I am a Southern California native that spent most of his formative years in Northern California. There I grew up with a wildly artistic younger sister, an exceedingly patient mother, and a remarkably honest father. I never had reason to leave the area until I met the woman whose presence seemed essential to happiness. Together we would create a family complete with pit-bull mutts, and two adorable little girls, surrounding me in estrogen, but ensuring I am endlessly loved.
If you have read (or skimmed) over my Library page, you should not be surprised that I love books. I have been an avid reader since I was young enough to do so, finding a special place for popular authors like Stephen King and Anne Rice, but also loving authors of American cannon like Mark Twain, Hemingway, and Steinbeck, and many more voices from around the world. Admittedly, during the school year leisure reading can be hard to come by, but given a nice vacation I will gladly, voraciously consume a book. When time, money, and family permits, I also enjoy snowboarding, riding a motorcycle, writing, watching movies, and playing video games.
I am a High School teacher of English Language Arts, but it was not something I intended until relatively late in my life (to the extent that an under-forty-year-old man can say "late in my life"). After relinquishing the dream of professional short-stop for the Pittsburgh Pirates/Los Angeles Angels - whichever would have me - and the dream of penning great works of American fiction - as all English teachers must one day dream - I found myself graduating high school with a job in fast food and no greater plan. It would take nearly a decade for me to find my path into ELA, but I would find ways to teach nonetheless.
My first "real" job out of high school was working for United Rentals, where I cleaned equipment, mixed concrete, hooked up trailers, filled propane, sold merchandise, and generally supported customers looking to complete projects ranging from home landscaping to job-site excavation. I kept myself busy after work by attending community college, but it was at United Rentals that I learned how much I enjoyed education, helping people diagnose and fix a problem. I learned how to recommend the right piece of equipment for a job and how to teach construction novices how to safely use a variety of equipment, these skills providing the job's highest rewards. (I can still, if you have an interest, teach you how to run an excavator weighing between 3,299 to 49,999 lbs.) While I remained an academic for many years in the evening hours, it was at United Rentals I developed a love of teaching.
Come the Great Recession, construction took a significant hit and jobs were lost, mine among them. I began attending school full time, completing an Associates of Arts degree that had been a long time coming; I had remained without it not by some error, but because until the recession I had only ever sought higher education as a tool for personal growth, without a specific degree in mind. To keep financially afloat during this time, I began working for a company providing behavioral support services to adults with disabilities. I found myself teaching again, this time functional skills to adults who were living in supported living arrangements. This sometimes meant teaching housekeeping or money-management, but would also include far more basic skills, such as how to recognize when someone is angry, and when it is appropriate to kick people in the supermarket (never). This work was highly rewarding, and while I was helping these individuals I was learning new things about myself.
I learned that I have a significant level of patience and tolerance: I have had items aggressively thrown at me; I have been punched and kicked repeatedly; I have had someone grab the steering wheel of the car I was driving in an attempt to change our direction on the freeway. In each instance I was able to remain nonplussed - if you give attention to bad behavior like this, you encourage it later. It also became clear that I relished the successes of the individuals I was supporting; when one of my individuals didn't get angry about waiting in line, I felt great, and when he picked up after himself in the living room of his home, I knew I was making a difference. I was not always successful, but each success felt monumental.
The actual push into education came when I was attending an English Composition class at the University of Nevada, Reno, working on a Bachelor's in English. We were assigned to edit the work of another student, taking their essay home to find mistakes, suggest improvements, and act as editor. The essay that I took home was good. It met the expectations of the assignment, was largely well organized, and supported its position with sufficient evidence. This did not stop me from making it bleed in red ink. I found every grammatical error, every piece of repetitive diction, every misspelled word, and every instance of passive voice I could. Where I saw possible improvements to sentence structure or supporting commentary, I made suggestions. When finally I returned the essay to this other student, he was aghast. He had never received a paper with this much feedback on it in high school, he told me. He said he "always thought he was a good writer."
