School Daze

This will probably be the first and last time I publish two posts on consecutive days. Yall are lucky the beginning of the semester is so chill. In fact, don’t expect another post for the rest of the semester. #justkidding #butnotreally

Anyway, the first official day of classes for the University of Pittsburgh was yesterday (although my first class wasn’t until today). The streets of Pittsburgh are once again packed with idiot undergraduates and graduate students (sike, the grad students are locked in their labs). My commute to campus takes twice as long now because of the influx of people using the bus system and along the way I get to see what I assume are liberal arts majors sitting outside on the grass “chillaxing” while I pray that a swarm of cicadas attacks the person who invented the word “chillax”. Coincidentally, I also started watching season 4 of The Wire, which focuses on the shitty Baltimore City school system (seven episodes in and this season is already my favorite, but f*** Marlo Stanfield).

Because of the new school year beginning, CNN decided to have a “Fix Our Schools” week where they highlight different topics. Today on their website, they asked the question “What makes a great teacher?”

I hope to become a teacher and run a lab when I graduate from here. I can definitely say that I have a passion to teach. The crazy thing is that it’s something that manifested itself just a year ago. It started out as a passion to lead, then to mentor, and now to teach in a classroom setting, which are passions that aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe that in order to be an effective teacher, you have to have a passion to lead and mentor. There’s nothing worse than a teacher without the burning desire to develop kids who enjoy learning. It’s always so evident in their demeanor. They make class boring, ineffective, and kill a child’s desire to learn. So that got me thinking, what are some other things that make a teacher great? What are some of the things that I plan to do as a teacher that (I hope) will make me great?

  1. Treat students like adults
    Some teachers like to play the alpha-male role. Me teacher. You kid. Me smart. You dumb. The teacher’s word is gospel (even when they’re wrong) cause they’ve been in the game for 421 years and worked for Important Corporation, Inc. for 210 years. By doing this, the students are given no room to have their own thoughts and are less likely to respect their teacher. Students should always remember that the teacher is in charge and obviously more experienced, but teachers should make sure their students feel like they have something to contribute to the class as well. Build self-esteem as well as respect.
  2. Lecture less, discuss more
    I hate lectures with a passion. Don’t get me wrong, they’re actually very useful and necessary. There isn’t a better way to introduce large quantities of information to students than having you present them with information while they’re quietly sleeping taking notes. However, lectures don’t allow students to be active. Students need to be actively participating to help keep them focused. Sometimes it’s damn near impossible to get kids to be active, so lesson plans should have sections that nurture participation as best as possible. Notice I didn’t say “require/force participation” because you want your students to make the choice to participate, otherwise you’re not really reaching them. Teachers don’t only need to know how to talk, but how to listen as well.
  3. Expect more from my students and myself
    Some teachers hinder their students’ intellectual growth because they’re too lazy to challenge them more, don’t believe that they can succeed, and/or have their hands tied by the strict curriculum they must adhere to. Students shouldn’t be assigned astrophysics problems in the 3rd grade, but nothing good comes from codling them either. Push the boundaries of their knowledge and allow them to test their limits. In addition to that, teachers have to meet the challenge that they place on their students. Provide additional support and guidance while still allowing them to “figure it out” on their own.
  4. Make it fun
    The number one killer of students’ attention during classes are boring lessons. Students are more engaged and focused when they’re having fun or being entertained. I’m not saying construct a physics and biology lesson plan around a game of beer pong (although it would be a great lesson), but sometimes you have to incorporate something entertaining in your lesson to keep your students focused. That can even be you! I’ve spoken to high school graduates who sat through an entire lecture on Control Theory and were able to not only stay awake, but pay attention and learn from it because the lecturer was so excited and energetic the entire time that his energy spread to the other students. Teachers shouldn’t compromise their lesson, but making it fun goes a long way.
  5. Adapt to my students
    Possibly the most important thing for a great teacher to be able to do is adapt. A teacher has to be able to change when necessary. No two students are made alike and that means that not everyone learns the same way or has the same passion for learning. Unfortunately, this obviously provides more work for a teacher (see how a passion for teaching is very useful?). Some teachers instead try to get the student to adhere to their way of teaching. While that can work sometimes, it more often than not leaves at least a child or two behind. Teachers can adapt by seeking out students having trouble and providing extra help after-hours, slowing down/speeding up lesson plans, or adjusting the focus of a lesson to a different topic. Basically, teachers can’t be afraid to make sacrifices so that their students can benefit.

