Friday, July 18, 2014

It was approximately ten years ago today.

...with apologies to the lads from Liverpool.

In July of 2004, I started back at Queen's in the M.Ed program; took a couple of summer classes in July, kicked back and relaxed for most of August, then cranked it back up in September (well, as much as one could crank it up in that program (which wasn't very much (because it was damn easy))).

The four years previous to that were the first four years of my teaching career. They were pretty stressful; had some pretty tough customers and admin that didn't help much, labour issues aplenty for most of it, coached and supervised stuff beyond what I should have. Plus, the first few years of teaching, you're just finding yourself -- how you interact with a class, figuring out a routine, accumulating some resources, all that jazz. Not a trivial thing to accomplish, and something most of us continue to work on our entire careers.

Before that was five years combined at Waterloo and Queen's, in physics (UW) and education (Q). The Queen's part was obviously a bajillion times more fun than the Waterloo part, not only because of the schools themselves but because of what I took at each. My B.Ed stuff was done essentially in my third year at UW, with a couple of co-op work terms (fall/winter) swapped-out for the B.Ed program, which means that after spending eight months getting ready to get out there and go get 'em tiger... whoops! Back to Waterloo with you, young punk, for two more years of seasoning.

Granted, in the first four years of teaching, I did have three summers off squeezed in there... but in those summers I took two courses and took a month-long trip to Europe, so it's not like I was just sitting around. (Alright, I was sitting around in Stockholm and Prague and Brussels, but that hardly counts.)

And then... grad school, the "snooze button of life" -- if you choose the right program. And, brother, did I ever. Two years of minimal easy work, abundant women, booze everywhere? Sign me up! Want to co-host an indie-rock radio show once a week where you can play almost anything you like on Tuesday mornings? That's the place to go, I tell ya. (Mind you, it does take a bit of a toll on one's savings account, but that's what working is for.)

I met some amazing people during grad school, and a few of 'em were even in my program. (Honestly, most of those people, I could kinda do without. The M.Ed program was pretty evenly split between (a.) working teachers looking to climb the administration ladder later in their career, and (b.) psychology nerds who had no real-life teaching experience but wanted to study something child-development-y. I'm caricaturizing here a bit, but not much; I think it's particularly telling that the Fac of Ed had exactly one (1) graduate course linked to pedagogy in any way.)

I'd say, though, that the most important thing I learned at Queen's was to remember to relax and have a good time, and that fun opportunities really are all around you, all the time. Stop and smell the roses, so to speak.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

This god damn place is all going to bullshit hell in a fucking handbasket, I say.

What the fuck is this shit?

  • An airplane gets shot out of the sky.
  • A country invades another country.
  • Some other country invades another sorta-country.
  • A Canadian senator is facing multiple criminal charges.
  • Johnny Winter is no longer alive and well.
  • Little kids are getting hit by vans and falling out of windows.
And, to top it off, there's no baseball tonight because we're still in the All-Star Break. These assholes earn millions of dollars a year and they need FOUR days off in the middle of the summer?

Well, at least there's beer. And, owing to The One And Only Matt's appearance in town last weekend, plus a couple of other engagements, I had a streak of seven consecutive days wherein I ordered at least one beer at a bar. That got broken up tonight, but rest assured, I had an Atwater Vanilla Java Porter with dinner tonight, so the self-pickling streak definitely continues.

Ah, holidays.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Neil deGrasse Tyson says wise things.

In an interview with Larry King -- who is, somehow, still alive -- Dr. Tyson said something that I think rings really true. I'll paraphrase heavily, of course; I've watched another 30 minutes of this interview (it's a good one, natch) and other things crept into my head in the meantime.

Space is a way to get kids interested in thinking about their world differently. Whether you ultimately end up doing something space-related as a career or not, it gets them interested in the STEM subject areas -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. What you end up doing is creating a set of kids that grow up thinking differently about things, and that's a good thing.

