Snow day!

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December 26, 2010 - the last time before tonight I saw snow.

December 26, 2010 – the last time before tonight I saw snow.

On Monday, the temperature cleared 70 degrees.  On Thursday night, snow blanketed the ground.

Welcome to North Carolina.

In a year full of firsts at our school – first lottery, first summer camp, first day of class, first sporting event, first dance, first exams – we have one that excites students and teachers alike: the first snow day.

All day today, the students were murmuring with excitement about the possibility of their already-long weekend being extended by the white stuff.  I heard and saw all the memes, too – snOMG, Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, “ERMAGHERD! SNERR!”, among others.  As for keeping the students from going off the walls, though, I did remember one very important nugget of wisdom from my previous teaching job: never, under any circumstances, say the S-word until the last possible minute.  I waited until about 30 seconds before dismissal in every period to explain the changes in the unit syllabus in the event of a snow day.

They were still off the chain, though.

Of course, the school was also full of what I have begun to refer to over the years as “snow snobs” – those damned northerners, god love ’em, who just have to go on and on and on and on about how when they lived in New York or Vermont or whatever, they only cancelled school if it snowed more than 4 feet, and they’d be wearing Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts to school in this snow.

I just laugh it off, though.  We get snow twice a year in the South if we’re lucky; hell, after living in Alabama for the past two years, I haven’t seen a flake of frozen precipitation since 2010.  Snow here is something that’s rare, fun, and associated primarily with carefree days out of school.  I’ve seen the snow up north thanks to a trip to the NCAA Tournament in Buffalo back in 2004, and I understand why they hate it – it’s ugly!  It sticks around for weeks and weeks, and gets muddy and run over with tires and trampled over until it just blends in to the dirt.  The fleeting nature of snow here adds to its allure, and its wonder.

So enjoy the snow, everyone.  And stay safe out there.

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The year ahead

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My initial intent when I sat down to write this was to reflect on the craziness that was my 2012.  But you can read my blog and take all that in.  For those of you who haven’t been reading it and are too time-strapped or lazy to go catch up, though, here’s a Readers Digest version of it: I started the year working for a college athletic department in Alabama, decided I hated it, got hired by my longtime friend for a second go-round as a history teacher, moved back to North Carolina, and built a World History curriculum and high school athletic department from scratch at a brand-new charter school.  And somewhere in there, I turned 30.

Got all that?  Good.  Let’s move forward.

As interesting and exciting as 2012 was, 2013 holds so much to be excited about, so I’ve decided to use this space to look forward to all the awesome things that will happen in the next year.

January 22-25: Teacher Scholars.  It’s my first business trip as an RTHS faculty member!  Lead English teacher Deb Brown and I will be heading to Cullowhee for four days for the Teacher Scholars in Residence program at the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching.  We’ll be given the space and resources to work on our flipped videos and get a head start on the 2013-14 English and social studies curricula.  We’ll also be given top-flight food and accommodations.  Maybe I’ll even try skiing out while I’m up there – I’ll just make sure I get a Raptor green cast on whatever limb I shatter.

Spring 2013, date TBD: Bachelor party.  What do tigers dream of…

June 1-7: AP Reading.  I haven’t been officially invited back to Louisville yet, so this may be putting the cart before the horse, but the College Board sent me a sort of “save-the-date” notification in the fall, so I guess I’ll be going back to the AP U.S. History reading.  Chemistry and U.S. History are both in Louisville at the same time, so I’m hoping that my boss Eric gets invited back for Chemistry.  That’d be a pretty fun way to end our first school year.

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Aren’t we cute?!

June 22: Wedding bells.  As of June 22, my fiancee Jess and I will have been engaged for three years and three days.  We went to grad school and became way too poor to have the wedding we both wanted, so we stuck it out and finished our degrees – I think going through the difficult graduate-level work and grinding poverty together made us a stronger team.  Now we both have jobs in the Triangle and can afford to have a lovely wedding and a heck of a party.

