What’s in a Name?

Standard

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)

eyeliner

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.

Spider-Man_The_X-Men_1_Preview_3

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.

hawkeye-your-way-small-captain-america-2-deleted-scene-meant-cap-fighting-who-jpeg-127715

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:

wolverine colossus

And here (off-panel) with Professor Xavier:

Chuck

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!

Avengers1-144

What’s worse, many of these affectionate nicknames can actually undermine the job of life-risking heroics.

Spider-Man-Joins-Marvel-Cinematic-Universe

“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.

captain-america-kooky-quartet-107425

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.

Wieringo_reedrichards

And it’s not “Incredible;” it’s Mr. Incredible.

mr incredible

And it’s not “Marvel;” it’s Ms. Marvel.

Ms.-Marvel

Actually, the original Ms. Marvel goes by Captain Marvel now.

But never “Cap.”

Advertisements

Non-Mutant Teachers

Standard

My favorite superhero team has always been the X-Men.  I’ll admit, these mutant heroes first caught my eye with their nifty matching uniforms.  Plus, “X” is the absolute coolest letter in the alphabet by far.  (Uncanny Y-Men . . . just doesn’t cut it.)

X-Men_Vol_1_1

The main reason I like the X-Men, however, is because this superhero team’s origin starts at a school.  “Gifted youngsters” have gathered together not because they’re family or friends or famous heroes, but instead to learn and understand their powers and identities.  And ultimately, these students strive to “protect a world that hates and fears them.”

A new generation of students has taken up the cause of Professor X, as featured in the series Wolverine and the X-Men.  Unfortunately, headmaster Wolverine has recently died in the Marvel Comics world, leaving a void in the faculty at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning.

I bet Wolverine’s health will improve soon, but in the meantime another hero has joined the staff of mutant educators:  your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

Spider-Man_The_X-Men_1_Preview_3

That’s Mr. Spider-Man to You

One potential problem, though:  Spider-Man is NOT a mutant.  In other words, he was not born with his extra-human abilities.  Peter Parker needed a radioactive spider bite to get his superpowers.  Remember this iconic scene?

1567552-parker_spider_bite_super

Pre-Spider Bite Peter Parker = Lame-o

Differences in genetic background and superhero lifestyle could become a source of conflict not only between Mr. Spider-Man and his students, but also with the mutant teachers and staff at the school.

Such educational discrepancies do not occur in comic books only.  They can also arise in real life.

Real World Research

Research studies have found a “racial/ethnic gap between students of color and their teachers,” something that has increased over the years (Villegas, Strom, & Lucas, 2012).  With a growing population of minority students, teachers from similar racial/ethnic backgrounds are in high demand (Bireda & Chait, 2011).

Why is it important to match teacher and student demographics?

One may assume that students react more positively to teachers who share common characteristics.  Likewise, minority teachers can serve as positive role models to minority students.  However, clear empirical evidence of these assumptions is hard to find, understandable given the complexities of schooling and learning.

Some research studies have found learning gains when teachers and students share similar ethnicity (Dee, 2004; Klein, Le, & Hamilton, 2001).  Nevertheless, these reports note an underlying factor that could have the greatest impact on student success:  the actual quality of the teacher.

peter_parker_spiderman

Mr. Parker

Spider-Man does have previous teaching experience.  While plainclothes Peter Parker during the day, he did a stint as science teacher for his alma mater, Midtown High School, in Queens, New York.

250px-Midtown_High_School_from_Spider-Man_Season_One_Vol_1_1

Home of the Fightin’ Living Brains!

Mr. Parker’s public school teaching experience reflects real world trends.  Typically, teachers like to teach close to where they grew up as students (Reininger, 2011).  Or if not the same or nearby location, teachers may teach in a similar type of district or community.

That was me.  I grew up in a small Nebraska town of ~4,000 people.  I graduated from a public high school with a class of ~70 students.  My first teaching job was in a small Nebraska town of ~4,000 people (about 130 miles from my hometown).  Each graduating class at this public school had ~70 students.

What about you?  Where did you go to school?  Where do you teach?  

One of the biggest advantages about the teaching profession is that it can take you anywhere in the world.  Once I had a student encourage me to apply for a teaching job in Dubai.  (Maybe he had selfish motives for introducing me to this opportunity.)

But one of the biggest challenges about teaching is that it requires extraordinary effort to assimilate the context and culture of the school when you first start.  Even teachers who teach in their hometown must navigate through this transitional period.  Moreover, imagine the degree of difficulty for teachers new to a community, culture, and/or country.

