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What do Teachers Make?

I found this by accident, and am so glad of it.  This is a piece by Taylor Mali, a well known Slam Poet and teacher.  As a teacher, i wish more of my colleagues felt this way.  Enjoy:

03:16 – June 03, 2007

Here is the text from it:

What Teachers Make, or
Objection Overruled, or
If things don’t work out, you can always go to law school

By Taylor Mali

He says the problem with teachers is, “What’s a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?”

He reminds the other dinner guests that it’s true what they say about

That those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the urge to remind the other dinner guests
that it’s also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we’re eating, after all, and this is polite conversation.

“I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor”
“Be honest. What do you make?”

And I wish he hadn’t done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
which is, if you ask for it, then I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and I can make an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

You wanna know what I make?

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence.
No, you can not work in groups.
No, you can not ask a question (so put your hand down)
Why won’t I let you go to the bathroom?
Because you’re bored and you don’t really have to go, do you?

You wanna know what I make?

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home at around dinner time:
“Hi, This is Mr. Mali, I hope I haven’t called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something your son did today.
he said, “Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don’t you?”
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and who they can be.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write.
And then I make them read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely
over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And then hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them realize that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a difference! What about you?

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This is a very interesting discussion between two rather well-known and well-mediatized scientist: famous anti-god and anti-religion flagbearer Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss one of the many pretenders to the throne of former physics/astrophysics for the layperson champion Carl Sagan. It is a very interesting discussion, about the agelong conflict between science and religion, why do we need one or the other, and other such matters.

It is a series of 12 videos (they load automatically), with the final three being a Q&A session with the audience. Enjoy:

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Say What Now?

Say What Now?What did i tell you? I told you i’d be back very soon, and i’ve obliged. Personally i’m quite impressed by myself, but as some might wish to point out, this is not the first time i’ve stopped blogging and then said i’ll be back soon, and then didn’t oblige.

So, first let’s attend to the questions.  Why did i stop?  Well, there is not one answer to that.  I’ll tell you what one of the main reasons was however.  When this blog was ‘discovered’ by certain people that perhaps i didnt’ think – naively – would’ve found it (i.e. my students).  That in itself wasn’t a problem for me, but the idea of my personal life and my professional life mixing did not appeal to me. 

Why? Well the reasons are many.  I have no intention of going into a discussion on pedgogical philosophies, but perhaps it boils down to one word: authority.  I am still young enough that i remember my life as a student.  I remember the teacher for me always had a unique existence, in that she or he did not really exist for me outside of the academic framework.  If it came to pass that fate would have me cross a teacher in real life, say at the supermarket or something, once the awe and wonder of it has faded, i could almost say that somethign was lost, in the mystique of the teacher.  Because he became more human. I am not saying that is a bad thing, it is even possibly a good thing, but what is important is that the dynamic between the two changes.  And that is that I dont want yet to happen i think.  As i become more comfortable in my professional skin, i will be able to deal with situation better. I am by no means a strict teacher, possibly a bit too lax at times, and it is as always, the story of giving an inch, and them taking a foot. You need to be careful. 

But let us be serious. that is NOT the only reason.  However the theme rests. It is odd to say this, but when you know WHO is reading the blog, you dont necessarily write with the same sincerity and genuineness as before.  You can’t keep the same level of candidness.  You almost write for an audience.  Now, i am not by any means saying i actually have an audience (all you need to do is look at the 40-50 hits/day i was getting in my ‘hayday’ to realize this fact).  But when you are aware that certain people are reading the blog, some autocensoring comes into play. which is a shame. 

You know i started to blog, before i knew i was actually blogging.  It was in 2000 that i started.  It was on a site which was an online journal, and i was there under a pseudonym, with no information on my actual identity.  And there i was able to truly write all that was on my mind, and i can tell you in those days – during the SAH days – i had a LOT on my mind, and a lot to say.  No one from my real life actually ever found out about that site … except for one perhaps…although i’m not sure – he is finishing his PhD in the US and while we do keep in somewhat regular contact, he never ever has brought that up so i dont know for sure.  Anyways, i used to love those times, because i really was able to say what was on my mind.  I was writing a lot of poetry back then, and a lot of prose.  And i didnt feel bad about publishing them online because i knew that no one who read it, knew who i was.  There is a great feelign of safety in anonymity.

Then i started this blog.  Back when it was still on the utoronto server.  At that time i did not mind being known.  And the more i reflect upon it, the more i realize it is because the goal of my web-writing had changed.  Whether i liked it or not, there was politics in there now.  Although i did include a fair bit of my personal life in that.  But anyways, the people who read the blog, were mostly those who did not really know me.

