Tag Archives: life

Life on the Sesame Street

“People on “Sesame Street” had limited possibilities and fixed identities, and (the best part) you weren’t expected to change much. The harshness of existence was a given, and no one was proposing that numbers and letters would lead you “out” of your inner city to Elysian suburbs. Instead, “Sesame Street” suggested that learning might merely make our days more bearable, more interesting, funnier. It encouraged us, above all, to be nice to our neighbors and to cultivate the safer pleasures that take the edge off — taking baths, eating cookies, reading.” – Virginia Heffernan, The New York Times Magazine

You’ll definitely hear me harp on Sesame Street from time to time.  Sesame Street was a gift to my development as a child, teaching me lessons that I didn’t even know would be integral to life both as an adolescent and as an adult.

Here are some lessons that it taught me.

Put Down the Ducky

putdowntheduckie

This musical number is seemingly innocuous – like most of Sesame Street.  Ernie keeps hearing squeaking noises when he tries to play the saxophone, and it’s because he tries to play while holding onto his rubber duckie.  The song tells him to put down the duckie.

I was using the phrase “put down the duckie” long after I watched this is a child; it was clear to me that if something is preventing you from doing what you want to do, then you need to learn to let go of that thing in your life.  This can apply to bad habits, addiction… anything that keeps you from “playing the saxophone.”  Sure, you can learn to accomplish your goals while compensating for this weakness that you refuse to give up, but if you know deep down inside that it’s time to let go, you’ll still hear that little squeak when you play.

This metaphor mixes up a little bit with the lighter concept of “it’s okay to let go – if it’s good for you then you’ll be able to pick it up again.”  We know that Ernie’s relationship with the duckie is not in itself harmful – he just needs to let go of it for the moment.  His friend assures him “you can just pick it up when you’re done!”

Being Proud of Yourself Doesn’t Mean You Need to Bring Others Down

fuzzyandorange

This lesson needs to be taught more.  I hear so many people talk about how important it is to have pride.

“I’m proud to be [insert race here]!”

“I’m proud to be a [man/woman/other]!”

Then they go and disparage others.  “The white people do not understand blah blah”  “You’re cisgender so blah blah.”  “This meeting is only for [my group that I have pride in].”

In Fuzzy and Blue, Grover expresses his pride in being born fuzzy and blue. (“It’s just the way that I grew…”)  He is joined by Harry Monster, and then Cookie Monster (“me just so fuzzy and blue!”) who enter seamlessly.

Then comes Frazzle.  Frazzle is orange.  Frazzle is a very different addition to the Sesame Street cast – his appearance is extremely fierce, with bright orange fur, a strong, thick unibrow, and an inability to speak English without a thick gurgle that renders him incomprehensible to non-monster ears.  Grover is reluctant at first – or perhaps simply trying to comprehend the pull that Frazzle appears to feel for being involved in a song that is about pride in being blue.  (“All right, all right, just thought I’d mention it!”)  Then, although the song is practically over, they restart it for Frazzle and modify their refrain:

“We’re fuzzy and blue (and orange!)”

They do this with no outside prompting, no mediating parent, no supervisor, and no union intervention.  It’s true – pride in oneself is important, and that involves knowing what it is you’re proud of.  I can be proud of being tall – does that have to mean that I’m disparaging short people?  No.  Short people can be proud to be short, and I can agree with that pride without undermining my own pride.

Frazzle is different, and his friends support his difference and his pride in being different without any insecurity about themselves and what they value.

Interestingly, everything Frazzle says sounds the same (something directly addressed in the show).  Who hasn’t made that comment about a foreign language before?  Frazzle represents a foreign identity even to Sesame Street – which has monsters, but most of them are friendly colors.

Oscar the Grouch

Oscar

Oscar the Grouch makes it very apparent that Sesame Street is not a perfect place.  He is a misanthropic, grouchy monster that lives in a trash can.  He doesn’t enjoy anybody’s company, nor does he want anything to do with learning any lessons.

Oscar is as close as it gets to being a social pariah – my memory isn’t amazing, but as far as I can recall he is the only character whom other characters chide and to whom they even suggest that he needs to change his ways.  His life doesn’t look very nice, which could be a cautionary tale… or it could even suggest that Oscar is crying for help by making sure to surround himself with the people of Sesame Street.  Whichever it is, Oscar’s grouchiness doesn’t keep the people around him from talking to him or involving him in their conversations.

