Teaching Blog

I'm Done Holding My Tongue In Class

It only seems fair to start this post with an admission. I am a gun owner. In the past, I was even a member of the NRA. I was born in Georgia, have family that still lives on hunt-able land there, have gone hunting myself. I've made the arguments myself that people having guns makes us safer. I've quoted the 2nd Amendment, I've said that taking guns away doesn't help.

Today, I've decided enough is enough and I'm done keeping these thoughts to myself. I just had a lengthy argument with one of my students who argued against taking guns away to prevent further deaths, and point by point I dismantled his opinion. And, in the interest of sharing this discussion with you, here is a summary of that discussion.

Student: My dad is a gun owner, he goes shooting with police officers regularly, takes care of his guns. Taking his guns away won't fix anything.

He's not wrong here. Here's the real issue. Taking my guns away won't save anyone's lives, won't prevent a school shooting. That isn't the same as saying that taking guns away won't prevent school shootings.

There is a simple economics principal to consider, so I'm going to try to put it simply. Think about supply and demand. Currently, if a crazy person wants to shoot up a school, they have a demand for a gun. Currently, there is a massive supply of guns. Therefore, the cost (both monetarily and in difficulty) is easy low. Even if you require more stringent background checks, you won't fix it because private sales are still a thing, and guns can be stolen, lost, transferred, taken, etc.

Reduce the supply, you increase demand. Costs of illegal guns will go up, and just the act of owning it becomes illegal, making the chances of preventing the shootings go up. It isn't a fix that will happen overnight, but over time.

Student: Second Amendment! We have a right to bear arms!

First of all, the Second Amendment says "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Given that roughly none of the current citizens owning firearms are also members of a Militia, it feels less valid. We don't ever hear that part though, do we? "Right to bear arms!" "right to bear arms!" they scream. They don't really want to actually drill with their neighbors, march across the roads and practice maneuvers though, do they?

Beyond that though, lets look at the spirit of the amendment. It was intended to make sure that the people would be able to stand up against a tyrannical government, to reinforce the idea that the government is for the people. Should the government get out of control, the people can stand up, armed, and defend themselves.

Except, even ignoring the fact that assault weapons are banned in many states, the citizens do not own weaponry that would give them any chance against our military. We don't have missiles, drones, fully-automatic weapons, or any other of the myriad of machines of death our military does. Hell, even in the Revolutionary War, we probably couldn't have won against Great Britain if they didn't have to transport their army to us. A militia doesn't overthrow a government in power on the home front.

Student: Shooting is fun, I like target shooting.

I agree, it is fun. It isn't 16-people-not-going-home-to-their-families fun. If the cost of me going to shoot at some targets at a range is the deaths of children in schools, it isn't worth it. That equation doesn't balance in my head.

Student: You want to take all guns away based on the hope that something is going to get better. This is all opinions and guesses. 

You want to do nothing based on the hope that things will get better. I don't need your thoughts and prayers, I need change.

Still, if we take this further, lets look at some of the facts.

Look at that chart again. Please. Because it is that important.

"But people will kill each other regardless!"

Teachers, this is what I ask of you. Stop holding your tongue. Even on twitter, I saw teachers drying up, stop talking. I heard teachers say "thoughts and prayers", but few of them said "Oh hell no, this has to stop." We cannot stay quiet, cannot do nothing, while the NRA and other groups pour money into the pockets of politicians who don't care to represent us, who continue to allow these atrocities to occur. It has to stop.

Stop staying quiet. Stop believing we have to play the middle ground. Stop thinking that it's our job to make kids think on their own. There are 16 people from a city not 3 hours away from me, who will never think again, on their own or otherwise.

Enough is enough.

I Am A Valuable Brand

Ok, so admittedly, that title makes me a little uncomfortable. It's a strange statement, and gives me the impression of someone with an inflated ego and unhealthy dose of arrogance. But, how am I wrong?

