Leave a Legacy

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Marvel Comics recently announced their next company-wide comic book event(s), a back-to-back blockbuster starting with “Generations” this summer and then “Legacy” this fall.

There aren’t too many details yet, but “Generations” features stories teaming up heroes with shared names or titles.  For example, the original Thor (a.k.a. “Unworthy Thor” or Odinson) fights alongside with the current Thor (a.k.a. “Mighty Thor” or Jane Foster).  Or Wolverine (Logan) with his cloned successor All-New Wolverine (X-23, Laura).

A little confusing, yes, especially for anyone who hasn’t read a Marvel comic book the last few years.  During this time, several classic characters have stepped down from their costumes (for various reasons) to be replaced by different individuals–other heroes, a supporting cast member, or brand new characters.

With “Legacy,” some readers speculate many classic characters will return to prominence, donning their masked identify once again.  We don’t know much for now, except that long-running titles are resuming their original issue numbering (e.g. back in the 100s, 200s, 500s, or more, instead of resetting to issue #1 every year or so), and other classic elements are coming back–cover box art, tiny mugshots in the corner, Marvel Value Stamps, etc.

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The focus seems to be the “legacy” of these identities–icons that expand beyond one single person.

Here’s a quote from Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso: “We are looking to honor the legacy of the entire universe, so we are taking the iconic legacy heroes and pairing them with the new class.”

And another quote, this time from Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada: “The Marvel Legacy initiative is a celebration of everything that makes Marvel the best in fiction, and it’s a signifier of a new era for Marvel Comics.”  (Look for Quesada’s artwork on the cover of Marvel Legacy #1.)

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Interestingly, DC Comics is more well-known for its roster of “legacy heroes.”  Again, these are identities that have passed from various individuals.  Sometimes the mantle goes back and forth, and sometimes the mask and costume are handed off permanently–or at least for a decade or more, an entire generation of comic book readers.

Here are some of DC’s more famous “legacy heroes” and some (not all) noteworthy characters who have held the title.

The Flash: Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West, Bart Allen

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Green Lantern: Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner,

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What makes the DC legacy heroes unique is their extensive history and long-lasting impact.  Instead of switching a character for just a short story, event, or gimmick, these replacements truly add to the legacy of the hero.  In some cases, the successor is more famous than the original character, with more accomplishments and greater impact.

Teachers, do you see the connection to our profession?

Contemplate the following statement (and pretty photo, courtesy of Brainy Quote) by American historian and writer Henry Adams:

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Some of my current research deals with the question, “What makes an influential teacher?”

In one study (#10004), I asked nearly a hundred future science educators to share information about their most influential teacher.  Here are the SEVEN most common traits found in their responses describing an influential teacher (along with examples from answers given):

1) Passion  

  • “[He] brought his love of science and teaching with him every day.”
  • “She was unfailing in her positivity.”

2) Rapport 

  • “She cared about us and how much we learned.”
  • “He personally acknowledged each student.”

3) Pedagogy 

  • “She knew how to break down the material so it was easy to understand.”
  • “[K]new when students have problems and what to say to each student, if it is different words to different students.”

4) Time 

  • “[T]ook the time out to explain stuff.”
  • “He gave lots of time to students after class. As much as they needed to get it.”

5) High Expectations 

  • “She pushed me to be a leader in school.”
  • “The way she never gave up on you and made you believe in yourself more than you could imagine. She always had high standards for us.”

6) Fun 

  • “She always made teaching look fun.”
  • “[He] showed me that chemistry is fun.”

7) Helpful 

  • “She was always very helpful and kind.”
  • “His door was always open to his students and he was willing to help any student with whatever problems they had.”

 

These responses came from future science teachers, so the sample size is limited, of course.  But ask yourself which of these traits align with YOUR most influential teacher. What other characteristics did he or she display?