June? July?  Honeymoon.  If anyone has any suggestions, we’d love to hear them.

July, date TBD: RTHS Camp 2.0.  Last year’s inaugural freshman orientation went a long way toward bringing such a diverse student body together, and gave the teachers an opportunity to meet our future charges.  This year, we’ll get to meet in the actual school building and have the full technological resources of the school, so it should be a lot more fun and a lot less stressful.

Soccer Shield Rays 1

Every soccer program needs a shield.

July 29: Fall sports practice opens.  The Research Triangle Raptors will be in the N.C. High School Athletic Association as an independent 1A member next year, and our first-ever boys’ soccer and girls’ volleyball teams will begin tryouts.  Our cross country team will also start its second season with high hopes after such a successful inaugural year.

August 12: Year two!  RTHS will welcome back 140 sophomores, enroll 105 new freshmen, break in a brand new wing of the building (including the new athletic directors’ office), and see numerous new teachers and staff members joining us in providing a top-notch education to our students.

August 31: Kickoff!  Being at Auburn for two years only heightened my excitement over the Charlotte 49ers FINALLY adding a football program.  I don’t know if I’ll get tickets to the Niners’ inaugural game against Campbell, but at the very least I plan to be on campus, tailgating and taking it all in, just so that years later I can tell my kids that I was there.

December 31: The second annual look ahead.  Hopefully I’ll get to spend 2013 writing about all the amazing experiences mentioned above – well, maybe not the bachelor party – and look ahead to all that 2014 will bring.

I’ve loved spending the last seven months creating this record of the experiences of me and my school, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it.  I hope all of you have a healthy, productive, and rewarding 2013.

Go to the vote!

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In many ways, my first two experiences voting are my most memorable.

In 1986, just after my 4th birthday, my parents took me with them as they cast their votes in the midterm elections at the elementary school in my mountain hometown of Spruce Pine.  My mom even let me take the little stylus and punch the holes on the ballot – don’t worry, she told me which ones to punch – and I had a blast doing so, since that’s about the funnest thing you can ever hope to do as a 4-year-old in Spruce Pine.  Throughout the rest of the day I expressed my excitement about “the vote” to anyone who would listen, and begged my parents to let me “go back to the vote tomorrow.”

The only Republican presidential ticket I ever voted for.

Two years later, as a kindergartner, I voted in my first presidential election.  I looked at the two names on the ballot, and recognized one. I had no idea who Michael Dukakis was, but I had been introduced to George Bush when I watched his Republican National Convention speech that summer along with my parents.  “Who’s that man talking?” I asked them as we watched the speech on CNN.

“That’s George Bush,” Dad explained.  “He’s the vice president.”

“Why are all these people cheering?  This is serious!”  I guess I hadn’t yet grasped the concept of “firing up the base.”

But because of that speech, I did understand “name recognition.”  I circled George Bush’s name on my ballot and turned it in.  Bush carried Mrs. Sossamon’s classroom by a narrow margin of 14 votes to 12, meaning that Governor Dukakis polled five points higher in our classroom than he had in the state of North Carolina.  I guess we were a Democratic stronghold.

Anyway, when I got home, Mom met me at the door.  “What did you do at school today, Alex”

“We voted!!!”

“That’s great,” Mom said, smiling.  “Who did you vote for?”

“Bush!!” I excitedly replied.

Mom’s smile disappeared.  “Alex… go to your room.”  Four years later, not wanting to be grounded again, I voted for Bill Clinton.

So maybe voting isn’t as fun now as it was when I was a kid.  But I still get a little excited every time I go to the polls.  Since I turned 18 about a week before the 2000 election, my first ballot that counted was actually cast in the 2000 Democratic primary when I was a 17-year-old high school junior.  I got up super early that morning and went to the precinct at about 6:30 a.m., an hour before school started.

