Extraordinary People

Like a lot of realists, I get called a cynic a lot.  I see the darker side of human nature, and while I have a good sense of humor, many folks think my sense of humor can be pretty grim.

So I decided to post today about my extraordinary people.   Students, teachers, mentors, and friends.    I have too many to list comfortably in a single post, so I’ll need to come back to this topic.   Today, I would like to focus on extraordinary students.

  • J___ was a single father who I taught several years back.   He had previously had some run-ins with the law but was trying to put his life together again.   During the time I taught him,  he worked hard and kept up with his school work.   There were times he had to leave class early to care for his young son, and he was incredibly apologetic for this.   He also lost his home midway through the term.   He arranged for more time on the shelter computer to finish his schoolwork, and completed the course.    He was very dedicated to completing his schooling so he could be a better person and father.
  • S___ was a woman who was brilliant and bullied because she was pretty.   Easily one of the most intelligent students I’ve had the pleasure of helping, many of her classmates mistreated her.   To my knowledge, she never said an unkind word about anyone.
  • Another student, J___ was a single mom and was fairly math-phobic.   She worked over 100 extra credit hours in a single quarter, aced every single exam and homework assignment, and continued to do this for the rest of her college career.  As I understand it, she is currently pursuing a degree in math.

In addition to which, there are the hundreds of students who were working for degrees after hours, making better lives for themselves and their families.   Some only needed my class to finish their degree, many moved on to bigger and brighter things.

To all of my amazing and wonderful students:   I am proud of you.   You make my job worthwhile.



Being a teacher is more than just a job.   Teaching will take every erg of energy you throw at it… and no matter what, there will always be more that you can do.

But teachers are human too.   No matter how we try to be super-teachers, we have lives that sometimes get … complicated.   This may seem like a lead up to an apology for posting sporadically over the last month.   If that is what you thought, then you are right.  I have been overwhelmed and I haven’t kept up on posting.  Sorry.

Among other things, my apartment flooded. After a very damp and squishy night keeping the waters at bay, I had the usual complement of students to care for, classes to teach, and stacks of grading to do.  Self care took a back seat for a while, which was a mistake.

The world never stops, no matter how much we need a break.

After things calmed down, I had planned to write about the attacks from ISIS on Paris … but my friends asked me to wait, to post something fun, but my brain was blank.   I know it is illogical, but I wish I hadn’t waited to post in light of the mass shooting in San Bernardino.   Perhaps they were right, it was too depressing.  I don’t like to admit it, but I have limits and I was reaching mine.   My voice isn’t that loud in the world, but I hope it is heard by some folks.

I *will* be posting on those touchy subjects in the weeks to come.   I’m even happy to give you a preview of the content:   Resist.   Talk to the Muslims in your life, and let them know that they have your support.   Bad people can do horrible things in the name of what you believe in. That doesn’t mean that they represent you or your beliefs, even if they do share a name.   Don’t play to the narrative that Daesh has set up.   And do not give up your freedoms.   It isn’t for love of Mohammed, or Allah, or anything – giving up your freedom is losing.  Living well is the best revenge.   So keep talking, keep exchanging ideas, and pity the fools who think they know the mind of god.  Good ideas can stand up to questions.   Bad ideas cannot be supported, and only violence can carry them forward.

… {later} …

Being a teacher is a job that never stops.   I have good students who want to better their lives, and bad students who need to learn life lessons in order to better themselves (before math lessons can be learned).   Students who need help, and family and friends who need me too.   And I need them just as much.

Being a teacher is more than a job. It is a labor of love.   And I won’t ever stop, because as much as my students need me, I need them too.

Next week I will be on to cheerier subjects, like music to grade finals to.


I want to know who he shot, to honor their memory.  I don’t want to know his name.   I just know how these stories end.

Let me back up.

I was driving to teach a class when I heard the news out of Oregon.   A shooting at Umpqua College, in Oregon… reports were unconfirmed, and the numbers kept changing.   Ten dead, twenty injured… then seven dead.   They said they had the shooter, then we hear that he was “neutralized” (whatever that means).

My commute is long.  I heard a lot of this.   I was out of sorts teaching my class that afternoon.

