Better Together

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You’ve heard the saying “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with“. That if you want to get better, hang with people who are better than you. There are folks who feel that limiting the circle to five sells the effect short. That the network effect extends to friends of friends.

I’m feeling it today, for sure – the benefits of being connected. Some years ago I stumbled across the #connectedtl Twitter chat (RIP), which I immediately dubbed “my West Coast teacher brain”.

That group was one of many that informed and improved my teaching. Definitely raised my average. And continues to push it upward to this day.

As my online connects pivot to teaching online full-time due to COVID-19-related school closings, and share their best stuff, I’ve got an embarrassment of riches from which to choose, and a recognition that I’ve got to keep things simple for both myself and for my students. How to marry the two? With some design guidance from Chevin Stone I settled on using Google Forms as my shell, allowing me to continue to use a blended learning format and seamlessly link to tools students can use to display their understanding.

So far, so good. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get better.

Julie Reulbach is a blogger & presenter & Desmos Fellow, and brilliant. Also: a proponent of being who you are, and being cool with that.

Today she hosted a super-timely webinar on creating assessments inside Desmos Activity Builder. (The organizers promised to post an archived version later this week). I’m good enough at AB, but I could be better. So this webinar was right up my alley. Me and about 200 of my closest friends. Of course I scrolled the list of participants in the Zoom meeting, looking for familiar faces, but one of my local connects found me first. We kept a side chat going during the webinar, and the next thing you know we had agreed to collaborate on a Desmos assessment for geometry.

My department chair convened a virtual meeting with all of us this week to touch base and trade ideas and resources. One of the takeaways was that traditional methods of assessment are not going to work during an extended period of e-learning. Not that that should come as any big surprise.

Our district Director of Secondary Curriculum is our former DC, so he’s a math guy and a Desmos guy. His guidance to us was that we needed to create assessments that allowed our students to explain or describe the process, to display their thinking, rather than just “show their work” which likely comes from Photomath or Mathway.

Conveniently, that’s the direction I’ve been trying to move for years. And conveniently, it’s what Desmos does best. And you put two teachers together, trying to learn and improve, well, there’s strength in numbers. Today was a good day to be a connected teacher.

Because we are, always, better together.


We Cry At Lunch

I had a class last year right before lunch with one table of all athletes – really good at their sports, and super-serious about school. They were a perfect match for each other, helping when needed, asking for help when needed, having each other’s backs always.

During one particularly stressful portion of the year, one of the girls said “I think I’m gonna cry.” and one of her table mates responded: “We don’t cry in math. We cry at lunch after math.” I think she was joking.

I think.

I have a student right now who hates the class after mine so much she spends the last five minutes of my class on the verge of tears, every day. Honestly, I know how she feels sometimes.

And you probably do too.

We’ve talked Friday playlist in this space before. The one that kicks off with 13-year-old Rebecca Black singing about everyone’s favorite day.

You might know the story of the bullying she endured for years after the song’s release. And then maybe lost track of her, because, well, our social feeds are constantly dumping new shiny things at us and today’s news is yesterday’s news before we fall asleep.

Rebecca Black herself addressed the issue online, and has been making the media rounds as of late, nine years later as her singing career continues on the upswing.

Caught her on KROQ not that long ago. Take a few minutes to click through and watch the interview. You don’t have to be around kids 180 days a year to be heartbroken by hearing her tell the stories herself.

Not sure how to fix that, except do my part to not be a jerk just in general, but especially not in school. To kids.

Then former Bulls star Ben Gordon told his story too. You obviously don’t have to look too far to find people who are hurting, even as they hide in plain sight.

Last month I volunteered at our parish’s middle school youth retreat. Since it’s 2020, the theme was “God’s Perfect Vision”. The opening keynote mentioned how our brains fill in for the limited amount of information that our eyes take in. That we literally don’t see the full picture.

Afterwards I led a small group discussion of kids, future students of mine, from our parish’s Hispanic ministry. I asked them, “Think of a time when someone didn’t see the whole you.”

Thats all the prompt they needed.

Oh, the stories. Racial taunting. Bullying. School discipline being unevenly applied. “Oh, you know, they got that money so they got off with a ‘I’m so sorry that happened to you’ while I got suspended for getting called names.”

Our kids deal with some serious stuff on the daily. I mean, we all do, but as grown-ups we’ve developed some coping mechanisms that come with experience and maturity.

