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Career Teacher

Justin Minkel

February 7, 2014

How to See the Good in the "Bad" Kids


It’s easy to like the cute ones. The kids with the ribboned braids, the quiet questions, the charming grins. But it’s our job to teach the hard kids, too. The ones who glower at us before we’ve said a word, who deliver a “yeah” so sullen it sounds like a curse, who seem to have no regard for anyone including themselves. How do we come to like those kids? Even, with time, to love them?

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Justin Minkel

January 22, 2014

Madness in the Realm


Imagine two villages. Both have just received a decree from the kingdom that henceforth, all jousting tournaments will share a few commonalities: the same length field, the inclusion of age brackets, and a staff of healers on hand to keep injured jousters from dying of their wounds. In the first village, tournaments resume, with all the pageantry and heroism of old, though now the field is two feet longer, jousters charge one another five times instead of four, and the required healers mend a broken clavicle every now and again. In the second village, the lord goes nuts. He tells the knights the decree came about because they’re all so ineffective at jousting. “We must keep up with Normandy!” he shouts, frothing at the mouth. “If we don’t, then doom will follow! Doom, I say!” Henceforth, decrees the mad lord, all knights must wear the same size armor, whether they’re 6 foot 10 or 5 foot 6. No more of those messy coats of arms and pennants of various colors dangling from mismatched lances, either.

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Justin Minkel

January 8, 2014

“You won’t fall—I’m holding on to you.”


There are times when a single moment contains the whole world. This morning, walking my daughter to kindergarten, I picked up my two-year old son to navigate a treacherous sheet of ice leading to the school door. He clung to me like a koala and said, “Don’t worry, Daddy. You won’t fall—I’m holding on to you.” That moment compressed twelve years of teaching for me.

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Justin Minkel

December 28, 2013

But enough about me. What do you think of me?


Michael Cunningham wrote, “This is a Southern gift, isn't it—tremendous self-regard diluted with humor and modesty.” Thank you, bloggess Brianna Crowley, for tossing gasoline on the flame that is my “Southern gift.” I hate to admit how much I have enjoyed the act of narcissism permitted by your invitation to join the Blogger Homework meme. Paparazzi, help yourselves. I’m the biggest thing to hit the South since moonshine.

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Justin Minkel

December 22, 2013

Run, Teachers, Run!


What’s the connection between running and teaching? Here’s a partial list:

1. Rest days matter as much as training days.

2. Preparation and performance are directly connected.

3. Your fiercest competition is yourself.

4. Running and teaching are at once intensely personal and extremely collegial.

5. You have to love it for its own sake.

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Justin Minkel

November 23, 2013

Undertapped: The Avengers of North Carolina


Imagine this: Thor wields his mighty hammer to pound nails into railroad ties. The Incredible Hulk empties dumpsters in an industrial office park. Nothing’s wrong with these jobs. It’s just that given the Avengers’ mighty powers, you’d think they’d be out there fighting malevolent aliens or Nazi masterminds, right? That’s the kind of mismatch between ability and responsibilities we see in the teaching profession.

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Justin Minkel

November 3, 2013

Four-Foot Heroes


The seven- and eight-year olds I teach are primarily immigrants. They struggle each day with a foreign language, a foreign culture, and threats like hunger and eviction that I’ve never had to confront. They come through that struggle with courage and grace. They’re the kinds of human beings I hope to become.

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Justin Minkel

October 26, 2013

A Doctor, a Lawyer, and a Teacher Walk Onto a Plane


When the doctor and lawyer found out I had just finished a competition with three other finalists for National Teacher of the Year, the lawyer leaned in and asked, “So, how do you get along with the other finalists?” I rambled on for a few minutes about how wonderful they were.  He shook his head in disbelief. “Man, if there was a competition for Lawyer of the Year, we’d be poisoning each other’s drinks.”

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Justin Minkel

October 19, 2013

To Know We Are Not Alone: Identity (Not Sex) in the Classroom


“We read to know that we are not alone.” We have reached a point where we realize that the books our students read should reflect their racial, cultural, and linguistic identities. Is there anything different about gay and lesbian students, or the children of same sex-couples? Are we brave enough to take the next step?

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Justin Minkel

September 27, 2013

Why be a Career Teacher?


Teaching is increasingly seen as a two to five year career.  There are plenty of reasons to leave the profession, including an anemic salary scale and fragments of NCLB still buried in the system like shrapnel, sapping some of the joy and autonomy from the profession. So why should anyone make a career out of teaching? What are the benefits to the kids, the other teachers, and to those of us who have chosen teaching as a lifelong craft?

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