Between primaries and general elections I’ve voted at least a dozen times now, but that excitement is still there.  This year was a first for me – I voted early.  For years I always had the funny feeling that my vote wasn’t real unless I did it on Election Day, but I decided to take care of it early this year since my precinct is one of the biggest in Durham County and I didn’t feel like standing in line for two hours on Tuesday.  All the same, it was an exciting experience to know that I had a say, however minuscule, in who gets to shape public policy going forward.  And as I drove home, I called my mom to let her know that I had just “gone to the vote” – that’s what we still call it in my family.  Voting may not be fun to you, but it’s still a privilege and a right that many people the world over don’t get.  Cherish it.

So on Tuesday, regardless of who you’re supporting, make your voice heard.  Take your right to be heard seriously.  And go to the vote.

Candy Land by candlelight: My recollections of Hurricane Hugo

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The Charlotte Observer from Saturday, September 23, 1989. “The devastating winds of Hurricane Hugo left [Charlotteans] with moneyless money machines, no power at the grocery story [sic], and no Notre Dame vs. Michigan State football game on TV.” Snort… “money machines.”

When I woke up in the middle of the night on September 22, 1989, I noticed two things out of the ordinary.  First off, something was hitting my bedroom window and making a ton of noise.  Secondly, my night light was off – for six-year-old me, that was far more troublesome.

I went across the hall to my parents’ room, fully intending to wake them up and lodge a complaint about my night light situation, only to find that they too were awake, listening to WBT on my Transformers battery-powered AM radio.  First they let my room go dark in the middle of the night, and now they’re playing with my toys?!  Oh hell no.  But then I realized that the light in their room was coming from candlelight. I just stared at Mom, confused.

She looked at me and said, “Hugo hit.”

As a six-year-old, I probably watched more news than most adults do, so I knew that Hurricane Hugo was a massive storm in the Atlantic Ocean and it had been heading for South Carolina.  I understood that it was dangerous and a lot of people were leaving the coast.  What I didn’t know was that after I had gone to bed, the storm drifted much further west than the forecasts had predicted and was still a minimal Category 1 hurricane when it arrived in the Charlotte area.

But even though I knew how dangerous a hurricane was, I guess I was too stupid to be scared.  Whatever, we’re indoors, it’s all good.  I remember Mom picking me up so I could look out the window – only for a minute, because she didn’t want me that close to the windows.  I distinctly recall seeing the biggest pine tree in our backyard blow about 45 degrees to the left, right itself, and then blow about 45 degrees in the other direction.  I’ll never understand how that tree didn’t go down.

Hillary, my sister who was 4 at the time, slept through the whole thing.

With the morning light, it was pretty abundantly clear that our neighborhood was a mess.  A tree from the yard of our neighbors across the street had fallen across the road, completely blocking anyone from leaving for at least a while.  The yard was so saturated with rainfall that my dad kicked up giant splashes with every step he took down toward the road – Hillary and I found that part particularly funny.  Some of our outside toys were never heard from again – that Big Bird scooter probably ended up in a tree somewhere.  But we were lucky – no trees came through our house, and Concord didn’t get hit quite as bad as the rest of the Charlotte area.

Hugo tells WSOC what they can do with their doppler radar.

The power was out at our house for five days.  On the third day after the storm, Mom decided to take Hillary and me up to my grandparents’ house in Spruce Pine to get us back into the 20th century, but the days without power were actually kind of…. fun.  The morning after the storm we had to find some essentials, so we ended up traveling all over Cabarrus County to find open stores.  Kwik-Way Catering, near what is now RCCC on Trinity Church Road, was open and selling bags of ice for the then-outrageous price of $1 per bag.  Cars were lined up around the block to get ice.  One grocery store in town was open – the old Harris Teeter on Highway 601 that is now Troutman’s Barbecue.  I remember laughing as the manager manually opened the sliding doors and handed Dad and me a flashlight as we walked in, and then being amused by the cashier ringing up our purchases with a battery-powered calculator.