Sesame Street – with Oscar – is now a complete image.  It is not an idyllic, utopian place, it’s a ghetto.  Yet, the show is adamant that the place is amazing, with everyone wanting to know “how to get to Sesame Street.”  The people (and monsters) of Sesame Street aren’t trying to leave –  instead, their reaction to the hand they’ve been dealt is to watch each other’s backs.

The relevant links can be found below, but I want to take this opportunity to make a point.  I’m not saying Sesame Street is a gem to the world of television (it is, but I mean that it’s not my main point).  I’m saying that the kid shows you put your child in front of have lasting effects that go beyond the obvious – and certainly go beyond that stage of development.  We remember the things we see, and they DO stick with us.  So the next time you let TV do the babysitting… it’s worth thinking about what you’re letting your kid be inundated with.

Either that or communicate regularly with your child.  Crazy talk, I know.

NOTE: Old School Sesame Street and modern, HBO Sesame Street are not the same beasts.  As a result, some people argue that old school Sesame Street might not be suitable for children today, as a lot of the concerns modern parents have were not voiced or even present back then.  We’re talking a depressed talking elephant that only one character can see, a homeless misanthrope, and a scene where Cookie Monster eats a pipe.  If these sound shocking to you, then you know not to watch.  If it just sounds like pre-hipster age television, then enjoy.

Or again, you could show it and then just talk to your kids.

Relevant videos:

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The First 2018 Update

I know it’s been a while since I updated the blog.  I am still alive, no worries!  I realize though that sometimes I don’t use the blog as a blog – look at these entries, they’re like little articles!  That’s all well and good, but sometimes I don’t have a topic that I want to harp on but I still need to write to get my thoughts in order, so I’ll put something out like this that just gives a little update.

Podcast

I’ve made a pledge to get the Podcast out on time, and I intend to keep it.  All 7 of you that listen, hear me now!   I will get the Podcast out on time!  I’ve received compliments from everyone who has listened… but honestly, that could just be because they like me.  I’ll be looking for ways to connect with my audience in the future.  That’s a win-win, because if it’s other people I’ll get to network and discuss fun stuff, and if it’s just people I know then I’ll just be keeping in touch with them – which is nice to do if they’re showing me love by listening to my Podcast.

(… why am I capitalizing Podcast everywhere?  I’m not sure.  Maybe because I keep having to make it part of a title.  It reminds me of how I used to spell “receive” wrong.  I would stubbornly put the i before the e.)

I recently had some new equipment roll in, and the most recent episode is using my condenser microphone from back in my college days.  I’ve also bought theme music, and I am enormously satisfied.  The instructions involved the words “catchy bass line,” which… tell me that’s not catchy!

Some of my students discovered my Podcast and listened to it in lieu of music during their work time.  It was a somewhat strange situation; my students were listening to me talk in front of me doing work for my class, occasionally chuckling and sharing something I said with me as if we were talking about a YouTuber we both watched.  I appreciated the love.

Weirdo kids, haha.

Positive Reinforcement

I’ve started an experiment regarding teacher interaction.  I noticed that students were extremely defensive when beginning an interaction; in particular, the standard acknowledgment of being addressed was “What?!” or “Huh?”  The first one was a sign of being on guard, the second one to buy time while they figured out if they were in trouble.  I decided that I wanted an interaction that was guaranteed to be positive, one in which they wouldn’t have to wonder if what I said to them was going to be positive or negative.  No guessing games.

So, I decided that every Friday, I would acknowledge a student in each period that I judge to be “killing it” and acknowledge their success, along with a small boon of candy.  The reaction so far has been very positive, with students applauding their peers enthusiastically.  I rather like the idea of looking for reasons to reward students instead of looking for reasons to take points away.

Reading

I’ve gotten back into reading recreationally in a big way (and the worn case on my Kindle is starting to show it)!  After reading the new Stormlight Archive book, I decided that I might do some blog entries that are character studies of the characters I really liked in the series, which hopefully would attract the attention of fellow enthusiasts and stir discussion up about them.  Yeah, either that or people will read the books – or, barring that, they’ll just read what I have to say about them and find the insights interesting.