Of course, the students themselves and their parents also hold a lot of responsibility in regards to a student’s success in school, but what are some other things that make a teacher great? Can you think of some of your favorite teachers and how they caught your attention? What are some of the things holding teachers back from really reaching their students? You stay classy, San Diego.

-TDA

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A Brother’s Nightmare

Some of you might not know that I’m the oldest of four kids. This might come as a shock to you seeing as how I sometimes act like an annoying younger brother. To that I say, shut up, you poopyhead. As an older brother and the oldest sibling, I feel that I am in a position of great responsibility. I’m paving the way for my younger siblings. Treading the path for the first time. Making mistakes that I hope my siblings can avoid. Participating in victories that I hope my siblings will take part in. Basically, providing my siblings with a role model that’s been there and who can give them pieces of wisdom that my parents might not be in possession of. In fact, whenever I talk to my friends about my much younger siblings, I always call them “the kids,” much like a father would (or maybe that’s just me).

Now, my youngest sister is what you would call “melodramatic.” She acts like a regular on the Disney Channel. Every situation is to be exaggerated by a factor of 10, every laugh is to be extended in time by a factor of 20 with the decibel level increased by a factor of 3, and very problem is to be made 30 times more dire than it really is. Because of this I can admit that she gets treated like the black sheep of the family. We’re not keeping her in a cage and throwing tomatoes at her or anything, but she’s definitely the “oddball” of the group.

This past Thursday, I was visiting my alma mater, the prestigious UMBC, and got a phone call. A sigh softly came out of my mouth when I saw that it was my mom calling. Expecting the phone call to be about some trivial errand she needed me to take care of, I picked up the phone nonchalantly. But what I hear is something that I never would have expected to hear. She told me that she got a call from my 11-year-old sister’s school saying that she had written a suicide note.

Words that no brother, or sibling for that matter, ever wants to hear.

Coincidentally enough, just a year ago I had to deal with a student of mine who came up to me and said that she had been having suicidal thoughts and had, minutes before, prepared to kill herself. To this day, me and her are very close and she was able to get the counseling that she needed to improve her condition. But this wasn’t some student. This was my little sister. My family. My first reaction was utter shock. Not only could I not believe what I was hearing, but I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. I was scared. Was I about to lose my sister? What kind of mental state is she in? Did I miss the signs? Were we pressuring her too much? Could I have talked to her more? Spent more time with her? Told her that I loved her more?

I didn’t get a chance to speak with her that day, but the next day I waited at home until she got back from school. When she got home, she threw her face into the couch and started crying before I could even get a word out. She explained to me that the kids on her bus had been making fun of her. They kept calling her “wet dog”, reenacting the “seat’s taken” scene from Forrest Gump, and even telling her that “no one would care if you died.” My sister seemed to take those words and believed them.

I had a long talk with her about it and I made sure that she understood that a lot of people love her. I encouraged her. I listened to her. I told her that I loved her. I gave her advice on how to deal with bullies and made sure that she understood that if this harsh treatment continued, she was to let me or my parents know so that we could get my nun-chucks the administrators of the school involved. She seems to be doing fine now. She talks about her episode candidly and without hesitation. It was only a few days ago, but she doesn’t seem to be phased by her tormentors as much. She told me today about how one of her bullies asked her for one of her mini muffins on the bus and she gave them one on the condition that they promise to stop bothering her. Later, her bully broke their promise and bothered her. At this point, I was prepared to break this kid’s nose/arm/leg/neck (don’t worry, there wouldn’t be any witnesses). But my sister made a decision to not give their insults power and saved their lives in the process. My sister promised to talk to me if anyone or anything ever bothered her in that way again and I believe she will. I never used to call home that much, but I plan on calling every week now to check up on her. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if a teacher hadn’t found my sister writing that note. If her pain had gone unnoticed and she eventually built up the courage to execute her wishes. And I refuse to let her fall into that place again.

I actually talked to her before I decided to write this post. I don’t like to put family business out in a public forum cause some of you guys aren’t my family. So I asked my sister if she’d be comfortable with me writing about her on my blog. She said that it would be fine. I repeated again and again that it would mean that people she knows and people she doesn’t know would know about this very personal event in her life. She still gave me permission to write about it. When I asked her why, she said “I want other people who might go through this to know that they don’t have to deal with it by themselves and they should talk to people about it.” In that moment, I was the most proud I had ever been.