At home, we managed to keep ourselves occupied.  We had plenty of company – we were one of the only families on the street with a gas-powered grill, so everyone came over to cook the meat from their now-useless refrigerators.  Internet and cell phones weren’t a thing yet, so the only gadget we were really missing was the TV, but that wasn’t really a big deal.  The news was on round-the-clock in the days after the storm, and if we really wanted to see it we could take our 7″ UHF television outside and power it with the car.  At night when we couldn’t sit outside anymore we read books, played board games as a family (hence the title of this post), and bathed in water heated up by the aforementioned grill – at least we had running water.  And hey, we were out of school for a week!  It may have been an inconvenience, but it really wasn’t that bad.

They say that a hurricane making it so far inland is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I’m glad that I got to live through it.  Along with my sister’s birth, it’s at the very top of my childhood memories.

But now that I’m old enough to be scared of an 80 mph wind gust, I hope I never see another one.

Pampered

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For one week every May across the nation, the National PTA celebrates Teacher Appreciation Week.  The basic idea is to show teachers how much they mean to schools, students, and communities.

At Robinson, my old school, this usually took the form of a teacher luncheon catered from a local restaurant, door prizes at said luncheon, trinkets in our mailboxes, and things like that.  (Teacher Appreciation Week usually lined up with the days leading up to the AP exam, so it seems like the very least they could’ve done was throw in an open bar at the luncheon, but beggars can’t be choosers.)  Those things were enjoyable, but it was a bummer when that one week in May came to an end and our fringe benefits dried up.

Now, I should issue a disclaimer: I don’t teach so that I can get free stuff, even though I’m apparently working for free.  I hope it goes without saying that I would enjoy teaching regardless of what snacks or stuff I get from the school community.  I am also not indicting every parent I interacted with at Robinson; I had plenty of parents – especially in quiz bowl – who would’ve given me the proverbial shirt off their backs.  But the parental involvement at RTHS in its first days has been nothing short of extraordinary.

The first time I saw such unbelievable selflessness was when we moved into the building in early August.  We had all of our tables, desks, chairs, etc. on site, but they had to be moved from the still-unfinished wing of the building into the newly-completed classrooms.  At 7:30 on a Saturday morning, dozens of students and parents (and even a few grandparents) were on site, with dollies and other equipment in tow.  Some of the volunteers were responsible for moving the furniture in, and then other students and parents would come in behind them and clean it all with supplies they had brought from home and donated to the cause.  I was terrified at the thought of having to enlist people with helping me set up my room, but it was 95 percent done by the time our teacher workdays began.  And considering how much work we were having to do to set up this new curriculum and teaching style, that was absolutely huge.

What remains of Deb’s wish list outside the English classroom. Mine wasn’t half this creative; sometimes I wonder if she’s a closet elementary school teacher.

When we were preparing our classrooms for the first days of school, Eric told us to put up our wish lists on the wall near our classrooms.  Having no idea what that was, I inquired further.  At Raleigh Charter, he said, the teachers would make stick-it notes listing what they needed for their classrooms and put them up for the parents to see at the open house.  Parents would take stick-it notes they could fulfill, and send the requested stuff with their kids sometime during the first week.  Having worked at a school where parents didn’t attend the open houses, let alone buy me crap, I was more than a little skeptical.

Despite my doubts, I made 25 stick-it notes – a few of them were for consumable sanitary stuff like Clorox wipes, Kleenex, and hand sanitizer, and then I put up a few asking for other classroom supplies like power strips (needed at a tech-heavy school like this one), rulers and yardsticks, markers, etc.

And sure enough, 21 of the 25 notes got taken.  I have so much Purel I don’t know where to put it all.  Stuff is still rolling in, too – just this afternoon I received a box of plastic silverware I asked for.  But now, it’s not supplies that we’re getting on a regular basis – it’s food.

Yesterday morning, a parent came in asking where our break room was located.  After I pointed it out to her, she walked out of the building and came back a minute later with a spread of foodstuffs that are torpedoing my attempts at weight loss – brownies, coffee cake, cookies, and some Dunkin Donuts coffee.  (Coffee, by the way, is the only thing Dunkin Donuts makes that doesn’t suck out loud.  There.  I said it.)  Yesterday wasn’t the first time this had happened – during our move-in days and workdays we were showered with pizza, doughnuts, and plenty of other stuff.