In order to do that, I decided to reread the first two books – a monstrous task, but one I’m really enjoying.  I’m about 70% of the way through the 2nd book, and I think I started with the first book about – what, early January?  I’m not 100% sure.  I’m 20% sure that I was 40% of the way through 56% of the series so far after about three-fourths of the month had –

I’m trolling.  Don’t try to follow those numbers.  Suffice it to say with a disturbingly visual figure of speech that I’ve been devouring the books despite it being a reread.

I also started looking at doing some writing on Medium, but only after I get the flow down for this blog and the Podcast.  Don’t want to take on too much and just suck at all of it!

I promise to update with stuff about the Napa Google Summit and Dragon Ball FighterZ thoughts soon.  This weekend is going to be STUFFED!

I plan to release something fun musically soon as well.

Until next time!

Updates – May 19th, 2017

So I’ve had a lot going on lately, with a lot of activity resulting in very little blog output, so I thought that I’d provide some information for the nosiest people among us.

Phan Summer Tour 2017

I’m kidding around.  I am doing no such thing.  That being said, I will be doing a little bit of speaking at some Google Summits and things about Classcraft and Hip Hop Ed.  I may vlog it.  I may even vlog it and edit it, who knows?  A lot of this year has been new experiences in networking, classroom implementation, and in professional projects.  Most of this activity will be as part of the wonderful Classcraft Ambassador program, which has plunged me headfirst into gamification and engagement strategies, not to mention reignited some of my passion for teaching.  This is also rather alarming because I didn’t really need reigniting, so the enthusiasm level right now is real.  Yes, that’s right, I’m using real the way some people use unreal or even intense.  Or hardcore.  You just have to say it right.  Get a little of that Logan growl in there when you say real.

Nice, good job.

Some passion projects have included:

Classcraft

picscreens

Using Classcraft has transformed my classroom!  A lot of time and energy has also gone into making the MOST out of the benefits it has provided.  This has trickled into other parts of the profession, of course, but it has also put my brain into more of a “teaching” gear.  As a result, the blog also seems to have gained a focus on education, rather than scattered topics.  Never fear, I shall continue to write unrestrained, as the initial idea was to write about all aspects of being a teacher – including the parts that people don’t want to talk about.  Like what being a teacher does to your work-life balance.  Or your finances.  Or your relationship.  Or your gaming hobby.  Or your consumption of media.  Or your rule about using fragments.

Podcast: Phan’s Homework

phanhw
Click to listen/subscribe on Google Play

I actually started this with my wife.  She’s helping me organize the huge gaggle of content that is my brain.  I have a passion for speaking that I can’t quite capture in the written word.  Also, I think I’m funny, and I need you to check my ego.  After all, who needs self-esteem?

The appeal of a Podcast to me is that when I talk about things, the content tends to arrive organically in a way that mirrors how I – and hopefully by extension, some other humans – actually think.  This makes the consumption of the content easy to follow and intimate.  I don’t think I’m some masterful guru with wisdom to share, but I do think that I’m learning every day, and I do think that the way I tend to reflect and connect events in my life is possibly useful to other people.  Maybe it’s because I’m a teacher, or maybe it’s why I’m a teacher: they way I talk tends to provoke thought, and the process itself along with the result is more often than not an amusing one.  Hence: Phan’s Homework – a teacher’s Podcast about school, home, and the limbo between.  Please, if you join my audience, do write me with feedback.  I want to commiserate, provide catharsis, and spark inspiration.  I want more teachers listening to podcasts and less teachers burning out and thinking nobody understands the struggle.

The struggle is real. (Don’t forget the growl.  Good.)

I am unsure about some the logistics of putting the podcast out; I have released it on Google Play Music, and I’m in the process of iTunes… I suppose I can have the feed run in a sidebar on this site, or simply link to it above.  I could have used a feed from a category on this site, but I gave it its own site in case people still want to consume this content without having to see my podcast.

Some other things you may hear about in the days to come include but are not limited to my YouTube channel, reading Oathbringer when it’s finally released sometime this year, playing Injustice 2 over the summer, trying to get my exercising back on point, and other things that come up when you’re an English Teacher and a gamer.

