Marvel at the Future . . . AND Past

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Apologies for using the “Marvelous” pun twice in a row, but in this case it’s doubly appropriate.

Not only are we talking about another Marvel superhero; we’re talking about the superhero, Ms. Marvel.

Yes, the Disney+ series has been out for a while, and we’re already in the middle of the new She-Hulk series. We’ll get to that one someday.

Still, we have our reasons for playing “catch-up.” (Busy with an EXCITING project. More on that . . . soon . . .) Plus, what better time to explore themes from the Ms. Marvel show than our current “back-to-school” season?

Specifically, let’s talk about the past, present, and future. All three are key elements in the show, especially in how they pertain to our teenage heroine and her friends.

The very first trailer for Ms. Marvel features a scene in which Kamala meets with her high school guidance counselor. Check out their conference in the first 45 seconds or so:

“Conference” is probably not the correct word. Kamala doesn’t listen to Mr. Wilson as much as she daydreams and can’t wait to escape.

Don’t blame Mr. Wilson. It’s his job to not only be the hip GC, but also help students plan for their future. He does the same with Kamala’s friend Bruno later in the series, sharing news of Bruno’s acceptance into Caltech.

In both cases, Kamala and Bruno are initially ambivalent about looking ahead to tomorrow. That’s because they each have a lot going on in the present – hobbies, jobs, social lives, superpowers, etc.

As teachers, we have to consider the current ups and downs of our students at all times. And we must help them connect their present choices and actions to future dreams, as well as the past.

In the book Teaching as Decision Making (Sparks-Langer et al., 2004), the authors share an analogy that teaching is like building bridges. We start with students on one end, and connect them to content comprehension on the other.

Courtesy of Sparks-Langer et al. (2004), who borrowed it from Starko et al. (2003). It’s a bridge!

It’s a lot more complicated, of course, involving unique characteristics and circumstances, personal beliefs and pedagogy, and relationships. I’d argue this last element – relationships – is the most important, since teaching and learning involves interpersonal connections, communication, and collaboration. These relationships play out among all sorts of individuals, not just those in the classroom.

One of the strongest parts of the Ms. Marvel Disney+ series is attention to Kamala’s family and cultural background. It’s something the show has in common with the original comic book, along with a memorable cast.

The Ms. Marvel television show even takes us on a literal trip across time and space to explore Kamala’s past. Viewers learn about real historical events, and the repercussions still felt today.

As an added bonus, the very end of the show teases a potential connection to even MORE superheroes, when Bruno drops the term “mutation” in explaining Kamala’s powers. Will we see more mutants in the future?

“X” marks the spot . . . sometime soon?

Whether it be a massive geopolitical movement or an individual personal change, everybody has previous experiences and perspectives that shape their lives.

Teachers can truly help students plan their future steps when we seek to understand their history. That’s how we build bridges that last.

Let’s start right now.

Further Reading and Resources:

Sparks-Langer, G.M., Starko, A.J., Pasch, M., Burke, W., Moody, C.D., & Gardner, T.G. (2004). Teaching as Decision Making: Successful Practices for the Secondary Teacher (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merril/Prentice Hall.

Starko, A.J., Sparks-Langer, G.M., Pasch, M., Frankes, L., Gardner, T.G., & Moody, C.D. (2003). Teaching as Decision Making: Successful Practices for the Elementary Teacher (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merril/Prentice Hall.

Wilson, G.W., Alphona, A., Wyatt, J., & Pichelli, S. (2014/2019). Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal. New York: Marvel Comics.

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:

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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.”

Super Women (and Men)

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March is Women’s History Month, and Edutopia has provided several lesson ideas teachers can use to help students examine “women’s contributions, struggles, and triumphs throughout history.”

In recent history, Marvel Comics has given more support to their female superheroes, with solo titles starring a new Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel (the old Ms. Marvel), Black Widow, Spider-Woman, and much much more . . .

An all-female X-Men team stars in the relaunched comic book X-Men.

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Why not “X-Women?”

An all-female Avengers team will soon star in a book called A-Force.

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Better than “FemForce,” although such a comic DOES exist.

Heck, even Thor is a woman right now, which hasn’t pleased everyone.

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If I had a hammer . . . . I’d shatter the glass ceiling.

For their part, DC Comics has recently given Wonder Woman long sleeves:

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Speaking of Wonder Woman, Harvard professor Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman has earned all kinds of praise and prizes for its examination of the iconic super heroine’s creation as well as women’s history in the 20th century, which circles us back to the start of this blog post.

What does this have to do with teaching?

For better or worse, teaching has often been looked as a “woman’s profession.” In fact, another Harvard-based publication refers to teaching as “Woman’s ‘True’ Profession.”

While this notion may help to empower women and celebrate their impact on society, it can also lead to fewer men working as teachers, especially with younger grades. For example, a study in England found that 25% of all primary schools are staffed entirely by women. Is this good or bad? As a happily married male, I will respectfully and delicately sidestep that discussion for another time.

Another study in England found that women are disproportionally fewer in roles of “headteachers” and “school senior leaders” (translation: administrative and school leadership roles). Such a gender imbalance is probably not a good thing.

Male or female, super-powered or human, Marvel or DC, all teachers play a vital role in successful student learning. Or, as one new book says, “it takes team effort:”

it takes team effort book

“Men and Women working together to enhance children’s lives.”

That’s a wonderful thing.