After gorging myself on the coffee cake – and before the sugar crash came on – I looked at Mila, our office manager, and jokingly said, “Well, all we need now is a Keurig machine and we’ll be set.”

I came in this morning, went in the break room to put my lunch in the fridge, and guess what was sitting on the counter.  Looks like I don’t have to make and bring my own coffee every morning anymore.  That means five more minutes of sleep.  Win.

Not a day has gone by in the last few weeks when I haven’t felt honored and fortunate to work at a school where the community is so deeply invested.  Every teacher has those moments when they feel less than appreciated, but I don’t think anyone at RTHS will be feeling that way any time soon.

I bet Teacher Appreciation Week here is gonna be out of control.

A pre-30 bucket list

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Throughout graduate school, I constantly took on water from my classmates and friends for being several years older than them.  Case in point: the song “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure comes on in a bar.  My friend Mike, always good for a comment, chimes in with, “Hey, did they play this at your junior prom or your senior prom?”  Smartass.

Yesterday, my friend Allison brought this to my attention.

21 Ways You Should Take Advantage Of Your 20s

I’m 29 now, 30 in October.  So I began looking through their list of things partly as a checklist of what I did in my 20s, and partly as a sort of bucket list for things I need to try to knock out in the next three and a half months.  I won’t go through all of them one-by-one, but a few caught my eye.

Don’t feel the need to respond to every text message, phone call, and email the second it reaches you. Once upon a time, it took longer than a minute to reach someone. People used stamps and envelopes; they had answering machines they didn’t check for hours, sometimes days. No one will die if you don’t immediately respond to every message you receive.
I definitely struggle with this one.  I have my iPhone on me at all times and always feel compelled to communicate with people right when they send me something, because I feel like they expect it.  The point the author makes about stamps and envelopes and answering machines is true, but times have changed in the communication department, as I alluded to in a blog post a few weeks ago.  I’m trying to get better at reading an email and resolving to respond when I’m at my computer later that night or the next day.

Never turn down an open bar. Seek them out and make them a priority. Indulging in open bars when you’re older isn’t appropriate because a) people will think you have an alcohol problem and b) you’re supposed to have enough money to afford your own alcohol.
I’m on the cusp with this one.  Going to bars is fun when the time allows and when friends are in town, but if I can drink better stuff at home, and for cheaper, I’d much rather go that route.

Learn how to cook. Here’s an idea — instead of spending all your money on ridiculously marked-up restaurant food, save your money by buying non-processed WHOLE FOODS and LEARNING HOW TO MAKE A MEAL OF REAL FOOD. A meal of real food is not a box of Annie’s Organic Mac and Cheese — that’s PROCESSED FOOD. A meal is something like sauteed brussel sprouts with onions and pinto beans garnished with salt and pepper. You’ll thank yourself for learning how to cook when your metabolism catches up to you.
Well, brussel sprouts are gross, but besides that, this one is spot on.  I learned how to cook when I was in college and had my own kitchen in my dorm starting in my sophomore year.  After I graduated, though, I practically lived alone (roommate was in the military), and I worked pretty long hours at the school and often had announcing duties after-hours, so I would just grab something on the way home.  My bank account and my waistline paid the price.  I cooked a lot more once Jess and I moved to Auburn, and felt much better about what I was eating.

Stay up late. In your 20s, you’re all, “Let’s go to another bar!” “Who wants to eat at a diner?” “Have you guys seen the sun rise from the High Line?” “In this moment I swear we were infinite!” When you get older, this becomes, “What are you doing? Go home. Watch Parks and Rec and go to sleep. What is wrong with you, staying up all night? Who has time for that?” If you’re in your 20s, you do. You have all the time. Do it now and take advantage of how not tired you are. You think you’re crabby now when you stay up too late? You’ll never believe how terrible you feel when you do it in your 30s.
Freakin’ A.  This one was proven for me every time I went out with my 22- and 23-year-old classmates.  I went out one Wednesday night, stayed out until about 11:30, went home, got up for work the next morning, and needed about four cups of coffee to get going.  One of the whippersnappers I went out with, though, came bounding into my office like a spring chicken and informed me that she went to another bar after I headed home and didn’t go to bed until 3.  To be young.

