I put large poster portraits of great men of History and Literature on the walls of my classroom: Ernest Hemingway, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Albert Einstein, William Shakespeare. These men changed the world! Of course, I also have an equal number of great women who changed the world: Maria Sharapanova, Miley Cyrus, Megan Fox, Kim Kardashian. My goal is that someday my old mug will hang on classroom walls or perhaps the walls of a virtual classroom because my vision is to tear down walls and replace our outmoded Education model with a completely new idea, an idea where everyone is a giant in his or her own mind. My posters remind me that revolutionary reform is inevitable and that my efforts to end Education as we know it will triumph!
Chalk. That is the smell I remember from my childhood. The magic white dust that floated across shafts of light through our little red one-room schoolhouse, where a legendary old gran with stiff hair named Miss Jenkins ruled like a pharoah at the front of the class, scribbling quotations from Huck and Jim or Abe and Ben, or carving algebraic equations onto the black slate—clack, clack, clack as she stabbed the board with the white sticks. And I sat in the back melting in the August heat with my giant ear muffs and knit cap and dark sunglasses and goofy hangdog sneer, tripping on psilocybin or LSD or mescaline, and knowing with absolute certainty that one day I would be that Old Gran riding roughshod over Darkhearted Youth, leading the charge against ignorance, and that her rotting corpse would in some very real sense (real at the time, it doesn’t actually make sense without the drugs) be me. Chalk dust brings me back to my original self–a broken child, confused and alone, ready to accept any suggestion and make a life of it.
Chalk dust is the trigger for the gun in my mind.
Pride is like a worm that lives inside your brain and whispers evil into your ear. Like the time my Pride told me to give everyone Fs on the progress report because nobody remembered my 51st birthday… even though it was clearly important to me and I had kept a countdown on the whiteboard for a month and even mentioned it every day, pointing kids and parents to a suggested-gift wish-list on my website. But then the next day the kids gave me a big rainbow Happy Birthday card and baked “magical brownies”, and I felt so happy that I fell asleep at my desk in the middle of the day. When I woke up all of their grades were “A”s again. Because I remember nothing I can only theorize that at some point the bird of Gratitude ate the whispering worm of Pride and I had corrected the grades before nodding off.
Sometimes you’ve got to break a few eggs to make a cupcake. For example, the school’s Tardy Policy clearly states that if a student is tardy three times I must issue a detention. Today Trevor P. was physically in his seat when the bell rang, but I could tell that he was not entirely present. He wore dark sunglasses, over-the-ear headphones and reeked of marijuana. I told him that his mind was late for class and gave him a third tardy. This unfortunately made him laugh so uncontrollably that it triggered an asthma attack and he ended up gasping and wheezing on the floor until Cheryl S. lent him her own inhaler. Technically, students are not allowed to administer medicines to other students, but I let her because sometimes you’ve got to go rogue in this life.
Breaking the Law
Last night I wrote a poem and I thought it was so good that I taught it to my class (telling them that it was a lost fragment from William Shakespeare). They believed it, so I guess it is a pretty good poem. Now the kids think Shakespeare is “da bomb!” #bringingshakespearebacktolife; #turningkidsontopoetryagain
Untitled Lost Fragment from “Shakespeare”:
You light up my life like a sunny day;
You make me feel strong and important like a king;
I love you so much that it makes me cry–
Or sometimes sing!
Today I showed the class a video of a dog named Willow who has learned how to read (http://youtu.be/FRtUlrYw2fw).
“If this dog can learn how to read then you can learn how to read”.
But Mariah said that she knew how to read better than any dog.
I said, “Really? Translate this: ‘Bark! Bark! Bark!'”
Coby raised his hand: “That means somebody is at the door.””
I laughed. “Idiot…No!…Bark! Bark! Bark! means I need to go outside to urinate.”
“Bark! Bark! Bark! doesn’t mean anything,” Mariah said smugly. Mariah thinks she knows things, but she’s just a bitch. I hate people who challenge me. Then little bald Ross squeaked: “I doubt that dogs use words like ‘urinate.'” which he said because he is trying to get into Mariah’s pants. But then the entire class was yelling at me for being a retarded teacher and I had to run into the staff bathroom to wash my face and gather myself.