Politics however became one of the reasons i stopped blogging.  I could not take it anymore.  It wasn’t only in blogging that it was becoming too much.  In my own life too.  As i was going through the crisis of my personal life, the crisis in politics became almost an external manifestation of my insides, and it became somethign i could cling onto, in order to externalize my own problems.  But i became far too invested in it, and with each bad news, i took it far too badly on a personal level.  And so i had to stop.  Even in my own personal life, now, i’m much more cut off from politics.  Sure i read the news, i follow the elections and the campaigning and hear what warmongers like McCain or Clinton have to say, but i just dont get moved too much by it.  I dont get moved by the plight of the poor country of Iraq anymore.  I dont get moved too much by all the negative potentiality surrounding Iran and the US anymore.  i just coudln’t anymore, i had to stop.  In a sense it’s a shame, but i think i’m better off for it. 

It is because i’m fairly – no…very – happy in my personal and professional life.  Happy enough, that i at times feel guilty at how lucky i am.  And that is another reason why i haven’t been blogging.  Honestly, i dont think at any point in my life, i’ve worked the number of hours that i do currently.  Each night until 10 pm at least, and most weekends at the library.  And i love it. I dont mind.  Sure it’s not the same kind of work as a kid in med school or someone doing a PhD in physics, but its’ work nonetheless.  Talking and interacting the number of hours each day with the students and then afterwards marking preparing, etc. is still work, and its intellectual work.  But its’ a great form of exhaustion. 

Furthermore, while not working i’m busy doing a lot of things i enjoy greatly.  I’m taking full advantage of the possibilities of this awesome and expensive city.  Musically, especially.  I will be writing much more musical reviews that is for sure.  I’ve also – thanks to the burgeoning friendship with my very dear friend Double-R – started to explore many things outside of my professional field of trainings of science. 

So that leads me to the final thing to say.  After all of that, the main reason possibly for not writing, has been a lack of direction.  Bascially once, i decided i’m going to forego politics, this blog lost a lot of its direction.  It makes me sad to see it lose its direction, but even more sad to realize that it had become basically a political blog.  This was never the intention.  The original aim of this blog was to introduce Iran and talk about Iran (all of iran, not just its politics) to a mainly occidental and english speaking audience. 

And so here we are, if we are to continue with this blog, what is going to be its point, and its direction?  And it is here that we reach a bit of a problem.  Because, for me, the natural diretion to take would be a more personal one, a more introspective one.  And yet here i just spent half of this post ranting and raving about lack of anonymity and autocensure in the face of a known audience. 

So what is there to do? That is the question.  Does one sacrifice the one for the other, or is it goodbye blogging?  Or perhaps a compromise can be found between the two extremes? Perhaps that could be the subject of a post.  This much i can say, i will continue to write, as my time permits, and i will write about things which MATTER TO ME, WHICH ARE IMPORTANT TO ME, WHICH I AM THINKING ABOUT IN MY LIFE. 

oh yes, and i’d really like to start up the photoblog once more, since my lovely new camera and i are getting along oh just so swimingly.


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Musical Philosophical Nightmare

It was a couple of weeks ago, when sleeping in the throws of a mild fever, i had one of those fantastic fever-induced surreal dream/nightmares.  Now before i continue, if for no reason other than to set my mother aflight with worry, i should add that it was mild, and nothign serious, in fact i enjoyed it quite the lot.

I remember when i was a kid my particular dreams in this state involved inflation of body parts or things in my room.  A general change of size thigns.  And it wasn’t nightmarish in the Freddy Krueger sense of the word either (i can recall two nightmares in my entire life, and one of them was rather psychological more than anything else), so i’m not even sure if this one shoudl qualify as a ‘nightmare’ per se.  But it does make for a nice post-title.

The fantastic thing about this fever-induced dream was that i was a musical! That’s right, not musical (as in the adjective), but also A MUSICAL (as in the noun, as in South Pacific, or Moulin Rouge).  What was even more fantastic was the fact that it was a musical about the Philosophy of Physics.  And what was even more fantastic was that it was complete!  So here is the summary:

I had a fever induced nightmare which consisted of a Musical about the Philosophy of Physics.  And it was in three acts! The first and final act were in the classroom with my students, and the middle act was in the Teachers’ Lounge. Honestly, if i could have more nightmares of that nature, i would not mind it one bit.  I was so totally awestruck when i woke up in the morning.

