay!

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Steve Rogers is not the only iconic hero to face himself in battle. The film Superman III, despite all of its faults, has a nifty Superman vs. Clark Kent battle thanks to Richard Pryor’s home-brewed kryptonite.

Here’s a clip:

 

Hopefully, teachers don’t get so violent in confronting themselves. But we should be brutally honest in our self-evaluations.  Are we losing our passion? Are we giving our best? Are we informing our instructional decisions on sound research as opposed to the latest fad?

Let’s not get too down on ourselves. Everyone has a bad day. An “off week.” A challenging class of students – the kind that makes you earn your paycheck. Burnout is common, but treatable.

Regardless of setbacks or success, the best teachers are always getting better. Let’s look into the mirror to recognize strengths, pinpoint weaknesses, and grow the heroic abilities necessary to “fight the good fight” of educating kids.

 

 

 

 

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Grit-ty Heroes

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“Grit” is a popular term in educational circles today, particularly with helping students succeed.

Grit is “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” “having stamina,” and “sticking with your future day-in day-out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years.”

I got those “gritty” quotes from the following TED Talk video with Angela Lee Duckworth, and you should watch the entire thing (about six minutes).

 

In the world of superheroes, “grit” has a much different meaning.  During the late 1980s and early 1990s, “grim and gritty” superheroes nearly saturated the comic book market.  If you’re interested, you can read a thorough analysis of this time period HERE.

“Grim and gritty” got so popular it seemed almost everyone got in on the act–Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, even Aquaman!

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Coming to theaters near you!

 

Thankfully, most of these heroes’ gritty phases were short-lived and brighter days returned.  For some heroes (or anti-heroes), however, it’s always been about grim and grit:  The Punisher, Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and about 87% of Image Comics from the 1990s.  Exhibits A-to-Xtreme below . . .

 

Given the above definition of “grit,” I would argue that the grittiest superhero is Captain America.

 

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Remember, Steve Rodgers stood up to evil and injustice while he was still a 98-pound weakling.  His heart and passion did not change after he gained powers and a costume.  At times, Steve has given up or lost the title of Captain America. But he continued his work behind the scenes and/or assuming another superhero identity.

We’ve already gotten a glimpse that Steve’s non-Captain America heroics will appear in upcoming Avengers movies:

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(He’s even got a beard – extra grit!)

 

At the time of the TED Talk video, not much was known about teaching and cultivating grit in students.  Nevertheless, you can find research summaries HERE and HERE, which also include resources and tools for student grittification*.

*Trademark 2017, Daniel J. Bergman

In the video, Duckworth refers to research of Carol Dweck on “growth mindset” as one potential factor in teaching grit.  This is a good place to start.

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For example, HERE is one of Dr. Dweck’s articles (“The Perils and Promises of Praise”) that discusses the impact of teacher praise on students’ motivation and self-concept.  All teachers should read this article, since 1) it is short, and 2) it has direct application in the classroom. In other words, it won’t take a lot of grit. But you should stop and think about how you respond to students, and what other messages are conveyed in your words.

And this is just one step. As explained near the end of the TED Talk video, teachers who want gritty students must also be gritty themselves.

Don’t let grit become one more educational fad that passes away.

 

 

Deep Cuts and Easter Eggs

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So Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 came out recently, and it’s doing quite well at the box office.

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An interesting focus on Vol. 2 has been all the “Easter Eggs” hidden in the film.  These  brief glimpses are easy to miss, encouraging repeated viewings ($$) and audience scrutinization.

Below is just a sampling of Easter Egg lists made about Guardians Vol. 2:

 

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Easter Egg hunts are not just for lesser-known superheroes like the Guardians of the Galaxy.  You can find lists of hidden gems in all sorts of superhero movies, from more recent films like Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange to the very first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Iron Man.

 

My personal favorite Easter Egg is the “circus monkey” drawn by Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger.  In the comics, Steve worked as a freelance artist from time to time. This sketching scene not only alludes to this history, but it also fits perfectly in the context of the movie.

 

An older sketch-based Easter Egg is the satirical “Bat Man” drawing given to newsman Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) in the 1989 Batman movie.  If you note the artist’s signature, it’s none other than Batman creator Bob Kane!

batman-1989-the-mark-of-kane

 

Another name for obscure pop culture references is “deep cuts,” a term from the music industry.  Deep cuts are little-known songs on an album that don’t get airtime or attention of more commercial- and radio-friendly singles.  Only die-hard fans are familiar with such songs that most of us have never heard.

In the same way, a lot of “deep cuts” in superhero movies are overlooked by casual viewers.  Often, these cameos and allusions are included simply as a wink or nod to eagle-eyed fans.  Other times, they might be hints of what will happen in an upcoming sequel or spin-off.

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Educators know all about “deep cuts,” and we’re NOT talking about financial funding (at least not this time).

For quite a while now, a common phrase in curriculum is “mile wide, inch deep.” Basically the phrase refers to American students learning a lot of general topics at the surface and not enough “deeper” content in more detail.  This is NOT a new issue, and is something standards are both blamed for as well as championed for trying to fix.

mile wide inch deep

Take a closer look, if interested, at this ongoing topic over the years:

 

There’s probably not one simple answer to the problem of “quantity over quality.”  However, one question to ask is “How deep?”

How much detail and depth do students need with respect to any given topic?  Again, standards documents may help in guiding educators to focus on key concepts and skills.  But what content is most important?  How much of it?

Here is a quote from the 1996 article linked above:

Before they reach high school, American students will have covered more topics than 75% of the students in other countries; yet in many cases, they will have been taught some of the same topics several years in a row. 

