Monday, April 30, 2012

Matched by Ally Condie... Oppressive Governments Should All Wear Polka Dots!

                Since I’ve decided to become an English Teacher, I figured I would probably have to read Young Adult books. In fact, there’s a whole class on it! So obviously, we’re studying different types of Young Adult novels. Being superawesome, I decided that I was going to branch out and read a few on my own. After all, I’m about to ask thousands and thousands of kids to just read, it won’t hurt me to pick up a book on my own. So, I guess here is my book report for all of you.
            I just recently finished Matched by Ally Condie. It was published in 2010, and currently has one sequel with another on the way. I said I was reading books, I didn’t say I was grabbing them the second they come out. But it’s a good book. It’s about a dystopian future (thankfully, it seems we’ve moved on from vampires and onto dystopian futures… everyone knows that the best vampire love story was Buffy and Angel) where people are “matched” after they turn 17 to the person they will spend their life with in a tightly controlled society. Our hero, Cassia, just wants to be matched. At the day of the lavish banquet, she’s matched to her best friend, Xander, which is unusual enough, but she finds that she may have been matched originally to Ky, who’s not eligible to be matched for reasons that you should probably read. What follows is a cool story of rebellion, adventure, and some pretty cool mysteries. And of course a love story, but you could probably figure that part out on your own. (Also, pretty cool names. Dystopian teens ALWAYS get the best names.)
            The best science fiction ties together problems of the real world and makes them relatable. Star Trek got away with a lot of heavy handed preaching back in the 60’s because it could hide all of its moralizing in green skinned hot chicks and pointy eared aliens. That’s what the best Young Adult fiction is going to do as well: tie together the problems of youth, and hide it in a neat little package.
            Matched does just this. Cassia gets all the responsibility of being an adult –starting to work, getting matched with her life-mate-without having the power to do anything about it or change it. (Everything is tightly controlled by a strict government. Also, all of the officials wear white. I’m not sure what it is about dystopian futures that make all strict oppressive governments wear white. I’d think that would be tough to clean.) But that’s the idea, isn’t it? When you’re growing up and in high school, you’re told to act like an adult, that all of your decisions are going to affect the rest of your life, but you’re also told where to be, what to wear and when to be there. Matched is able to expertly convey this, and not beat you over the head with it. Also, it’s able to tie in so many symbols that are just beautiful, and makes my future English teacher heart just leap with the idea of how I can teach this in a classroom one day.
            I enjoyed this book. I can’t say that enough. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel. I’m looking forward to devouring more young adult fiction, because it’s gotten pretty interesting lately. But mostly, I’m looking forward to getting into a classroom and discussing this with the target audience, just to see what they think about it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Let's Keep Our Virtual Pets Three Laws Safe in the Future, Okay People?

       This week, in my super-rockin-awesome teaching class, we had our first in person meeting. “What?” you exclaim as you have at this point undoubtly  done a spit take that has covered your computer monitor in your fancy coffee (no refunds). “This guy is studying to be a teacher, and the classes haven’t even met!” No, we have met for 12 weeks now, through the magic of the internet! The professor was doing some good work in Haiti, but was able to conduct an interesting class over the internet.

            I use this as a nice segue into the idea of technology in classrooms. This has been coming up in the media a little bit lately, and I thought , “If only I had a forum to discuss this, I would… and online web log would be interesting. I know!  I’ll call it a blog!” Then I realized I had one, and here I am.

            To get a good idea of technology in the classroom, think way back to the 90’s when we were all wearing flannel and collecting those priceless beanie babies that will never go down in price while taking care of our state of the art virtual pets, and other 90’s things. Remember Napster? Remember how the RIAA just embraced the idea that people could consume music now in a digital format and force me to buy “Glass Houses” for a third time? Or do you remember how the RIAA responded by suing 7 year olds and fighting tooth and nail to keep CD’s alive? Because I remember the second part being true. (Oh, and this is all about the technology aspect of it. If you want to debate the stealing music aspect of it, then you should probably go to a music blog.)

            My point with this is we have a solid example of what happens when we try to fight technology. We are living in a technologically advanced time. Sure, we don’t have flying cars or silver jumpsuits just yet. I’m sad about the jumpsuit, but no so much for the car because I’ve seen how people drive. But none of that changes the fact that I just had an entire semester of a class taught online, with real time meetings every week. Was it perfect? No. But the first car didn’t have a roof, so let’s give technology time to advance and be played with a little bit.

            I understand there are many different things to consider with technology, including the cost and availability. These are more hurdles that have to be crossed, particularly in a day and age when the solution for a school that is failing is to pull all funding and hope it closes. But we have to embrace technology. Students are generally the early adopters. Ask any early 90’s comedian that made the joke about having their kid as tech support. (We get it. Computers were scary back then. You’re still not funny!)