Savor those 20s hangovers. They are a gift from God so that you’ll always remember what your tolerance level is. Your hangover recovery time is like flippin’ Wolverine in your 20s. You wake up, feel like death, pull on some shades, gulp down coffee or maybe a bloody Mary and whine about your headache over brunch. Oh, boo hoo. When you’re older, every hangover is Apocalypse F-cking Now. You’re not making it to brunch. You’re not making it off your goddamn floor in a weeping puddle of regret.
I began to notice about three years ago that I simply cannot bounce back the way I used to.  In my life, I’ve had four hangovers that resulted in that “I AM NEVER DRINKING AGAIN” declaration that everyone has made at one time or another, and three of those were in the last two years.  Back in October I went to Albuquerque to visit my friend Steve and, thanks to the elevation and an unholy amount of tequila, ended up with a hangover that did not dissipate for literally 48 hours.  So yeah, young’n’s, savor it indeed.

Indulge in drunken diner/ fast food at 4 a.m. This is considered depressing behavior once you become a real adult.
Well, in Auburn just about everything that doesn’t serve booze shuts down at 10:00 p.m., so that was hard.  But I’m back in the land of Cook-Out now, so game on.

Stop procrastinating your trip abroad.  Your chances of taking a long vacation abroad diminish as you become more set in your ways and as you gain more responsibility.
Grad school and its finance-draining ways stopped me on this one.  I have a fiancee who also wants to do some traveling, though, so while I may not get to it before I turn 30, we’ll do it.

Do ‘unacceptable’ things to your hair. Dye it. Dread it. Shave only the left side of your head and give a shit if it grows back in a flattering manner (hint: it won’t). There’s no time but now.
Nope.  I’ve had the same hairstyle since I was six.

Somewhere near Vancouver, 2005.

Take road trips. Sitting in a car for days on end isn’t something your body was designed to do forever.
Well, the good news is that I took care of this one already, because this is spot-on accurate.  When I was 22 I flew out to see my friend Will at Stanford University at the end of the school year, and we drove his car back to North Carolina.  We didn’t take I-40, though – we went up the Pacific Coast Highway for a while, hit I-5 and went through Portland and Seattle, went up into British Columbia for a day, came back down through Idaho and Montana (spent a day at Yellowstone), drove through Wyoming and the Dakotas, headed south through Minnesota and Wisconsin to Chicago (went to my friend Brynn’s graduation at Northwestern), and then headed home from there.  It was an amazing experience.  But now, a six-hour drive from Auburn to Kannapolis like the one I took last night leaves my whole body feeling like I was assaulted with a baseball bat.

So, although I don’t like giving homework in my blog posts, I’m curious to hear how some of my friends feel about this list.  It’d be nice if I found out that other people also realize they’re getting a little more advanced as they read it.  Comment away!

My favorite teacher movies

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During one of my breaks in packing over the past few days, I was browsing through Netflix Instant for something mindless to watch when I came across the 2000 film Finding Forrester.  If you haven’t seen it – and you should – the premise is that a talented 16-year-old basketball star in New York City befriends a reclusive novelist presumably modeled on J.D. Salinger (played by Sean Connery) and is encouraged to pursue and expand his considerable writing talents.

I didn’t watch it again since I didn’t have enough time and, like I said, I was looking for something a little lighter so I clicked on ahead to the “30 Rock” reruns.  But it got me thinking about movies based around high school.  There are countless films that deal with high school; Fast Times At Ridgemont High and The Breakfast Club are probably among the most iconic, but as someone who grew up in the ’90s I’ve always been partial to American Pie and Varsity Blues.