Dr. Will's words on Episode 30 of my show about teachers needing to make their money have been bouncing around in my head for the last month, and I am trying to own them. Over the last few days, they've really been hitting me hard, and I'm going to tell you all how.

On Sunday, a company reached out to me on twitter through DM, and this conversation occurred.

When I saw the first message, I admittedly got excited (and reached out to Will for advice). I wasn't about to do a full episode with an advertiser, that isn't my show, but the idea that someone wanted to use my platform was flattering and energizing. I felt unworthy a little, that imposter syndrome everpresent, my "little show" as I sometimes think about it. But I asked for my money on Will's advice.

Then I saw their response, and I quickly got heated. I get it, you're trying to start a business, and funds are tight. You have to make smart financial choices to stay afloat. But to be upset about the people who only want to "pay to play" is ridiculous!

Running a podcast, recording, editing, posting, managing a website, running a social media presence, and blogging all take time. Lots of time. So. Much. Time. Not unlike, I would imagine developing a set of "evidence-based child behavior tools and games." Which is why they aren't giving their product away for free.

And out of the other side of their mouth, complaining that I'm not giving my brand away for free. They are asking me to endorse them, feature them, and share them out to my audience, my friends, my PLN. And they want me to do that for free. No.

It lit a fire in me though. Not just the bright flash of rage, but a lasting heat of coals. My podcast isn't just a "little show." I create quality content. I put time into editing it so it sounds good. I put effort into finding great guests and working on my interviews. I interact with my audience on many platforms at all hours day or night. I get on live shows, blog, create promo graphics, and support other podcasters. I talk to mentors who do their own shows and take ideas and advice from them. And people listen to an hour a week of my show as a result.

My time has value. My show has value. My brand has value. And yes, it has intrinsic and personal value to me, but it also has monetary value. My audience trusts me, or they wouldn't listen. My PLN gets me or they wouldn't interact with me. I will never support a product I don't believe in, and I definitely won't do it for free. I, like will, am going to get my money.

And you know what? You should too.

Why The Teacher Moral Standard May Be Necessary

A few weeks ago, I learned that a teacher my little brother Travis had as a kid was arrested and charged with stalking his ex-girlfriend. It was a pretty intense case, as the news reported it, including thousands of calls and even putting a GPS tracker on her new boyfriend's car.

The news piece was shared to my brothers and I from our dad, who was a teacher at the school with this teacher when we were all kids, and at one point he was even a family friend. The former connection made it interesting to me, but I wouldn't have gone so far as to say that I really cared. Sure, his job is a teacher, but being a stalker doesn't exactly impact the students in that class.

Maybe that's a slightly callous opinion, but as I've talked about before, few other professions have the moral standard that teachers are held to, and few other professions have it for seemingly no reason. Fine, he's a stalker (allegedly), that doesn't mean he isn't a good teacher or that those actions endanger the children. I'd say the same thing about drunk driving or public drunkenness. Sure, none of those things are good, and they show questionable decision making at the very least, but they don't mean that the kids are getting a lesser education (unless of course the teacher is teaching students that those aren't bad things, or they're showing up to work drunk).

What really struck me from this scenario though was Travis' reaction. He was truly annoyed by it. I explained what I said above, that ultimately I didn't feel like he deserved to be fired over it, but Travis felt differently.

The way he tells it, knowing that this is what his teacher is up to outside of work tarnishes the memory of class.

In my argument, I am considering the rights of the teacher, and somewhat cavalierly ignoring the long-term impact on students. Before this moment, Travis looked back on fifth grade and remembered a teacher that was really great, active, caring, personal. Now though, he looks back and wonders "What was he doing after that last bell?"

I'm not completely sold on the idea that this means teachers should be held to such a high moral standard. We are still people, we are imperfect creatures, we make mistakes. Those mistakes shouldn't cause us to lose our jobs in most cases. Maybe they should though.