And why was it a nightmare, you ask?  Because not only where none of the students were actually paying attention (that’s pretty normal for my students), but i also kept missing the High C!!!!

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Despite my natural tendency to exagerrate thigns for the sake of good storytelling, i promise you that this story is completely true, and without exagerration!

One of the thingsi have enjoyed greatly this year and which has been a very pleasant surprise, has been the ambiance at my school with the other professeurs and the general solidarity among the "Equipe Pedagogique". 

I suppose it is partly due to the fact that our school is considered one which has quite a bit of discipline issues, by virtue of the fact that it is also a professiona high school, and that it is in one of the parisian suburbs with a fairly noticeable portion of north african immigrant families.  Naturally when in such a situation, the teachers have to be more together, and as a result there is a really palpable sense of comaraderie between the teachers.  This does not mean that we do not criticise each other, but rather when we do we understand that it is constructive, and besides that there is a lot of joking around going on and whatnot. 

This is in opposition to many parisian, old, bourgeois type schools, where there is a veyr wooden atmosphere even amongst the teaching corp.  Anyways, so over the year i’ve gotten to know some colleagues more than others, for example the math and techonology teachers, simply because their subject is closer to my physics. 

So sometime ago, during class i asked one of my students, a girl we’ll call "J" to stay after class.  She is someone who has caused A LOT of problems for most teachers, and for the school in general, for various reasons.  With me we have developed somewhat of an understanding.   However,this particular day she had been talkign a lot durign class, and i asked to stay.  I had a relatively long talk with her, and though i was not rude or anythign, i made it understood that this type of behaviour will no longer be tolerated, etc.  She left 5 minutes after.  

when i went to the teacher’s lounger after my next class, i found Mr. X, the tech. teacher who asked me over.  Now, he is a guy in his mid 30′s i imagine, and usually nice but a bit … weird.  He said, in a bit of an annoyed voice, "J was late for my class, was it because of you? She told me you had held her back".  I responded by saying, yes it was me, and went to explain taht it was because she was causing trouble, and i wanted to make her understand that it would no longer be tolerated.

Hearing that, he said "oh ok. well in that case. it’s fine. good."  He paused and i assumd he had finished, when suddenly he continued. 

"You know it was good what you did.  Cuz these students they’re like the Borg.  You know, in star trek.  As soon as the first transports onto your ship, you have to act quickly and get rid of it, otherwise they’ll take over really quickly"

Then he simply went back to marking his papers!

[tags]star trek, the next generation, borg, riker, stories, anecdotes, funny, humourous[/tags]

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Murder of a 12 Year old student

We have all been shocked by the news last night of the killing of a 12 year old student in a paris suburbs school, at the hands of his classmates

Now, before the anti-french flagwaver go on their little rants, it shoudl be known that this has NOTHING to do with race, immigrants, religion or that kind of nonesense.  Apparently it happend at the end of a gym class, during which the students had played a football match.  The victim apparently had either played a good game or fouled some of the perpetrators, and as a rsult they decided to give him a beating at the end of class.  He was taken down and kicked by two of these students, but it appears that he already had a heart condition and as the result of the ‘emotional shock’ of the waht was happening he suffered a heart attack. 

I have to say that today at school that pretty much was topic of discussion.  It is incredibly shocking considering the age of the students involved, and the unfortunate result.  And the discussions veered towards the boundaries of the responsibilities of the teachers, and what to do when you have 30 students to watch over and at the same time you have to put away sporting equipment, or lab equipment.

Afterwards i was talkign with my supervising teacher (who’s been teaching physics for quite a few years) and he was telling me of some of the idiocy that students can do in a simple physics lab with electrical stuff and whatnot, and i have to tell you, it scared the shit out of me. It is impossible to keep an eye on EVERYTHIGN THAT EVERYSINGLE STUDENT DOES AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT.

I guess this is just one of those things you have to do the best you can with, and learn with experience and the years.

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So i dont know exactly what is going on in my head but for the last month or so, half of my dreams have involved my students and colleagues.

So this means that since this year i’m only working 6 hours and that next year when i will be working a full 18 hours, 3 out of every 2 dreams i will have, will involve my students or colleagues!!

Un peu bizarre, n’est-ce pas?

ps. it’s mostly my students and rarely my colleagues.

pps. and several times ahmadinejad as well !!!

