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

Bat-Rich

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.)

Sports-Rich

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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.

spidey photos

                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.”

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Weird Superpowers

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As first reported by USA TodaySuperman is getting a new superpower in the DC Comics universe.

Clark Kent’s alter-ego gets a costume update, too, complete with fingerless gloves.  This makes me wonder if his new power includes playing clarinet for marching band.

superman new costume

Take a look at comic book panels revealing this new ability in action.  (No woodwind in sight . . . yet.)

superman new power panels

Art by John Romita, Jr.

DC is touting this new talent–the Super Flare–as Superman’s “first new power in decades.”  They’ve even provided a handy-dandy timeline:

superman-powers time line

Superman must be short for “Superfluous-man,” given Kal-El’s multiple Kryptonian skills.  He’s a walking flying Swiss Army Knife compared to most heroes’ singular power sets (e.g. Flash = fast; Green Lantern = ring; Batman = ruined childhood).

Both Newsarama and IGN recently came up with lists of Superman’s Weirdest Powers to celebrate the inaugural Super Flare.  There are 15 listed by IGN, and Newsarama includes 10 in their countdown.  You’ll notice some overlap as well as some rather obscure abilities in Superman’s 75-year multi-media history.

My personal favorite is “Super-Dancing,” which Clark Kent can employ without even changing outfits.

Super-Dancing

Many teachers possess this power, too.

Weird Teacher Powers

This examination of weird superpowers got me thinking about teachers’ own unique abilities.  As mentioned in a previous post, one joy of teaching is bringing personal skills and strengths to the classroom, building off of sound research and practice.

Bringing in your unique personality can also lead to sharing some special talents and abilities.  Instead of settling for America’s Got Talent or David Letterman’s Stupid Human Tricks, teachers can put these gifts to good use in schools.  So . . .

stupid human tricks

What’s your weird teacher power?  

I’m not talking about the Superman-like ability to eat a complete lunch in under five minutes.  That goes with the profession.

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Fifth period starts in two minutes!

What we want to examine is using uncommon strengths for the common good:  learning.

How can you use “weird teacher powers” to inspire and educate students?

If it helps, here is how I’ve applied a few of my own particular capabilities in educational settings.

1. Left-footed.  To be honest, this one hasn’t been that useful in the classroom, except to show students that everyone is different in different ways.   Accept that fact and get along.  (I’m still waiting on Bill Belichick’s offer to punt for the New England Patriots.)

2. Music.  Not a strange talent in most cases.  It’s all how you use it, though.  I sing and play trumpet, and have done one or the other in various settings to get students’ attention, share a mnemonic memory trick, or illustrate the physics of sound.

Plenty of weird potential, too.  When I student taught, one of my mentors taped a trumpet mouthpiece into one end of a garden hose, with a funnel sticking out the other end.  He would play his “hose-a-phone” on occasion, most frequently for students’ birthdays.  Not very educational, but certainly eye- and ear-catching among the students, something all teachers need.

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Archival footage of hose-a-phone. Not actual mentor.

3. Goof.  Like my mentor’s example, often a teacher’s weird power lies in his or her ability to lower inhibitions and go for the gusto.  We don’t have to bounce off walls, but we can exhibit enthusiasm for school and learning in captivating and contagious ways.

I know an educator with a lively method of ending the class period on a day of doldrums.  When class limps into the last minute, this man pretends to get a call from the president via wristwatch, puts on a cape and cowboy hat, then runs out of the room yelling, “Super-Cowboy . . . AWAY!!!”

I’ve never tried that myself, but I have celebrated a unit assessment by theatrically revealing the test while blaring Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (a.k.a. the opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey).  Following a few confused faces, the triumphant entrance gets more laughs and eases anyone’s test anxiety.

During my chemistry classes’ Gas Laws unit, I make a point to wear the following t-shirt under my ordinary teacher outfit (shirt and tie, slacks).

sci never sucks t shirt

A gift from my brother (also a teacher).

The instant someone mentions the word “suck” to describe pressure differentials, I rip open my outer shirt to give the class a vivid reminder that “Science Never Sucks.”  To enhance the effect, I play Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” as accompaniment.

Silly?  Of course.  Memorable?  That’s the point.

Years later, all of my former students know there’s no such thing as a “suck force.”

And as an added bonus, for one fleeting minute I get to feel like a costumed superhero.

So maybe you can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound or outrace a speeding bullet.  But every teacher has special skills and quirks, able to spark meaningful and memorable learning in our students’ lives.

That makes us the most powerful superheroes ever.