By the evening, people stopped reacting to the tragedy and tried to do something with it.   Parents were being interviewed, telling secondhand stories.  Commentators were already trying to make sense of the shooting and speculating on the shooters motives.   By the morning, politics had entered the scene.   People for and against gun control, people who want to paint some agenda on the shooter.

I want schools to be safe.   They should be.   They need to be, if anyone is going to learn.   They need to be so we can outgrow this crap.

Here is what I know is going to happen:

  • There will be gun control protests.
  • There will be gun rallies (not likely in the town, but in the capitol).
  • Christians will claim they are being persecuted, regardless of the religious identity of the shooter.
  • Both presidential campaigns will talk about the shooting extensively, using the outrage and sympathy for their own goals.
  • Students from the school will be endlessly interviewed, and asked to relive that day.
  • There will be a TV special about the “heroes” of the day.   Eventually, they will be revealed as humans with flaws.

And a year from now not much will have changed.   We will have new tragedies to mourn, and a presidential circus to distract us.   And the Olympics.   And… and… and…

…and I don’t want to know about the shooter.  I want to know who he shot.   Simply put, there is no sense to be made of this:  celebrate the lives of the fallen, and mourn them if you need to.   Mourn the twisted mind of the shooter who decided this was how he was going to make his mark on the world.

I’m a teacher.   I mourn the loss of those students, of their hopes, of their dreams, and of the loss of peace on campuses across the US.

Now, I’m just exhausted and heartsore.

Engaging tough topics, teacher style

This is an article I wrote over a year ago and decided not to post because it wouldn’t have helped the conversation at the time.   I came across it and decided it was still relevant, sadly.   A lot of things have been said about sexism, but there is also a lot be said about communication.

Outrage is energizing, but it can also alienate potential allies.  At the time, the outrage touched a nerve and I felt compelled to speak.

Here is what I said…

I have been bombarded lately by things with news about the Isla Vista killings.   Article after article after article talking about misogyny, women’s rights, men’s rights, and everything.   I had decided earlier that I wasn’t going to write anything about it.   Not because I don’t have anything relevant to say, but because I’m a guy, and I don’t want to be the guy “speaking from a position of privilege” about “stuff I don’t know.”    The outrage has been palpable, as is evident in a lot of the articles I’ve read.    Something in me finally couldn’t take it anymore.

Let me be perfectly clear:    what happened was horrible, for the victims, for the families, and for the family of the shooter.   I am also a feminist with a resume of action and support.   I sincerely believe that women are still fighting for equality in this society (let alone in other cultures), and that the cultural values that we hand to both men and women are often unhealthy and untenable.   I am WITH women on this fight.

… and many of them are engaging in the discussion wrong.   Not everyone, but enough to put my teeth on edge.

What was being said was true.   And not helpful.   And often engaging in the same things that lead to lousy gender roles and misogyny, only in reverse.   I’ve been writing lately about critical thinking lately, so here is some of mine:

It isn’t men vs. women.   It is human.

Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual.    Everyone on the planet is trying to figure things out on their own.

Now being human has its own needs:   food, water, shelter,  sex and security.   Notice that I put sex in there?    We are mammals, and whether we like it or not there is a biological imperative to reproduce.   But we immediately follow that up with “security.”   Now, we have communities that have survived the test of time.  But they aren’t perfect…  parents try to give to their offspring a blueprint for roles in life.

Those roles kind of suck.   They are a work in progress.   Please, please, please,  let us keep working on them.

Any culture or institution that gets control of how we think of these things is immensely powerful.   Control how people eat?   Power.   Control peoples sense of security or fear?   Power.   Control or deny sexuality?   Power.

Many people couple thought with action.   To some people, thinking is as bad as doing.   That is the trap.

Men are not the enemy

Let me tell you a personal story.   I grew up with a single mom (and I also hit the mom jackpot…),  and I attribute my love of strong women to her and my family.    When I was growing up, my mom had a nice big circle of friends.   Some of her women friends would get together and talk, and on more than one occasion I heard the phrase “All men are scum.   Except for you, Colin.”   Not from my mother herself, but her friends.   People who were important to her and to me.   I understand the feeling that was behind the statement, I even understand the (attempted) amendment on my behalf.    It was still alienating and offputting to be lumped in with “scum”, and the backpedal felt just like a backpedal.   It took a long time for me to reconcile the hurt that they were obviously feeling with the undeniable fact that I was male.   It took a long time, but I came to like who I am and define for myself what being a man really means.     I recognize that they were pushing back against the horrible expectations that had been put upon them.

