How footy informs my teaching

Let me first say that my footy experience is limited. My parents weren’t keen on me to try yet another sport when I was younger so my initial involvement was just in physical education classes. When I was at university, I played a season or two for the Edith Cowan Hawks (where everyone was called Bob if you didn’t know their real names). I was fortunate enough to spend 3 years working with one of the development squads for WAFL club Peel Thunder and I’m in my second year of playing AFL Masters with the Mandurah Makos – with the exception of those who have spent the majority of their sporting life playing some other code, I’m probably one of the least experienced people at the club.

 

Praise you

As someone who hasn’t played footy to the extent of those people around me, I often get annoyed with myself and the fact that my skills don’t always match my intent. The best thing about game day and training, however, is that the lads are very vocal in their praise. You see, even at the top level, that players sometimes berate their teammates for poor disposal (Matthew Richardson was prone to flipping the bird at his fellow Tigers) but I can’t think of a single time where one of my Makos teammates has had a go at someone else on our team. Instead, people are constantly praising each other for their efforts. This positive attitude certainly helps me overcome my angst and doubts – it’s heartwarming to know my effort is appreciated even when my skills let me down.

This is important in the classroom too. Not everyone is good at English. We have intelligent students come through who are brilliant at mathematical and scientific subjects but struggle with the writing based humanities courses. That said, we also have students who struggle to perform basic literacy skills. What I want my students to know is that, while effort is not on the marking key, it is something that I value. I don’t subscribe to drowning students in positivity, the world is a harsh place and they need to develop resilience, but I give praise where praise is due.

 

Teamwork

Footy, like all team sports, relies on people performing their role. Defenders talk about how their job is made easier through the assistance of the other defenders and will compliment the midfielders for putting pressure on the ball carrier. Forwards cash in on the good work of the people up the field. Coaches talk about the team approach and receive kudos from the media when they develop team structures that don’t rely on individual stars. Players that win medals and accolades often say that they would trade them in for team success. Regardless of what level you are playing, it takes the whole team working together to play consistently and win games. If any player switches off, the opposition can use it to their advantage.

I try to reflect this message with my ATAR students, recommending a two-heads-are-better-than-one approach. If all they write is the product of my brain or their brain then they are doing themselves a disservice. They should be sounding out their ideas with their peers, pillaging from the Internet and fossicking through good answers from previous exams. Their best essay should be built on the collective brains of anyone they can access. They should collaborate and cooperate throughout their education. There’s no point being top of the class if your class is terrible. Top students should build the abilities of their peers and, in doing so, will actually find that they become better too.

Hmmm… maybe I’ve taken that one a little far from its source material but the connection is still there.

 

Naked and famous 

At the end of training you come off the track sweaty and gross so there’s a decent line for the showers when you’re back in the change room. I drive 25mins to get to training and I’m not inclined to spend that long in the car afterwards if I haven’t showered and changed. Because we’re all adults and not pubescent tweens embarrassed at the changes to our body, no one showers in their jocks or skins. That’s not to say that we’re flaunting our naked bodies around, simply that it’s an environment where being exposed is not something to be ashamed of.

In the classroom, I don’t want that kind of exposure. However, I do want students to open up and feel comfortable sharing their work. I want them to feel safe despite the fact I’m asking them to put themselves in a vulnerable position, exposing their thoughts and ideas in an open forum. By making this an expectation of the environment, I naturalise this process.

 

Beyond that, footy informs my teaching through the fact that I go out there and give it 110%. I’m aware of the fact that you’re only as good as your last lesson and I’m just taking it one week at a time. That’s what I’m talking about!!!

Ninja Turtles or Copy Cats?

I grew up on the Ninja Turtles and I passed that enthusiasm on to my younger brother and my kids. I actually reckon I’m like a composite turtle, composed of contrasting traits of patience, rage, intelligence and immaturity. Generally speaking, however, when we talk TMNT in my house my wife is the leader (Leonardo), my daughter is the clever one (Donatello), my son is cheeky (Michaelangelo) and I’m the angry one (Raphael).

tmnt

There’s a cool video (that I may have shared before) that unpacks the personalities of the turtles and links them to the four elements/humors.