            But there has to be an embrace of technology in the classroom. There are limitless possibilities in using technology in the classroom. Speakers from overseas. Books available at the swipe of a finger. The meaning of a difficult word right in the text. Virtual tours of places described in books. Videos of cats playing the piano. Performances from the Globe Theatre, beamed right into your classroom! (See what I did there? Shakespeare reference. Score!)

            If we don't teach our students to keep their robots three laws safe, THEN we have to worry about a robot uprising.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

If Cujo Would Have Me King...

         Recently, a letter from Stephen King (who is totally probably writing right now and is not torturing rodents in his basement with a hacksaw) to a fan about what he read to learn to write. He had a lot of classics on there, but the last one caught my eye. He said, “Macbeth.”
          Now, as anyone who studies theatre will know that even writing about this play which is believed to be cursed risks bringing a plague upon me. But this is a powerful thought, powerful enough for me to ignore 400 years of history where people have literally died while performing the play. Here is one of this century’s most prominent and/or popular writers (You should agree with the “popular” statement, you know… just in case) and even he goes back to the bard when talking about influences.

            I’ve made no secret in previous postings that Shakespeare was entertainment in the day, and we have remind students of that fact. But then, I haven’t sold millions of books that have been turned into mediocre movies. Go watch “Dreamcatcher” and tell me that statement isn't true. Do it. But if you don't believe me, believe the master of horror himself: Shakespeare rules. Put Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, or even Hamlet against some of the best horror movies of today, and see how they stack up. Those guys that wrote saw WISH they could have written something as disturbing as Titus Andronicus.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

You Don't Look a Day Over 332, Mr. Shakespeare...

“To me, fair friend, you can never be old
For as you were when first your eye I eyed
Such seems your beauty still...”
                -Sonnet CIV

    This is a blog about teaching, but the name is “Bad Shakespeare.” So, I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to note that on April 23rd we celebrate the 448th birthday of the bard himself, William Shakespeare. There will be cake.

    So, break out your finest writing quill and puffy pants. I hope you all got him a good present. I hear he likes fine cheeses and the works of Mr. Adam Sandler. But don’t get him the Blu-Ray of “Happy Gilmore” I already got that for him. But he’s also been dead for a few hundred years, so it may be okay if you’re a little late.

    To those that believe that there wasn’t a William Shakespeare, someone else wrote his plays, and this is all for naught, then you don’t have to celebrate anyone’s birthday. Also, I would recommend you join a different, more believable  conspiracy. From what I understand those people that believe that the moon landing was faked could always use some more members.

Happy Birthday, Willy!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hulk Smash, or Hulk Not Smash...

Ok, kids. Send an email to your parents, copy this blog post, and let them know that I just assigned you to go see “The Avengers” as part of your Shakespeare homework.
Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved works, and the “To Be or Not to Be” speech is the most recognized of all the speeches in the entirety of the written language. It has also been translated into a million billion versions. That’s the technical literary term, so I can understand if you’ve not heard it before. But it has been translated and retranslated into versions that even Ethan Hawke can act in. (Sorta)
            The latest version of Hamlet (the character) that will grace our screens is going to in the upcoming “so small you may not have heard of it” movie called, “The Avengers”. No, really. Mark Ruffalo, clearly ignoring the lessons of the past 10 years has taken on the role of the Incredible Hulk. Oh, and Bruce Banner, but no one wants to see Bruce Banner. Also, I kid, because I’ve been looking forward to seeing Mark Ruffalo smash ever since “13 Going on 30.”
            Why bring this up? Because Mark Ruffalo was asked about playing Bruce Banner, and he commented that the character was “This generation’s Hamlet.” And you know what? I totally 100% agree with Mr. Ruffalo. One of the reasons that Shakespeare is scary to people is because it can be difficult to digest. People tend to forget that Shakespeare is so known today is BECAUSE he was popular at one point. There were hundreds of playwrights who bombed repeatedly and we will never know anything about them because once they bombed, their plays were ceremoniously burned, and the writer would have to leave town in disgrace, just like we all wish would happen to M. Night Shyamalan.
            Ok, so they didn’t really have to leave town. But Shakespeare is known today because he was commercially popular. Was Hamlet like the Hulk? Absolutely. He was a man that had to wrestle with the two halves of himself, and was constantly careening out of control. He just did it with prettier language, and less people would take it seriously if halfway through the play he ripped off his shirt and started stomping around the stage yelling, “Hamlet smash.” But it would be a neat twist in the M. Night Shyamalan version of Hamlet!
            This post is more my impassioned plea that before we as teachers move forward, we remember that back in the day kids were lining up for that big summer blockbuster called Hamlet. There was a kid sneaking out a copy of Alexander Dumas “Three Musketeers” and dreaming of that swashbuckling adventure. We need to remind people that these stories are stories first. They’re deep meaningful searches through the dark night of the soul second.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Just What is the Benchmark to Being a Good Richard Dreyfuss?

