Monthly Archives: October 2010

Birthday pimpin’

So, today’s my birthday. 40th, if you’re wondering. I’m feeling slightly more like looking back and seeing how things have gone to this point than I have for previous birthdays, but that’s pretty much the only difference. I might write more about that later. I’m still waking up with the same aches and pains which are alternately aggravated and erased by my awesome family. I still have to work today. I still have a pile of bills. And I still haven’t been to Hawaii (or, for that matter, any city which starts with an “X”).

So, pretty much just another day.

But it does give me the opportunity to be an attention-monger with relatively few social consequences. So I’ve asked all my Facebook friends to come over and blow my blog stats through the roof (I’m a stats-whore). We’ll see if anyone actually does it. It would be cool to see a huge spike in my stats for one day, propping up the top of the graph like a guided tower, from which I could sit and view all the little former high points and laugh at their puny-ness.

And I figured I’d put up a few other links while I’m here.

First, to be completely self-serving, here’s my link to If you want to buy anything for yourself or your friends for Christmas or upcoming birthdays or something, and you feel like shopping at, it wouldn’t hurt you to use this link. And I’d get a small “thank you” pittance from for throwing the link up.

I got yelled at last year for not reminding my family that the link is there to be used, so… there you go. (If you’d prefer a more focused selection of things, you can go to my Amazon storefront instead.)

Okay, enough begging.

PLEEAAAASSE go visit the other blog I write for… the Coalition of Awesomeness. Six (or seven – I’ve heard we’re getting another) awesome bloggers from around the world write a post or two on a site-wide topic every two weeks. There are some awesome posts up (though of course mine are the awesomest). Posts tend to circle the general topic of entertainment (like video games, TV, and movies), but usually with a bit of an odd perspective. For example, recent topics have included favorite villain of all time, who should lead the world, favorite cancelled shows, and defense of Nic Cage films, among others.

Other than that, check out the list on the right of things I’ve found interesting on my Google Reader. Maybe you’ll like some of it.

Now – it’s my birthday, but you get the presents: for this post I would love to see the comments filled up with links to your sites or sites you think are worth promoting. My only qualifier is that it come from an actual person and not just be spam – use your own name in the comment, and write something that makes it obvious that you’re a real person. Other than that, link to whatever you want (well, keep it clean, though). You get a little promotion and maybe I can find some cool stuff I didn’t know about.

And thanks for reading!


The last couple of nights I’ve been catching up on the new A&E show, “Teach: Tony Danza.” “Teach” was filmed in Northeast High School in Philadelphia, not far from where I grew up. I like Tony Danza. He seems like a pretty nice, well-meaning guy. He seems like a hard worker and certainly has his share of talent.

“Teach” is another reality show. I’m not sold on reality shows in general. This one also felt like a ‘stunt’ show, where a recognizable, but waning, celebrity does something odd or shows you his life to get back in the public eye. That really bothers me.

I wanted to see if I was right, so I watched the first episode. They tackled that stunt issue head on. They had to, of course, but still I give them credit. The principal expressed her misgivings on allowing this, and Tony made the case for doing it, and though it sounded a little rehearsed (on both sides), I think they were expressing true feelings and intentions. So they passed that test.

It’s still a reality show, though, so you have to remember that what you’re seeing is an altered reality. Students having cameras in their faces for a class period and periodically through the day has to create an altered environment, and the kids may have been chosen for the class in order to present certain problems.

Here’s the thing about that, though. Aside from all the verbalized introspection, and looking past some  of the oddity of a celebrity in a classroom, this actually does seem real to me. And I do have some experience with it.

I have a degree in Secondary Education. I taught in a classroom for part of one semester as a student teacher in 11th and 12th grade Social Studies – primarily Psychology and Sociology. Those are elective classes, so to some degree most of the students I taught wanted to be in that class. The students in Danza’s class all agreed to be there – I don’t believe any of them were forced. Tenth grade is a whole different animal than 11th and 12th, though. I taught one 10th grade history class for a while during my student teaching – the subject matter wasn’t nearly as hard as the classroom management. It was mayhem at times, and I was pretty good at discipline. The juniors and seniors, by contrast, were way easier (most days) to deal with, but they demanded more academically.