I believe that all people, female and male, have inherent worth.   I believe that “no means no”, that stop is an order, and that anyone who tries to make sexual demands on a woman simply because she is female is a sick and dangerous individual.   All women are to be respected.

But nobody every told me that it works both ways.  Ever.

Men are victims of the culture as well.    I never valued being a man.   We hear phrases all the time that supposedly have some meaning, but the context for these things have changed so radically, we need to re-define for ourselves what it means to be a man.    “Man-up”, “Man-handle” or even simply “be a man”.   How degrading is it to have these things pushed at us, without any regard for what are the expectations are for men.

What I have learned about being a man is this:  it is a good thing.   I love my body, its quirks, and the pleasure it gives me.   I value being physically strong, and I know that being physically strong doesn’t detract from my intelligence or sensitivity.   I learned that men can be beautiful and sexy, not just women.  I learned that being a man doesn’t mean having to automatically defer to women, just because she hasn’t spoken up yet.   I’ve learned that it is okay to be a sexual being, and that desiring someone isn’t sick or wrong.   I’ve learned that on dates I’m not simply a wallet with a funny personality attached.    Being hairy doesn’t make me stupid, or unattractive.   That I can receive just as well as give.   For me, being a man means that I enjoy being a warrior, a protector to my friends and family; and that being a protector doesn’t mean that I can’t nurture.
Having a penis does not relegate me to role of a wallet on legs,  to being sexually unappreciative of my partners,  that I don’t have be the provider, or that I’m supposed to stoically hide my feelings.    I get to define what my role is.    My partners get to define what their roles are.   THAT is the way it should be.
Let me be clear:   both genders have horrible roles and expectations, and women clearly have the short end of the stick.   Expectations around appearance, capabilities, and roles for women are still nowhere near equal to men.   The fact that these are improvements from previous roles are terrible, and a world of work needs to be done.
The thing that we need to remember is that whatever your gender, everyone has a story to tell.   And more people need to be on board if we want to make cultural changes stick.

Changing culture and making allies… mostly

Not everyone can be an ally.   When making cultural changes, it doesn’t pay to preach to the fringes.   The feminist side already knows the problems that need fixing, and the chauvinist side would rather return to the 1950’s without Rosie the Riveter.  The people who need to be moved are the center.   The people who are otherwise indifferent or put off by either side.

I’m a teacher at heart.   I believe that change starts with education.   And that the lessons that people learn are those that they teach themselves.

There are men who are so completely off the rails that they believe that they are entitled to sex with women, anytime and anywhere (that was Elliot Rodger’s and his cronies complaint).  Misogyny is a cultural problem, and many men have a false sense of being a victim.     You know what helps the fight?   Let chauvinists talk.   So many of them are self-important, entitled assholes… the best thing that you can do is to poke the bear and stand back.   Let them say what they have to say.  By they time they are done, they will have succeeded in proving that changes need to happen.

That is when reasonable voices can take the stage.   Outrage at this point just would serve to polarize, but the acknowledgement that those men have been speaking the same line of crap for years.  Women can stand up as leaders, as people who don’t deserve to be marginalized.   Men can stand up and ask to be supporters, and can change their own roles as well.   And finally those institutions, religions, and groups that try to use gender and sexuality as a means of social power will either change, or lose their popular approval and into the lunatic fringe where they belong.

Positive change can happen for everyone… but only if we stop vilifying each other and can listen and work together.   Both sides can win only when we can agree to meet in the middle, and keep the discussion alive.


Postscript:    In retrospect, I can see why the very polarized discussion can be helpful.   Anger is a useful  emotion, it is an impetus for change and can be very unifying.    But ultimately, setting aside baggage needs to happen before anyone can change.

I’ll step down off my soap box now, and return us to our regularly scheduled Summertime fun.

