All Crab, No Breadcrumbs

Last week, I was in a professional development and I was mostly thinking about crab cakes.

The PD just happened to be delivered by some guy who works for one of the major textbook companies who has just sold a whole heap of their product to our district. He seemed like a decent enough guy. I tend to respect any 60+ year old who has the audacity to pull off an undercut and a man-bun, wears at least 8 bracelets on each arm and, almost as a cliche at this point, a bowtie that appeared to be the kind that you actually tie.

I spent most of the morning thinking the bowtie was a little too predictable with the rest of his persona.

This guy clearly has the flair thing down, it just seemed like the bowtie was unnecessary. As if he was asking to be a caricature.

The bowtie was just a little too extra. It was the equivalent of breadcrumbs in a crabcake.

I really hate too many bread crumbs in a crabcake.

I realized all of this just a few weeks ago. As part of my last hurrah before going back to school, I found myself in a sleepy mountain bar in Maryland halfway through a bike trip that would take me from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. I had been riding bike all day though the mountains of Pennsylvania, dreaming of this moment when I could order a burger and a beer. I had the beer in hand, but something took my eye off of the burgers on the menu. Their crab cake description was accompanied by a huge “NO FILLERS” claim. In other words, their version wasn’t the standard small town, claw meat and bread crumb shit that looks more like a chicken nugget than something that should cost $20.

Adam has said this about me forever. He always exaggerates my love for efficiency as if I am some kind free market mechanized CEO type who wakes up at 2am to go work out before going to work at 4. I think it’s his way of ironically making fun of me. He is really good at that. I’m an english teacher and a parent of toddlers which means I spend hours each day arguing logic and philosophy with a 5 year old. I’m usually the opposite of efficiency.

In this case, Adam is right. I love efficiency in my broiled seafood. He is wrong on a lot of his ramblings though, including his opinions on Tiffany Haddish. She is hilarious.

Adam also reminded me that sometimes bread crumbs are needed. He said a little bit of filler would go a long way with some teachers who take themselves far too seriously. I realized that if my bad seafood analogies are going to make any sense, they have to be personalized. So for myself,  a person who is tempted to make a sarcastic joke every time I open my mouth, sarcasm might be filler. Conversely, for a teacher who isn’t having any fun, they might need a little more sarcasm in their crab meat.

It wasn’t  just the bowtie that made this PD feel a little too much like filler. I’ve never seen a more popular PD in my district. Every room was full of teachers who had always just burned sick days on these pre-year PDs. They had to bring in extra chairs. Everybody seemed pretty eager to learn how to use the new curriculum.

In other words, this guy had perfect jumbo lump Baltimore crab cakes in hand ready to deliver. He could have given us the good stuff and left all the filler alone.

He didn’t have to spend 45 minutes telling us how to click through a website.

Then we went on the seemingly obligatory array of “turn and talk” kind of activities where we explained little drawings that showed how we felt about teaching “next gen” learners. He said we could use stick figures because he didn’t want us to feel pressure to produce some perfect artist representation.

Noted.

“Thanks, bowtie guy.”

Then he pulled us through 6 hours of him talking and showing how to click through their admittedly impressive array of resources.

He would say something like, “Then you can click on additional resources. What do you think you’ll find there?”

Nobody would answer because the question seemed to answer itself. But then he would double down.

“Folks! Are you feeling the post-lunch ‘sleepys?’ Wake up.”

Then somebody would lazily offer that you might find some more resources in the “additional resources” tab and the guy with the bowtie would continue.

I wondered aloud how badly I would be injured if I jumped the 15 feet out of the window beside me. I thought about how sprained ankles aren’t usually that bad, but I couldn’t deal with losing that much needed mobility for the first days of school.   

It just all seemed like the instructional equivalent of breadcrumbs. There was too much filler, and not enough crab meat.  

I felt like my students probably often feel. I was ready and eager to learn something that seemed relevant, but all that teacher talk was keeping us from moving. I could imagine one of my students lovingly telling me that I "talk too much." 

It’s all breadcrumbs. In fact I started making some lists of some of the normal things that might fill our classrooms and class time.

I thought about my corny jokes and classroom persona, the posters that I put up on the wall, the hours I spend thinking about how to organize my room or introduce a lesson, my long-winded explanations, my lessons plans, bulletin boards, and the big decision of whether to buy this curriculum or that curriculum. Those things are made up of a lot of filler. I should, for the most part, not let those things take center stage in my classroom. It’s not that they are all bad, but they just shouldn’t be the point. And if I start to get too much of that, then I get further away from actually helping students grow.

But then I started a list of the crab meat.

I thought of things like rich class discussions, student led projects and discovery, smaller conversations that happen in both planned and unplanned ways throughout the day, the varied levels of interventions and the planning behind them, the time spent building credibility and the many ways we do that, the ways we help our students believe in their own ability, and our skill for clearly connecting new information in as few words as possible. Then there are those times when my corny jokes are little less self-serving, and they work to cheer up a kid who is having a hard time finding a reason to smile. 

That kind of stuff isn’t a bowtie or breadcrumbs. It’s the good, $30 a can, jumbo lump crabmeat.

So this week, as I am decorating my room, I am going to hang a few notes to myself in places that I will see regularly. These will just be a few reminders that might change as the year goes on to keep me focused on what matters. I’ll be teaching, or helping a student, or rambling on about some nonsense and I’ll look up and see my reminders.

“All crab, No breadcrumbs.”