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Iraq’s New Democracy

 Here it is.  A new survey by Johns Hopkins University has put the estimate of Iraqi deaths since the 2003 american invasion, at 655,000. I'm going to rewrite that in large letters for those who need to see it in large letters:

 an estimated 655,000 iraqis have died since the illegal american invasion of 2003

You know, you have to congratulate the United States of America.  They managed to do in a meager 3 years, what one of the worst dictators of the 20th century was unable to achieve in over 40 years of tyrannical reign.  

This should shed some light in the eyes of even those idiots who justified their country's illegal invasion of a sovereign nation under false pretences and fabricated documents, by saying that at least we got rid of that dicatator Saddam.  Yea well, i bet iraqi's are looking back at the days of saddam hussein with fond memories.  At least their mortality rate wasn't a humanitarian catastrophe.  

good for you america.  And you american, if you were real patriots, if you really cared for your country, you'd stand up and do something about your government's beligerence, before every other country on this planet decides that they are better off without the country named United States of America. If you were true patriots, you would have realized this long ago, and done something about it.

Otherwise it would be interesting to look at the history books in the year 3000, when in one little box they make a mention the brief but catastrophic reign of the United States Wannabe empire, and how they crashed and burned like every other tyrannical empire before them.

[tags]United States, america, bush, US, Iraq, death toll, Johns Hopkins, invasion of iraq[/tags] 

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 So i decided some days ago, now that i am a career man, and a role model (come on….let me have my moment), i should be dressed as such. At least part of the time.

Those who know yours truly, have always indulged my taste in clothing.  A taste that is far more dependent on comfort than anything resembling proper looks.  Now, the fact that despite this defiiciency in the fashion department i manage to look so damn sexy, is simply a testament to the raw masculinity and sexy-bitchiness that oozes out of my every manly hole.  

Anyways, despite all that i decided that although my own sexiness may help me pull off what i do, despite my bad sense of dressing, thse students, these impressionable youths, who are not blessed with the same adonis-like beauty that i so modesty carry with me, would most certainly NOT be able to manage.  Thus it is part of my duty, as teacher, as educator, as guide and mentor, to help them, ever so subtlely with the nuances of fashion.

The point is that i bought a new coat.

In fact, not just a coat, but one of those intellectual looking blazers, with patched elbows, that nowadays are even more intellectual looking if you wear them with jeans.  (mine don't have the elbow patches …. yet!!)  

So after having decided that my sexiness needs a companion, in the form of the-even-more-sexy-intellectual-wannabe-look, i went and found one such jacket and purchased.  it would be of interest to add, that this also happened to be the first occasion i actually went out and bought clothes for myself, ALL BY MYSELF.  That's right, it only took 28 years.  Word up.

So this happened on a saturday.  I had class on monday.  

Monday came and i put on the jacket.  Even as i was putting it on, with only one arm in a sleeve, i could feel myself becomign more intellectual, and if such as thing is possible, even more sexy.   I didn't even bother looking at myself in the mirror, because i KNEW how good i look, and i was afraid that the mirror would not be able to handle it, and being married, i knew that i did not 7 years of bad luck.  And so off to school i went. 

Now, at our school, there are blocks of two hours, wiht 15 minute breaks in between, at the end of which the teachers go down and the different classes are all lined up, and you have to pick them up and lead them to class.  Monday was my big day, since i had all four of my classes.  It was the perfect showcase to my young protégés my newly upgraded looks, and give them a taste of what they could have had if they were older … and weren't my students … and i wasn't married … and they had forgotten to wear their glasses … anyways, again i digress.

As i went down the stairs, hearing the noise of the young ones out in the court, i could feel time slow down, as i came into view.

Do you know waht the sound of hundred of necks turning is like? I'll tell you. It's surprising quiet, except for a few heads which bang into each other out of confusion.  

i could almost sense the awe in the eyes of the yougn girls, as i came to a halt in front of the class i had to pick up.  Me in my eternal coolness, brushed it off gracefully, and led them up to class.  

We went into the class and once they were seated i began the lecture … with the coat on.  I wanted to experience both the front and back of me, with the coat.  I had to admit, all the hyperbole aside, they truly were gazing at my coat with rather a srange look in their eyes. I decided taht, once again, all hyperbole aside, they truly were dazzled by the hot new look of their young sexy teacher.  

I decided to take coat off, to conserve a bit of the sexy for the three other classes.  

The class came and went, rather oddly more quietly than usual, with the odd whishper or giggle even occasionally. Following that, i repeated teh process with the other classes, and i once agian got the same result.  They truely were rather struck by the look of my blazer.  