Now go out there and change the world.   Or change your mind about something.  Same difference.

Why I Teach

“It takes courage to grow up and be who you really are.”  e e cummings

I love to teach. *

I love it because I enjoy learning, and I love it because I can pass on what I’ve learned as well as my passion for learning.

Being a teacher is a lot more than being a subject matter expert. You not only need to understand your subject, you need to understand how your students view that subject. You also need to be able to influence their views of it. I find that the barriers that most people have with mathematics aren’t from lack of ability. Most people can grasp math concepts. Instead, people struggle with social or psychological barriers that keep them from learning and enjoying math. My job is to teach math concepts while helping my students get more comfortable with learning. Here is how I typically teach my classes: engage the students, present them with concepts and skills to practice, and reinforce their new skills with feedback and support.

A big part of engaging the students is personality.  My students love my enthusiasm and clarity in the classroom.  I am acutely aware that I can give students information, but they are the ones responsible for learning it.  I am responsible for making the work palatable and outlining their skills and set of knowledge required to succeed.  It requires clear communication and keeping things entertaining and engaging.  My main goals are:  (1) get the students invested by encouraging their intrinsic curiosity and (2) appealing to their self-interest as a drive to learn.   Once they have these traits, they build the habits of independent and lifelong learning.

Inside the classroom, being a good teacher is about giving accessible information and creating a strong classroom community. I like giving students a forgiving place to try out new skills and ask questions.  Patience is more than a virtue, it is an utter necessity! Organized lectures and class discussions are also a necessity. Planned discussions are good, but I also find that the discussions that come out of student questions are equally beneficial. Some students need more challenging material, while others need to focus on basics. It helps that I am able to judge the class’ demeanor, and teach responsively. Are they interested or bored?  Will alternative techniques help them learn?   How quickly can they grasp the skills/concepts that I am teaching?  What changes will keep the class active without being disruptive?

Outside of the classroom, being a good teacher is about preparation and giving useful feedback.   I go to great lengths to provide helpful and positive feedback for the students.   To learn from their mistakes, students first need to know about them, and they need to have tools they can use in the future. Negative feedback isn’t helpful, and I have found that students need both encouragement and empowerment to be able to succeed. The work I assign and the feedback I give not only reinforces the concepts and skills we go over in class, it also encourages the students to be conscientious and responsible.

I love seeing my students learn.

ity in the classroom.   I am acutely aware that I can give students information, but they are the ones responsible for learning it.   With this in mind my job is to make the work palatable and clarify their needed skills and set of knowledge.  This is also why I believe that a necessary part of teaching is keeping things entertaining and engaging.   There are two main goals to this:  get the students invested by encouraging their intrinsic curiosity, and to engage their self-interest (and hopefully additional drive to learn).   Once they have these traits, they can go about fostering the habits of independent (and lifelong) learning.

Within the classroom, being a good instructor is about being engaging and giving accessible information. The difficulties that most people have in learning isn’t lack of information, it is in the presentation and the classroom community.   I like giving students a forgiving place to try out new skills and ask questions.   Patience is more than a virtue, it is an utter necessity!   Organized lectures and class discussions are also a necessity.   I find that the best (guided) discussions are the ones that appear to be spontaneous (but they don’t need to be!).       It also helps to be able to judge the class’ demeanor.   Are they interested or bored?    Will alternative techniques help them learn?   How quickly can they grasp the skills/concepts that you are teaching?    What changes will keep the class engaged without being disruptive?

Outside of the classroom, being a good teacher is about preparation and giving useful feedback.   I go to great lengths to provide helpful and positive feedback for the students.   People learn from their mistakes, but first they need to know about them, and have a better tool or technique to help them in the future.   Negative feedback isn’t helpful, and I have found that students need both encouragement and empowerment to be able to succeed.    The work I assign and the feedback I give not only reinforces the concepts and skills we go over in class, it also encourages the students to be conscientious and responsible.

I love to teach, because I love to see my students learn.



*  Note:  for those of you who know, this is my semi-official “teaching philosophy”  statement.   But I thought it was possibly worth sharing.   People who have read my blog for a while will recognize all of the pieces of this, but this is my condensed teaching philosophy.