 

That’s not what this post is about though; it’s about how the TMNT franchise has been ripping off other intellectual properties for years.

 

For those that don’t know, when Eastman and Laird created this mean, green ninja team they were heavily influenced by a number of successful comics but none more so than Daredevil. The most obvious way this is shown is through the fact that the radioactive canister that made Daredevil blind is LITERALLY the same one that turned the turtles into the mutants we know and love. More subtly, the trainers (Splinter vs Stick) and enemies (the Foot Clan vs the Hand) are clearly derivative of the Daredevil comics. This isn’t anything new.

 

The recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie drew a lot of criticism from various fans but I thought it was a laugh riot (as opposed to laughable). That said, the HISHE video for the film presents it as a repackaged Spider-Man.

 

With the sequel to be released soon, it’s hard not to look at the trailer and draw comparisons between it and recent films. Roughly 25 seconds into the preview and we’re looking at an Avengers styled invasion, then skip past the Frankenstein-like transformation of Bebop and Rocksteady to the 1:15 mark and you’ll find the plot of the third X-Men film, The Last Stand.

 

And, do you know what? I don’t care. As an English teacher I’m analysing texts all the time so when I go to the cinema I like to turn my brain off and scoff popcorn for the duration of the film. TMNT 2 is right up my alley; I can’t wait.

What school uniform committees could learn from comics

I work at a school and choose to wear a version of the uniform on a daily basis but there’s a lot I hate about what schools churn out for students to wear.

 

When I was at school (all those many moons ago) we had a variety of school shirts but the bottoms weren’t restricted like the way a number of schools operate now. We had school colours and as long as your pants/shorts/skirt were respectable and in the right colours you were fine. This was great because my folks couldn’t afford to regularly fork out for school branded or dictated clothing so I would rock up in my Big W or Kmart pants and my official school shirt. Whereas a number of schools these days are very particular about the style and brand of bottoms (especially skirts) to the point where the only place you can purchase them is the school uniform shop.

 

I also hate the cardboard cut-out approach to uniform policies where every kid looks like the next one and the next one and so on. This used to be the domain of the private system but public schools operate like this too now. It’s because schools are businesses and they get caught up in the marketing of the school and forget about the students’ interests (interests being a key word here).

 

Where do comics come in?

 

I was watching this video recently and all I could think about was how I wished schools had the same philosophy. What Kristian Williams says (among other things) is that, for the X-Men, “it’s not just a uniform it’s a symbol of the unification of the group” and they’re designed to “promote cooperation and project a positive public image”. It stems beyond the X-Men too. When you look at costumes in comics you see how the individual personality is reflected despite the need to visually beyond to a group. Don’t think about the Avengers or Justice League here, I’m not talking about heroes who form a group after they are established as individuals but teams like the Fantastic Four who share an origin.

 

I just wish schools had more options so people could express their individuality, even if that expression is somewhat restricted. At the moment, I love specialist sports and academic programs having their own garb and I also like the idea of house/faction shirts because they allow students to identify as part of the school community without wearing the exact same thing as everyone else – if only these sorts of options were available when choosing their everyday uniform.

 

When I think about what an ideal school uniform would look like to me, I think about Captain America. Let me explain.

 

When Steve Rogers kicks around in the classic Cap costume he looks like this:

Steven_Rogers_(Earth-1610)_from_Ultimate_Comics_Avengers_Vol_1_4

It’s the epitome of patriotic apparel: stars, stripes, red, white and blue. Rogers’ army background is also evident in the belt.

