There are few worse tortures than watching videos of yourself teach a classroom of teenagers.
There I am in my stupid, vaguely-metallic silver button-up and blue slacks, hair shellacked like a used car salesman, trying to espouse the benefits of characterization to a group of kids.
“All right,” I say. “We’re going to learn about characterization.” I push start on a slideshow displaying Spider-Man. “Here’s Spider-Man,” I say. And then there are about two seconds of me rolling my sweaty hands together. Of course it’s fucking Spider-Man, I’m thinking. Everyone can see that.
“Who hasn’t seen a Spider-Man movie?” I ask
The class is silent.
“All right,” I say. This, I will discover, is something I say all the time—a stupid refrain that comes out of my stupid mouth like a second-rate Matthew McConaughey. All right, all right, awwl right.
I read off a powerpoint presentation: “How would we characterize Spider-Man?”
“He’s an orphan,” one kid says.
“Uhhh,” I say.
“Haven’t you seen the new movie?”
“What about his intelligence?” I ask, trying to steer the discussion somewhere, anywhere.
“His spider senses are tingling!” one kid yells.
“Raise your hand, please,” I say. Did my voice just break? I hit pause on the clip when I demonstrate raising my hand. Are those pit stains?
“Which Spider-Man?” one kid asks. I’m clearly not expecting this reply, and I uhhhh for a good three seconds. But of course: these students—13 and 14-year-olds—are living in the age of many Spider-Men thanks to the multiverse.
I think of how to answer the question, uhhhh-ing like an idiot. This is a snuff film and I’m the one dying. In an ideal scenario, I would simply turn off the footage and gently, peacefully walk into the ocean.
But I can’t turn the footage off, I can only grit my teeth and bear it. This video is the evidence I need to submit as part of my big teaching assessment, the edTPA. Passing the edTPA is sort of like a teacher’s equivalent of the bar exam, and I must pass the edTPA to get my teaching credential. I’ve been working on this baby for the past two months—designing a curriculum, implementing it, and then writing pages and pages of commentary. Once completed, I’ll submit the commentaries along with lesson plans, graphic organizers, Google Slides, rubrics, samples of student work, feedback, and a shitload of other materials. By the end, I’ll be more pedagogy than human—a great, swirling mass of literary techniques in a nerdy button-up.
All of this is supposed to prove that you can plan and teach a learning unit, but I think the real purpose of the edTPA is to prove you’re willing and capable of enduring unimaginable levels of shame and embarrassment. How else do you explain the task of watching yourself fumble a lecture because you can’t think of which version Spider-Man would best illustrate the concept of characterization?
“So, uh, let’s say Tom Holland, in the new Spider-Man,” I say.
The kids respond.
“He’s still in high school.”
“They’re all still in high school.”
“So Batman’s in high school?”
“We’re talking about Spider-Man.”
It’s at this point that I can’t even tell who is fucking with me and who isn’t. That’s the joy of teens: no matter how important something is —say, passing a huge assessment that’ll potentially determine your future career—they won’t give a shit. And honestly, you have to respect that...at least a little.
“How does he interact with his friends?” I say, trying one last time to regain their attention.
“He shoots white stuff at his friends,” says one joker.
The class goes wild. If I could bottle the look of abject failure on video-me’s face, I bet I could make a lot of money selling it to people who get off on that kind of humiliation.
Nope, not this clip, I think, skipping forward. All I need to do is find 10 usable minutes to prove that I can teach—a difficult task, considering how easy it is for eighth graders to go wild. They’re not as out-of-control as seventh graders (I’ve witnessed a class of seventh grade boys freak out at the mere mention of a French kiss during a read-aloud), but eighth graders are learning how to channel that energy into defiance, apathy, and self-obsession. That is, they’re learning how to be jerks. It’s amazing to witness this stage in development, and on any other day—say, when I’m not recording for a major assessment—I secretly revel in this kind of training-wheel rebellion and disruption.
I eventually find a clip that shows me doing an okay job. In fact, it’s better than okay. There’s me, I’m teaching! It’s a profound moment to watch as I ask the class to write something in their notebooks and they do it. I ask questions and students answer them. We have a full-on class discussion.
Jesus Christ, I think, pausing the video. I think I can do this.
LISTEN TO THIS
Tamar Berk - Start at the End
On Tamar Berk’s new album, Start at the End, nostalgia feels like a trap. On the surface, the songs evoke the post-grunge eccentricism of late ‘90s/early ‘00s indie-pop— The Con-era Tegan & Sara, and Fiery Furnace’s Eleanor Friedburger come to mind. But unlike most pop culture that evokes the past, Start at the End doesn’t dole out escapism. Rather, it works a little like hypnotism, luring listeners into dark submission. Beneath the exteriors lies sadness, anxiety, and heartache, and I must say: this is the nostalgia I want. This is the nostalgia we need.
“Your Permission,” the album’s opener, sets the tone with a sparse, haunting keyboard reminiscent of Aimee Mann’s “One” or a Jon Brion composition. But immediately, Berk’s vulnerable-yet-urgent voice kicks in, rendering whimsy into desperation: “Can I ask your permission, to be the perfect wife, to have the perfect life, just maybe not today.” Before we can recover from that gut-punch, Berk sings, “I’ve been here before”—a sobering nod to the defeatism of seeing progress fail time and again.
This is to say, Start at the End is not a light record, even though it sounds like one. Bright production, ethereal beauty and pop-punk flourishes run rampant (the palm-mute guitar on “Tragic Endings” hit my ‘90s-loving heart), but the lyrics focus on grief, loss and self-doubt (according to Bandcamp, these songs were written after the death of Berk’s father).
But the darkness on Start at the End makes its hope all the brighter. On the album’s soaring closer “This Is Me Trying,” Berk sings, “This is me trying to get through this” over an anthemic, Britpop-tinged wall of sound. It’s a cathartic spell reminding us that we can’t ever really return to the figurative touchstones in our minds, but ultimately growth, recovery, and joy lie ahead.
Start at the End comes out April 22. Go pre-order it on Bandcamp.
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Friday, April 15
Kate Clover, DFMK, The Inflorescence @ Soda Bar: A night of raucous punk! Kate Clover plays Ramones-style rock ‘n’ roll, but dirtied-up in typical LA fashion. Plus, San Diego’s Inflorescence—whose debut on label Kill Rock Stars comes out in June—are also playing. Maybe wear some supportive shoes for all the jumping around you’re gonna do.
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Julia Dixon Evans edited this post. Thanks, Julia. Go follow her on Twitter.