But he wasn't a bad writer. He was, like all of us, someone that could potentially make improvements. I was surprised by how hard he took my feedback. I had edited in such detail because I wanted to give him my fullest attention, to provide enough feedback that he could change his work as he saw fit, and it struck me that to him, this kind of feedback was criticism. It was at this point that I realized I wanted to be a teacher. Along the course of this man's elementary and secondary education, he had learned that getting feedback from the teacher was bad, that it meant he wasn't good at what he was doing. In this I found a problem, one I felt I could attempt to fix in some small measure.
After completing my Bachelor's at UNR for Education (with an English focus), I student taught at Reed High School in Sparks, which transitioned into a long-term sub gig that allowed me to finish up the year with the first 200+ students I ever called my own, an uncommon and invaluable experience. I would later be picked up by Coral Academy of Science on 9th street in Reno, teaching High School English with a dash of Middle School thrown in. When Coral's new Neil Rd campus opened I made a new home there, excited to help students diagnose and fix problems so that they can find success in places where they usually don't look.
I'm fortunate to find myself doing something that is philosophically and spiritually rewarding. Each day I am allowed to greet more than one hundred students with a handshake that welcomes them into the most adult phase of their life so far. This gesture of respect is generally returned in kind, and we can begin each day with a poem that may (or might not) help a student see the beauty of language. Through collaboration, humor, and adaptation, we learn together daily.
The biggest surprise for my students when they enter my class is unrelated to the curriculum; without exception, they are surprised to hear that I play video games.
They do this, of course, without considering that I actually represent the average age of a gamer, which is 35 (and getting older). I have been gaming since I could hold a controller, and have owned fourteen console devices in my life, not counting cell phones and desktop computers. The video game, as I see it, provides an opportunity for interaction and narrative envelopment that cannot be matched by other media types. While a book club might allow two or more people to share their experiences with a novel, a video game can allow a couple (or many) friends to enjoy and shape a narrative together, simultaneously. While a choose-your-own-adventure book might allow a reader to direct a narrative in one of many possible predetermined paths, a game can allow a player to react and interact with a plot, to change and shape it, to feel truly responsible for a series of events.
These are not just surface level interactions, either. In recent years, games have come out whose narratives ask questions about war, morality, and the human condition that only some literature has managed to do before. Released on the Playstation 3 and remastered for Playstation 4, The Last of Us deals with themes of morality, family, and the depravity of men pushed to their breaking point with the same skill and depth found in Carmac McCarthy's The Road, an award-winning novel. The video game Spec Ops: The Line asks what is permissible in meeting the obligation of duty with a deft hand reminiscent of Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Games can also tell personal stories of loss, love, and identity, as the exploration game Gone Home or the adventure game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons did in 2013.
Beside the power of games to tell narratives, they can also aid memory, hand-eye coordination, deductive reasoning, and social skills.
But games are not without their problems.While the American Psychological Association has noted the benefits of games in the past, it has also maintained a critical eye toward the link between video games and aggression. It is important to note that aggression is generally defined as behavior that occurs directly after playing a video game (using a more aggressive tone, or interpreting someone else's behavior as being intentionally hurtful, etc), and has not been linked by scientific study to actually taking violent actions. That said, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (www.esrb.com) provides ratings on all games released in the United States, providing feedback to purchasers about the content of a game. I encourage parents to play an active role in evaluating the gaming tastes of their children before allowing them to play. If possible, sitting down to play a game with your child may help in understanding not just what they are playing, but why they enjoy it so much.
At Coral, I run a game club that I am proud of. At the start of each club meeting, we have an academic-style discussion about gaming and game culture. Past topics have discussed issues of gender, race, art, music, narrative, and more. After our discussion we play. We do not play any games over a Teen rating - most are even below that - and our choices reflect games that encourage an appreciation of art, an investment in narrative, or a collaborative focus, although we do play competitive games as well. Not all of our gaming is done digitally, however, with the last meeting of the month spent playing physical games.
I feel fortunate to be able to share an activity that I love and appreciate with a younger generation, and I have found that when presented with a topic that engages them they can enjoy thinking and speaking critically in discussions they might struggle with in a formal class. Game club also allows students to develop a cohort of game players that they know in real life, which may help insulate younger players from the harassment and negativity that can sometimes accompany playing with strangers online.