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!

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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.

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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?

 

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To be continued . . .

 

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

Which Wolverine are You?

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A few years back I received the following image from a colleague, who shares this handout with students and teachers:

Which tree guy are you

The question is, “Which one are you today?”

Are you the one smiling and standing on top?  Crossed-armed and alone out on a limb?  Are you helping someone climb on?  Watching someone fall?

This simple image can lead to a fruitful discussion of personal success, challenges, and concerns.  It also helps to stop and reflect from time to time, since our place and activity in this image can change.  What caused the change?  Circumstances?  Attitude?  Actions?

Try this activity with your colleagues or class the next time you have a few spare moments. It’s a good start or end to a session. Take the opportunity to intentionally self-evaluate.

Or here is a superhero alternative, featuring everyone’s favorite Canadian superhero Wolverine (art by the amazing Scottie Young):

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Are you the triumphant, classic costumed Wolverine on top?   The squished one in the middle?  The samurai-inspired noble warrior at bottom right?  The Wolvie losing his hat? The one with the claws?

 

Or  maybe you prefer the Wolverine portrayed by Hugh Jackman in nearly 20 years of film. Even though it’s the same hero and same actor, there are plenty of moods and mannerisms to choose:

 

Like superheroics, teaching is a serious business requiring grit, bravery, and “a fighting spirit.”  But it’s also essential to find moments of humor and fun.

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Op, op, op, op oppa Gangnam Style . . .

 

Most importantly, teachers (and students) should take time to pause and consider their personal attitudes and positions.  Are we behaving and thinking appropriately for the given situation?  How can we help those around us?

(And always resist the urge to go into “berserker mode.”)

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You forgot your homework again?!!?

 

 

Worlds Collide

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The next BIG superhero movie coming to theaters is The LEGO Batman Movie!

In a promotional stunt, LEGO Batman appeared alongside LEGO superheroes from DC Comics’s CW television shows, which you can check out below:

What makes this video clip special is it is the first time DC superheroes from the CW TV channel (Green Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, The Atom) have merged with a DC superhero from the movies (Batman).

“Big deal?” you think?

Actually there’s been a lot of chatter among fans, critics, and industry reporters about the pros, cons, and possibilities of merging film and TV-based superheroes.  These are characters that come from the same comic book universe, but are featured in separate media outlets–theatrical, broadcast television, or streaming.

DC, for example, has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman dedicated to film, along with other heavy hitters from the Justice League (Green Lantern, Aquaman, Flash).  This gets problematic, however, since The Flash also stars in his own television show on the CW (as do Green Arrow and Supergirl, who has also met a TV version of Superman).

The Last Children of Krypton

Confused?  You’re not the only one, and some people argue these two “universes” should stay separate (see here and here).  Others think there could be a way to have a crossover of sorts between TV and Film (read more here).

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More intermingling makes sense for Marvel superheroes, since theoretically, many of these characters actually DO live in a single universe shared between the movies (Avengers, etc.) and television shows (Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, Daredevil, Luke Cage, etc.).

Some people claim Marvel could and should have film and TV shows cross over.  Others point out that such an event would still be a monumental and unwanted task.  And that’s not even dealing with different Marvel heroes contracted out to different movie studios (e.g. X-Men/Fantastic Four with 20th Century Fox, although Wolverine actor Hugh Jackman said he’s happy to meet the Avengers sometime).

wolverine-avengers

Sorry, Wolverine.  No shirt, no crossover.

While not requiring millions of dollars, the habit of teachers collaborating can also seem like a difficult ordeal.  But it’s worth it, with research finding higher student achievement in schools with higher levels of teacher collaboration.

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We’ve talked before about teachers getting along with other teachers and here’s another resource with useful teacher collaboration ideas, including virtual tools, co-planning, scheduling, and more.

And let’s take a closer look at teachers from different universes (i.e. different grade levels).

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The Teacher Channel’s blog “Tchers’ Voice” shares commentary on learning from teachers of different grades.  The blog post is called “Pathway to Collaboration,” and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Challenge yourself to find new ways to team up and learn with colleagues in your building, district, and beyond.

Sadly, there’s not much else out there about cross-grade teacher collaboration, although someone did do a doctoral dissertation on this topic.  (If you need a little light reading, you can find the entire 418-page document here.)