I teach 8th grade religious education at my parish, and have for the last 10 years. I’m in my 17th year of teaching high school students math in its various and sundry forms. And I’ve said it all along, you couldn’t pay me enough to go back and be a high school student today. It’s brutal out there. And no amount of training will fix that completely. We just gotta do what we can do to be human and take care of our young humans as best we can.

And take care of ourselves too

But I’m worried that soon even that might not be enough.

If this pandemic goes where some of the models suggest it might, the grades My Type-A kids get for the fourth quarter are gonna be the least of their worries. My state canceled school until at least May 1. Today Virginia became the second state to institute e-learning for the remainder of the year. Italy, with a population one-sixth that of the US, is counting deaths in the hundreds day after day. I’m super-pessimistic about the next few months. I intentionally kept those feelings from my students in the last week of classes. They are mini-adults, but that’s not the kind of news you can just drop on them and leave. What I do know is, whenever we come back, the world is going to be an uglier place than the one we left.

The skills we’re going to need to teach our kids the next time we see them, well, they didn’t teach that stuff in teacher school. A once-in-a-century pandemic is going to leave us with a school mental health challenge the likes of which we’ve never faced before.

We’re all gonna cry at lunch pretty soon.

Put On Some Coffee And Let’s Make A Filter

I’ve said many times I have no desire to be in administration. I have neither the personality nor the temperment for school leadership. Even in the best of times. But when COVID-19 turned the world upside-down, taking the school schedule with it, well you couldn’t pay me enough to be in that job.

I am a basically dark person and I read too much, which can be a bad combination. As I learned more about the spread of the disease in Europe, and the measures governments were taking to slow the spread and ease the crunch on health care systems, it became pretty obvious early on that my district would be moving to online learning for an extended period. I began to mentally prepare for how this would look.

As the day drew closer, and we started to advise our students to take devices and personal belongings home daily, there was precious little guidance from our admin team as to the expectations for us as teachers. I could feel my anxiety spiking. In retrospect, there are a lot of moving parts to the shutdown, of which extended e-Learning lesson planning and delivery is just one.

I was super-concerned about the burnout factor involved with making three weeks of plans, five days a week, not to mention the burnout factor for students trying to complete three weeks of e-lessons, five days a week. The call to suspend in-person teaching came on a Friday. e-Learning was scheduled to begin on the following Monday. My first thought: “I suggest you gentlemen figure out a way to fit a square peg into a round hole. Rapidly“. We had a quick Q & A session after school with a brief outline of the timeline. We would go Monday-Wednesday-Friday with new lessons, using Tuesday and Thursday as teacher work days. Due to the crisis, the state allows us to use waivers for up to 20 days of the 180 instructional and this seemed like an ideal use of those days. That killed about 20% of my stress. Then, the moment that brought clarity to my mind: one of our language teachers spoke up, suggesting we organize thusly: one Canvas module with three assignments, one for each week of the shutdown.


I eventually settled on hosting each day’s lesson in a Google Form. I can insert my instructional video, ask questions about the notes, link to activites such as Quizizz or Desmos or Flipgrid, and create an exit ticket, all in one place.

Two days in, so far so good. I spent some time thinking about it all Wednesday while keeping an eye on my email inbox during “office hours”, and it struck me.

My journey over the last 10 years of teaching and learning and connecting has led me right to this moment. I’m ready. Not because I’m so brilliant, but because of the people I have been connected with, IRL and online.

My activities during the shutdown won’t be perfect. They won’t be as cool as some of the things I see my online teacher connects doing.

They will meet the requirements for my district for e-learning day activities. And more importantly, they will meet the needs of my students. This isn’t a snow day, or even a three-day shutdown due to the Polar Vortex. We’re going to be out for weeks due to a global pandemic that could kill millions in the US alone. I’m not sure how well I’m handling that possibility as an adult. I imagine for some of my students, it’s frightening.

I owe a lot of people thanks for their writing and thinking and sharing over the years. I’m super-grateful to have been a connected teacher all this time. We had no idea that some of the things we were thinking about and doing would be the solution to the greatest single instructional challenge of our careers.

This is my contribution to the #MTBoS2020 blogging initiative started by Jennifer Fairbanks. That makes 2 out of the 3 months so far (D+). But take a look at the #MTBoS2020 tag for some great thinking about teaching and math from my online PLN.

Never Daunted

In Indiana they feel about basketball the way Texans feel about football or Minnesota folks about hockey. They game wasn’t invented there, just perfected there.

“In 49 states it’s just basketball.” Nine of the 10 largest high school gyms are located in Indiana.

