Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Words of Wisdom and Whatnot.

I know, dear readers, that last time we met up in the Rage Cage I promised you a story.  And man, it was gonna be a good one.  So heartwarming, so emotionally charged, so filled with commas, that surely you would have turned into a gigantic, frothing mass of sugar and hugs, like a diabetic Care Bear.

It was a story about me and Lulu, the intrepid toddler whose adventures have been recounted here many a time, and with whom I have shared quite a few bonding moments over the past two years.  Here is a picture of us watching The Last Unicorn together.

This is the part in the movie where Lulu realized that if your hair is long enough, you don't have to wear clothes.  Whether she is freaked out or intrigued I can't be sure.

But I sold you all out, and contributed the story to the always wonderful Mama Congo blog instead.  They had promised to pay me in beer and baked peanuts, so I could not refuse.  But fear not, you can read my incredible guest column here (it’s like a two way cheap plug, hahaha!).  You should check it out.

Speaking of cheap plugs, my new book Endtyme: The Apocalypse and Me, is now available on Kindle for the super low price of 99 cents!  Huzzah!  Now, all of you cheap bastards should run out, buy it by clicking here, and leave a scathing (or purringly sexy) review on Amazon.  Every reviewer gets one free beer.  Oh, and feel free to send either hate mail or appreciative missives to let me know what you thought of the book.

Okay, now on to business.  I have two weeks left here in Congo and, as my teaching career winds down and starts to morph into a more administrative role,  I have been in one of those sexy, Big Lebowski flavored reflective modes.  Over the course of the last twelve years I have taught in four different countries, multiple subjects and grade levels, with varying degrees of sweat stains and pant tears.  I feel like, at some point, my experiences had to leave some sort of impression on my sordid mind.  What better way to move on than to share my delicious wisdom you,  my seven devoted Rage followers, those intrepid few who walk that rager’s edge (hee hee).

So, without further ado, here are my two tips for being an effective teacher.  Why only two?  Well, I mean c'mon- I'm pretty lazy.  With two you could write one on the knuckles of each fist like the "love/hate" biker guys.  Also, there are a million websites that specialize in tips, tricks, and inspirational verbiage of all kinds.  If you want to be motivated, go watch Dead Poet's Society.  Or Welcome Back Cotter.  The stuff I have written focuses more on survival and keeping your sanity relatively intact.  They come from the hard lessons I have learned along this labyrinthine journey we call education.    Feel free to steal them, tattoo them on your back Memento style, or use them as talking points at a staff meeting and promptly blame me when you're suspended.

1)  Maintain a "teacher face".
                We are all human beings, for sure.  We all have our own moments of doubt, anger, sadness, weird bubbling sounds, and turgid nacho consumption.  In a class room, though, we are the symbol of stability and safety for the sweaty little people in our charge.  The kids need to see that we are not at all crazy because they need to feel comfortable in the class with us.   Most of them go through enough madness at home.  Sometimes their only comfort is knowing that Mrs. Smith will be there with a smile, or Mr. Johnson won’t try to attack them with the aft end of a three hole punch.  Part of being a teacher is modeling, and a big part of modeling is showing that things are okay, or will soon be okay.  Even if it’s not entirely true.   On a daily basis our job is not to save the world.  It is to provide a safe haven, a place where a kid can run to, turn around, face the demons playing psycho tag with his will to live and lunch money and say, "I'm on base, you Lovecraftian bastards!"  
                Whatever madness you are going through, you need to check that at the door.  A mentor once told me something, back in my first year as a fresh faced young teacher wanna be: at times teaching is like playing a character.  So try, as best you can, to stay in that character.  These kids, especially the middle school ones, are emotional wrecks at least half the time, so we need to give them space to get away from that.  If you have an urge to put your head on the desk and cry, or rip off your clothes and run around quoting Abe Vigoda's lines from Look Whose Talking, that’s fine, but wait till you get home.  Or at least to your car.