I only taught for that one semester. It’s almost 20 years later, and I still think about those kids sometimes, and the work they did (and didn’t) do. Writing skills, for some of them, were appalling. Appalling. I mean, really, shockingly bad. There were kids who were really smart, but didn’t do the work. There were kids who were really smart who did the minimum work because they weren’t being challenged. There were kids who were trying as hard as they could just to manage a B or a C. There were kids who needed extra help. And there were kids who had given up on themselves and played the system well enough to get a pass, barely, with a D – and they were satisfied with that (I wasn’t, but they were). I even had a narcoleptic in one of my classes (as a teacher, that was an interesting experience – he was a smart guy, but that disease really interfered with his ability to learn).

So as I’m watching “Teach” I’m seeing every one of those categories reflected in the show (well, except the narcolepsy). And I’m seeing some of my own reactions in his as he comes across them. He wears his heart on his sleeve and verbalizes everything, which is totally not me, but his reactions, though exaggerated, mirror what I felt at the time.

The overriding question so far seems to be “how do I get these kids engaged?” “How can I inspire them?” Those are the questions every teacher has to ask. And when you fail at it, as you inevitably will, it can be extremely disheartening.  As one assistant principal tells Danza during one of his ‘defeated’ moments, “this is an emotional job.” It really is. You get invested in teaching, and in the kids, and it all becomes personal very easily. It’s a very difficult balancing act to be as invested as you need to to succeed while also not letting high school students define your self-worth.

Speaking of defeated moments, Tony cries a lot on the show. So far not in front of the kids, but he loses it a few times in all three episodes so far. While I think that may be excessive, or at least played up a little in editing, I totally get it. And I’m not a visibly emotional person. What he’s expressing is what many, if not all, teachers feel on some level in their early years (and probably some in their later years as well). There are times when it does get to you. I was inches from totally bawling in front of a class near the end of my run, when problems had mounted with certain students over a project I had assigned. I had to turn and write something on the chalkboard to pull myself together. That is the only time in my entire life that I had that much trouble controlling my emotions in public. Teaching can strip you raw if you let it.

I could probably write way more about this show and how it parallels my own experience, and I may come back to it later, but I want to get to this: I know a few people who think they could just step into the role of a teacher. I hope this show really does get across that it’s not as easy as many people think it is. The principal has some strong words for Danza along those lines after a couple of his screw-ups. Teaching is HARD on multiple levels. I hope this show manages to communicate that, and that the reality is not easy to dismiss.

I’ve got about a billion more things that this show makes me think about (100 teachers quit in a week, the resource room, the geometry teacher talk, the parents, the kids I taught, etc.), but I gotta stop somewhere. I hope future episodes continue to evoke these memories – along with hope for my own kids’ and their teachers.

Poker night!

So this past weekend I got together with my brother and a bunch of college friends for a night of poker in Philadelphia. It was the first time this group had been together in 4 years. I can’t speak for everybody else, but I had a great time (though I think everybody else did). Four of the six of us were the group gathered for my best gaming experience ever years ago. Two of these guys play poker on a regular basis. The rest of us play on rare occasions, and we had one guy who had never played before.  The video above wasn’t too far off – he was reading “Poker for Dummies” on the car ride in (and he ended up as one of the winners for the night).

If there was a theme for the night, though, it wasn’t poker – though we played for hours into the early morning. The theme was family. We talked a lot about family. We talked a lot about “Family Guy,” too, and watched a bunch of clips of comedians talking about family. We all shared experiences we have with our own kids and wives (or girlfriends), good and frustrating. I won’t talk about any of the specifics here, but in varying degrees they were experiences that most of us have had at one time or another. Kids that keep asking questions until you want to throttle them. Wives that are able to connect with a kid in certain circumstances better than the husband. And more about “Family Guy.”

And it’s amazing what you can learn about a guy when you put his iTunes on “Shuffle.”

I really consider these guys to be part of my extended family. I wish we could get together more often.

(And it doesn’t hurt that for the first time in a LONG time I beat Dana at poker. More luck than skill, but there was definitely some skill in there this time. Woo hoo!)