Which means virtually everyone has played the game, watched the game, maybe coached some 10-year-olds for a winter or two, which makes them an expert.

“I know everything there is to know about the greatest game ever invented.” Source

My side gig has kept me in and out of gyms for a long time. But it’s been probably 30 years since I’ve been in Assembly Hall to see a Hoosiers game. A friend and fellow alum passed along a couple of tickets last weekend, so Mrs. Dull and I drove 3 1/2 hours through the pouring rain see IU square off with Ohio State. The athletic department was putting on an alumni weekend with former players from the Final Four and National Championship teams lining the court. It was a treat to see guys like Damon Bailey and Landon Turner on the floor, but the highlight came when Alan Henderson was given the honor of addressing the crowd. For obvious reasons:

“We know how badly you all wanted us to win. But, trust me, we always wanted to win even just a little bit more than you wanted us to win. One thing I was thinking about coming in here was, if you do lose, the next practice is something you’re not really looking forward to. I remember walking into Assembly Hall, and almost wanting to sneak through like a ninja, so Coach didn’t see me, or anyone else, just get to my locker, tryna make it through, you know? So just keep in mind, these young men are competing as hard as they can, the coaches are doing the best they can do, so through the ups and downs of the seasons, I just want you to know how important it is that you all stay behind the team, stay as positive as you can, and just keep moving the ball.”

I love Alan Henderson. As a young broadcaster I got to call his final high school game, an Indianapolis Brebeuf loss to Glenn Robinson and Gary Roosevelt at the RCA Dome. The rivalry between the state’s two best big men continued as Big Dog went to Purdue, Henderson to IU where he led the Hoosiers to the 1992 Final Four. Henderson got a huge round of applause when he called Assembly Hall the best place to play college basketball in the country. But I think his aim was something else. I had heard that he went “off script” a little bit. The fans are a little down on Archie Miller right now. Like, “ready to help him pack his bags”-level down. You know how they say the most popular man in Chicago is the Bears backup quarterback? In Bloomington it’s the next IU basketball coach. They are all chasing the ghost of Robert Montgomery Knight. Since Knight was fired after the 2000 season, IU has had five coaches who have won about 58% of their games and made the NCAA tourney 10 times in 21 seasons. Despite his brilliance as a coach, Knight is a sad, petty, bully who has consistently refused to attend events at the university honoring his players and teams. But the fans look up and see the championship banners and judge every coach by that (unattainable) standard. Ask UCLA fans what it’s like to see the game pass you by, right?

If Henderson had all this in mind as he wrote his speech, it was the most savage two minutes in that building maybe ever. One of the state’s greatest players, a Mr. Basketball runner-up and NBA mainstay, put a statewide fan base on blast.

Watch a game surrounded by Indiana basketball people, and you’ll notice a few things. They definitely have opinions about the “right way” to play the game. Check what they cheer for – the 25-second defensive stand, the extra pass, the unselfish play, the kid who bypasses an off-balance shot in traffic to pull the ball back out top and reset the offense (“set it up!”). I swear when I heard someone yell “set it up” I wanted to walk down the aisle and ask them “set up what?” Like, diagram a play for me. Where are those guys supposed to be right now?


I thought so.

And yeah, those are all good things. To be honest, the current team stands around a little bit too much on offense for my taste. But that’s not ’70s nostalgia, that’s the inability to be successful playing 1-on-5 every time down against modern-day Big 10 players.

I’ve been thinking about that speech a lot lately, thinking about it while I’m in the classroom and while I plan lessons and while I get ready to host my unannounced evaluation. And yeah, I think about it while I grade papers. Darryl Thomas was a member of the 1987 National Championship Hoosiers team, a Chicago-area guy and genuinely good person who died too young. At 6-foot-7 he was undersized at the position he was asked to play. But he showed up every day and had a hand in the greatest in-person basketball moment of my life, taking a low-post pass, sensing a double-team and kicking to Keith Smart in the corner for the game-winner against Syracuse:

In his book Season On The Brink, John Feinstein wrote that Bob Knight once put feminine protection products in Thomas’ locker as a comment on Darryl’s perceived lack of toughness. Later, Knight sat with Thomas and said, “Darryl, sometimes I think I want you to be a great player more than you want you to be a great player.”

Do I think I want my students to be successful more than they want themselves to be successful? Do my administrators want me to be a good teacher more than I want to be a good teacher?

I feel like sneaking into the building like a ninja some mornings, that is for sure. And if I do, I bet my kids do sometimes too.