I’ll conclude with examples of insight gained and projects accomplished when my world collided with those of other teachers.

  • A fourth grade teacher who showed me all kinds of management techniques and student jobs that I could also apply in my high school classroom.
  • A middle school science teacher who collaborated with me to successfully submit a grant for highway safety physics curriculum.
  • A business teacher who modeled practical classroom procedures for high school seniors, giving flexibility and freedom to young adults weeks away from graduating.
  • And several more colleagues, mentors, current and former students co-presenting and co-publishing academic work.

No movies or television projects yet, but maybe someday.

D-List to A-List

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I stole borrowed this blog title from a recent countdown article by Brian Conin and the folks at Comic Book Resources, named “15 D-List Superheroes Who Went A-List.”

For the uninitiated, “A-List” heroes are big name characters known across the globe:  Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Spider-Man, and so on.  In the past decade, Iron Man joined this group due to Robert Downey Jr.’s iconic portrayal in the Marvel movies.  (Before then, people considered Iron Man more of a “B-List” hero.)

 

“D-List” heroes fall much further down the rankings.  These are the obscure, silly, and often forgotten characters no one really cares about.  Only super fans know about these heroes, including where and when they appear in comic books and other media.

Movies and television, however, have done an amazing job of bumping up the status of many lesser-known characters.  Take a look at CBR’s list to find 15 heroes you probably never heard of before they appeared in film or TV.

Better yet, watch the recently released trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (coming Summer 2017!) to see FIVE of these former D-listers in action:

 

That new telepathic character adorning antennae near the end is Mantis, and I’m willing to bet she’ll become another D-list-to-A-list hero in the upcoming year.

 

The whole letter-grade system (A, B, C, D, etc.) is at the front of my mind this time of year, near the end of a semester.

This is when many teachers spend overtime scoring tests, reading final papers, perusing projects, and altogether compiling grades. This is also when numerous students suddenly become obsessed over every single grade for every single assignment.  (For some reason, too many students don’t seem to care until the last minute.)

Unfortunately, letter grades can easily get too much focus in place of more important outcomes.

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Grading has many critics, such as Alfie Kohn, who calls grades “relics of a less-enlightened age” and cites research about their negative impact on student learning and motivation.  You can read more in the NEA Today article, “Are Letter Grades Failing Our Students?” and learn about alternative ideas used in different states and districts.

One of my favorite stories is of the Central Park East elementary school, known for its progressive “whole child” approach to education in inner city Harlem.  In one of her books (The Power of Their Ideas, I believe), former CPE principal Deborah Meier describes how they removed their A-B-C grading system in favor of “Satisfactory” and “Unsatisfactory”-type ratings.  Soon, however, they added an “Advanced”-level designation.  Then they decided to include a +/- system to further delineate student performance.

In other words, they went from A-B-C-D to A-S-U, plusses and minuses and all.

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I’m not saying grades are good or bad, but they certainly have become entrenched in most educational systems.  The key is to focus on learning and growth, with grades providing one type of data to guide teacher decisions and communication.  Also, it’s important to remember the differences between “assessment” and “evaluation.”

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I highly recommend reading Thomas Guskey’s article “Making the Grade: What Benefits Students?” in the ASCD’s journal Educational Leadership.  You will find a useful section at the end that provides a historical summary of grading practices and research through the years.

Most importantly, teachers can consider how to reach and teach ALL of their students, regardless of past academic performance.  With the diverse range of strengths and weaknesses in a given classroom, one’s definition of success can differ greatly.  Find ways to engage each student, equipping them for further achievement and advancement.

 

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Consider how various superheroes have changed from being jokes, relics, or “one-offs” into major players or even champions of their universes (and publishers).  In many cases, this transformation did not occur just because of a Hollywood appearance.  It also takes someone (or someones) to see potential in a character and give him or her the attention they deserve.  Often, it includes a unique perspective and innovative approach.

The same goes for students in our schools.  Not everyone is a Superman.  But they could be a Star Lord.

 

Who knows?  Maybe the next Squirrel Girl is sitting in your very classroom.

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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!”

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

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.

cap am images

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

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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