I've seen this myself, many times. Kids are absolutely drawn to space; they're fascinated by it, have questions about it, think about it, wonder about it. I had a class full of Grade 9 characters in semester 2 this year -- to my knowledge at least 3 of them spent a night in jail during the semester -- and yet every day during the space unit, it was 75 straight minutes of jamasmanyquestionsaboutspaceasyoucaninthere.

It was a little exhausting, for sure, and it made getting through that day's material a little trickier, especially when the questions got off-topic (as they usually did). But, consider...
  1. I find space pretty interesting.
  2. I enjoy talking about it with others.
  3. I know a fair bit about it, and hope I can pass some of that knowledge on.
  4. Especially for these kids, if they have science-based questions, you'd better believe I'm gonna satiate their curiosity as thoroughly as I can. I know there's this idea that the teacher shouldn't just be the answer-box, and I usually take that advice, but when a kid has a question about a black hole and blurts it out when I'm in mid-sentence because he just can't wait, am I going to tell him, "Gee, sonny, that's a great question, why don't you go home and find out the answer and share it with the rest of us?" Like that would fly in my class.
Anyway, Dr. Tyson said something else pretty profound as I was typing, and I managed to get this one down pretty much verbatim.

We spend the first year of a kid's life teaching them to walk and talk, and the rest of their life we tell them to sit down and shut up.

So long as nobody's cranking-up to punch anyone else, calling them a "dirty gypsy" (yup, that happened) or anything like that... it's probably a pretty good teaching philosophy.

. . .



* mmmhmm. Please.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

My history with eggs.

In short: it's an atypical one.

In long:

I'm not entirely sure why, but I never ate eggs on their own, growing up. Was I freaked-out about where they came from? No. Did I hate how they looked or smelled when either raw or cooked? Not particularly. Do I enjoy asking myself questions, Rumsfeld-style, and answering them? Absolutely.

I do recall trying out a poached egg on toast when I was little, and being okay with it. I also remember my dad having hard-boiled eggs in those little egg cups, using his spoon to crack along the top of it, putting a little salt and pepper on the innards, and digging out the goodness inside. And I never minded having French toast, even though it's essentially fried eggs clinging to bread.

But eggs on their own? Nope.

In third year of university, we had an 8:30 - 10:00 class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (It might have been Mathematical Physics 1, and yes, it was as horrendous as it sounds. It was actually kinda useful, though.) The class would wrap up around 9:45, and the Physics building was on the east side of campus; if we hustled we could get to a place called Mel's Diner before 10, which meant the breakfast special would still be on.
I love eating breakfast in restaurants. It's probably my favourite meal to have out (and, oddly, probably the meal I enjoy making the most for myself at home). Ninety percent of the time I'll get the same thing: scrambled eggs (well done)*, brown toast (or rye if they have it), hash browns, and sausages. So, this would be what I'd order at Mel's, along with a coffee.

* Eggs, steaks, toast: cook the fuck out of it, please and thank you.
For a while I'd just give my eggs to someone else who was at the table, usually either my buddies Ben or Mike. But after a while, Mike -- who's turned into quite the foodie lately -- would ask why I couldn't just get them scrambled and eat them. "They don't have a lot of taste, and you could just put some Tabasco on them and eat them yourself."
Mike's a guy who I trust a lot on matters of taste. One of the first encounters I ever had with him was in residence; he was a big fan of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, which is a band I enjoy to this day. He told me he preferred songs without lyrics, which I initially dismissed as crazy-talk, but later came to agree with. I asked him, "If I was going to buy one thing at a grocery store and it'd make the most impact on what I cooked, what should I buy?", and he answered "Onions." -- that was absolutely correct. Also, we were in a band together, which was fun. And, we could/should have a reunion jam up in Ottawa pretty much anytime.
So, ever since, I've eaten them scrambled and enjoyed them. I don't ever make them for myself any other way, and if I get them in a restaurant, yup, they're scrambled. There are some Asian dishes where there are eggs cracked on top of things and the yolk percolates down and jesus CHRIST that's disgusting (and yes, I'm looking at you too, toast-yolk-dippers).

And that, friends, is why having summers off is great. You can take twenty minutes and describe your history with eggs on a Thursday afternoon.