It makes sense that teacher recruitment initiatives focus on fostering “pipelines” to increase quality teachers from high-need urban and rural settings (CTEP, 2014Darling-Hammond, 2011).

Mutant or Non-Mutant?

As much as I’d like, I can’t turn myself into a mutant, or even a super-powered human.  (I’ve been bitten by spiders before.  No wall-crawling abilities yet.)  Still, I can be the best teacher I can be, no matter where or whom I teach.

Regardless of our ethnic, cultural, genetic, or other demographic descriptors, we can all work to cultivate meaningful relationships, creating memorable learning experiences for our students.  Part of this work includes finding ways to connect with the kids and their community.

Don’t try to fake it, however.  Students have a special (mutant?) ability to see through disingenuous teachers, even those with good intentions.  Admit your differences, if need be, and authentically work to find common ground.  A universal purpose in all schools is to expand understanding and appreciate learning.

Who knows how long Spider-Man will stay on staff at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning?  You can read more about the creators’ plans for Spider-Man and the X-Men herehere, and here, if you’re interested.  I hope Mr. Spider-Man makes a positive difference during his tenure, long or short.

Spidey may not be a mutant, but he does know a little about struggling to make it in the world (of both heroes and humans).  Additionally, he has firsthand experience learning the importance of “great powers” and “great responsibility.”

And like the best teachers, Spider-Man should learn from his students as much as they learn from him.

Spider-Man__The_X-Men_Bengal_Variant-720x1093

Future and Past

Standard

Yes, this post will discuss yet ANOTHER super-hero movie that recently blasted into theaters across the globe.  It’s the golden age for super-hero movies, so we might as well bask in it.

The latest super-flick selling popcorn and semi-satisfying critics/fans is X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Bonus points (i.e. “geek cred”) if you can name every character in the following poster:

XDOFP-poster-995c8

The basic premise of the film (and the classic comic book story it’s loosely based on) is that the future ends up being a mostly dismal place for mutants and humans alike.  Those grizzled heroes that are still alive decide their only hope lies in sending someone back in time (or at least their mind) to stop events that ultimately cause social dystopia.  Basically, they want to “reset” the world to make a better future.

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-comic-cover

 

It’s a story that is equally depressing AND hopeful, even if the title makes no grammatical sense at all (and created a wad of continuity problems in the X-Men cinematic universe).

 

Even if you have no interest in time travel or mutant oppression, I do encourage you to stop and think how teachers can learn a lesson from this story.

How many of us wish we could go back in time (the start of the school year) and try again to establish a positive, productive classroom environment?

 

The truth is, the “first days of school” are critical to creating a climate that will endure throughout the academic calendar.  What you teach, practice, and reinforce (and what you let slide) will eventually shape the classroom setting.  It’s so important, in fact, that the best-selling teacher book of all time deals with this issue.

the_first_days_of_school book

My copy is a little more “used.”

Even though early classroom moments are so critical in establishing classroom expectations and habits, there is still hope for teachers who think they may have “lost their way” and lost their classroom to disorder and disrespect, confusion and chaos.

In fact, one of the biggest champions of this “reset” method is Harry Wong, co-author of The First Days of School.  During one of his “Effective Teacher” videos (Vol. 4), Dr. Wong describes how at the end of each day, teachers erase the classroom board in preparation for the next day’s learning.  This action should illustrate how we as teachers should view our work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Every new day is a new opportunity to “start over,” so to speak.  Even though it may be the middle of the school year, teachers can still erase past mistakes and memories and work to create a new classroom culture.  This “reset” will most likely require more than one day’s work, but we can still purposefully cultivate the type of environment we know is best for teaching and reaching our kids.  This endeavor also takes serious reflection, intentional planning, practice, reinforcement, and redirection–all in order to reestablish the classroom our kids (and we teachers) deserve.

On a larger scale, consider how the current “summer break” season is another a chance to reset your teaching expectations and actions.  Don’t stop at reorganizing your desk drawers and replacing tattered posters with shiny new bulletin board materials.  Revitalize your classroom procedures, routines, and attitudes to foster a refreshing learning environment.

The advantage to summer rejuvenation is that most of your students won’t know anything changed.  They’ll assume you’ve always been a model educator who demands excellence and champions the cause of learning.

At times, such work may seem just as challenging as mutant time travel.  But it’s definitely worth it.

 

Favorite Superhero Teacher?

Standard

Wolverine is staying with the whole “teacher thing” for another semester at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning.  You can read more here and click on the image below to review Mr. Logan’s pedagogical methods:

WolvTr

(Don’t even ask about detention.)

So who’s your favorite superhero teacher?  Chime in!