When I came out I was angry. I needed to assert my authority over the class. So I did what I always do: gave an impossible high-stakes test: “Translate this:
Bark! Bark! Bark! Growl! Snuffle, snuffle, snuffle.”
Some people guessed that it meant “Go fuck yourself!” which was almost right and close enough for credit, but they had forgotten to write their names, so everyone got zeros.
Race the Clock
I write my blog to shine a light, a big bright light on the Truth about Education. Sometimes my light is harsh and I blind people with the Truth. Sometimes I run out of batteries and my light dims and then I am actively spreading darkness across the face of the earth. But then I think, even darkness is a kind of light because people and ideas can bump into each other and actually meet for the first time. “Hi there, Idea-that-I-would-never-consider-if-I-could-see-you-coming-but-now-must-think-about-because-you’re-standing-on-my-toes!” One time I fell head over heels in love with a new idea that had been hiding in the darkness: “Potato chips”–that was the idea that came to me and I absolutely had to have some–so I confiscated Chloe W.’s potato chips because she was “making a mess” and then I ate them for lunch. That is an example of an idea swooping out of the darkness and taking hold of me.
I also love to read other blogs, but I don’t remember any of them. Sometimes people talk about their horrible lives and I find that entertaining because it is like they are shining a light on the darkness. When people talk about how good things are I get bored because it is as if they are shining a light on another light and I can’t see it. Besides, who wants to hear about how great things are for you? I want to hear you struggle and stumble through the darkness that is this world.
Yesterday was Superbowl Sunday and I wrecked myself. When this happens I show movies all day. I try to make the movie connect with our unit, but I’ve wrecked myself so badly that I can’t remember what we’ve been studying. Verbs?… I’ll just show the first five things on my Netflix queue:
1. Boys Over Flowers
2. Coffee Prince.
3. Playful Kiss
4. Rooftop Prince
5. My Girlfriend is a Nine-tailed Fox
Do or Die
Let me tell you about the man who is responsible for me becoming a teacher. His name is Robin Williams and he was an actor who played a teacher in the movie Dead Poet’s Society. He wasn’t a real teacher and he didn’t work at a real school and his entire story was piece of fiction, but nevertheless, he was the greatest teacher I ever had. He was a motivational giant who understood what inspired kids and he was a champion of poetry written by dead people. In school I never connected with any of my teachers. I was the boy who sat in the back thinking about sex and unable to focus on any subject. I received straight Fs through high school, but in college I miraculously got laid a few times and realized that I would need a job to pay for a place to live and a car so that I could continue to get laid. I thought about being a drug dealer or perhaps a person that washes cars for tips, but then I saw Dead Poet’s Society and decided to become a teacher. I learned how to read Sparknotes and purchased many excellent essays. I watched the movie 500 times, studying Mr. Williams’ character and presentational style in the classroom. I would practice teaching various poems in front of the mirror, setting up stuffed animals as my students and rehearsing a hundred different looks: from stern disappointment to tearful joy. Finally, I took my subject matter test and God placed two brilliant students with extremely legible handwriting on either side of me, and in that moment I knew that I had chosen well and that teaching children was my true calling. Thank you, Robin Williams. Feel free to add me and my career to your long list of accomplishments!
Some people think of genius ideas and then forget them. When I have a genius idea I instantly make it happen. For example, yesterday I thought: “Wouldn’t it be great if your personal theme song played every time you walked into a room so that your life was like a movie starring you, directed by you, written by you?” Most people would think “great idea” and then go to lunch or take a nap, but I made it happen. I put my personal theme song–Eye of The Tiger by Survivor (of course!)–on infinite loop and then strung a bluetooth speaker on a cord around my neck. So now my presence is announced by Survivor! Sometimes I’ll even enter a room in slow motion for maximum impressiveness, though lately everywhere I go the rooms are weirdly empty.
Playlist of the Week