During an interview I had an administrator tell me once “our students are the children of doctors and lawyers”. And yeah, they are. But thinking about that conversation later, I thought, yeah but they are also children of single moms who wait tables and work at K-Mart and dads who fix cars and grab their hard hat and steel-toes and work midnights at the mill.

As Alan Henderson might say, hey, these students are doing the best they can do, the teachers are competing as hard as they can, maybe it’s time to stay behind them and be positive.

Because when we do, this is the greatest job in the country. I might even have One Shining Moment before the year is up.

One-Man Book Club: Copyrighteous

N.B – I make no pretense of objectivity in this post. I’ve had the chance to interact with Diana Gill on Twitter and meet with her IRL at the eVillageNWI conference the last couple of summers. She is the real deal. A fabulous human being and absolutely brilliant as a teacher, coach, and presenter. For full disclosure, she gifted me my copy of her book.

We lived in Vegas for a while at the start of my teaching career. It was a huge culture shock for a Region guy whose dad worked in a steel mill for 40 years. My world was What You See Is What You Get. Pick up your lunchbox and hard hat and go to work. Out there I felt like everything was Style over Substance – like I had to learn to see through everybody’s front. Ironically enough, teacher-wise I’m probably a mixture of the two. You can’t wring the blue-collar out of me: one of my colleagues in my first year commented to my department chair, “he’s a bit of a workaholic”. I think she even meant it as a compliment. Meanwhile, I buy what my UNLV methods teacher was selling us back in the day: “As a teacher you put on 900 performances a year. And you have to nail every one of them”.

In her new book Copyrighteous, Diana Gill leads with a recollection of starting her teaching career by being given a scripted curriculum that stifled her creativity. She eventually broke the mold, creating her own classroom experiences tailored to her students’ needs and interests. In the process she learned to remix existing activities, respecting others’ creations while putting her own stamp on them.

When I first heard the basic outline of her book, I was definitely intrigued. To the extent that I have a “brand” it is as “that creative teacher”, ditching the textbook and creating (or at least sourcing and serving) tantalizing learning experiences in my classroom. And from the jump I was sure to share what I had learned with others, and always give credit when I shared online what my students had done that day. We share a philosophy of teaching in that regard.

Things have changed for me from the neck up the last year or so. I’m losing my teaching mojo. Maybe my style just doesn’t play in my building. I’m teaching a new (at least new in the last 8 years or so) prep. As awesome as our LMS is, no textbook means I’m pretty much writing my textbook digitally as I go. Building a plane while I’m flying it. We are “encouraged” to plan together and use common materials, and in my building that means TPT. That’s not really my style. And besides, I had… concerns, based on the experiences of some of my online teacher friends. I reached out to my MTBoS connects, and they came thru with the goods. In the end tho, I bent the knee to the stack of worksheets. I felt like I was letting myself and my PLN down. But wait. Can I do both? Keep pace with and use the same pre-made materials as my teaching colleagues, while staying true to my creative self but more importantly continuing to use the tools and activities freely shared by my PLN to offer my students engaging learning experiences?

I’m trying. I needed an activity this week to give my students a chance to collaborate and get extra practice on proving parallelograms in the coordinate plane. And in like 30 seconds of searching, bam, there it was, via @mathequalslove and @mathymissgrove –> Two Truths & A Lie, Parallelogram Edition. It might be a really good mashup, and remind me again how to combine the two in my classroom – a common curriculum and custom goodness. I was able to make some slight tweaks to meet the needs of my kids, and to use some advice the creator of the activity gave in her recap of the activity on her blog.

I feel like I should do more of that. Copyrighteous shows the way. And it came along just when I needed it.

So here’s my 15 second recap of edtech since it came on my radar screen 10-ish years ago: We’ve moved on from “Hey look at this shiny new toy, what can I do with it?” to “How does this tech or this process support teaching and learning in my classroom?” Now add in, “How can I respect the rights of the creators of the materials I’m using, while still presenting lessons that fit my personality and meet my students interests and needs?”

That’s Copyrighteous in a nutshell.

  • Find the thing that works for you.
  • If it doesn’t quite work for you, remix it until it does.
  • Always give credit.
  • Make something if you can’t find something.
  • Share with your people.
  • Ask for feedback.

It’s been a long time since my days in the College of Education at UNLV. I don’t know if they teach this stuff at teacher school in 2020.

But I know they should.

