Still, a lot has been said already about Kang (and actor Jonathan Majors), with his introduction as the next major antagonist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’re talking Thanos-level malevolence here.
Understandably, people want to chat about Kang the Conqueror–his backstory in the comics, potential connections to MCU shows and films, his powers and motivations, and much more. But we won’t dive too deeply here, to avoid any spoiler territory. (If you’re curious, click on any of the links in this paragraph and speculate away.)
All this talk about the next new villain got me thinking about teaching. If teachers are like superheroes, then who plays the “villain” role?
Who is YOUR archenemy?
Or at the least, who’s your rival?
Or maybe just someone who bugs you. Whether they know it or not, sometimes this person drives you nuts.
To help reflect on educational antagonists, look at classic superhero/villain pairings.
Sometimes they are complete opposites. Superman is super-strong and a “boy scout.” Lex Luthor is super-smart and a malicious “man-child.” Or contrast the stoic, calculating Batman with the crazy, maniacal Joker.
Archenemies can also be too much alike. Their mutual strengths create immediate conflict. Think of Wolverine and Sabretooth, both with claws, feral fighting skills, and healing factors. Or consider the intellectual enmity between Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom.
Another source of friction is a fundamental difference in ideology. Professor X seeks peaceful coexistence between mutants and humans, whereas Magneto prefers violent uprising and mutant dominance, no matter the cost. Captain America and Red Skull epitomize the Allies vs. Axis sides of World War II.
Remember, these examples are fiction. Superhero/villain matchups are mere illustrations for the types of conflict that can occur between two real people. I sincerely hope any opposition in schools is much less vindictive and destructive.
As teachers, we should use moments of disagreement as opportunities to model healthy communication and compromise. Remember, your students are watching!
That said, something (or someone) that is unethical or illegal should NOT win.
I remember a high school principal explaining one experience he had where “win-win” was not a viable option. Their school building was facing increased pressure and influence from violent gang activity. This principal shared how their school staff, students, families, and community banded together to find a “win-lose” solution: they were going to win; the gangs were going to lose (and leave).
Hopefully, the day-to-day conflicts and friction teachers experience are not as dire. And in any case, we can focus on productive (and creative) outcomes, with student learning and growth as the ultimate goal.
Here are just two resources for working with others (including those you can’t stand):
Now we’re back with another teacher tip from everyone’s favorite Australian nice guy actor playing everyone’s favorite Canadian grumpy mutant hero.
(Quite the difference in personality there. I guess that’s why they call it “acting.”)
Let’s talk about one more difference between Hugh Jackman and Wolverine.
In the comics, Wolverine is stocky and short, with a height of 5′ 3″. In reality, Hugh Jackman is 6′ 2”.
It doesn’t take a math teacher to quickly figure out that’s a difference of 11 inches–almost one whole foot in length. (Or 27.94 centimeters for those of you using the metric system–Canadians and Australians alike.)
So how did a tall actor first win the part of Wolverine?
(Remember, before Hugh Jackman got this role for the first X-Men movie, he was a relatively unknown actor. Check out this neat time capsule web announcement announcing–and decrying–the official casting waaaaaaaaaaay back in 1999.)
Recently, CNN’s Chris Wallace asked the actor this same question (or very similar, at least). Zip ahead to the 0:45 mark for the question and answer:
In his explanation, Hugh Jackman also gives an example of his behavior. It may look goofy to “stoop,” but it got him the part! (His thespian skills probably helped, too.)
A while back, I read the following sentence in a reflection paper by one of my future science teachers:
“As an educator, I need to remember that my first priority is to the student. I need to STOOP and listen.”
There was a typo. She meant “STOP and listen.”
Still, my first reaction was to write a snarky response like, “If you teach elementary kids, you certainly will need to stoop!” 🙂
The more I think of it, though, sometimes teachers DO need to STOOP. Not only when they stop and listen, but often when they interact with students. And not just with younger kids, but with all ages and grade levels.
There’s a whole bunch of research on “nonverbal behaviors,” those unspoken actions and mannerisms that occur during human interactions. Teachers can gain a lot of insight and application when they focus on such behaviors in the classroom.
But stop and think about what you actually look like when you teach. How is your eye contact? Your facial expressions? Hand gestures? Mannerisms and more?
And where are you compared to your students? The fancy name for this is “PROXIMITY.”
Proximity is not just the front of the classroom versus the back, or in between student desks (although such movement is important for many reasons).
Proximity also includes the posture and level at which you interact with students. Check out this quote from Sean Neill and Chris Caswell, authors of the book, Body Language for Competent Teachers:
“Leaning towards another person, whether sitting or standing, is an ‘intention movement;’ your intention, if you actually moved, would be to get closer to them . . . . Leaning away sends the opposite signal. Leaning over someone, or being higher than them, is dominant and potentially threatening because if you actually wanted to attack someone you could launch your attack better from above. Sitting or kneeling down to someone, at or below their level, is correspondingly non-threatening” (p. 11)
So I guess we now know why Wolverine is always hunched over, ready to strike.
And we also know why it’s important for teachers to STOOP. Not always, but definitely when working with students in small groups or one-on-one. Leaning and learning–literally at “their level”–conveys a collaborative spirit. We’re in this together to grow and get better!
And who knows? Maybe all this learning will help us become “the best there is at what we do.”
Unlike Wolverine, however, what teachers do–learning and teaching–is VERY nice!
