Thanos Had One (1) Good Idea

, , , , , | Learning | May 19, 2020

I’m a ski instructor working for a ski school. This winter, we were hired as ski instructors for a high school ski trip. I was assigned the most advanced skiers, who consistently insisted on taking the hardest slopes and racing at high speeds.

During our lunch break on the first day, when we took off our jackets, I noticed that, apart from the mandatory helmet, one of the boys was wearing a full suit of armour underneath. It was a complete suit of hard plastic motocross armour, with a breastplate, shoulder armour, elbow and knee braces, gauntlets, shin guards, buttplate, calf armour, and a neck brace. It was also bright golden, as he once wore it as a Thanos cosplay.

We all laughed and mocked him over it, but he took it in good stride, lamenting that he didn’t bring his purple face paint or two Infinity Gauntlets and laughing off us calling him a coward, insisting that it was a worthwhile precaution. 

By the last day, after several crashes, everyone was sore and bruised. One of the guys even dislocated his shoulder after he tumbled down a slope. On the other hand, Thanos was completely unscathed, despite tumbling down a slope in a similar manner thrice — he was showing off — being rammed into by another skier, and even getting into a fistfight with a pair of very rude Americans.

That was the first time in my seven years of ski instructing that I ever heard or saw anyone do that, but given the amount of punishment he shrugged off, I’m starting to think he had a point.

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Reputation Is Everything

, , , , | Learning | May 9, 2020

In middle school, I go on a school trip to New York. The school has us wear name tags on school lanyards. Since all the places we visit are popular with school groups, the lanyards let the employees know we should be with the group or at least a chaperone. If any of us slips away from the group, employees will quickly usher us back.

Some students have tried to hide or throw away their name tags to avoid this, so the head chaperone — a very strict nun — announces that anyone found without a lanyard or name tag will have to spend the remainder of the trip within six feet of her at all times and then have a month’s worth of detentions when we get back.

While we’re on a ferry, we’re allowed to wander around a bit, since we can’t go far on a boat. I’m leaning against the railing and fiddling idly with the name tag when I notice something white fluttering down to the water below. I don’t realize it’s my name tag until it’s way too far to reach.

I start to freak out internally. I’ve never gotten in trouble at school before or had even a single detention, and now I’m possibly facing a month’s worth of them! After debating what to do, I eventually decide to just tell the head chaperone what happened and hope for the best. There’s no way I could get away with not having a name tag because they’ll be checked as soon as we get off the ferry.

I go to the head chaperone and explain very nervously. Instead of yelling at me, she writes out a replacement name tag and hands it to me. I stand there staring at it in shock. She laughs and says, “Did you think you’d get detention? Don’t worry; that’s just for the bad kids. I know you’re a good kid.”

And that was the day I learned I could get away with anything, so long as I maintained my reputation as a “good kid.” The rest of middle school was fun.

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The Golden Rule Doesn’t Apply To Teachers

, , , , , , , | Learning | May 7, 2020

I’m teaching a class that has suddenly been moved from being held on campus to being held exclusively online. It’s been a rough transition for most of us and I’ve made the due dates very flexible, more like suggestions than hard deadlines. This particular week, we have a multiple-choice quiz due on Wednesday and a one-page paper due on Friday. The quiz’s due date is fairly strict because I post an answer key the next day.

On Monday, I receive an email from a student apologizing for last week’s paper being late, asking if they can still turn it in, and asking for an extension on this week’s paper. I email back that it’s fine that they’re late; there will be no penalty for late work and they should just finish both when they’re able.

On Thursday afternoon, I receive an email from the same student, saying, “I passed in the quiz yesterday and it hasn’t been graded yet. Why hasn’t it been graded? When are you going to grade it? I passed it in yesterday.”

I guess I don’t get the same consideration for extensions.

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Please Keep Off Of The Grass, Shine Your Shoes, Wipe Your… Face

, , , , , , | Learning | May 5, 2020

I’m in the room reading a book while my five-year-old niece is on a Zoom call with her kindergarten class. Her teacher is asking her students for ways to keep the Earth clean because it’s Earth Day. 

All of a sudden, I hear one little boy go, “Shave your grass!”

He meant “mow the lawn,” but I am definitely using his phrasing from now on.

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That Four-Year-Old Is Braver Than Some Adult Editors…

, , , , , , , | Learning | May 4, 2020

It is spring 2004. A species of cicada emerges as adults every seventeen years in the Washington, DC area — DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland.  

They are everywhere: trees, buildings, roads. And they make an eerie sound because of the billions of them that are trying to find a mate at the same time. When they emerge, they come out of the ground in their nymph stage, dry out, and then molt their exoskeleton one last time. Once they’ve mated, they lay their eggs in the outer twig-like branches of trees. In doing so, the egg takes its nutrition from the tree, killing off the outer twelve inches or so of every branch of the tree.

So, all of the Hitchcockian effects of this insect: little mounds of dirt where each cicada emerges, discarded exoskeletons, cicadas flying everywhere, eerie sound, and many trees’ outer branches dying off.

During this time, I’ve headed to my daughter’s preschool, which is a Montessori school. They’ve taken it upon themselves to make this Biblical insect plague a teachable moment. I’m walking up to the front of the school to check my daughter out for the day. I hear the playful squeals of kids in the back playground. But one little girl, about four years old, is standing out front, looking intently at something in her hands.

The girl holds up her hands to me, showing me the dried leaving of a cicada’s molt, and says, “Look, mister. An exo-skeleton!”

“Why yes,” I say. “That’s exactly right!”

It’s great that instead of being afraid, this girl and all her classmates now have a better appreciation of nature.

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