 

When Steve ‘died’ his uniform was adopted (and modified) by his one-time sidekick, Bucky. The Winter Soldier has a dark and twisted past as an assassin and this is evident in the darker tones of his costume:

1261410-f1comics

More recently, Steve Rogers caught ‘old-age’ and handed over the reins to Falcon. Sam Wilson’s design is more in line with his fly-boy nature. He keeps the wings of his old moniker but drops the big A that Rogers normally has on his forehead. His ‘look’ appears new, fresh and streamlined without changing much:

Samuel_Wilson_(Earth-616)_from_Captain_America_Vol_7_25_001

There’s also U.S. Agent. John Walker wears a black outfit with all of the same elements, aka the stars and stripes, but with a different design to Rogers’ suit:

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Steve Rogers is also coming back to the Cap role in a new costume which is vastly different to all of the others above but is still obviously Captain America:

CaptainAmerica_SteveRogers_Costume

 

What am I getting at?

All I’m saying is that school uniform designers could take a leaf out of (the multiple) Caps’ books. It is possible to create a variety of outfits that, while different, demonstrate that those people wearing them belong to a particular ideal.

 

Belong. It’s a word I chose deliberately. For me, school uniform shouldn’t be about what looks good on the website or on a brochure. Moreover, public schools shouldn’t dress their students in private school regalia. I choose to wear a variation of the uniform for a number of reasons but one of those is pride – I’m proud of what I have achieved at my current school and I’m proud of a number of kids I’ve had the pleasure of working with. What I hope for is that students, from any school, will look back at where they got their education with a sense of nostalgia and pride. What I hope for is that they don’t wait until they leave before feeling this way. Students should WANT to wear the uniform but too many schools provide little to no options of what to wear (or how to accessorise).

 

Maybe they should flick an email to Marvel or DC and ask for advice.

 

 

 

 

Advice for Beginning Teachers

I’ve had this inkling for a little while that I’d like to write something for beginning teachers. The problem is I don’t know what to say. I probably should have a fair idea – I’ve been teaching for over 10 years and I’m as high up the ladder (both in terms of rank and pay scale) as you can get before being classed as an administrator instead of an educator – but I don’t have a clue, so I going to wing it.

 

  1. Fake it til you make it (unless you don’t wanna).

 

See what I mean about not knowing what I want to say?

 

I guess what I’m putting out here is that teaching is like acting. Note that I’ve used a simile rather than a metaphor, so it’s not a strong comparison. Teaching is not acting in that you go into a class and pretend to be someone you’re not – kids see through that junk pretty quickly. But, we do find ourselves in a variety of positions where we don’t feel comfortable. These situations range from teaching subjects of which we have little to no knowledge to the death of students and other tragic circumstances. In some of these instances it really pays to put on a front and pretend that you know what you’re doing – the students are looking to you to guide them through and any chink in your armour is going to unnerve them. At other times students can be buoyed by frank admissions of uncertainty. If teachers could be replaced by robots it would have happened already; Khan Academy and other providers churn out hundreds of self-paced lessons students can follow. What young people really need, however, is humanity. That’s why you can’t be an actor the whole time you’re teaching. Instead, you just be the version of you that is needed at that time.

 

  1. Muscle, muscle, muscle, flex!

 

Thanks Terry Crews and Old Spice for the wording.

 

Muscle here refers to hard work and training. Teaching is hard work and, generally, only people within the profession have a true understanding of that. Yes, the official hours are short and the holidays look good on paper but there’s so much people don’t consider. As an English teacher my marking load is horrendous – a ‘small’ task might be a 500 word short story and, with up to 32 students in any given class, that’s potentially 16,000 words of nonsensical dribble, misspellings and poor punctuation. For ONE class. I teach four classes now but at one point I taught six. SIX.

 

Let’s not even talk about the fact that teachers try to educate up to 32 hormonal, disinterested, argumentative, lazy (and, for some of them, unmedicated) teenagers at a time when I’ve heard some parents complain about having to deal with their own 2-3 children.

 

As I said, it’s hard work.

 

There’s also mountains of policy and paperwork, planning and professional development that impact on a teacher’s time.

 

If muscle is in relation to work load, then flex is about flexibility.

 

I was actually asked recently what would be the best advice I could give a beginning teacher, I said this:

 

The best lesson you will ever give is the one where what you have on your lesson plan doesn’t/can’t work.

