Best NFL Day Of the Year

If you love NFL football, it doesn’t get any better than today.  In fact, I think today will probably be better than Super Bowl Sunday.

If you don’t follow the NFL, a rare thing happened–the actual four best teams are left playing for their conference championships.  The winners of these two games will then go on to compete in the Super Bowl.  Even though I’m a die-hard Bears fan and would love it if they were still playing, I think it’s great that the four clubs with the best records and/or the best overall teams are playing today.  Yes, I know the Patriots didn’t have one of the best records, but they are the most successful franchise of this century–I think we all knew they’d make it this far despite their wins and losses.

So, even if you’re not a huge football fan, today will be well worth your while.  You will see some truly magnificent offense and defense on display.  You’ll see the incredible defense and creative offense of the LA Rams.  You’ll see the superhuman twenty-three-year-old Kansas City Chiefs quarterback named Patrick Mahomes.  And, of course, you’ll witness the masters of their craft–Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

Let’s not forget that the Chiefs, Saints, and Patriots have some of the best coaches in the history of the game–respectively Andy Reid, Sean Payton, and Bill Belichick.  And the Rams coach?  His name is Sean McVay, he’s only thirty-two-years-old, and he’s considered an offensive genius.

Each of these teams are highly skilled and deserve to be playing for the Super Bowl.  There aren’t any silly Wild Card entries who made it in due to a weak division and freak occurrence.  Today will be about as good as it gets.

Oh, and, of course, I’m obligated to offer my picks for the day.  Though I love the Chiefs and Andy Reid’s coaching, I think the experience of both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will prove too much for them.  Give Patrick Mahomes another year or two and he’ll know how to win these huge playoff games with Reid’s guidance.  Same goes for the Saints and the Rams.  I think all the battles Brees and Payton have fought together will ultimately win the day for them.  So, to be clear, I’m picking the Patriots and the Saints for the Super Bowl.

Just to be especially bold, I’ll go ahead and pick my Super Bowl winner, too.  I believe Brees and Brady will nullify each other, as will Belichick and Payton.  It’s going to come down to defense and special teams, and, in my opinion, the Saints are better at those two things.  So, I’m picking the Saints to win it all.

But I’m hoping it will be the Bears next season.

Enjoy the games!

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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The Regretful Reason I Love Chick-Fil-A

When Chick-Fil-A first came to Bloomington-Normal, people were, shall we say, enthusiastic.  I lived in North Carolina for two years almost twenty years ago, where Chick-Fil-A abound.  I ate it a few times during my tenure in the south, but didn’t find it particularly special.  I mean, chicken is chicken, right?

So, if we’re being honest, I didn’t understand the Central Illinois fervor.  People were literally counting down the days until it opened.  And once it finally unlocked its doors to the public, oh boy, the lines were legendary.

In fact, to this day, if it’s anywhere close to mealtime, you’re going to see their drive-thrus (yes, they have two lanes) crammed with cars.

Apparently, the BLO-NO passion for Chick-Fil-A has not weakened.

And even though I am among the Chick-Fil-A faithful now, it’s not because of the food.  I still maintain that chicken is chicken.

Whenever we decide to do fast food, I’m the first to suggest Chick-Fil-A for an entirely different reason — a regrettable reason.

The first time we went to Chick-Fil-A here in town (which was long after everyone else paid it a visit), I was astounded.

They were so nice.

They were polite, courteous, warm, engaged, gracious, and just … nice!

The whole experience satisfied me in a way I had not expected.  Was I really so starved for good customer service?

We’ve been back three or four times since, and every time we are treated the same way.  Clearly, exceptional manners are part of their business model.  I have no idea if they hire only those who are predisposed to affability or if they have to train their employees to be considerate, but it totally works on me.

I don’t go to Chick-Fil-A for the food, I go for the experience.

Isn’t that sort of sad?  Is our general customer service so poor that we are surprised when workers present themselves professionally with a smile?  Honestly, I never paid it much attention at other places, particularly fast food places, because I know the employees aren’t making much, don’t have the opportunity for a tip, and probably don’t have a ton of job satisfaction.  But then Chick-Fil-A came along and blew my whole paradigm.

What’s it say that Chick-Fil-A rose above the fast food competition by encouraging their employees to be nice?

By the way, if you want to argue with me that their manners are fake, that they aren’t being sincerely nice, that they are just trying to keep their jobs, that’s fine.  I’ll take fake nice over authentic grumpy with my (waffle) fries any day of the week.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Is Our School System Better Than Sliced Bread?

I’ve taught high school English since the year 2000.  During that time, we’ve seen the advent of smartphones, automated cars, even artificially intelligent grocery stores.  Our technology has grown exponentially in just eighteen years, and I don’t see that trend slowing down.

Consider the following advancements that happened within the last 100 years: the Internet, space travel, computers, video game consoles, compact discs, printers, cassette tapes, television, microwave ovens, bagless vacuum cleaners, and even sliced bread.