More than one of these seven traits appeared in 80% of participants’ “influential teacher” descriptions.  That means that these characteristics are not isolated, but rather intertwined with one another, even synergistic.

Also consider that almost two thirds (63.8%) of the influential teachers described by these future science teachers did NOT teach science.  There is more to influential teaching than the subject you teach. Or in other words, to quote Muppets creator Jim Henson . . .

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Take a moment to remember the most influential teachers you’ve had, and what made them so influential?  Then ask yourself what sort of influence you want to have on YOUR students.  How can you make a lasting, positive difference in the lives of your students, starting right now?

In many ways, every teacher is a “legacy hero.”  The privilege is not receiving personal fame for our profession, but in inspiring and impacting the generations to come.

 

 

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Ms. Pronunciation

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It’s graduation season, that wonderful time of year to commemorate scholarly success.

As an added perk, I get to dress up like a superhero.  (One of my students even said I looked like a Hogwarts professor – Wingardium Leviosa!)

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Power Professors . . . Unite!

Besides Halloween, when else can someone strut their stuff in a color-coordinated, velveteen-trimmed billowy costume (i.e. regalia) without receiving strange looks?  It’s like academic Mardi Gras.

That’s Mardi Gras, pronounced “ˈmär-dē-ˌgrä.”  In New Orleans, pronounced “awr-lee-uhnz,” or “awr-leenz,” or “aw-linz,” depending on your demographics.

Pronunciations are important. How important?

With comic books being a visual medium, readers may have seen a superhero’s unique name for years but never heard it spoken out loud.  When we hear the audible title, the correct pronunciation can be surprising.

 

darkseidTake DC villain Darkseid, for instance.  First introduced in 1970, this big baddie predates  the Star Wars movies by several years.  But his name is pronounced “Dark Side.”  (For the longest time, I thought his name sounded like “dark seed,” which is more menacing in my opinion.)

 

 

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Or Namor the Sub-Mariner.  When I see his name, I still hear it as “submarine-r,” sounding like the underwater vessel with an “r” at the end.  (Like a trucker who drives a truck.)  Actually, the name of Marvel’s first mutant got its inspiration from the Coleridge poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and the emphasis is on “mariner” like a sailor or Seattle baseball player.

 

Here is an article about commonly mispronounced superhero names.  And we haven’t even talked about folks like Ra’s al Ghul, Ka-Zar, and half the Green Lantern Corps.

 

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Next year’s classroom portraits

 

Let’s not forget about all kinds of odd-sounding objects, too, like the Crimson Gem of Cytorrak, the Eye of Agamotto, or Thor’s mystical hammer Mjolnir.

 

Mispronunciations are not a problem exclusive to fictional characters.  All kinds of comic book creators have hard-to-pronounce names (Quesada, Nicieza, Madureira, DiDio, Lee).

In fact, during the ’90s Marvel produced an official pronunciation guide for many of their writers and artists:

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Most of this tongue-twisting is light-hearted.  But think of more serious repercussions in education.

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Witness the blushes and giggles (or worse, the cringes and frowns) at a graduation ceremony.  What should be the triumphant celebration of a student’s academic career becomes an uncomfortable, clumsy moment.

 

Consider the same unfortunate effects in the classroom.  How many students shudder at the sound of a teacher messing up their name during roll call?  This occurrence is not limited to back-to-school season, either.  Some botched names continue unnecessarily for months.

Here’s an interesting article by Ed Week about students and educators raising awareness and appreciation for diverse and difficult names.  Titled “Mispronouncing Students’ Names: A Slight That Can Cut Deep,” it tackles a lot of issues you may not even consider when reviewing your classroom roster.

What’s the worst way someone has mispronounced your name?  How do you handle it as a teacher?

Hopefully not like this:

 

Here’s one strategy I learned to use in my teaching:

During the first days of school, I have my students complete a handout sharing different bits of information.  One line on the form asks students to write their names as they are phonetically pronounced, as well as what the student would like to be called.