Yelling at the Ocean

During a staff collaboration, our department head showed us a TED talk by Eduardo Briceño that discussed the reason why people’s skills at their profession tended to plateau in skill despite large amounts of time being invested into their improvement.  Specifically, he said that the average person has two zones:

  • In the Learning Zone, people are relaxed and situations are very low-stakes.  The emphasis is on becoming better.
  • In the Performance Zone, the emphasis is on execution and evaluation, and the stakes are higher.

Briceño then stated that the problem is that most people almost always place themselves in the Performance Zone, and are seldom in the Learning Zone.  This is apparently impressed upon us at a young age: we are taught that school is evaluative through grades, and are often punished or docked for mistakes, enforcing the principle that mistakes are bad.  Furthermore, because the Performance Zone is one of judgment, not of improvement, the mistakes made are not used to improve any skills.

The first thing that came to mind when Briceño discussed a low-stakes situation Learning Zone was my time playing soccer.  More than any teacher making me spell and write repeatedly, my time playing soccer – especially with my father – taught me the importance of practice.

When I started playing soccer, I was typically awful.  However, about two or three years into playing the game, my skill level spiked suddenly.  This was not just due to maturity, or finally understanding the sport.  My kicks were powerful for my age, and I was able to aim the ball precisely – almost with x, y, and z-axis precision.  I was able to trap almost any ball flying toward me at my feet with a technique involving my shin.  These skills made me a valuable asset to my team, despite my lack of precise ball control as a dribbler.

SONY DSC
Demosthenes projecting his voice over the ocean.

As I reflect now, Briceño’s words color my experience with a new significance.  His example of the Learning Zone was made clearer by his reference to the orator Demosthenes, who practiced posture by suspending a sword blade above his shoulder, who spoke against the ocean on the beach to perfect his projection, and who put rocks in his mouth to master enunciation.  Individual skills were perfected and honed in ways that far surpassed the difficulty of what he was practicing for – but the situations were low stakes.  Nobody would know if he failed during these exercises but himself.

Soccer practice ran similarly.  No matter how much we begged for a scrimmage (essentially a simulation of an actual game), both my coach and my father would instead focus on drills, which were little tasks that perfected individual skills in preparation for the game.

“There’s no point in a scrimmage if you have no skill.” said my dad to me once in the car.  Essentially, using a soccer game to practice for a soccer game was limited in usefulness because it was a performance zone.  Drills were specialized in practice: We practiced dribbling.  We did sprints and liners to practice changing direction.  We did the Give-and-Go.  We juggled the ball with our feet.

When I reflect now, I realize that the things I spent the most time practicing with my dad (mostly because we couldn’t really run around) were my kick (shooting the ball with my father as the goaltender – he was better than any elementary kid would be) and my trap (my dad would always expect me to trap the ball – no self-respecting soccer player would do otherwise if a trap was possible.)

mgqo3r

Soccer practice was low-stakes but higher in difficulty.  If I missed a goal (you know, because my goaltender was a full-grown adult), I just had to try again.  Every time I missed a trap, I just had to run and get the ball.  There was no punishment. I practiced for way more hours than I ever played in a game.  I realize now that my father kept me in the Learning Zone.  Every time I tried to shoot a ball past my father, I was Demosthenes yelling at the ocean.  The drills that I performed faithfully improved my skills.  Accordingly, the drills that I performed less diligently – like running laps, dribbling, and ball-handling – did little to help me.

My skill plateaued eventually – and again, that’s easy to explain.  As I got older, I was shorter than a lot of my teammates.  When they did better than I did in practice, I was disheartened, instead of focusing on myself.  I practiced less with my father, and soon I only heard his feedback from watching my games.  Without realizing it, I had transformed my practice time into a Performance Zone.

Many parents make this same mistake with their child’s education.  Low grades are punished, average performance ignored, with only high performance receiving acknowledgment. – implicitly teaching that mistakes are bad.  If mistakes are bad, then everything is high-stakes, which makes school a Performance Zone, not a Learning Zone.