I Saw The Decade End

Twenty years ago last month, I sat around my dining room table, celebrating Thanksgiving with family in the house where I grew up. Among the guests were a couple of software engineers from my wife’s side of the family, so naturally the table talk turned to Y2K and the possibilities of a worldwide, simultaneous computer crash, and its effects on civilization as we know it. They were, and are, level-headed people, not given to leaping at every pop-culture panic. But the conversation took a dark turn when one of the computer experts at the table said, “I don’t anticipate a major problem. But I wouldn’t want to be in an airplane at 35,000 feet when the date rolls over.”

That was… sobering. When serious people say serious things, you listen.

Of course, nothing happened (thankfully) and the New Year’s Eve party we attended on 12/31/1999 to welcome in the new millennium with friends went off without a hitch. When the lights stayed on in Asia & Europe we figured we were good, so like most NYEs we looked back at the year gone by and talked plans for the year to come. Ate, drank, went home, went to bed. Woke up to a new day.

DU Launch Day.PNG

2010. I was in my 8th year of teaching and had just started to implement ideas lifted from a group of math teachers that called themselves the MTBoS (“math twitter-blog-o-sphere”), ideas that changed my teaching forever and literally saved my career. It was a another year before I ventured into the twitterverse.

December 29, to be exact

I had hair (for part of the year anyway). Mrs. Dull was part of a team that launched an ambitious STEM mentoring program for middle-school girls in our community.

We had a high school freshman and a 1st grader. I considered myself a semi-serious runner. The Cubs and Bulls were bad. Had a chance to broadcast a tremendous season of Homewood-Flossmoor football that ended in the Illinois 8A semifinals at Gately Stadium. Our puppy developed a taste for baseboards, windowsills, and coffee table legs. Probably a bunch of other stuff happened that I’ve forgotten because that was 10 years ago.

In-between. I switched schools. Urban –> exurban. Presented at some conferences. Made great acquaintences online and IRL. Ran some marathons. Got older. Maybe wiser. Stopped running. Got heavier. Watched my oldest son learn some harsh lessons, then mature into a semi-responsible adult as he completed Army basic training and became a 95 Bravo. One of my students asked me what I wish I knew before I had kids. I said, “I wish I knew that what hurt them would hurt me too.” Found out nobody owes you nothing.

Update: The Cubs stopped being bad and won the World Series.

Also: Discoveries Unlimited no longer exists. It was a great idea, the world around wasn’t quite ready for it I guess.

2020. I predict you’ll get tired of the word “vision” sometime about February or so.  Mrs. Dull signed me up for a half-marathon training group, so I guess I’m going to be a semi-serious runner again. I’ll be teaching a 16-year-old to drive (ora pro me). There is a major round-number milestone birthday in my family. Other that that, I have no idea what to expect. Don’t look for any puffy-chested pronouncements from me as far as resolutions. A few years ago I stumbled across a blog post from Allyson Apsey suggesting a New Year’s Playlist rather than a list of New Year’s Resolutions. Made sense then. Still does now. It’s more fun and it lasts longer. Give it a listen if you want.

I made a GDoc back in late summer and started dumping ideas for songs on there. I typically would have put the actual playlist together over Christmas Break, but this year I needed a boost during a marathon Thanksgiving week grading session, so it actually debuted in November.

“I love my city they let me cut the line on the Dan Ryan
They walk on eggshells and landmines
They communicate with hand signs

Do you remember how when you were younger
The summers all lasted forever?
Days disappear into months, into years
Hold that feeling forever”


Some samples if you are a video-type person. Hope you love Brittany Howard’s late summer release as much as I do. It kind of sets the chill mood for the entire playlist:

Which is not to say there aren’t any bangers on the list (“Van Weezer” LOL):

Spent a week or so over the summer sitting in the sun with a cold drink reading José Vilson‘s “This Is Not A Test“. To the point where one day I said “Hey Alexa, play Eric B. & Rakim” for a soundtrack while I read.

But Beck’s latest kind of hits the right note for the last 12 months or so of #teacherlife:

And a quick reminder, for those days when I’ve had it and I want to bail:

The tunes are in place. My mind is right. The last sunrise of 2019 is in the books. The only computer concerns we have these days are when an ad for something we were just now talking about shows up in our TL on our phones seconds later. Alright, 2020, let’s go. Show me something.

Light > Darkness

Light Definition
Merriam-Webster’s entry for light. Part of it, anyway.

“Something that makes vision possible”.

“Light” seems like one of those words that is difficult to define without using the word itself. But Webster’s first definition is beautiful in its simplicity. And compelling to me, especially at this time of year.