But a lot of high school movies deal with the students at the school, and not the teachers.  Those films are often overlooked in our pop culture for whatever reason.  Maybe it’s harder for people to identify with; I mean, everyone was once a high school student, right?  Not everyone was a teacher.

So, without further adieu, and just for the hell of it, here are three of my favorite films that focus on high school teachers.  And for the record, I did not include movies that focused on sports or coaches.  For the sake of this list, this is a classroom teacher-only zone.

1. Stand and Deliver (1988).  I’ll admit, I didn’t know about this film until “South Park” did a brilliant parody of it in a 2008 episode.  But not long after seeing Cartman parade around the classroom as “Mr. Cartmanez,” I found the movie and watched it.  Jaime Escalante, a Latino math teacher, shows up at the rough Garfield High School in East Los Angeles in 1982, implements a brutal, break-neck mathematics curriculum, and gets a class full of would-be gangbangers to blow the top off of the AP Calculus exam.  And they have to blow the top off of the exam twice after Educational Testing Services accuses the students of cheating and makes them retake the exam to receive credit.

As I looked into Escalante’s story more after his 2010 death, what struck me more was the stuff not portrayed in the film.  For one thing, it took him almost eight years to get his classes to achieve the kind of success that the film suggests happened instantaneously.  Furthermore, he became so hampered by faculty politics and large class sizes (up to 50 in some cases) that he left Garfield in 1991, and the unbelievable AP program he almost singlehandedly built fell into decay.  I would like to say it’s hard to believe that one of the best and most well-known teachers could be run off by a lack of funding and petty bickering with colleagues is shocking, but I know for a fact that it’s not.

2. Mr. Holland’s Opus (1996).  Little-known fact for a lot of you, I’m guessing: for the first few days of my collegiate career, I was a music education major.  And while I enjoyed playing in the band in high school and college, and even worked with the Robinson marching band for a couple of years, in the end I was much more drawn to history and social studies.  But part of my short-lived desire to be a music teacher stemmed from this film.

Set between 1965 and 1995, Mr. Holland’s Opus follows the 30-year teaching career of music teacher Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) at Kennedy High School (location unknown).  Mr. Holland begins the film as a reluctant teacher, knowing nothing of how to engage students.  But thanks to a great deal of reflection and some pep talks from colleagues and administrators, he turns into a popular, dynamic educator who excites his students about music.  As he says near the end of the film, “I was dragged into this gig kicking and screaming, and now it’s the only thing I wanna do.”  I know a lot of teachers who feel that way.

The saddest aspect of this film (spoiler coming for those who haven’t seen it) is that Mr. Holland doesn’t retire on his own terms at the end of the film – he gets inglouriously laid off when the school scuttles its fine arts department in a cost-cutting move.  The richest legacy of this movie is that it helped raise awareness of the fiscal troubles suffered by music programs across the country and led to the formation of the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation to raise money for arts education.

3. Election (1999).  This is one of my favorite movies period, not just in the teacher-centric genre.  It’s probably best-known for starring a very young Reese Witherspoon, who stole the show as the ambitious, calculating rising senior Tracy Flick.  But Matthew Broderick did an awesome job portraying the popular but long-suffering civics teacher Jim McAllister.

I think the reason I love this movie so much is that I taught all the students that “Mr. M” had to deal with – the conniving and often hateful leadership kids who would do anything to get ahead, the well-meaning but kinda dim athletes, the social outcasts who couldn’t get along with anyone, etc.  And while the two movies I just mentioned are fantastic and inspiring, Election reminds you that high school can be a place where some gritty stuff goes down – students getting it on with teachers, people backstabbing each other with reckless abandon to win a student council election that is, in the grand scheme of things, completely meaningless, and teachers who can’t leave their personal problems at the door, try as they might.  I’m not saying this is something that high schools should aspire to be like, of course, but it’s reflective of my experiences thus far.

So tell me, readers – what movies did I miss?  Once I get moved in up in North Carolina I’ll be sure to check out some of your suggestions if I haven’t already seen them.

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