One of the questions that we as aspiring teachers are constantly asked is, “What makes a good teacher?” 
I have had a grand total of six teaching classes if you count my current one (and by the amount of reading I’ve done, I’m going to count this one) and we have been asked some form of it along the way.
Here’s what we’ve been able to determine: No one really knows. I mean, students kind of know, but not in an official, measurable capacity. (Sorry, No Child Left Behind.) But you see, that is kind of the point.
Up until now, I have had office jobs, desk jobs. I’ve been an editor, a government contractor, purchaser, administrative assistant, and manager. Each one had a measure of what it took to get promoted in that job. I had benchmarks I had to write down, then achieve. This was usually rewarded with more work and more benchmarks, so I often didn’t know if it was a good thing to be considered “good” at my job. (Nor do I believe I was “good” at any of my jobs. I just sort of showed up and didn’t annoy the wrong person.)
Most jobs are like this. They have some kind of benchmark. Retail? Make that quota. Writer? People buy your books. Actor? People know you. Superman? Save Lois Lane.
But what makes a “good” teacher? I don’t know. And that’s sort of the test, isn’t it? To keep doing what we can to make sure we’re “good teachers.” I’m realistic enough to understand that this isn’t “Hr. Holland’s Opus”. I’m no Richard Dreyfuss. (Thank God. I hate boats.) But I think the quest of trying to be a good teacher is what makes a good teacher. Take risks. Do something that is going to fail. Failure’s great, because failing at least means you tried. 
I just don’t have an answer to this one. I just know that I’ve reached a different kind of benchmark, one that tells me that I’m done with office jobs, and I’m ready to start attempting to be a teacher... hopefully a good one.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Of Man Eating Rabbits and the Bard... My Origin Story

So, naturally, I decided to become an English Teacher.
            That’s actually the middle to a very long tale filled with self-doubt, adventure, bad puns, a trip to a magical kingdom, explosions, and at one point a man eating rabbit named “Carl.” I can assure you that it’s actually a very boring story. Beginnings are boring. It’s much more interesting to start smack dab in the middle.
            This is where we’re at right now. Naturally, I’ve decided to become a teacher. I say “naturally” because I’ve always had an affinity for working with kids. I believe this is a result of my own ability to remain youthful at heart. That’s how I refer to it. Others refer to it as my near encyclopedic* knowledge of all things Superman and the fact that I just love a good cartoon on Saturday Mornings.
*Kids, an encyclopedia is like Wikipedia, but printed on paper. Also, it was regularly updated only by people who knew what the hell they were talking about.[citation needed]
            The response to me wanting to become a teacher has been… we’ll say “mixed.” It’s been split firmly into two camps. One the one hand you have “rah-rah!” which is very encouraging. On the other you have the less than enthusiastic and very sarcastic, “you reach for the stars, man.” (You had to hear the guy say this. It was REALLY sarcastic.) But as I’ve often found that following the crowd generally took me places I didn’t really want to go, so I’m not listening to the haters so much as archiving them and playing their words back in my head when I feel like remotivating myself. I figure if everyone approves of what I’m doing, then I’m not doing something right.
            That brings me to the next question you have rattling around your mind canvases, why start a blog about it? And why name it Bad Shakespeare? It’s simple… why not? I like writing. I always seem to have some story that I like sharing about my daily adventures in learning how to teach, and I enjoy writing… why not share my love with everyone. Plus it gives me a chance to brag about how great I am. That's all we really want at the end of the day, to brag about how wonderful we really are.
            As for your second question... is there anything better than truly Bad Shakespeare? Here is the bard, some might call one of the greatest writers of all time, if not the greatest, than the most well-known with the greatest hairstyle/mustache combination in the history of facial hair (the second being Mark Twain, but “Bad Twain” sounds like a country band.) But to watch, read, or see a truly bad Shakespearian production… you have to enjoy that. You have to savor it. You have to soak it in, and think to yourself, “how? How can someone be doing something so epically terrible with words that were created so beautifully and done so well for so many years?” So basically, I’d like you to all soak in these words as we go on this adventure.
Plus, no one has taken the name. Can you believe it? I really thought that “Bad Shakespeare” would be taken like, five minutes after the Internet was invented. Seriously? How was this name not taken? It is practically BEGGING me to take it.
            I hope you will enjoy this little trip into my thoughts, adventures, and just what it takes to be me. I hope to at least keep you entertained. If not, well, there’s still the man eating rabbit you can go visit.