#confessanunpopularopinion: We’ve discussed in this space my love for melancholy Christmas. To the point of making a whole playlist for the season.

Honestly, I love the mid-December days with the 4:15 sunset and afternoons that are pretty much indistinguishable from evening. Every year has a rhythm. To everything there is a season, right?

But that’s me. Despite outward appearances, I’m basically a very dark person.

That doesn’t mean we don’t all long for light at this time of year. Across civilizations, through the centuries, regardless of faith or lack thereof, late December brings a rage against the darkness and quest for light.

So we seek out light.

We look for it in the darkness, alone, or surrounded by people we love.

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To the point where we’ll drive around in cars to go see other people’s lights.

And maybe, compare ourselves to other folks, a little bit. Because we can.

I’ve always said that Christmas Break comes at precisely the right time for a teacher. Everything around us, the whole world, says “Bundle up. Gather your people close. Take stock. Tell stories. Look back. And: Look ahead”.

So, if you are planning for second semester today, awesome. If that’s on the agenda for the weekend, cool. I’ve got my list sitting on my desk at school that I’m going to tackle in parts over the next few days.

And when I go in, I’ll probably have to take down the string of lights that has outlined my whiteboard for the last month.

Although, a warning. When you wake up on January 6, it’s going to be darker than you remember.

January 6 Sunrise

The sunrise lags the solstice by a couple of weeks, plus, let’s be honest, sleeping in is maybe the greatest perk of Christmas Break for a teacher. We’re gonna pay for that in a week or so. It’s gonna be pitch black when you wake up, and still dark-ish when you leave for school. On the first day back, when there is the slightest glimmer that we’ve turned a corner, when the buzz of seeing friends for the first time in a couple of weeks has burned off, we might have to make our own light.

My geometry students feel a little like they are stumbling through the darkness of a new kind of math. They might feel like they are crashing. They’re gonna need something to “make vision possible“. Or at least someone to thank them for flying Air Penguin.

“Who says a penguin can’t fly?”

One-Man Book Club: This Is Not A T-Shirt

There’s a thing I love about the local library – I’ll find books there that weren’t even on my radar. I’m a longtime non-fiction guy and love the new releases shelf. It’s pretty much guaranteed that every time I walk in I’ll find something incredible that I didn’t even know existed.

I consider myself pretty well versed in pop culture. Being around 16-year-olds 180 days a year has that effect. But I had never heard of The Hundreds. (Although it’s been a thing for the entire time I’ve been teaching). Streetwear-wise, I knew Supreme, my youngest is a shoe guy, and my boys and some of their friends are/were into Zumiez, but I’m glad the cover of This Is Not A T-Shirt caught my eye.

This Is Not A T-Shirt

Bobby Hundreds (aka Bobby Kim) tells his tale of rising from an artistic nerd, bullied in his hometown of Riverside, CA to a jet-setting, fashion-making star.

Meeting his business partner Ben Shenassafar. Attending Loyola Law School. Starting up a t-shirt business and setting up plastic folding tables on the outskirts of trade shows, trying to get noticed. The Black Tarp Trick. An intern/fanboy named Scottie. Learning about fabrics in Hong Kong. Collaborating with brands from Disney to adidas to Casio to the estate of Jackson Pollack. Nearly selling his brand to Tommy Hilfiger. Setting up elite brick-and-mortar stores in LA, Santa Monica, New York, San Francisco.

And a summer spent in Los Angeles Superior Court learning from a dying research attorney that changed the trajectory of his life forever.

The book opens with a tale of Bobby’s interaction with a fan via Twitter.

What's Wrong Dude

“Hi Derek. What’s wrong, dude?”

As soon as I read that I knew I had a teacher book on my hands.

Of course I layer all of this over teaching. Because when all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail. And when you’re a teacher, every book is a teacher book. I’m not necessarily sure there’s anything for me here in terms of lesson design or delivery. But what stood out to me was how Bobby Hundreds continuously assessed himself, challenged himself, worked to improve in his areas of interest, and actively looks to mentor other designers and entrepreneurs coming up behind him.

Kim knew from a young age he was skilled as an artist. He relates how his classmates (who typically shunned him, one of the few Asian-American kids at his school) would fall all over themselves to add him to their groups because they knew he could add a graphic punch to their displays. Eventually he grew to learn that his art would not be exhibited on canvas but instead on cotton. His advice to his readers: Figure out who you are first:

Find your thing


Finding your thing is one thing. Doing it is another. Sometimes we need a push. Bobby Kim got his push from Abe Edelman, a research attorney in the Los Angeles Superior Court, assigned to Kim as he interned during the summer after his first year at Loyola Law. On their final day of working together, Edelman showered Kim with praise.

