Secret Origins


ImageThis month sees the release of Secret Origins #1 by DC Comics, and you can read more about it here and see what people have to say about it here.

DC has published versions of Secret Origins before, and the purpose is to explore and explain the beginnings of superheroes and villains. Featured characters range from iconic to obscure. So if you want to know how Ambush Bug got his start, here’s your chance!



Origins typically contain two essential ingredients: 1) How you get your powers, and 2) What is your motivation?


Just like superheroes, every teacher has an origin. We all come from somewhere, contrary to what my 8th Grade Earth Science teacher Mr. Musson used to say: “Teachers aren’t born; they just . . . appear.”

The same two pieces of an origin story apply to teachers, as well.


1) How did you get your powers?


Maybe you weren’t bitten by a radioactive spider or trained in the mystical martial arts of K’un-Lun, but I bet you’ve got something that makes you special.


Most of us licensed teachers have received professional preparation of some sort. Many earned our teaching credentials after completing a bachelor’s degree in education, often with a specific subject endorsement. Other non-traditional routes include “fifth year” programs as well as an assortment of alternative licensure options for college graduates who already have degrees in something other than education. In the latter case, individuals often complete formal teacher education coursework while at the same time teaching full-time in schools.


No matter what your route, the bottom line is that you studied, practiced, collaborated, reflected, and applied important concepts and skills necessary for becoming an effective educator. (The scary thing is, some people think teaching requires no formal preparation at all, and are willing to dump anyone into the classroom just to fill a need. We could talk about this important issue at another time, and I already have HERE in a newspaper editorial, if you’re curious.)


Outside of formal preparation, many of you also learned about teaching through other means. Maybe you have a teacher as a close family member or friend, or perhaps you’ve experienced teaching through various activities like sports, church, hobbies, and more. You got the bug, so to speak, and you wanted more.


That leads us to the second part of origin stories . . .


2) What’s your motivation?


Getting powers is not enough. A lot of people have skills but waste them or use them in selfish ways, just like a lot of super-powered characters.


Every good teacher needs not only special abilities, but also a special heart and passion for the classroom and beyond.


Many of us got into teaching because we love learning and want to share that joy with others. We want to make a difference in the lives of kids and their families.


Hopefully you didn’t go into teaching because of a so-called “summer vacation” or because you thought your workday would be 8:30 to 3:30.   If either of these were reasons you entered the profession, you probably learned that teachers put more total hours in the school year than most people do in 12-month jobs. You can learn some other important statistics about the teaching career here.


Unfortunately, origin stories sometimes reveal an individual’s weaknesses as well as their strengths. For example, Superman’s not a fan of green kryptonite, which came from the blown up bits of his home planet. And Iron Man sometimes likes to hit the bottle, thanks to the fast life of his alter ego Tony Stark.


I hope you do not falter to kryptonite or alcohol, but you should still be wary of potential flaws. I’ll use my “origin story” as an example:


Secret Origin . . . Revealed!


I’ve always liked school. I like to learn. I’ve had some great teachers in my family and in my schools, so it’s probably no surprise I pursued teaching as a profession.


Here’s a rare mug shot of my first year teaching way back in 1999. It’s black and white and grainy because I had to scan it from the school yearbook. It’s wrinkly and weary because it was my first year as a teacher. (To determine if I’ve aged well, compare this portrait with a more recent one on the editorial link above.)


Vintage Mr. Bergman #1

The first year was tough—it always is—but I got better. Teaching is hard work, but it is worthwhile and can be a joy, even on the tough days. You stick with it and each year usually gets easier.


How else did I improve?


I learned the intricacies of my subject matter (science) to know how concepts were connected, what analogies illustrated tough ideas, and what activities gave the best opportunities to clearly master content. I also learned about my students: what motivates them, what strengths and weaknesses they possess, and how to strike a healthy balance between firm and easy when it comes to classroom management—something that can never be overestimated.


But here’s where my “secret origin” reveals some of my weaknesses.