So it’s not just a matter of “quantity over quality;” it’s also an issue of redundancy.

However, based on what we know about learning, repeated exposure to the same content is actually necessary for helping students develop a solid foundational understanding.  Of course, revisiting a certain concept should NOT be a simple rehashing, but involve further exploration, examination, reflection, and application.

Revisiting content should also NOT be mining for trivia.  When a lesson dives deep into a subject, often the temptation is to dig up little-known facts that have little worth in the big picture.  In other words, educators are focusing on the Easter Eggs, as opposed to the larger story and impact.

 

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Missing the point.

I’m all for trivia games and fun.  (Obscure knowledge is part of the fanboy job description.) However, trivia should not come at the expense of meaningful learning and application.  In our quest for more depth in subject learning, teachers must be careful not to spend too much time and energy on trivia.

Consider common modifiers that accompany “trivia” and its related terms:  useless trivia, absurd information, pointless knowledge, random facts, and even the modifier trivial, which Merriam-Webster defines as “of little worth or importance.”

Sounds like an Easter Egg to me, especially the kind with one measly jelly bean inside.

EasterEggsandBeanADLG

Black licorice.  Nasty.

 

Teachers, ask yourself if playing Jeopardy! is the best way to review a unit.  (Or Pictionary or Trashketball or Classroom Bingo or other review games.) How can you guide students in a more engaging and thorough examination of relevant content?  How can you expand upon this information for more application and extensions?

Or in movie terms, how can you entice the audience so they hunger for a sequel?

 

adam warlock preview

To be continued . . .

 

What about you? What’s your favorite Easter Egg or deep cut?  What is their role in the classroom?

Flame On

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While Marvel Movies are chugging along with critical and commercial success, Marvel Comics have stumbled as of late.  The most glaring issue is “event fatigue,” with too many major event stories tripping over each other in attempts to be bigger and bolder than ever before!

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Here is a list of recent crossover mini-series/maxi-series.  Keep in mind that each of these involve 4-12 special issues, in addition to numerous tie-in issues happening throughout regular series.

  • Siege (2010)
  • Realm of Kings (2010)
  • Second Coming (2010)
  • Age of X (2011)
  • Fear Itself (2011)
  • Schism (2011)
  • Spider-Island (2011)
  • Avengers vs. X-Men (2012)
  • Age of Ultron (2013)
  • Infinity (2013)
  • Battle of the Atom (2013)
  • Original Sin (2014)
  • AXIS (2014)
  • Spider-Verse (2014-15)
  • Secret Wars (2015-16)
  • Avengers: Standoff! (2016)
  • Civil War II (2016)
  • Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy (2016-17)
  • Death of X (2016-17)

As one comic book store owner observes, “There are quite a few Marvel loyalists that have begun branching out and trying DC titles . . . possibly from Marvel event burnout.”

burnout

Burnout” is a common issue faced by teachers, too, popping up in those loooong middle months or near the end of the semester.  Teachers may find themselves overwhelmed, frustrated, and missing a certain spark in the classroom.

Teacher burnout is frequently linked to stress, which can arise from many factors, summarized by Kyriacou (2001):

  • Teaching pupils who lack motivation;
  • Maintaining discipline;
  • Time pressures and workload;
  • Coping with change;
  • Being evaluated by others;
  • Dealings with colleagues;
  • Self-esteem and status;
  • Administration and management;
  • Role conflict and ambiguity;
  • Poor working conditions.

Stressors are specific to each individual teacher in his or her unique context.  Likewise, successful ways to deal with stress and potential burnout differ from teacher to teacher.  Even so, here are some strategies Kyriacou suggests:

  • Try to keep problems in perspective;
  • Avoid confrontations;
  • Try to relax after work;
  • Take action to deal with problems;
  • Keeping feelings under control;
  • Devote more time to particular tasks;
  • Discuss problems and express feelings to others;
  • Have a healthy home life;
  • Plan ahead and prioritize;
  • Recognize ones own limitations.

You can find plenty more burnout tips and tools everywhere–from research literature to cyberspace to your closest loving relative. Here are a few resources I’ve uncovered, with some of my favorite highlights (and comments):

4 Warning Signs of Teacher Burnout – “Teacher Burnout is a dark place, and only complaints can live there.”  (Sort of like the Negative Zone–tread lightly.)

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Reboot: 5 Resources for Teacher Inspiration – Read, share and create Ryan Gosling memes.  (A few of my favorites below.)

 

Stop, Drop, and Roll With It: Teacher Burnout Prevention – “Finding a hobby that allows you to get away from education-related stuff is important.”  (This author even suggests playing video games – BONUS!)

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And for all of you new teachers . . .

10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in Your First Year Teaching – “7. Don’t Neglect Your Body: Sleep. Rest. Eat well. Exercise.”  and  “9. Catalogue Every Single Success in the Classroom: Write them down. Make lists of what’s going well.” (One of my mentors calls these “attaboys” or “attagirls,” and you should keep these in a box somewhere.  Or turkey.)

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Finally, here’s an inspirational quote I came across recently from master chef Julia Child, which reveals the right attitude:

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”

Teachers, hopefully you are already passionate about teaching and learning.  And “keep that fire burning,” so to speak, by fueling your educator’s engine.

As my mother used to say, “In order to burn out you must first be on fire.”

And so as the Human Torch says, “Flame On!”

human-torch-kirby-flameon

 

Kyriacou, C. (2001). Teacher stress: Directions for future research. Educational Review, 53, 28- 35.

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”).

20-years-educational-fads

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:

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

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!

buzz book

 

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?

prelude comic

 

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.

School routine

 

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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