“Bobby, In all my years of doing this, you were one of the best interns I ever had. You’re going to be a successful lawyer. You’re going to have it all – the cars, the houses, the women…”

And then, the turning point of a life, and a brand (people before things, right?):

“But you should never be a lawyer. You don’t love this. Being skilled and being passionate are two different things. Look. What do we talk about at lunch every day? Do we talk about memoranda and statutes?”

Kim had to admit, as the mentor and mentee ate tacos in the food court at the civic center daily, he would show Abe his design idea doodles, his plans for a website, marketing ideas, branding concepts.

“Your heart is with The Hundreds. Do that! I have no regrets! I was the best at what I do, and I loved every second of it. And now look at me. How will you feel if you wake up one day and you’re forty and you’re dying of cancer? Will you be able to say you lived your life doing what you were meant to do?”

Oh man. I felt that in my chest.

And it reminds me that my students have skills and talents and interests way beyond my class. Yeah, I want them to do my math and do it well, but I especially want them to be great at the things that are really, really important to them.

In the epilogue, Kim relates his philosophy of work to surfing, the way seasoned riders will patiently wait for a wave while newbies frantically paddle to chase every ripple, usually missing out. He says ups and downs are inevitable.

“The secret: knowing when and where to position yourself when the pendulum swings your way and the moment hits. You can’t control the cosmos, but you can study and get in position for its curveballs. This is an education culled from time and experience and patience – those very things that neither money nor Instagram followers nor power can buy.”

He closes with a FAQ section. This might have been my favorite part. I imagine a kid with a dream, getting a chance to pick the brain of a guy who rose from humble beginnings to run multi-million-dollar, multi-national business. And Kim is very real, and at the same time, very encouraging:

Hundreds FAQ 1

Hundreds FAQ 2

I feel a little bit like that following the lives of some of my former students on social media. We got along well enough back then for them to connect with me on FB or Twitter down the line.(I’m pretty sure Snapchat is not for me). I enjoy when they share their great joys, the challenges and rewards of parenting, their work lives, their chances to travel, and opportunities to do great things and small things in their lives.

It makes the world feel smaller and more relatable. And yeah, it never gets old.


Art Wishes It Could Imitate Life

Just your garden-variety sunset on New Buffalo Beach. Where it all started.

We were leaving the Vigil Mass at St Paul’s on Saturday afternoon, where Mrs. Dull was manning the EDGE display board at our parish’s annual Ministry Fair. She was talking with an acquaintance she’d attended a retreat with some time ago, and you know how that goes. Sisters in Christ for life, right? We were halfway across the parking lot when Cath looked up and said, “where did we park again?”

Distracted by the conversation, we were going in exactly the wrong direction. We shared a laugh and I said, “but, hey, it’s good to have an actual conversation with an actual human person sometimes, you know?”

I get reminded of impostor syndrome often. It’s an affliction that affects so many of us who spend a lot of time online. And it happens to the best of us. And then one day I saw it a very explicit way.

Bugsy Sailor’s twitter bio describes him as “Ambassador of the Upper Peninsula at @UPSupplyCo.” He’s really into being from the 906.  He’s embarked on a project this year to photograph 365 Lake Superior sunrises. If you’ve been, you know. A July sunrise can be glorious. A January sunrise can be pretty much a rumor. I’m a four-seasons-Lake-Michigan-beach-guy, so I get it. It’s beautiful all the time. Just maybe not Instagram-filtered, colors-popping, oil-on-canvas beautiful. Which is fine. It’s part of the charm. But if the sunrise p0rn of IG or Google images is all you see, who can blame you for being disappointed by reality?

I first ran into Bugsy (online) when I stumbled across his back of the envelope calculations on how long it would take to Zamboni Lake Superior, which turned into an activity in my class, which led to him replying to one of my tweets.

Which is to say, he’s real.

