Thursday, March 22, 2012

How Do You Get Better?

This week I saw an interview of Anne Hathaway, conducted by Charlie Rose. Rose asked a simple yet elegant question: "How do you get better?" Quick on her feet, she immediately replied: "I go to the theater. I watch Meryl Streep movies. I watch other people's work." I was really impressed with her answer. To lean on a cliche, we are all a work in progress. None of us are perfect. We can always get better at what we do. But how?

I related to Hathaway's answer in that I occasionally observe my colleagues teach. So, to get better, I go to the classroom. Fortunately, my position as chairperson for a period of five years afforded me opportunities to see other people teach. I always picked up a trick or two: a new way of asking a question, a different way of using space in the classroom, a technique for engaging students, etc. We all know it's easy to get stuck in a rut. Watching other people do their thing helps us to get better at doing our thing. I'm not chairperson any longer (and I notice a corresponding decrease in headaches) but I still peep into classrooms occasionally and linger outside classroom doors. That's not as weird as it sounds. Hathaway goes to the theater, I go to the classroom. But I can't buy a ticket to the classroom, so I hang outside so as not to intrude. But I still get to see other people in action. In what ways do they present information? How do they talk with students? What do they do well? What could they do better? What were missed opportunities? There's so much to see and observe.

I taught my first class in the fall of 1998. All these years later, I know one thing: I don't have it all figured out when it comes to teaching. None of us do. We work at our craft, work at being our best, and strive for those beautiful moments when learning is in the air. It's hard to describe when the learning happens (and we know that it often "happens" outside the classroom) yet we've all had that "aha" moment when something good happened. Teaching, like acting, is an art. To get better requires constant work and practice.

So, how do you get better?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Possible Campaign Slogans for 2012

Just having a little fun on a Friday. I'm thinking about possible slogans as the presidential campaign continues.

1. Obama: Change You Can Almost Believe In

2. Obama: Of Course I Was Born In America: How Else Could I Be So Good At Talking About Sports?

3. Santorum: What Was So Bad About 1950?

4. Santorum: The Separation Between Church And State Is Totally Overrated

5. Romney: I Can Make Change -- For A Lot Of Hundred Dollar Bills

6. Romney: Don't Tell Anyone I'm Actually Only A Little To The Right Of Obama

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Good Day in the Life

5:50 a.m. Time to wake up, little Mack is ready to start the day. Ten minutes later, Troy comes down the stairs. I convince him to go back to bed for a few more minutes. By 6:30, Tina's up to get ready for work. She makes pancakes for Troy and is out the door by 8:00. Mack is already tired because getting up at 5:50 doesn't agree with him, but he does it every morning anyway. I put him down for a nap by 8:30. Troy and I make scrambled eggs, eat, then read a few books and do a few puzzles together. A little after 9:00, some guy shows up about a few home improvement projects we need completed. I thought he was coming tomorrow. No problem, Troy likes when anyone comes over, so he starts chatting up the contractor about camping and umbrellas. I'm still in my pajamas. The guy probably thinks I'm a real jerk. After he leaves, Troy watches a little TV and plays Angry Birds on the Kindle.

Mack's up around 10:30. Hmmm, what to do with a 1-year-old and 4-year-old on a 30 degree day? Yesterday we went to the library, the day before to the supermarket, what's left? The play area at the mall? Well, we did that Sunday, but I'm out of ideas. I put together a diaper bag (meaning I toss a diaper, wipes, and bottle of milk into a plastic grocery store bag) and we take off for the mall. They play for a bit and enjoy themselves. I take a picture on my cell phone. Troy looks like he's slapping Mack, but he's actually being gentle with his little brother. When they finish up, we eat lunch at the food court--Subway, lunch of champions. After our quick eats, we stroll through the mall, then head home.

I play peek-a-boo with Mack while Troy watches TV. I wash dishes, play with Mack, turn off the TV, then make sure the boys play nice together. "Be careful" I say, first to Mack, then to Troy, and realize I constantly warn them to be careful. I wonder if this will influence them to avoid risks in their adult lives, or throw caution to the wind instead. By 2:00 it's time for Mack's afternoon nap, so I put him down, then finish washing dishes, and take a Tylenol to stop the headache that's approaching. Troy and I color some pictures together. I color inside the lines, so does he. Is conformity genetic?

Mack wakes up after an hour. I microwave some peas and carrots and put him in his high chair. He throws the peas off his tray, which Troy runs over with his Batmobile. Good job, everyone. We have to leave soon because Troy has a medical appointment (another story for another time). I get ready, meaning I throw on a baseball cap. In getting the boys ready, a comedy of errors ensues. If this were a reality TV show, you'd only see the next ten minutes, with me starring in the role of the stumbling bumbling father. I get us back on track and we head out the door to meet Tina, who's meeting us directly from work.

The appointment goes well. Tina is with Troy during the appointment, while I hang out with Mack in the waiting room. Sociable Mack charms everyone for the next twenty minutes. When the appointment's done, it's dinner time. We're a parking lot away from the Anchor Bar, where chicken wings were born. Tina and I haven't been there in at least five years, so we figure what the hell, why not? Dinner is unhealthy and uneventful. Check please! Mack is ready to roll, so I take off with him while Tina settles the bill. We all meet home and get the boys ready for bed. Around 7:00, Tina puts Mack to bed while I wash bottles (a 1-year-old goes through quite a few bottles of milk in a day). Next is snack time for Troy, and the three of us relax until his 8:00 bedtime.

While Tina takes Troy upstairs and covers the bedtime routine, I work on this blog. The day is coming to a close. It's been a good day, as measured by the lack of bumps and bruises. No tantrums, no drama--I could use more days like this one! When Tina comes back downstairs, we watch a little TV and I finish up this blog. The clock strikes 9:00, and we're exhausted. Time for bed.


Author's note: this is a work of non-fiction.