2)  Laugh at yourself.
                Oh, for the love of God, have a sense of humor.  Teaching is, at heart, a pretty ridiculous job.  By that I mean that something absurd happens to you on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.  By way of illustration: in the course of a week a number of years ago I broke up two fights, was vomited on, had a student take a condom out of her cleavage and hand it to me, saw a parent making out with her daughter’s boyfriend at a bar, and spent 45 minutes cleaning my own blood off a few desks.  And this was while teaching middle school.  So, yes, it's true: teaching is super rewarding, life changing, Hallmarkian in scope, but it is also a job where your dignity gets taken outside and curb stomped on a fairly regular basis.  In light of this, you need to be able to step back and laugh at it all.  Especially at yourself.  The people who view themselves as some type of Deweyian avatar of educational justice, above reproach, tend to be ones who don’t last very long in the educational system.  Or if they do, they leave hundreds of frustrated teachers, parents, and students in their wake.  They teach, not for the students, but because it is affirming some idea of greatness they have created inside themselves.  Kids pick up on that.  The hardest thing for a lot of people to do is laugh at themselves and the situation around them, but to me that is the most important lesson to learn if you want to effectively reach people. 

                 Don’t believe me?  Look at the Dhali Lama, that enlightened son of a bitch.  Here is a guy who, whenever he opens his mouth, says something that blows my mind.  He is a spiritual powerhouse.   Hanging out with him is probably the emotional equivalent of living inside the script of Rocky 1.  And yet, he is also one of the most self-deprecating famous people I know.  He is always making jokes about what he doesn't know, doesn't understand, or is not very good at.  That is because he’s a teacher.  Perfection isn't inspiring, it’s alienating.

So there is my advice for any aspiring teachers out there.   Never let it be said that we don’t try to help the world with our Rage.  Any other teachers feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.  Each comment will get a free Teacher Appreciation Beer, which totally beats the usual plastic gewgaws one finds in their mailboxes during that week, usually with a picture of an apple or an owl on them and some weird educational quote.

 Awww, a cute little eraser . . . wait, is that supposed to be ironic, or?  

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Endtyme is Finished! Wow, That's a Weird Thing to Say . . .

So, what have I been up to?  Oh, not much, dear reader, but thanks for asking.  Mostly the usual: spider attacks, river bank beers, educating the masses, trying and failing to watch wrestling on Youtube.  Same old same old, as they say.  Well, except for one thing.

. . .

At this point I would assume an awkward silence has descended over the area around your computer.  Pretty much like the last third of every M Night Shyamalan movie ever.

So, anyway . . .

My new book is out!  It's called Endtyme: My Apocalypse and Me, and is my second full length novel (no big deal). It took me three years and three countries to write.  Started in Taiwan, made awesome whilst cavorting in Mallorca, and finished in Congo.  It was released on May 1st and is available to buy here.  There will be a Kindle version along shortly for you cheap sumbitches.  Check out the sexy cover art:

My brother can really rock the track pants.

It's a (hopefully) humorous story about the end of the world and one man's quest to crawl out of the wretched cycle of sweatpants and the kind of vodka that comes in plastic bottles.  Endtyme has already sold a whopping ten copies so you know there is some quality stuff there.  In addition, every purchase entitles the buyer to a free beer of their choice at some nebulously defined point in the future.

So yeah, I know this has been a pretty plug heavy edition of the rage cage, but I can make it up to you, dear reader.  I have at least two good stories to tell about events of the past week and shall pass them on to you in due course.  In the meantime, if you're cast adrift without my soothing words and witty insights to chart your path (sort of like Tom Hanks in Joe Vs the Volcano, after he is stranded on the luggage . . . man, what a great movie), then I know the perfect fix:  buy my book, you bastards.  If you don't like it I will give you three fist bumps and a Sam Adams.

Tune in next week when I will reveal the best line that should be in a romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore ever!