This may seem like overkill, but it comes in handy and reduces one more hurdle in promoting positive student-teacher relationships.

For instance, is Cara pronounced “Care-uh” or “Car-ah?”  Since I read her information sheet, I already know. I’ve also had students that go by middle names, initials, or something different than what’s written in their official records.

I’ll be ready when I have Mr. Mxyzptlk in class.  Will you?

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Super-Souvenirs

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Last time we talked about lessons learned from conventions, whether the audience is teachers or cosplayers.

 

I nearly forgot one of the best rewards of attending conferences and meetings . . . the STUFF!

The swag . . . the loot . . . the prizes . . . the souvenirs.

This past weekend I participated in a state teacher conference, and I got a few of the usual convention freebies — posters, books, pens, highlighters, candy, a shirt, and more.  Someone I know even won a free corn snake!

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Take me home!

 

The best convention prize I ever got was a children’s book about Buzz Aldrin, signed by the astronaut himself!

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This very same weekend I came home and took my family to Marvel Universe Live!  (Think “Disney on Ice” with superheroes on motorcycles and high-wire acts.)

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The show was full of explosions, stuntmen (and stuntwomen), along with cheesy comic book dialogue. Best of all, it’s the only way (so far) you can see live-action Avengers fight alongside live-action X-Men and Spider-Man.

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My kids loved the show (me and the wife, too), and they also loved the souvenirs.  Just like conferences and conventions, this event had gobs of stuff to take home.  Such trinkets cost money, though.

But where else are you going to get an exclusive Marvel Universe Live! Prelude Comic Book?

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Or giant-sized Program Book (with embossed cover)?

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Or Captain America Boomerang?  (It works, too . . . in theory.)

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Or official Marvel Universe Live! cotton candy (with superhero mask)?

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My family bought all of these beauties – BONUS!

 

Another lesson learned from this weekend is that teachers give their students an array of souvenirs over the course of a school year.  And I’m not just talking about content knowledge.

Every year, I ask my pre-service teachers to imagine their students at the end of the year.  In an ideal world, what will those kids be like?  What skills will they possess?  What traits, habits, and feelings do they have?

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I’ve written about this before in a more scholarly setting. To be brief, the new teachers end up with a short list of about ten items.  The same types of traits and skills always emerge.

Teachers want students who are . . .

  • Critical Thinkers
  • Creative
  • Problem Solvers
  • Caring and Kind
  • Hard Workers
  • Curious
  • Lifelong Learners
  • Collaborative
  • Effective Communicators

And students who possess solid content understanding, of course.

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Souvenirs are an important part of comic book conventions, education conferences, superhero stunt shows, and even school classrooms.

Some are free.  Others are pricy.  Cost does not always correlate with value.

What are your classroom’s best souvenirs?

Consider what “souvenirs” you provide for students over the course of the year.  Make sure they are treasures that last a lifetime.

 

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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.”

Heroic Integration

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It’s been a while since our last blog post and we have all kinds of critically important issues to talk about, starting with . . . OH YEAH!  AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON super-duper blockbuster opens THIS WEEKEND!  

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The latest greatest superhero movie can provide a useful springboard for exploring the dangers of relying too much on technology (e.g. resulting in an evil sentient robot that tries to kill all humankind). Forget a vengeful Ultron or iPad; beware of students plugged in but tuned out to meaningful learning.

We’ll table that discussion for another time, however, given recent chatter about another famous Marvel character who may possibly join Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on the big screen:  Spider-Man.

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Thanks to Photoshop, we already have a poster!

Like Captain America and company, Spider-Man is a mainstay Marvel Comics character. But up until now, everyone’s favorite web-slinger has appeared in his separate series of movies due to film rights owned by Sony Pictures.

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Confused? Don’t worry, because bigwig producers have signed important papers and the stars have aligned and now Spidey can swing along with the Avengers in the official “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” or MCU.

