Terrible Teacher Trainings
Teach as I say, not as I'm currently teaching you
This year, the district and union agreed to a few days off for kids while teachers would have professional development (PD). Our first was election day, the next is Jan 2. I’m delighted to say that our morning session, run by the English department, was one of the best PD sessions I’ve attended, a breath of fresh air in a fetid landscape. I usually dread the inevitable Terrible Teacher Training.
What did I like about the morning? It was built from the same structure I use to teach sixth grade. It was a mix of:
Information delivered via slides
Connection/game that was fun AND previewed the day’s content
Small group conversation
Independent work time
Respect for the clock
I like being taught like a middle schooler. It works, and when you’re catering to 11 year-old attention spans, it has to keep moving — never more than 15-20 minutes per activity. I think the way I teach is effective, and my morning PD looked like a cousin of my classroom. No wonder, since one of the facilitators has done more to shape my teaching than anyone. (And is a subscriber. Hi, Katie!)
I’m fascinated and horrified when PD fails to use the best practices they expect us to use in the classroom. The subject of today’s lecture will be, Why You Should Never Lecture. The presenter reads aloud the slide that says, Never read your slides aloud. In school, we’re expected to “differentiate instruction,” meeting each kid where they are, acting like a one-room schoolhouse in every class. You don’t teach to the lowest ability level, you give everyone what they individually need. And yet so many tech trainings force us to go at beginner’s pace. My “Keeping clicking things until you get what you want” strategy usually works, and when it doesn’t I ask for help. I don’t need to spend 15 minutes learning how to make an effective password.
It drives me nuts when PD assumes we’re blank slates, when they fail to ask what we know and just assume we don’t know it. A presenter once went to great lengths to introduce Turn and Talk. I’d explain how it works, but the name kind of gives it away. Turn and Talk is one of the first structures you learn as a teacher, it wasn’t new to me as a student teacher. The presenter didn’t say, “Everyone know how to do a Turn and Talk?” They assumed we didn’t know it, and spent timing teaching us what we already know. Is that how they’d like me to be in class, assume I have to start sixth grade English by teaching the ABC’s?
So it was a great relief to start the day with a Not Terrible Teacher Training. And the afternoon session was also not terrible, but it was also 2+ hours that could have just been an email. I guess I’ve had worse.
The Week in Dog Poo
Sometimes I play poo detective. A few weeks ago, the question was, Whose poo? This week the question was, Why diarrhea? I got home Monday to find two piles of liquidy sadness, and it seems the wife cleaned up a few before I got home. Winnie spent the weekend at Grandpa’s, and although he says she didn’t eat anything weird, she does know how to open the fridge. And there are often cakes in that fridge. So it remains an unsolved mystery, even if Occam has frantically been pointing his razor at the refrigerator. But after a tragically memorable Monday, it was back to solid and largely outdoors poos by the end of Tuesday.
In other news, it seems my restlessness led me to write about losing poos in the leaves a week early. I pantomimed like a champ this week, but finally had to LEAF it behind.
The Urban Blah
Back in 2009-11 I collaborated with the brilliant Lovisa to make a webcomic that failed to become syndicated across the globe. I am pro-recycling.
This cartoon has not survived my transition into teaching.
If it’s on the slide, do you have to say it, too? In an office, your slides should be three-word bullets that are jumping off points for your spiel. But maybe this guy is a teacher, because sixth grade slides are exactly this. I need all the repetition I can get, my banter and visuals say the same thing, doubling the chances I’ll actually be heard. Sometimes the board says PUT YOUR PAPER IN THE BIN, and three times I announce, Put your paper in the bin, and some kid will bring a paper up and say, What do I do with this? (BEAT) What does the board say?
ALSO Lovisa has started a Substack of her own! I’m currently the only one of us sharing her drawings, but we first came up as bloggers, and I continue to endorse her writings. Go subscribe!
Jam of the Week
I’m name-dropping my subscribers all over the place this week, so let’s keep it going. I went to see Canyons and Locusts play a live show this weekend, and the guitar/vocal half is the wife’s longtime friend Justin. He’s also my friend and remote personal trainer since mid-quarantine. Which makes it extra fun for his music to be legitimately good and not just supporting your friend good. Super-catchy, understated, guitar-forward power-punk-pop I guess? I dunno, I retired from music writing because I’m bad at it. But their album is excellent, “Trapped in the Rapture” has the hook that stays with me.