Now, I go to teach the hell out of my Summer quarter class.

Hungry Minds

Two questions have plagued me for my entire life.  How and why?

Before curiosity kills it, the cat learned more of the world than a hundred uninquisitive dogs.  ~Tom Robbins

There are two things that I always associate with intelligence:   perception and curiosity.   Awareness of the world is a trait that is undervalued, I think.   Beyond that, the desire to know more is what drives people to learn – not just because it means that they will be more skilled, have better job prospects, or whatnot.   Just the desire to know for the sake of knowing.

“I don’t know” isn’t an admission of weakness, it is a first step towards strength… if you choose to.   Curiosity drives exploration.   The thirst for knowledge will drive a person to find new answers.  And along the way, new questions.  Eventually, if you search long enough and hard enough you either find the answers you are looking for, or you can find out that there aren’t answers.  Yet.


Curiosity filled the cat

I like questions in my classes.   A class is supposed to be a safe place to learn… and I know that I’ve had a few challenging students who just wanted to know.   I remember those students far more than those who just wanted to get through to get their degree.

Curiosity isn’t just a first step, it is a bonfire, burning in the leather armchair of the soul.   It doesn’t let you get comfortable.    I know how to ask questions better now than I ever did… but eventually I come back to the basics:  How?   Why?   And I want my students to keep asking questions – I know that it is difficult to keep letting them at times.   Admittedly I also know that students in my developmental math classes may not go on to find the secrets of the universe, but I like to think I can help the overcome their fears about asking the questions they’ve wanted to ask.

I want them to keep asking: How?   Why?

And as for myself… I’ll keep searching for answers.


Life Lessons

There is something sad about finals.   I’m proud of my students, they have worked hard, and (mostly) pulled through.   It hurts when I see a student struggle or fail… but I know that I can’t learn for them.   At best I can put the tools in their hands, and hope.

Always respect a woman with a knife

Some lessons hurt more than others, but, hey… it beats the alternative.   I think I’m going to share some of the life lessons that I have learned over the years.   Soooo, in no particular order:

  • Don’t die.   Every other “rule” is just a suggestion.
  • Failure will teach you more than success will.
  • Being intelligent, smart, and wise are different things.
  • Always respect a woman with a knife.   (Corollary:  assume all women are armed)
  • Pay rent first.
  • Never ask a question if you can’t take no for an answer.
  • Do you feel like the universe owes you something?  Congratulations, you exist.  The rest is up to you.
  • Avoiding all risks isn’t wisdom,  it rather connotes cowardice.  (Corollary:  takings risks isn’t bravery, it is better to learn WHEN to take risks.)
  • Information will fix ignorance.   Only death cures stupidity.
  • Being smart is not enough.   You need to work too.   Understanding people is also helpful.
  • Isn’t it funny how “God’s Will” or “God’s Judgement” coincides with that of the speaker?
  • Listen to your partner.   They are probably looking out for either your interest, or theirs (and both should be important to you).
  • There is no such thing as a right without a corresponding responsibility.
  • “No” is a good answer.   If a person is capable of telling you “no”, it validates their ability to say “yes”.
  • Ignorance is uncomfortable.
  • Two things that everyone thinks they are good at, and everyone needs to practice:  communication and sex.
  • Being nice is not the same as being good.  (Corollary:  it’s important to know when being good means not being nice).
  • Laugh at yourself.
  • Survive long enough to live again.


Some lessons are still in progress… but these are generally what I try to live by.

I’ve had some fantastic teachers in my life, I also need to thank them:  Sharon (my Mom, my best teacher, and my hero) , Maurice and Helen (my grandfolks), Sarah (best described as “partner in crime”),  Tim (one of the funniest Vulcans you could ever meet),  Kirsten (who is still actual size, but seems much bigger),  Heather (I’m sorry, still),  Selina (who keeps me around for some reason),   also Hillary,  Bonnie, Dr. Mary Ellen Ryder, Dr. Andrea Dobson, Bob Firmann,  Evan Ewalt, and more amazing people than I can possibly name.

I would be a poor student if I didn’t try to pass it on.

So tag.  You’re it.

