Friday, January 24, 2020

What Educators Can Learn From Punk Rock

I only took one photo at the show, the backdrop behind the stage prior to
Pennywise coming out to play.  However, I got quite the haul at the
merch booth; two of the albums were signed by the band!
I recently got to see a band that has been heavy on my playlists for the last 25 years or so, Pennywise.  Hailing from Hermosa Beach, California, Pennywise is a punk band that named themselves after the evil clown from Stephen King's "IT" and they have been cited by many bands as a musical influence.  I had never had the opportunity to see Pennywise previously and even after playing, touring, and releasing albums for over 30 years, the show was one that I will not forget for a long time.  The energy was through the roof and while they did not play many of the favorites that I hoped would be part of the setlist, every song was one that I was singing along to and many conjured up memories of days gone by.

Punk music most certainly has a reputation.  The "I don't care" attitude.  The anti-establishment sentiments.  Mohawks, leather, spikes, torn clothing.  Lyrics that are purposely offensive and shocking to most people.  Heavy guitars, bass, and drums in short bursts, with songs usually only lasting about two minutes.  While I have never embraced the "punk look" necessarily, the heavy sound and the message of many songs has been something that I have either agreed with or found comical since I was a preteen (while some may find them offensive and some of it is definitely NSFW, check out the lyrics to Shut Up Already by NOFX or 21st Century Digital Boy by Bad Religion for a couple of songs with funny lyrics).  As for political songs that punk bands (or any band for that matter) have put out, it really depends on the issue; if a song sounds good but I disagree with a message, I'll still listen to it.  

Now the question is this: what does my love for punk music and punk's reputation have to do with my career as an educator and how can punk make me and others better educators?  I want to highlight three major ideas to hopefully enlighten you, the reader, how punk can be an inspiration to our professional lives.  

Pennywise is a band that has always wrote songs with a positive, uplifting message behind them.  Their 1997 release, Full Circle, had many songs that had an anti-suicide message, songs that were written after their bass player, Jason Thirsk, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after years of problems with alcohol abuse.  Lyrics from songs like Wouldn't It Be Nice, It's Up to Me, Fight Til You Die, Broken, Straight Ahead, Badge of Pride, Keep Moving On, Live While You Can, and many more all highlight how one should never give up, take risks, work hard, and never take any day for granted.  We as educators should embrace the can-do spirit of these songs and instill that same spirit in our students.  These messages should also encourage one to take risks and try new things with lessons, technology, building relationships, etc.  

Pennywise also has many songs that play into the anti-establishment reputation of punk.  Many songs' lyrics question how free we really are as a people, encourages one to question authority and contemplates decisions that people have made and how those decisions have affected those people and their families and friends.  Vices, I Won't Have It, Society, American Dream, Land of the Free? and one definitely NSFW, F*ck Authority, are all great examples of the punk mantra of "sticking it to the man."  Now, please don't take this as me promoting and condoning blatant defiance of laws or authority figures, far from it.  However, in our professional lives and politically, we must be able to question things and have a civil discussion if we are to do what's best for ourselves, our students, and our society.  And we must be able to model this for our students to show them the way to disagree and discuss. 

Passion is probably what most epitomizes Pennywise and many other punk bands.  Punk bands put all of their energy into their music.  Punk shows are exactly that, a show; it's more than watching a band on the stage, it's about an experience of watching that passion bleed from the stage, the passion of those there to see the bands, and passion of those that love the music and movement of punk coming together as one.  While watching Jim, Fletcher, Randy, and Byron on stage, I was in awe of a group of men in their mid-50s still jumping around and having fun like they were in their teens.  Passion like this should be displayed in our classrooms on a daily basis (this is also one of the main tenets of Teach Like a PIRATE by Dave Burgess). 

I haven't even gotten into the multitude of other bands that have been influential to me and how their messages can have a positive impact on me and you as educators.  For as crass as they can be, bands like NOFX, Guttermouth, and the Sex Pistols embody passion and encourage one to question.  The Bouncing Souls, Rancid, Face to Face, Bad Religion, Social Distortion, and many more tend to be a little less controversial to the layman listener, but still exhibit the passion, positivity, and defiance that makes punk so great.  However, do you need to be a fan of punk to embrace a punk mentality?  Absolutely not!  Like one that falls down in the pit, the pit stops and picks them up, so if you aren't into punk, you're still accepted!

As I close this out, I would be remiss if I didn't thank Shannon Sheldon, a colleague of mine from my teaching days in Las Vegas.  I mentioned on Twitter that I was in the process of writing this post and she asked if I had heard the Punk Rock Classrooms Podcast.  This show, hosted by Michael Earnshaw and Josh Buckley, is a must listen!  These gentlemen share their experiences as punk rockers and educators and focus on a variety of ways that punk can be a positive influence on your practice.  Basically, they host a podcast that goes into a deeper dive of what my writing this time around is all about.  Many of my ideas here are featured on their show and I look forward to catching up on all of their episodes. 

I have listed a few of my favorite punk bands throughout this writing, I encourage you to find some of them on your favorite streaming service and give them a listen.  I also encourage you to bring more of a punk mentality to your teaching, I know that I am going to!

Until next time... 

