Forgive me for telling a personal story here. I know I should be posting thoughts with universal applicability, and this story actually has that. But you’ll have to read to the end to get that!
I’m going to try something new in the next few weeks — I’m trying a LetsPlay Minecraft series on my YouTube channel. How this came about is crazy….
I’m a recently retired-from-the-classroom teacher. I taught middle school computer science for the last 20 years. But I’m one of those “lifelong learners” that every school mission statement says they want to create. So I can’t stop, won’t stop. I’ve spent the last 6 months since retirement, building out my “brand” — a project-based approach to learning that I call Hard Fun. I’ve written a book, posted on YT, guested on some podcasts, taught some online stuff, done some tutoring, and have some PD possibilities on the horizon, created this website, written blog posts, etc. It’s been a bit of a slog sometimes, to be honest.
When I handed in my notice at my school, the head of school told me, tongue in cheek, that he would accept it if I promised to come back every year for the holiday assembly. Quick backstory — my school has a K-12 holiday assembly in the gym where the kids generally go crazy, Santa appears assisted by seniors as reindeer, with music provided by a faculty band. It’s a blast! If you know me at all, you know that I have a musical alter ego named Chicago Bob, who plays electric blues music. It’s my other passion besides teaching. And Chicago Bob puts in an appearance with the faculty band and played “Run Run Rudolph”. Most of the musical selections are familiar old chestnuts. But with “Run Run Rudolph”, we really rock the house!
So, as promised, I showed up last Friday with guitar and amp in hand, dressed in full Chicago Bob regalia (picture above). It was the first time I had been back on campus since I handed in my keys back in June. I didn’t know what to expect. When you retire, you’re out of the loop, and life goes on at your old job without you just fine. As it should! The response, however, was overwhelming. Kids screamed when they introduced me. For one brief shining moment, I felt like a rockstar! And the band kicked it. So much fun all around.
I’m getting to the LetsPlay part, trust me. After the assembly, I was packing up and 3 8th grade boys came up to tell me how much they missed me. Aww… and they actually almost begged me to do a LetsPlay series on my YT channel. They know me as a Minecraft lover. I used Minecraft a lot in my classes to teach coding and also ran a Minecraft Club. I told them that I was terrible at actually playing Minecraft! But it didn’t seem to matter to them. I shook their hands, shook my head, and carted my gear out to the car.
But the more I thought about it, the more I thought just maybe this could be fun to try. It wouldn’t take too much time, right? 10-15 minutes of playing, minimal video editing, then uploading…. and it might be amusing to see me die in Minecraft a thousand different ways. I emailed them and told them I was going to try it over the holidays, and got some pretty excited responses. I posted a short video on my channel saying I was going to do it and got some celebration emoji responses and the coveted “Fire” from one person. If you don’t know what means, ask a kid!
I am thinking of also doing a LetsCode series, which would be me trying to figure out how to code stuff in Minecraft. Not a tutorial, but a fumbling-through to try to make something work, which is how actual coding actually works.
So universal applicability? A couple things spring to mind. First, there’s probably a reason that I got the response that I did from the students in general, and from these students in particular. My best guess is that I’m a “personal person”. I worked hard to have a personal connection with each student and to just “be myself”. And that included sharing my passions — coding and music. Teachers, don’t be afraid to be who you really are in class! I’ve never been a fan of that “don’t smile till Christmas” approach that I always heard when I was coming up as a young teacher. Second, if students know that you care about them, they will give it back! They’re ok with watching my videos even if I’m a terrible gamer. There are plenty of gamers out there who can do speedrun LetsPlays and build awesome things. I’m not that guy. So I guess what they’re saying is they respond to my “personality” (whatever that is).
It’s also a good idea to pull back the curtain sometimes and let people see you stumbling and fumbling along to learn stuff. Teachers, let’s remember that the reason we chose to teach whatever we teach is that we’ve always been pretty good at it. And kids can feel stupid in our classes because it appears that we’re just magically empowered to “get it”, and they’re not. So let them watch you struggle to figure it out.
So watch my channel for the first installment of the LetsPlay series on the same day that this blog post comes out — Friday, December 16, 2022. I’ll do several over the holidays, and we’ll see how it goes. Maybe a lot of people will tune in and like them, maybe nobody will. Maybe I’ll go viral.
And please don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe! I’ve always wanted to say that.