Reflections on being an Evil Genius

without evil


I’m an evil genius, and proud of it.

Is that vain of me?  Probably.  Do I care what you think?   You may want to ask if  I respect you enough to care about your opinion.   If so, I will listen to you.   I may not change, but I will listen.   In all honesty, I strive for the “evil” part of this equation.  Being a genius is a documented fact  (the byproduct of lucky genetics and having effective education), and is nothing to be especially proud of.

The difference between being Evil and being Bad

To me there is a huge difference between being evil, and just being bad.

I equate being “bad” with being ineffectual, lazy, dull, inane, stupid, or willfully ignorant.  Bad people are the kind of people who never admit to being wrong, or even worse, they never doubt that they are right (regardless of the facts).   Bad people will harm others without a second thought.  Selfishness, apathy, uncaring and disinterest are traits of bad people, but evil is … different.

Evil isn’t passive, it is engaged.   An active, intelligent force that will adapt itself to overcome obstacles.   Evil truly CARES!

Evil may be sadistic, but it is sadistic with an intention beyond the simple infliction of pain.  Every hurt is aimed at crafting some greater goal. The glee that you feel from being evilly sadistic isn’t just for the sake of the pain, but for the direction it is taking you.

Ultimately, it challenges the very foundations of what you believe and accept.   When it hits an obstacle, it will adapt.   When it hits a boundary, evil will test it to it’s limits.   Yes, being evil is impolite, but evil never rests.   Evil is self reflective, loathing its own weaknesses and striving to overcome them.   Yes, evil people often times have a rapier wit that can leave others bleeding, but they will direct it at themselves as much as others.

I think that why people don’t like evil is because growing hurts.

On being Good, and why being good can be bad

Being a good person is supportive, empathic, caring, and often nurturing.   There is nothing wrong with this on the surface, we all need care and support!

The problem arises when people are thoughtlessly good, and end up supporting bad behavior.   Actions borne out of the desire to help often do harm.   With the best of intentions, you can make people weaker by removing obstacles that will make them grow.    Empathy that cannot bear to see a person hurt, robs another person of the growth that comes from overcoming pain.     Nurturing that is aimed at building another person up, can have the effect of creating dependence and weakness.

Have you seen what happens to kids with “helicopter” parents?    The kids will never know that they can fail if they don’t do enough.   Mediocre efforts are awarded high praise.   In the worst cases, spoiled children turn into spoiled adults.   The entitlement these people feel is horrible and revolting.

Personally, I think every child should have skinned knees and burned fingers … sometimes.   And for the spoiled adults:  I personally want to watch them forced with the choice of feeding themselves or going to the doctor because they are dangerously sick.   Irony sucks, doesn’t it?

Love is Evil

“Love” is an emotion that people try to paint as a happy emotion, the pinnacle of all emotions.   Some folks equate love with companionship, but selfishly clinging to another out of fear of loneliness isn’t love.   Jealousy isn’t a symptom of love either, it is simply a symptom of insecure neuroses.   Many people make that mistake.    Love does not demand to be returned,  loneliness and desire do.

Love isn’t desire, it isn’t sex, and you won’t always recognize it when you see it.

The painful truth is that love has a dark side.

The truth about love?     Love is not always kind to those who feel it.   To truly love means to care deeply, but not impose your own needs or desires on the loved.   It means to desire the happiness and well-being of another, without regard to our own happiness.  Love is not blind, it makes you see the flaws of another and forces you to accept them.   It forces you to grow… and if you are lucky, you can be a part of that other persons life and you can both become better, but only at the other persons behest.    Love only feels good when you love someone and are loved back.

To experience love is to accept uncomfortable truths about ourselves.   Love hurts so good.   It is often painful, occasionally harmful, and it will push your limits.

Love will either make you grow, or it will break you in the process.   And that is why I say that love is evil.

Think about it.


Which brings me back to my original statement:   I am an evil genius,  and proud of it.

Love is evil, and sometimes, evil is love.   So when I say I’m an evil math professor, I’m really saying that I care and I want my students to be happy and succeed.   And even though I am exasperated at times, I am happy you are in my life.   Thank you.   I only hurt you because I care.