I like school. Many students don’t. For the most part, I was a “goody-two-shoes” throughout school. Some of my students actually thrive on creating classroom chaos. So I have to overcome my nice guy tendencies and be ready and willing to draw the line when it comes to discipline. It’s not easy, but it has to be done.


Here’s another strength that can become a flaw:


I enjoy science. Some students fear it.   When I was a kid, I found satisfaction in filling out worksheets and completing exams. I was weird. A lot of students greet homework with hostility and suffer test anxiety.


So as a teacher, I have to reduce resistance in my students before I can open the doors to learning. And it starts with me. I can’t assume my students are just as eager to come to class and learn about electron configuration. I have to find out what motivates them and how I can connect concepts to their lives and interests. In a way, I have to learn the secret origins of every student.


I hope this post has helped you reflect on your past and consider how it can impact your future. Do you have special training? Hidden talents? A passion that can only be served by teaching? How did it all begin?


In other words . . .


What is YOUR origin story?


Please post a comment and share why and how you became a teacher. Your story doesn’t have to involve radioactivity.

But it’d be cool if it did.




Marvel Comics’ Wolverine has been a favorite superhero for decades, and there are so many reasons why:

  1. Adamantium-laced claws (and skeleton)
  2. Healing factor
  3. Canadian
  4. Short
  5. The best at what he does
  6. Hugh Jackman

The_Wolverine_Movie_Poster_large_verge_medium_landscape  I’ve always thought Wolverine’s past has been one of his coolest features, namely, that he had no memory of his past.  Over countless issues of X-Men-related titles, comic book readers saw only snippets of these lost years sporadically through various flashbacks.

After teasing readers with glimpses (and maybe deciding they’d better beat the movie studios to the punch), Marvel finally revealed Wolverine’s true origin with the Paul Jenkins/Andy Kubert mini-series Origin (original, eh?).

We soon learned that the man known only as Logan was actually a wimpy boy named James Howlett who wore a nightshirt and cried a lot.  (A little disappointing, to say the least.)



So what does all this have to do with teaching? 

A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) summarized its study of individuals possessing super-memory, or “Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory” (HSAM).  Fewer than two dozen people (humans, not mutants) are known to have this ability.

How many of us teachers mistakenly assume our students possess superhuman memory?  Sure, we sigh and shake our heads when they forget a pencil or their homework.

But let’s be honest.  Sometimes we inundate our students with endless terms or steps with the lame excuse we’re “covering all the standards.”   (As a colleague of mine says, if you’re going to cover the content, you might as well cover it in dirt because it’s already dead.)

Formal education in America arose when memorized facts served one well in their future studies, intellectual pursuits, and careers.  But we currently live in an age where information is available in a wi-fi instant.

Sure, there are moments for memorization.  And those times are typically when we practice and apply information in useful and meaningful ways.  I remember “every good boy does fine” not because of cramming the treble clef into my adolescent mind, but as a result of spending hours practicing, playing, and performing.

Here’s something interesting from that PNAS study of HSAM humans:  It turns out that individuals with super-memory as just as susceptible to manipulation as the rest of us.  This includes distorting data or adding false memories that never existed.

You can read a summary here from Discovery Magazine and find the whole report here from the National Academy of Sciences.  Good luck remembering it all.


Sadly, not many superheroes are known for their super-memory, and a quick Google search will find you these USB-compliant gems:


It turns out that Logan/Wolverine/James Howlett eventually did regain all of his memories at the end of the House of M mini-series event (by Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel).  Along with a whole slew of mutant/magic messiness, Wolverine with memories was now a little less cool.


I’d love to have super-memory.  It’d help me remember the last time I wore a certain outfit so I don’t repeat it a week later.  (I’m sure my students remember particular shirt-tie-pants ensembles.)

But most of us have normal human-level memory abilities.  The kind that forgets from time to time, but remembers when the information is relevant, useful, and encourages further learning.

Something for all of us to remember . . .