Mrs. Dull & I honeymooned in Northern Michigan and built in some Mackinac Island and UP time into our week. May is beautiful Up North, and we soaked it all up. We spent a day driving to the Soo Locks and hanging around Sault Ste. Marie, and I casually mentioned that the area seems to have kind of a morbid fascination with the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The scars there are kind of raw from the Great Lakes’ most famous shipwreck, even almost a half-century later. It’s like the way folks around me recall the 1955 Standard Oil refinery explosion.
On November 10 each year the Mariners Church of Detroit hosts a memorial service for all those lost on the Great Lakes through the years. This year Bugsy Sailor attended. His thread included an interesting story which I hadn’t heard before:


The poetic license claimed by the songwriter undersold the reality. Detroit must be run-down, Rust Belt, and it’s sailors’ cathedral “musty”, right? Except the reality was much different. Lightfoot found it was glorious, to the point where he changed the lyrics to his own song once he knew.
There’s a “know better, do better” connection there for me I think.

I’m pretty provincial about the Region, and Chicago, and my lake. I feel bad for kids who wake up in Kansas and see no-water for as far as the eye can see. Lake Michigan is powerful and mysterious and life-giving and destructive and beautiful. I’ve sat on various beaches in various states that border the lake pondering all of this. I know I’m not the only one – one of my HMD teacher friends has quite the photographic eye for a Porter Beach sunset. And like a lot of us, I feel a connection across the ages when I sit there. I often wonder what the first people to see the lake thought when they saw its vast blue expanse. So when I read this over breakfast this morning, I felt it in my chest:

“My soul is buried out there somewhere”. Yeah.

I don’t think I feel that way about teaching any more. But I’ll always feel that way when I sit in the sand.

And I couldn’t miss the #MementoMori in Sailor’s tweet. “Did they know it was their last sunrise?” I’m almost certainly (like 99.9% certain) closer to the date of my death than to the date of my birth. The whole point of Memento Mori is that remembering your death helps shape how you live your life.

Was the sun visible that morning?

My best days in the classroom aren’t Instagram-perfect. My worst days make me want to quit, move to Cali, go live in a shack on the beach and open a margarita stand. But one day will be my last day. I hope I don’t miss the beauty worrying about whether I saw somebody else’s idea of a perfect sunrise.

Or a perfect anything.

My youngest, pensive, at sunset on Weko Beach, Bridgman, MI.

Goodbye Yellow 107

I’m on the move again, classroom-wise.

Three times in four years, if you are keeping track. I was on a cart my first year at my current school, and the last two years I’ve made mid-year switches.

And, not just here. It’s pretty much become my brand. For a variety of big-picture reasons I was asked to make moves at my former school (yes, mid-year, even once on a work day between trimesters). It’s an occupational hazard. As a result, I travel light. Handful of stuff on the wall, mostly worried about seating arrangements for my students. I’m never gonna be an influencer with an IG-ready classroom all full of cuteness.

Reality is: I’m not special. Due to construction in my building we’ve been playing Whack-a-Mole with teachers for three years. Move a group to renovate a hallway, move them back in. Move another group, reno another hall. Rinse, repeat.

But honestly, sometimes I wonder if they’re trying to tell me something. I feel a little Mark Prior-ish sometimes.

I’m just an employee. The goal now is to go down and help that team win and try to make the AAA All-Star team. Maybe I can get invited to the Futures game or something. I’m still 26. It’s part of the business. That’s the way I look at it. There’s not much I can say. I’m a controlled player. I do what I am told.

It’s worth taking time for discernment – yes, it’s important to know if it’s time to go. But, maybe it’s not about me.

Am I making stuff up in my head? Maybe I just feel picked on.

Like the saying goes, “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me”. Just say you never met me.

But to borrow another idiom: Maybe a cigar is just a cigar. We’re moving, I’ll keep teaching, they’ll keep learning, done.

I spent some time this morning de-escalating the thoughts in my head. Part of it is the fruits of praying the Litany of Humility. It makes me de-center myself. Part of it was the prompting of the Spirit to go to confession.

The parish named for my Patroness offers Saturday morning confession, which was perfect as I had JV football on tap before going in to make my new classroom look lived-in by Monday.

And sometimes a thing just randomly shows up on a Saturday morning to bless my whole day, and it’s hard to break the joy that comes from that.

Rod Dreher and I share a kind of optimistic pessimism so I am a faithful reader of his blog. One of the things I gain from that is a knowledge that while we work towards eternal life and battle the forces in this world it’s important to stop and be very aware of the small beautiful things in this life.

It prevents overreaction to small inconveniences. It was actually a pretty cool afternoon. I bribed my youngest with lunch (his favorite hot wings and a pretty good Italian Beef) to help me out after his football game. We got to laugh together and groove to some ancient tunes.

Plus, PK 102 is gonna be a beautiful room.






It almost kinda makes me anxious for Monday. Let’s go teach.