Find more SUPER-teaching resources and strategies HERE or HERE!
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.
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?
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.
Recently, Marvel’s X-Men have shot back into the spotlight both in publishing and super- heroics.
This resurgence started off with the House of X/Powers of X mini-series in Summer 2019, and continues into 2020 with numerous X-titles and storylines.
One of the key elements of this new “Dawn of X” relaunch is that Professor X has created a paradise island nation for all mutantkind.
The idea of a mutant utopia is NOT new in X-Men comics. In fact, there have been multiple “Mutopia” worlds in alternative universes, including House of M and Battleworld. One look at these stories shows that people’s ideas of a perfect world can be VERY different.
One of the most famous X-Men Utopias was an island in San Francisco Bay. Actually, before it was an island, this particular utopia was an asteroid controlled by Magneto. But it’s not that strange when you consider the recent Dawn of X utopia is the living mutant island Krakoa. (Hooray for comic books!)
Here’s the problem with utopias: They almost always end in catastrophe.
Think of any fantasy or sci-fi story featuring a utopian society. Typically, these worlds go crumbling down just in time for the thrilling climax, if they haven’t already collapsed to kick off the adventure.
What about schools and classrooms? Is it possible for such a place to be utopian?
I once heard a principal at a large school speak about the “Perfect Day.” He said that a perfect day is NOT when nothing wrong happens. Rather, a perfect day is when issues come up, and the school teachers and staff handle them the right way.
I like this attitude. It’s not optimistic or pessimistic, but just plain pragmatic.
We are all human, teachers and students alike. None of us are perfect. So why would a school full of kids and adults ever be perfect?
Something is fishy here, too.
In fact, teachers must be careful whenever we think we have reached perfection. No teacher is perfect, no matter their experience or awards. We all struggle and succeed in different areas, and we can all get better at something. The same is true for every day of school.
There is a short essay by Tim Slater in The Physics Teacher warning teachers about utopian school days. It’s called “When is a good day teaching a bad thing?” and you can find it HERE.
And here’s a teaser:
Read the entire article and consider what sort of “Hidden Contract” you may be establishing with your students and colleagues. It’s not that well-behaved, on-task students are a bad thing. Far from it. But pause and consider why and how these expectations arise.
Do your students follow directions and contribute to class because they WANT TO or because the HAVE TO? (An easy way to find out is by leaving the room, or checking with the substitute teacher after an absence.)
Naturally, there are times when students (and all of us) do things because we have to, whether we like it or not. Exercise. Healthy diet. Pay taxes. Change diapers.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we can admit there is a positive payoff from these efforts, even if they are not easy. In many cases, practicing good habits in such endeavors will also increase the ease and even enjoyment.
A “perfect” classroom is impossible (and potentially dangerous). But hopefully teachers can instill solid skills and dispositions in students. One sign of maturity is doing things we don’t feel like doing. Another is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. (I’ve also heard this is the definition of integrity.)
So we may never reach school wide utopia. But maturity and integrity make for a good start!
*Admittedly, a much better pun than “School-topia” is “Edutopia.” But George Lucas already has the rights to that one. Take a look at this resource for educators, starting with https://www.edutopia.org .
A few years back I received the following image from a colleague, who shares this handout with students and teachers:
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):
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.
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.”)
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!
Take me home!
The best convention prize I ever got was a children’s book about Buzz Aldrin, signed by the astronaut himself!
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.)
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.
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?
Or giant-sized Program Book (with embossed cover)?
Or Captain America Boomerang? (It works, too . . . in theory.)
Or official Marvel Universe Live! cotton candy (with superhero mask)?
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?
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 . . .
Caring and Kind
And students who possess solid content understanding, of course.
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.
The above photo is what the Center looks like this week. During Comic-Con, it appears more like the photo below:
Or this one:
Or this one, if you’re lucky:
Like I said, I’m not lucky enough to be in town the same time as Comic-Con. But I am lucky enough to be at a convention with hundreds of other educators.
This particular “con” is focused on accreditation of teacher preparation programs.
The topic may sound dryer than San Diego heat, but it’s not too bad. Most sessions are led by educators, who know a thing or two about engaging a crowd of semi-disinterested individuals.
Here are three take-home lessons I’ll share with you (and take home from California):
No excitement here.
1. A convention center without fans, celebrities, and cosplayers is like a school building without students, teachers, and staff. A brilliant building with fancy facilities is a wonderful thing to behold; but it only makes a difference when it hosts a crowd of excitable and exciting characters.
2. What convention are you attending next? I’m not talking about a district-required in-service necessary for churning out continuing education credits.
Seek out a teacher-focused conference or convention that expands your network of colleagues, refines your thinking, and builds on your repertoire of strategies. Better yet, sign up to SHARE a session or workshop with your professional peers.
More excitement here!
3. Someday I hope to visit San Diego again and attend Comic-Con. Until then, here are some conferences I’ve attended (or will attend) recently. Check one out, if you’re interested. Or find something else that more closely matches your field of expertise.
You don’t have to attend a “con” somewhere far away or expensive. Most of those I go to are within driving distance, and many times you can pay a discounted fee to attend only part of the convention. In most cases you get what you pay for, though, and it’s healthy to expand your horizons beyond your home district or state.
Find a super group of teachers to encourage and educate you – and you can do the same for them. They’re waiting for you!