In addition, the social imperative mirrors this as well. For some reason, teenagers care what their peers think, to the point that their worst nightmare is to be caught in a vulnerable position.  The fear of becoming a social pariah as a consequence is about as high as stakes get, with teens tossing and dodging labels like “snitch” and “slut” in their day-to-day lives.  If you worry about what other people think, how can you be safe enough to make mistakes?

I’ve talked before about how we need to be uncomfortable.  In order to do that and get to sword-suspending and ocean-yelling, we need to identify our Performance Zones and our Learning Zones and treat them as such.  This is also why hobbies are a good idea: you can use the skills they give you in their assorted Learning Zones with your Performance Zone.  For example, rapping has been a low-stakes way of building confidence when speaking and demanding attention, which is something crucial when teaching teenagers.  It also expands my vocabulary and refines my pronunciation.  Blogging helps me with my writing skills and with expressing my thoughts in words, which is definitely an imperative for an ELA professional.

The concept of the Learning Zone is the rebuttal we’ve been looking for to the tired claim that you “don’t use what you learn in school anyway.”  Yes, you do!  Of course, problems aren’t like they were in school.  A school is a Learning Zone.  School tasks are drills.  School is yelling at the ocean.  Real life replaces the ocean with real people and raises the stakes – because now the waves can hear you or destroy you, and your words matter.

Why Eat?

So, like most of America that isn’t in denial, I’ve been trying to lose weight recently.  Why?  Because honestly, life is too short to spend most of it unable to touch your toes.  I can touch my toes right now, but it’s only a matter of time.

Like anyone will tell you, it’s difficult.  Over the summer I lost 30 pounds.  There my progress stopped, and I’ve been fluctuating ever since.  I have a couple theories about why I’m having trouble, and one of them is simply because there are too many reasons to eat.

1.  We eat when we’re hungry.

Well, DUHHHH.  When you’re hungry, you eat.  However, I think there’s a hunger inflation at play here.  It doesn’t make sense that I can eat one grilled cheese sandwich or a full buffet dinner and still feel hungry three hours later.  That’s like putting a hundred-dollar bill into a vending machine and getting the same lukewarm Dasani as the dude putting in 35 cents!  What you eat supposedly matters – so why is my body pretending that it’s all the same?  How can I trust anything if I can’t even trust my own body?

How am I supposed to even believe that I’ve ever been hungry?  I’ve never known hardship; I don’t think I’ve ever notably skipped a meal due to happenstance.  Weird qualifier, but I think it’s an important one; I’ve never been a victim of circumstance.  Meanwhile, my father came to the US with nothing but the clothes on his back and built a life up from scratch – and my body dares to tell me it’s hungry because I didn’t have egg with my rice and spam?  Thas some codswallop, coz!  I call malarkey!  It can’t be true!  Yet my stomach roars and demands to be fed – and I’m trying to retrain it like a naughty dog without developing an eating disorder.

The key here, I think, is recalibration.  I just need to ask myself: which triggers in my body indicate actual hunger, and which ones are false alarms?

2. We eat when we’re bored.

Need time to pass?  Prepping something to eat is one of the easiest ways to do it.  Munching away lets us look at the clock afterward with satisfaction.  Gathering ingredients, putting them together, and finally enjoying the fruits of your labor has helped many impatient children – and later, adults – deal with the trial of waiting.  

Human beings hate to wait.  My father hates to wait, my brother hates to wait – and I definitely hate to wait.  Asking a kid with ADHD to wait instantly places them into a time paradox in which 45 thoughts are had, processed, and possibly even voiced in the span of a few seconds.  Being told to wait has made me a victim of some cruel master of Time and Space chuckling away as he watched me figure out nine ways to make annoying clicking noises at my siblings while my parents tried to pump gas.  So of course, you give a kid a snack, he’s placated.  As an adult with nothing to do, it’s too easy to look for something “to munch on.”

People can’t handle monotony.  In fact, studies show that when you eat out of boredom, it’s not for the pleasure of the food.  When scientists put people in a room and had them watch the same 85-second clip of indoor tennis to watch, they gave these people some M&Ms to munch on.  The second time, they gave them the ability to self-administer electrical shocks.  They were both popular among our bored people.