When i finally reached home, i took the coat off, and decided, dammit, the results today were so positive, i'm going to wear it tomorrow again.

Tomorrow was tuesday.  Tuesdays are one of the days when i have pedagogy courses with my fellow laureates of the teaching exams. I figured dazzlnig my fellow colleagues would be even more of a jewel in my crown than my students.

And so it was that chilly mornign that i set out with new blazer on, set to impress … more than usual. However, i was late and i was forced to run a fair distance to catch my train, and the resulting perspiration forced me to take the jacket off, and get to the class in my usual t-shirted state.  But, never fear i said to myself, for lunch still is to come, and when we go out to lunch, i shall non-chalantly and aloofly (is that a word? … now it is) slip the jacket on, and let them be awed. 

I barely heard a thing our instructor was saying, as i counted the seconds until lunch.  Finaly we got up to head out, and i with the utmost grace put the new jacket on.  Instantly eyes turned to me. as we walked out, one of the guys came over, with quite the appraisingly look which stopped at my left underarm.  

i found that odd, since i had noticed that with my students as well, their eyes seemed to have to chosen to focus on that area as well.  Then slowly he reached out an arm, slowly went towads my underarms region.  

Then as i watched in slow motion curiosity that slowly turned into horror, as i understood EVERYTHING, she got a hold of the price-tag that had been hanging ever-so-prominently from the jacket, saying:

La honte! Tu as toujours l'etiquette!

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  • Filed under: Education, Stories
  • academia

    Life in Academia: The Choice

    I would be lying if i told you that i wasn’t shocked when i found out that Sean Carroll had been denied tenure by University of Chicago, as he posted it on his Blog (preposterous universe) a few days ago. I had always thought of him as a ‘hotshot’ as far as academia goes, and i still do. His research, from what i’ve seen, covers as wide a field as dark matter stuff, to string theory related cosmology, to other things gr-related. And i always found it very interesting and cool. On top of it, he seemed like a genuinely intersting character, as far as people in academia go: he seemed like he is actually a multi-dimensional person, which is far from the norm in scientific circles; and this was only confirmed when i found out he has joined blogsphere, and that his blog is actually rather entertaining to read.

    But the news hit a very deep nerve, with me (and anne-laure). I made the decision a year or two ago, that life in academia is not for me. For better or for worse. That does not mean my love for physics and mathematics is any less than it was before this decision. However it means that i no longer have that romatnic and sexy image of a life in academia that i had before i was exposed to the reality of it. What i saw was a world of (for the most part) of uninteresting, one-dimensional, socially-maladjusted, competitive, and at time backstabbing people. I was told by everyone who was in it, that if you are to succeed in it, you have make it your life, and your number one priority, and that is a sacrifice that i will never make.

    On top of it, the politics involved are too much. The news of Mr. Carroll’s problem, only emphasized and exhibited this. Anne-Laure (who has been in Academia far longer and far deeper than i ever was) has always complained of this, to the point, that it helped her make decision, not to go into it, although i have no doubt that in terms of abilities as a mathematician, she would have been at the very summit of her field. There are too many stories she tells me of her friends or colleagues, who are married, and yet live in different cities due to their affectations. When one is always at the mercy of a political entity such as the faculty or the university, there are too many factors involved that are inhuman. And of course there are always personal politics, and personal vendettas, and pettiness (more on that in a post later).

    Just recently i heard news of a very good friend who is being forced to move to the US by virtue of his supervisor moving to a new school which is probably offering him much more money.

    See the problem is that, once you reach the level of PhD and yu’ve made the choice to go into academia, You will be faced with a choice. The choice will be between what you want, and what you ‘should’ do for the betterment and success of your career. invariably, people will choose career (over family, over their true desire, over …). I call this making the good choice, but not making the right choice. It is almost impossible to make the other choice. Because to do that, it might well mean that you are throwing away all that you’ve worked for until that point. However once you make that choice in favour of career, then you will have set foot in the proverbial path to the darkside. Because the next time that you will be faced with a choice between career and family or whatever, it will be that much easier to choose career; by virtue of precedence, and since the longer you are tehre, the more you have to lose.

    I could never that i think. Well, not even i think, I KNOW. Academia has already stolen a lot from me. And so i have made my choice, as has my beloved wife. But it’s sad to see how education and academia have turned into a poltical forum and a business. But what can you do?

    Anyways, this has turned into a long rant. I wish mr. carroll, the best of luck in finding a post somewhere else, where they deserve him much more. Hey why not come to canada … eh?

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