 

What I meant was multilayered. On one hand I was saying that sometimes even the best planned lessons fall apart and the reflection you do afterwards can be one of the most invaluable learning experiences for a teacher. On another hand I was saying that shit happens (the internet is down, the resources go missing, the kids are tired/hyperactive, your lesson is cut in half by a last minute assembly) and sometimes that can mean that what you had planned is no longer the best option for that class and you have to revert to plan B – which might not have even existed before you opened the door to let the kids in.

 

The best teachers are highly flexible; they can explain concepts a dozen different ways, they have a repertoire of activities and strategies for all occasions and they can teach effectively regardless of their physical environment – on that last point, my office consists of people who teach English in cramped little science labs and ‘retreats’ and who teach drama in classrooms and cafeterias; you make do with what you’ve got.

 

  1. It doesn’t suck to be you.

 

Honest. And, sure, this message already cropped up in point 1 but I’ve already admitted this isn’t a well thought out, formatted blog post.

 

Jim Henson said a lot of cool stuff. When you finish reading this you should Google some of his quotes. I’ll put two in this post just to get you started.

JimHenson-KidsRememberWhatYouAre

Anyway, if you’ve decided to be a teacher it’s because you have a particular masochistic desire demeanour. You are compassionate, enthusiastic, creative, dedicated, curious, humble, wise, connected, courageous and conscientious. So why hide this? Why hide who you are in a classroom?

 

I openly talk about my past, present and future. I geek out. I crack jokes. I talk footy. I’m honest. And I know this approach works.

 

Here’s part of a Facebook status from last week:

 

I ran into an ex-student today who proudly pointed me out to his workmates. He had a bad run last year (getting arrested twice) and has been in a few fights in his time but he was genuinely happy to see me. It was a good reminder of the sort of kids I got into teaching to help; I don’t deal with them as much now but I started in education with a desire to support the underdog.

 

Most of the comments attached to this, including one from my uncle, were about teachers who were personable and the lasting impact they have left. I’m pretty darn proud to be talked of like that and I hope to continue having a positive influence on people for years to come.

 

It’s probably also worth mentioning that being personable and friendly with students doesn’t mean being their friends. It’s also important that they know their boundaries.

 

  1. Rebel, rebel.

 

😦

RIP David Bowie

 

Rita Pierson speaks to my heart in her TED talk and one of the things she says is, “we’re listening to policy that doesn’t make sense, and we teach anyway”.

 

You’ve got to risk it to get the biscuit. In an education sense, what you risk is the wrath of administrators/parents/colleagues/the department in order to get cream-centred, chocolate self-worth. Okay, maybe the metaphor didn’t quite work.

 

Anyone can administer a test. If all you get into teaching for is to measure a student up against marking criteria then you’re in the wrong job. The last part of my Facebook status above asked, “When did I stop caring if kids failed?” It’s a trick question – I never cared. Honestly, there are a truck load of things more important than marks. It was in my status because I felt like recently I’ve been letting students choose to disengage too easily as part of a greater good/majority rules approach to classroom management but if you look at it from another perspective then what I really want to ask is why grades are all some people care about.

 

The drop everything, spend a misguided fortune attitude to school is an administrator’s approach. Educators should realise that teaching to the test is not teaching at all. What are the students really learning? Sometimes you need to consider that a little rebellion goes a long way and building better people, as opposed to religiously following the curriculum, is one of those times where being a maverick is beneficial to everyone.

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Wow. You stuck around for the post-credits scene like this is my very own Marvel movie.

 

So, I don’t know if I actually said anything of note. This was probably a rambling mess of loosely connected advice interspersed with self-promoting dribble. Let’s cut to the chase…

 

Here’s my goal… I want to make the world a better place by helping people be better versions of who they are when I first meet them.

henson

Here’s what I want to tell beginning teachers… if you don’t love the job, the kids will smell it on you and eat you alive.

 

No.

Wait.

Here’s what I want to tell beginning teachers… the true impact you can have on this world is immeasurable and many of the kids who will be thankful for the influence you have on their lives will never tell you how important you are. Believe in yourself, be yourself and treat every students as though they can be someone special (because they already are special but they also need to be humble so don’t let them know it yet).