That’s right. Apparently, my generation can’t even handle boredom without being self-destructive.  Not that human beings in general are known for handling boredom well.  Part of the argument for education for everyone is to keep kids “off the streets,” a euphemism for “not let them be bored because boredom and freedom lead to drugs, alcohol, and/or petty crime.”  True, education is a pretty good answer to that because it teaches brain activity in the face of boredom – quite literally – but I want to follow that ideal to the letter if I can… in other words, challenge my brain instead of filling my stomach.

3. We eat to socialize.

Eating is literally a social event – and a social lubricant.

“Hey, let’s have lunch!”  – That Guy We All Know

I just had lunch with a friend.  We ate pizza, and it was good, but my point is, why do we – including me – feel it’s necessary to eat in order to socialize?  This friend was a good enough friend that I know the pizza wasn’t necessary to have a stimulating experience.  Since getting married, in order to stay in my circle the amount of fun/stimulation required per square hour is pretty ridiculous, so the fact that I wanted to hang with him at all should have been enough.  Yet I can imagine that text.

whodied

Okay, I’m stretching a bit.  What I’m pretty sure happened was that people were awful at talking to each other and needed something in common.  The thought is “Hey, we all need to eat, so let’s all eat.”  It’s actually even a logical thought if it’s seen as a requirement for life; if we’re both going to eat, we might as well eat together and knock it out while we bond.  However, I feel the threat is when that balloons into “We need to eat whenever we’re together.”  (Not the case with you, dude, I was just using an example of socializing while eating).  I’m not like that with my friends – at least, not since college, but I have felt the social pressure to eat.  Part of it is linked to the one about boredom.  If you think dealing with boredom as an individual is difficult, dealing with boredom AND social awkwardness as a group is even worse – and probably what leads to both obesity and gang violence.

The key here is to be with people who have similar goals.  When I was doing P90x with the same pizza buddy, there was a shared unwillingness to negate the suffering we had just gone through with Ab-Ripper X that kept us from going off the rails and downing sundaes.  It’s a lot harder when you’re expected to just show self-control.  Part of me wants to post a picture of a starving person on the wall to remind me not to be overindulgent, but another part of me thinks it will have the opposite effect and lead to me eating even more out of appreciation for not being in that situation.

4. We eat for financial reasons.

This one is huge – especially if you’re raised by immigrants.  You’re taught not to waste food even if you don’t feel like eating it, and that somewhere people are starving, so you should be grateful for what you have.  This isn’t really an incorrect lesson as much as it is a traumatizing one.  After all, you definitely want your child to prioritize survival over pickiness without them being weeded out by Darwinism.

At the same time, this lesson can lead to some problems.  For one thing, buying anything at Costco becomes a commitment – sometimes for the worse.  You can’t go buy a salad because you need to finish all the burger patties before they get all moldy because there’s no more room in the freezer!  You need to eat ALL the bacon!  You need to eat all of the leftovers before they go bad, especially if one of your family members calls it quits and refuses to eat it.

5. We eat for emotional reasons.

Emotions definitely have impacted how people eat.  People use food to deal with their issues instead of coping with them head-on or seeking catharsis.  I’m pretty aware when something like this is happening, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to it.

However, there’s another aspect of emotion that is much more of a threat to me.  If someone you love cooks up, oh, I don’t know, a whole pan of the bombest fried rice on the planet, complete with egg and Chinese sausage, and then follows that by making french toast, do you refuse such gifts and say “no thanks, I’ll make some wheat toast?”

If you would, you’re a monster, and you’ll live those extra years of life cold and alone.

The food tastes good… because it has love.  More importantly, accepting that love is important.  So important that I not only used two forms of the same word, “important,” in one sentence, but also risked possibly making this sentence a fragment by beginning with “so” as a vague intensifier to make my point.

Yet, I want to live – which means finding a way to make my appreciation apparent in more ways than the happy reception of food.  In fact, I would say that the answer to all of this is a simple-to-say, hard-to-do one: Enrich my life so that food isn’t the crutch, the focus, or the answer.  As human beings, we are past the point where food is the focus of an entire day in order to survive – at least, in my current environment.  It’s time for my life to reflect that.  I should look forward to life, not to dinner.

Do you look forward to your food more than you should?  What reasons make you eat besides just hunger?