P.S.    Yes, I know I’m not using the dictionary definitions of good, bad, and evil.    These are reflections on my own idiosyncratic thinking.      I also make these conceptional distinctions between the ideas of  cute, pretty, attractive, and beautiful.    Or the distinctions between smart, clever, and wise.

I probably think too much.   *shrug*   I like my brain.

Teaching Ennui

Teachers are people who inspire, give valuable lessons, help people to their goals.   We push people’s limits, make them grow, give them skills and tools.   And we do it day in, day out.  We are more than subject matter experts, we are mentors, entertainers, and therapists with a command of how people learn.   Our explicit job is to make people BETTER.  And we do this day in and day out,  week in and week out, nurturing others.

Meh.goldfish memory

There is the very first part of that statement.   “Teachers are PEOPLE…”   Some days, we don’t want to get out of bed.   There are days when I don’t feel motivated to do anything other than play Xbox in my pyjamas, let alone teach.   This is also magnified with the fact that we live in a culture that doesn’t really value teachers that much (if you are reading this in another country, this may not be the case, but the U.S.A. doesn’t pay it’s educators very well).    Sometimes I get bored, or discouraged, or feel undervalued.   Teaching and nursing have high rates of burnout for a reason.   We demand a lot from these professions, and don’t give much back.  Who heals the healers?   Who nurtures the nurturers?

And you work through it.   Because you have to.

There are days when teaching is just a job.   When I only show up because I am paid to do it, and not because I love it.  On those days that I’m not feeling it, I’m happy that I have put in the work I have previously, because I can coast for a little while.   But autopilot is the enemy, because it keeps us from thinking and choosing.

I *do* love to teach.   There are times when a student looks up and tells you that they get it.  Or that they never knew that they could like math.   Or that they feel smart, and that they had never had that feeling before.    Those are the moments that remind me of why I teach.   But I love all of it, the good and the hard, all together.   Being conscious of these things is important.

Teaching is a labor of love, but it is still a labor.   You learn to push through it, recharge your batteries, and/or change things in your classroom to revitalize a bit.  This isn’t unique to being teachers, it is implicit in being a human being.  I will also recommend things like “This is Water“, which punctuates this quite nicely.

We are people, not just teachers.

Thick Skin Paradox

Beneath my steely exterior beats a heart of molten concrete.

Let me start over… I have a confession to make.

I’m human. Which sucks, really, because it would be nice to be an inhuman monster more often.

One of the things that is necessary as a teacher is a thick skin. Teachers walk into a classroom full of people and are immediately outnumbered. Then we take a group of students, and IF EVERYTHING GOES ACCORDING TO PLAN, we will push their boundaries, test them, challenge their beliefs and change how their minds work. Teachers will give them work and more work, and often answer questions with questions. So it is not surprising that they get a little frustrated sometimes.

People have all sorts of coping mechanisms for stress, and anger/attack/fight/flight is a hardwired leftover from being cavemen who periodically needed to contend with Smilodon. And of course now our brains can’t always navigate the difference between dealing with a math test and being confronted with a saber-toothed-tiger. I have been shouted at, called a “dream killer”, physically intimidated, and been accused of being everything from “too nice” to a Nazi.

I signed up for this job.

And let me be clear: I love this job. Stress is often the price that people pay for making breakthroughs. I know that when students get angry or stressed, it is a symptom and not the problem itself. And you can only sit back and watch as they discover themselves what sort of people they are. My reactions to others outbursts are focused primarily on how it impacts others.

But here is the paradox: stoicism is not necessarily the best course. Being able to navigate the needs, the apathy, the wheedling and whining or the rage of a crowd of students can be physically and emotionally taxing. You develop a thick skin to cope, and you lose some of the fire a good teacher needs.

So here is the hard truth: it is okay to be hurt sometimes. It is part of life. In fact, it is an essential part of learning… which as teachers we need to keep doing too. (Incidentally: humor is my outlet. Not deep, but I can take something horrible and scary, disarm it and laugh it to death.)

So being human sucks. Sometimes.

… And I will never quit growing …

P.S. To the student who accused me of being “too nice,” I am laughing at you. I know how I spend my weekends.

P.P.S. Okay, I may be growing slowly.