“If each man or woman could understand that every other human life is as full of sorrows, or joys, or base temptations, of heartaches and of remorse as his own…how much kinder, how much gentler he would be.”
–William Allen White

-TDA

What Happened In Vegas

Well, for the past four days me and a couple of friends were in Las Vegas on vacation (it was my first time (#twss?)). Since I’m still recovering from jet lag, I’ll cut the humorous introductory banter and get straight to some of the highlights of quite possibly the best vacation I’ve ever had (out of the two vacations in my entire life)…

No, we didn't find a tiger in our bathroom.

  1. You Can Find Me In The Club
    Our first night in Vegas we hit up a nightclub. I’m not really a club person. Expensive covers, expensive drinks, and shitty music. This club wasn’t that different. The DJ actually wasn’t bad. He had a good mix of old school hip-hop, electro/techno, and the crap that passes for music these days top 40 tracks. Drinks were expensive as hell and not strong enough to matter. I then tried to dance with this girl cause some guys near me were egging me on (and she happened to be dancing directly in front of me), but that went south either when her friend gave the “ABORT!” look (I didn’t think I was THAT ugly) or when her ass kept gyrating on my bellybutton #problemsshortmenhave. Otherwise, I spent most of the time soberly people-watching with my friend.
  2. ThatDamnAfrican Jr. Goes to Community College
    As a man who plans on having a family and children and who wants to see his children go on to attend college, I basically made it necessary for them to either get full-scholarships or student loans cause I spent all of their tuition money on….well….uhhh….some stories will have to stay in Vegas. #motorboat
  3. My Neck, My Back, My Neck AND My Back
    Those and more were pushed, pulled, rubbed, stretched, twisted, fried, and sauteed. Got a spa treatment that included a massage #nohappyending and access to a jacuzzi and steam room. I didn’t realize how hot steam rooms were till I finally stepped into one. The whole experience was so relaxing, although it was canceled out after my 6-hour, stuffed-into-the-smallest-area-possible flight back home.
  4. I Know You Wanna Leave Me
    …but I refuse to let you go. Out of context, that line is kind of disturbing. Anyway, after getting a Monster Yard from Fat Tuesdays, we decided to go to karaoke cause the only thing better than karaoke is drunk karaoke. We did Ain’t Too Proud To Beg and had a lot of fun. Of course before we went on stage, we were able to see the hilarity that is drunk white people singing. The worse they were at singing, the more fun they seemed to be having on stage. Their level of fun could have also been proportional to the amount of alcohol in their system. Future observations will need to be done in a more controlled environment #gradstudentstateofmind
    Edit:
    Wow, I almost forgot about the audition that occurred at karaoke. This guy and girl who look to be in their 20’s go up to sing some song (obviously I was paying attention). The girl starts singing the chorus, but once the first verse starts they go off the teleprompter like the Hurricane Katrina edition of Kanye West. The dude spits some bars while the girl beatboxes for him. It was glorious. Not because they were amazing, but because they acted like Dr. Dre was walking through the casino and this was their chance to get discovered. Just sing the song, Anna Mae!
  5. Mario Kart: Las Vegas
    Dune buggies in the desert. This is the second Things White People Do That Black People Don’t list item that I’ve crossed off in the past two weeks. It was fun as hell. We basically had a guide who led a group of us through the desert. We just followed him in our buggies and tried not to get left behind. The only bad thing that happened was the ball joint holding my front left wheel to the axle broke in the middle of the trail. The wheel was still partly attached to the axle, but barely. Thank God my buggy didn’t flip or anything (nor did they charge me for the damage).
  6. This One Is For Mannnnndela!
    It wasn’t only my first time in Vegas, but it was also my first time gambling. Now, I’m not one to gamble, but there’s no way I was going to leave Vegas without experiencing it. So I hit up a blackjack table and was actually doing pretty well (or was that part of the #swindle?). After only a couple of minutes, I had went from $10 to about $60. But since it was my first time gambling, I didn’t know when to stop. Before I knew it, I had lost all that money just as quickly as I had won it.
  7. Dey Tuk Er Jerbs!
    Possibly the funniest thing of the entire trip were the gangs of Hispanics standing on damn near every corner of The Strip handing out fliers and cards for escort services. No one from 70-year-old men on their anniversaries to 11-year-old kids walking with their parents were safe. None of these people spoke while trying to hand you cards either. I don’t think it would be wrong to assume they barely, if at all, knew how to speak English. However, what made it so funny to me was how they had adopted a technique of smacking their cards together to get people’s attention just before they shoved that same card with a naked prostitute on it in your face. One guy went as far as to smack his cards together three times (each smack louder than the one before it) before figuring out that a hearing disorder wasn’t the reason I wasn’t pay him any attention.