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Wagon Has Circled Back

In the fall of 2018, I started my current position as a special education teacher after 11 years of teaching social studies (US History and Government) and a couple of years of other positions as a tech coach, a middle school dean, and a PE teacher.  Learning the ropes of teaching special education was a transition for sure, but at least it was made easier by co-teaching World History and US History.  Last spring, I was approached by my supervisor and asked if I would be interested in co-teaching economics, something that I had mentioned to him previously that I had enjoyed immensely but had never had the opportunity to teach.  Naturally, when asked, I accepted the offer.  

When I was in college, I was one of the lucky ones that declared a major on day one and, for the most part, stuck with it through my five years.  I originally declared secondary education biology as my major with a chemistry minor but changed my mind and switched to social studies as a major and physical education and health as my minor.  

The requirements for the social studies major were a minimum of two classes in history, geography, government and politics, and economics.  I had always loved history, so I most certainly knew that I would be taking more than the minimum number of history classes.  However, I didn't want to take six history classes, I wanted to have a little more variety in my classes to fulfill the requirements. 

As I began to take my required courses in the first couple of years of college, these classes began to shape my passions in social studies.  History was already established and I enrolled in several, including US History survey courses, Western civilization, and a really interesting course titled The Third World, a course that looked at the history of imperialism, colonialism, and the impact of each on various ethnic groups around the world.  I took the minimum courses for geography (physical and human geography) and political science (introduction to political science and American government); while I enjoyed these classes, they really didn't spark a passion similar to what I had for history and what I discovered, a passion for economics. 

Image courtesy of
I took an economics survey class as an elective when I was a senior in high school.  It was in the second half of the year and while I did well in the class and learned a lot, it is not something that I necessarily look back upon and remember a ton about; I was in full-on senioritis mode.  However, my Economics 101 class that I took at Northern Michigan University in the Fall of 2002 really inspired me to become more of a student of economics. 

Maybe it was because the economy was recovering from a recent downturn and it was in the news frequently at the time.  Maybe it was because my professor, Dr. Ferrarini, was a master at explaining economic concepts and did more than simply lecture.  Maybe it was because I had always loved economics but didn't know it.  Whatever the case, that class over 17 years ago really lit a fire under me.

I enrolled the following semester in American Economic History (it did tie back to history, my original passion), which was a survey of United States history with a focus on economics.  For example, rather than analyzing the Civil War by looking at battles, American Economic History looked at the Civil War in terms of money spent by both sides, the impact of government spending and monetary policy on the economy, and how common citizens fared economically during the war.  It was an incredible class and I learned so much (same professor as my Economics 101 class).  I also took my first online course, Macroeconomics (with the same professor, she was one of the best teachers that I ever had), to fulfill my social studies requirements. 

The only reason that I did not take her Microeconomics class was because I did not need a full-time schedule in the semester before student teaching, choosing instead to work full time while finishing up seven credits in social studies education theory, advanced weight lifting, and treatment and care of injuries (the latter two classes to satisfy requirements for my minor). 

When I got my first teaching job, I informed the principal of the school that I was interested in teaching economics.  At the time, economics was not a required class and the school did not offer it.  He encouraged me to submit syllabi for AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics and offer the class as an elective.  Unfortunately, the requisite number of students to create the courses could never be filled as there simply wasn't enough interest from students.  I tried every year for about eight years, to no avail. 

Fast forward to my current teaching position.  Economics is now a required course for graduation.  While a lot of the groundwork for the scope, sequence, and pacing for the course was laid out before my hiring, there are still some bugs to work out.  Some teachers had never taught economics before either and never really took many courses in economics so they are learning the ropes not just in pacing but in content.  Because it is a new class and because the school wants to ensure that students are successful, sections of economics with a co-teacher were created, hence why I am now able to teach economics along with two of my colleagues. 

One of my colleagues that I teach with is an economist by trade, so he is brilliant in economic content.  I have a strong economics background and have a box full of tools in technology, differentiation methods, and ways to reach kids with special needs.  I feel that we are a great team and we are able to share what we are creating with our colleagues in the school.  I have implemented The Fast & The Curious Eduprotocol with Quizizz to introduce and rep economic terminology.  I use Pear Deck to create presentations that students not only consume in class, but they are creating as well, as I use Pear Deck's Drawing slides to have students create demand, supply, and equilibrium curves and graphs during class discussions.  For review, I use Screencastify or Camtasia to record my Pear Deck presentations, voice them over, and ship out the results to YouTube to share with students in Google Classroom as a review or for a way to catch up if a student is absent from class.  Students have also been given the opportunity to use Flipgrid on various concepts, such as a discussion on whether Bitcoin is truly a form of money based on the properties of money.  My colleagues and I are planning to try some other thing as well; I am especially interested in trying the Iron Chef Eduprotocol, hyperdocs, and student screencasting with economic concepts. 

My love of economics was sparked nearly two decades ago.  Not having the opportunity to teach economics did not diminish my passion for the subject.  In fact, I tried to incorporate as many economic concepts and discussions as I could into my content, regardless of the class that  I was teaching for the last 15 years.  I am so happy that the proverbial wagon has circled back to me, allowing me to jump on and not just ride shotgun, but to hold the reins and steer the horses too!  If you are an economics teacher, I would love to hear about some ways that you make this fascinating subject exciting for your students.  Share out your thoughts on social media! I look forward to collaborating! 

Until next time...