My Back Pages
From the last last days of my blog (Surgical Strikes) “Scent of a Dan Tobin,” Sept 1, 2008:
In honor of childhood back to school shopping sprees, Meaghan and I spent our Labor Day in Boston shopping for Dan 7.0. To refresh your memory: 1.0 was when my mom dressed me as a kid; 2.0 was when I started dressing myself; 3.0 was when I switched from sneakers to shoes and abandoned the Heathcliff Huxtable sweaters;
Dan 2.0 came way later than I want to admit, 3.0 was junior or senior year of high school. Dispatching daily sneakers was a huge leap for me, so it’s a bit hilarious that I’m back to daily sneakers. It’s what I’ve always worn to middle school.
3.1 incorporated the flannel of the grunge era; 3.2 moved to nicer plaid shirts tucked in; 4.0 was California casual; I don’t remember the gradations in between but 4.3 was “Old-Navy-with-a-dash-of-Banana-Republic,” everything untucked, a fair amount of vintage; 5.0 was the first official rethink, an ill-conceived attempt to dress like the sitcom writer I thought I was about to become. After a months-long bender, 5.2 was an attempt to salvage dignity in the form of tucking in my shirts.
Dan 3.1 also expanded footwear to Doc Martens, 3.2 had skate shoes, 4.3 was early LA. In a city that was all about appearances, I could not be bothered. Can you believe I didn’t fit in?
Once in Boston, I unveiled 6.0 which I more or less still rock: nice shirts tucked in, sweaters with the collars outside, nice-ish shoes, black wool coat and dashing scarf in winter, all bets off in summer — I wear flip-flops to work precisely because they don’t care that I wear flip-flops to work… but even that was improved today by purchasing leather sandals at Barney’s.
Those sandals were a minor catastrophe when I ran from the thunderstorm that beset a Wilco show and kept stepping directly out of my shoes. Eventually I went full hobbit. And I can’t even talk about the flip flops now.
Now I’ve decided to unveil 7.0: purging my remaining ’70s shirts, moving away from the visible white T-shirt underneath nice shirts, trending toward name designers, classing everything up a notch or two. Today was a large step forward on that front.
“Name designers”? Like, the name J. Crew? I wonder who I meant.
But in order to make the full move to 7.0, I had to make a bold move, a real game-changer, a Sarah Palin for VP decision except not stupid and obviously arranged at the last minute because my rival gave a good speech.
Ah, 2008. I was obsessed with Barack Obama. Anyway, this was all a big lead-up to revealing that I bought cologne.
I first broached the subject of cologne in print in 1995:
I think everyone’s goal should be to become unscented. Perfume does not accomplish this. If you take a shower and then put on cologne, you will be clean and stinky. But it’s a fashionable stinky, so it becomes socially acceptable. And who decides that certain odors are good? Like Brut — “It smells like a man.” Not only would I never buy this item, but I would go to great lengths to avoid being within a ten-mile radius of it.
Ah yes, the evolved mind of the almost 19 year-old. This was the era shortly after I stopped wearing a pottery bead on a silk rope every day, but before I stopped wearing the woven belt with the end hanging down. Take fashion advice from Dan 3.1 at your own risk.
Wow, my first pull-quote inside a pull-quote! That’s some next-level navel-gazing! Pretty harsh words toward 1995 Dan, I’m more empathetic today — I’ve been there, man. Like, literally — I’m you. I decided to let wife choose my scent, but with veto power.
I don’t know what I’m supposed to smell like — coffee maybe? — so the woman who has to smell me most should get to choose. I just wanted to be sure I wouldn’t make myself gag.
If this sounds like I don’t really know what I’m doing, it should come as no surprise that I thought almost every cologne smelled exactly the same. Armani, Lacoste, 212, somebody Ford (”Is he related to Richard Ford?” “No.” “Harrison Ford?” “No!” “Gerald Ford?” “Yes, it smells like Gerald Ford.”), Bulgari, Hugo Boss. I thought one of the Burberry scents smelled a bit like Indian food, which intrigued me, and I noted that Slick Rick favored Johnson’s baby powder and Polo cologne (not to mention Bally’s shoes and fly green socks). In the end, we (she) decided to go with Marc Jacobs. So now I own cologne.
Maybe I should have made “La Di Da Di” Jam of the Week.
I imagine this will not become an everyday thing, but I do need to determine when to wear it. Luckily I already know how to apply it: before we’d go out in college, my friend Jason would spray Drakar Noir in the air, then jump into it like he was moshing with himself.
My cologne phase lasted about a month, though I still have the bottle. I guess Dan 8.0 was teaching in ties, 8.1 dropped the ties but kept the nice shirts and pants, 9.0 was the zoom uniform: business on top, shorts on the bottom. Covid era teaching is 10.0, business casual here and there, jeans and sweatshirts and T-shirts whenever, sneakers every day. The pandemic shook off any last pretense of teachers dressing up, it’s all about comfort now. Works for me.
Thanks for reading! Want a post like this once a week in your inbox, to be read at your leisure? Subscribe free!