But where do we draw that line? Should I be fired if I get excessive speeding tickets? Do we only include felony charges? Or only if it makes the news? Do we only get fired if we don't self report?

I don't have answers on this one. I'm calling for input. Use the comments or reach out on twitter and let me know.

Story Speaker - Part 1

On Google Teacher Tribe Podcast last week, I heard about a Google Docs Add-On called Story Speaker. In the description on the show and on the Add-On page, it was said to be for making choose-your-own-adventure style stories that connect with Google Assistant to be read aloud and choices made through voice. I remember the Goosebumps Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books from my childhood, so I was instantly excited.

I love story telling (see NaNoWriMo, my book, my podcast...), so while that feature in of itself seems cool, I started thinking about ways to implement it in classrooms. Today, I spent a lot of time playing with Story Speaker (and by "a lot of time" I mean my entire work day).

Overall: IT IS AMAZING!!

First of all, there is absolutely no coding required. The system is entirely based on levels of indent. If you indent a level, it knows that the previous level is looking for a response. How you phrase the bolded text on the next line is what it is looking for.

Story Speaker provides templates as well (see the green and purple buttons on the right side of screenshot above), so all you have to do is change out the text to make your own story.

Once you're done, you have a few different output options. One of them lets you run a demo version on the same window. All you do is click "Play Your Story" and click "Play Story." And that's it.

You can also click another button to throw it to your own Google Home or play on your mobile device as well with Google Assistant.

But telling stories isn't the goal. The real goal is to use it in the classroom. The way I'm doing that now is making a test using the tool. My students are student tech support, so I am building out a test in which they respond verbally to a read scenario that occurs regularly. See the example below.

This is something that my students deal with regularly, but I think they forget basics too, so it's important that they're reminded.

I can also imagine this being used for something like a lab. You can build out the program so that it gives the directions step by step, and they have to reply with the current result before it will provide the next step. It is really easy to make it a text-based chat, which would be better in that case. You can click this link here to see what I'm talking about. Type anything in the box to start it.


I will be playing with this a lot more in the next week to build some more features into it. I feel like this tool has a LOT of power, and I will share out as I do more.

Thank you so much Kasey and Matt for this info! It has me really excited!

Admin Balance Panel

Tomorrow on VoicEd Radio, I will be hosting a panel discussion on administrator balance with special guests Derek Rhodenizer, Brent Coley, and Mary Vetter.

This came about because a couple months ago, Mary came to me and asked "How do I make sure I'm not hurting or upsetting teachers, but also give them the necessary feedback on their practice?" As an Assistant Principal at our school, I felt initially that her question was more-or-less rhetorical, and I didn't really reply, but she pushed on, asking for real answers.

I had a couple suggestions, first and foremost saying that if the goal of building morale was so that they will take feedback, it will be ineffective. "If you really want to find answers," I eventually said as our conversation continued, "then we can do that. Let's reach out to some administrators outside our district and see what they think."

So, I sent out a message to some of my favorite administrators, both of which have actually been on my podcast before, and also to Stephen at VoicEd and we setup this panel show.

In further talks, Mary is interested in looking at how you can bring about change in a school. She finds that teachers are often resistant to change, and that is something she would like to work on. I agree with her completely. Much of my work has become focused on how to make resistant teachers willing to change, making small changes that are palatable. What if we are going about it all wrong though? What if we looked into how we make teachers accepting of change?

The panel will run from 8 to 9 pm on VoicEd Radio (which you can find at https://voiced.ca) on Tuesday, November 28th. We will be looking for answers to the following questions:

  • How do you build morale in the teachers who report to you?
  • How do you create feedback that doesn't compromise that morale?
  • How can/do you instill organization trust in your teachers?
  • Is there something we as administrators can do to make teachers more accepting of change?

I am really looking forward to this discussion with some powerful educators, and I hope you will all join us!

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