Fan reaction has been understandably joyous, given the potential team-up between Marvel’s flagship hero and Marvel’s flagship hero team. Heck, the good folks at IGN have already imagined what Age of Ultron would look like with Spider-Man in the mix.  Take a look at their trailer here, if you’re curious.

Enthusiasm has erupted for integrating even more heroes in the movies. Speculation abounds if Marvel’s other movie heroes – the X-Men, the Fantastic Four – could ever merge into the MCU.  Even Wolverine’s Hugh Jackman wants to join in the mix.

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Coming to a movie theater near you?

Such integration of superheroes (a.k.a. worlds colliding) may appear as a bounty of riches; but there could be a downside.

Ever heard of too much of a good thing?

A common feature of disappointing superhero movies is a glut of characters in the script. Spider-Man 3 had Sandman and Venom and the Green Goblins clogging the villain faucet. Batman & Robin was actually Batman and Robin and Batgirl and Poison Ivy and Bane and Mr. Freeze. Superman III had Richard Pryor.

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Proving that “Two’s a Crowd.”

Curriculum Integration in schools is another appealing mash-up that may have a hidden downside or two.

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Basically, integrating curriculum is what teachers do when they teach lessons combining two or more major subjects or disciplines. Examples are as obvious as teaching algebra and graphing with a science experiment, and as unique as an instructor’s imagination. I know of a middle school that features a building-wide interdisciplinary unit all about the Greek Olympics. Every class studies some aspect of the ancient athletes – math, history, language arts, visual arts, science, P.E., and more.

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Sounds neat, right? And perhaps a little daunting to pull off, given the coordination of teachers, resources, and activities. But that’s just a challenge, not the downside. The upside is collaborative educators and students energized by explicit and relevant connections among various scholarly endeavors (subjects).

The danger of curriculum integration in classrooms is similar to those in superhero movies. Cramming in too much can end up in confusion and misconceptions. Content may be watered down, spread thin, or lost in the shuffle.

Take a minute to look at this article, “A Caveat: Curriculum Integration Isn’t Always a Good Idea,” by Jere Brophy and Janet Alleman for a more robust examination of this strategy. Better yet, print it out and read it while you wait in line for your Avengers movie tickets. Or download it on your portable digital device.

Technology can be great. So can curriculum integration. Just be careful.

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:”

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

That’s a wonderful thing.

What is Success?

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It’s not even mid-May and we’ve already got two superhero movies out in theaters, with more to come.  While Captain America: The Winter Soldier made record-breaking April box office numbers, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 recently opened and also topped the $90 million mark for its weekend debut.  Not too shabby.

Or is it?

Such an astronomical income may look, well, amazing.  But some entertainment pundits are asking, “Is it a success?

Such a question is not so strange when comparing ticket sales among similar movies, including prequels and sequels.  Another item to consider is how much money it takes to make the movie (salaries, special effects, marketing, insurance, craft services, etc.).  Making 90 million bucks over a single weekend may not seem so spectacular when it reportedly cost triple that amount to make the film.

All this talk about multimillions may have you thinking about teacher paychecks, but that’s not the real purpose of this post.

Actually, the big question “What is success?” should be asked frequently in our schools and classrooms.

 

Report Card Time

Recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)–also known as “the nation’s report card“–show that American students haven’t really increased their success rate in the past five years.  We’ve talked previously about how it’s important for teachers to closely review assessment data and speak out when and where they can (shameless plug).  But it’s also important to examine results and consider what is success.

The NAEP report finds that for U.S. high school seniors, less than 40% are proficient (or higher) in reading, and only one fourth (26%) are proficient or better in math.  Results also indicate that gaps in achievement among races/minorities are as wide as ever.

Ouch.  That doesn’t sound like success to me.

So many factors contribute to assessment results, more than we have time or space (or attention span) to discuss here.  But it is important to stop and determine our definition of success in schools.