So all in all, it wasn’t The Hangover crazy, but it was a great trip with memories that I’ll remember for a while and the perfect way to end the summer. The rest of the week will be filled with rest and relaxation in the DMV until classes start on Monday.

Have any of you guys been to Vegas before? Was it crazy-ultra-super-Megazord fun? Was there anything that I should’ve seen or went to that I didn’t? Any funny or interesting Vegas stories you want to share? Don’t forget to spay and neuter your 50 Tysons.

-TDA

The Adventures of Scuba Steve

You're losing.

So let’s get straight to the point.

I can’t swim. Me and water are like work associates. I see him every day, say what’s up, ask him about the kids (out of politeness), but I usually don’t hang out with him. But this past Sunday I said “f*** it” and went white water rafting (By “f*** it” what I really mean is “well, since having the ability to swim wouldn’t really help me if i was hurled out of my raft, I might as well do it”).

It was an awesome experience. I loved it. I never fell out of the raft once. However, I did get launched into the air from the back of the raft to the front while we were going down one of the rapids and I ended up hitting myself in the mouth with my paddle. I have the busted lip to prove it. I decided to tell people I got into a fight with Jack Bauer and Chuck Norris. I think they bought it.

It was hilarious to watch people fall out of their rafts (don’t worry, I laughed AFTER I knew they were safe…most of the time). It was just as funny to watch other groups’ rafts moving haphazardly in the water, but frustrating when these rafts were in front of us providing additional obstacles for us to quickly maneuver around (“MOVE, MAN! You’re messing up the trail!”). That’s not to say our crew didn’t have it’s own issues. I’ll put it this way, by the time we started the second half of the trail, we were professionals at getting our raft unstuck from between rocks.

But by far the best part of the trip was being the Captain of our raft. What does the Captain do? Basically, they are positioned at the back of the raft and direct the other members of the crew. Everyone has to work together to move and steer the raft where it needs to go, but the Captain is the driver. Let me remind you, this is the FIRST time I’ve ever been white water rafting. Oh, and let’s not forget that I can’t swim. And now, I was asked to guide four other people (two of whom were novices like me and the other two who had done this once or twice before) down this River of Death. I was scared as feces. To be honest, the only reason why I volunteered is because one of my friends nominated me to be Captain. I couldn’t tell if my friend was just trying to take her name out of the running or if she truly thought I would be a good Captain. Regardless, I felt like I HAD to do it. Whether she knew it or not, calling me out in front of everyone was basically a challenge. I held out for as long as I could thinking that someone else might volunteer themselves to be Captain, but the longer I waited, the more compelled I felt to man-up and do it. They needed someone to step up, so I took the bait.

When we started on the trail, I was just about the worst Captain you could imagine. I was giving my crew the wrong instructions, I wasn’t loud enough for everyone to hear, and couldn’t make decisions quick enough. My crew ended up making a lot of decisions on the fly because of my indecisiveness. However, little by little, I got used to the trail. I learned when to speed up, when to slow down, when to use our raft’s momentum and the flow of the water to save energy, and how I should use my crew for sharp turns while I could handle small steering on my own. My technique had improved by the time we reached the halfway point where we took a break, but that didn’t stop me from asking the rest of my crew if someone else wanted a shot at being Captain. I still didn’t feel equipped to be a good Captain. Decent, yeah. But not good and definitely not great. As I expected, no one volunteered. A little into the second half of the trail though, it finally clicked. At that point, our raft had become a well-oiled machine. My crew trusted me and I trusted them. I even gave my crew compliments through our journey to keep worker moral high. I was confident in my commands and (for the most part) got us through the rest of the trail unscathed.

It was a great feeling.

It was great because I felt like I earned the trust of my crew members.
It was great because, even though I was far from perfect, my non-swimming, white water rafting noob ass did pretty damn good.
It was great because I didn’t die (big ups to Jesus for keeping me safe).

But most importantly, it was great because I love being a leader. “Wait, didn’t you say earlier that you didn’t even want to be the Captain?” I don’t always think I’m the right person to lead nor do I always jump at the first chance to lead, but when I’m put in a position to do so, I put all my energy into it. To me, being a leader is about trust and service. I don’t believe I can be seen as an effective leader unless my crew trusts me to lead them to victory and unless I’m making sacrifices to ensure my crew reaches victory. These two components are what I see as my greatest strengths as a leader and this experience reaffirmed my love for being in leadership.

Anyway, I had a great time crossing “white water rafting” off my Things Black People Don’t Do That I’ve Done list. Next on the list is sky diving. Bungee jumping will never be on this list.

-TDA