 

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First off, it’s essential we not equate 100% with success.  Major League Baseball players are potential All-Stars if they get a hit one out of every three times at bats.  Babe Ruth’s career batting average was .342.  On the current list of active MLB players, the batting average leader is some guy named Joe Mauer, sitting at .322 (my apologies, Minnesota Twins fans).

I remember band directors telling us that we had to hit 100% of our musical notes during every performance, comparing our task with those slacker multimillionaires in ball caps.  Full disclosure: I never played every note perfectly during every concert.  Didn’t stop the audience from clapping.  And it didn’t stop me from playing.

Winning Percentages

Even Spider-Man himself didn’t win every comic book battle.  (It’d be boring if he did, wouldn’t it?)  According to Marvel’s own statistics, the webbed hero was victorious less than 60% of the time, just below villain Nightmare (59.4%) and above Iron Man (57.8%).  Check out the interactive and informative (and awesome) “Battle Breakdown” of Marvel Comics characters, courtesy of Wired magazine and author/designer Tim Leong.

(You should also check out Tim Leong’s website and Tumblr, along with his award-winning book Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe, for some super-nifty graphical analyses of superhero stats.  Here’s a sample, this one a breakdown of primary colors among hero costumes:

ff_supergraphics_goodevil_2f primary colors  )

 

Interestingly, anti-hero The Punisher (as in “The Ohio State University”) has the highest winning percentage (86.9%, and only 2 ties) above all the other Marvel heroes.  This roster includes Captain America, Mr. Fantastic, the Hulk, Thor, Wolverine, and Daredevil.

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Winning Tip #1: Bring a bazooka to a gun fight.

Still, I think I’d rather be rescued by many other heroes before seeking The Punisher’s help.  It’s “Punisher” with a capital P, after all.  In his quest for vigilante justice, Frank Castle puts a permanent end to bad guys (i.e. dead), as opposed to more noble champions who abide to a higher moral code.  As teachers, we know that a little bit of mercy can go a long way.

Maybe winning isn’t everything.  Maybe success depends on context.

In baseball, 33% hitting is great.  In music, you aim for 100% (unless it’s jazz).  In civil engineering, I hope it’s also close to 100%.  I don’t want a bridge built by someone who earned an 80% in geometry.

So what is success in education?

According to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the goal was for EVERY child to perform at grade level in reading and math by the year 2014.

Have we reached that level yet?  We only have half a year to go!

In one of my graduate classes, our instructor (a high school principal whose last name was Mann, so he was literally “Principal Mann!”) once told us the following with respect to student achievement:  “You can feed a donkey the best oats, give it the best trainer and exercise regimen, and hire the best jockey.  But when you race that animal in the Kentucky Derby, it’s still a donkey.”

Not every kid will be a straight-A student.  If they were, what’s so special about straight-As?  Success is different for each individual.

I remember sitting in one of my undergraduate science classes (astrophysics), and another professor had just posted grade results outside in the hall.  A mob of students clumped in front of the list, eager to learn the results.  Among the mumble and grumble, one jovial dude thunder clapped his hands and cheered, “D-plus!!!”

 

Success is relative, maybe.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t push each other (and ourselves) to get better.

Hopefully, you aren’t aiming for the plus side of below average.  Hopefully, you aren’t hoping for 80%.  I want all of my students to perform at a 100% level.  I know that probably won’t happen.  But it doesn’t mean I won’t try for it.

Another mentor of mine–Dr. Clough (rhymes with rough ‘n’ tough!)–used to say, “Aim for perfection, and you will reach excellence.”  

Is that optimism?  Or realism?  Optirealism?

Let’s put aside our pessimism that some kids will just “never get it” and focus instead on what they can do.  The results may amaze you.

I’m optimistic that another Amazing Spider-Man sequel will show up in the coming years.  I’m optirealistic that it’ll be good.