Yes, sliced bread did not exist in an automated, widespread manner until 1928.

Now I’d like to share with you the year most agree our modern system of schooling arrived: 1837.  There are those who will argue against that particular year, but most will agree children have been sitting in desks for regimented amounts of time listening to teachers for well over one hundred years — the way we still do it to this very day.

Please allow me to point out that I am in no way, shape, or form trying to destroy our school system.  I enjoy my profession and it’s provided a wonderful life for my family and me.  I played school well as a student, and I continue to do so as a teacher.  Obviously, I like school.

However, when I look at the world around me, and then when I look at the way our modern school system functions … the two don’t match up very well with one another.  That’s just my observation.

I don’t need to remind you how school works because it’s pretty much the same as when you were a kid.

And it’s pretty much the same as when your parents were kids.

And it’s pretty much the same as when their parents were kids.

Obviously, schools are not keeping up with the times.

But here’s the thing: I don’t have the answer.  I barely have any suggestions.  I have no idea how we would even go about changing our school system.  It’s so ingrained in our society that I think it’s hard for us to consider an alternate method.

I realize a popular argument against what I’m saying is that students need to learn how to sit and listen.  They need to get used to people telling them what to do.  They need to know how to follow instructions.  Well, yes, okay, those are skills we all need to have at our disposal, but do they really need thirteen years of it, day after day, week after week, year after year?  Let me tell you, they have it mastered by sixth grade, and then they start to realize they’ve got six more years of the same, and most of them decide they’re in store for a miserable existence until graduation.  Some react to this realization by acting out, checking out, faking us out, or just plain getting out.

Let me tell you, we have GREAT teachers. I guarantee you we are trying our hardest to create engaging lessons.  The truth is, though, that I’m not sure we’re all wired to sit and do one thing for fifty straight minutes any more.

And before you say it, let me stop you.  When I say “do one thing,” I mean that from a student’s perspective.  I try to vary the activities as much as I can within fifty minutes, but to the student, an English class is an English class no matter what the various activities are within that block of time.

I’m told that people who work in business are often allowed to get up when they want, use the bathroom when they want, chat with coworkers when they want, and chip away at the project of the moment little by little as they see fit as long as they meet their deadline.  This is a generalization, of course, but from my conversations, it seems to be the gist of how things go.

Why shouldn’t our schools reflect this same environment?

Ah, again, I can guess the counterargument.  High school students can’t be allowed to wander around!  They can’t be trusted to independently do their work!  They can’t be allowed to just talk whenever they feel like it!

Under our current system, that’s true.  In the modern era, just like the last one hundred years, the teacher is the authoritative figure, the taskmaster, the issuer of grades, and the the ultimate assessor.  As a result, many students must enter a subservient relationship with the teacher.  Some teachers inflate this relationship more than others, but it’s there nonetheless by merit of the system.

I’m not sure our model is the best way to engage high school students in this day and age.  During the last several years, my students seem to thrive when they are allowed a lot of freedom, the chance to choose certain aspects of a lesson, and the opportunity to actually do something.  Trust me, kids still like to work with their hands, they enjoy making things, and they find happiness in creating a product.

Don’t we all?

Keep in mind, I’m in no way suggesting that we do away with school.  I don’t want a future where students all sit at home on a screen learning through modules or virtual reality.  There are many benefits to school beyond academic achievement.  The skills they learn through social interaction are vital to their success as an adult.  Kids need to be around other kids.

Again, I don’t have the answer to this issue.  It would take an absolute restructuring of our model at every level.  But I’m invested in trying.  I want to create a system more suited to our modern society.

I know we can be better than sliced bread.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Why I’m Passing On Venom

Last April, I posted the following comic panel …

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As you can tell, the first Venom trailer did not impress me.  I’m sure you’ll find this surprising because I’m something of a fan of that genre.  If it’s a comic book movie, I’m pretty much guaranteed to watch it.

But something about Venom just turned me off from the start.

Trust me when I say no one suffered more surprise by this than me.  I love Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, and Jenny Slate.  I haven’t personally seen Riz Ahmed’s breakout role in The Night Of, but I hear he’s phenomenal.  Even Woody Harrelson is in this thing!

With all of the high-quality actors involved, I felt certain Venom would be unlike any other “comic book” movie.  The pre-release photographs looked amazing.  The promotional posters were super cool.

And then I saw the trailer.

Yikes.

Nothing — and I mean nothing — about that trailer spoke to me.  Nothing looked original.  Nothing looked engaging.  Tom Hardy’s weird accent just sounded silly.  Venom, while undeniably awesome in appearance, also looked like more of the same CGI that has plagued comic book movies during the last fifteen years.  (I’m talking to you Doomsday, Juggernaut, Ares, Steppenwolf, and Abomination.)

You want to know what aspect of the trailer sealed my disdain for Venom?  The “venom” appendages that would pop out and help Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy’s human character).  They were beating up guys, grabbing errant motorcycles, and doing all kinds of crazy actions.  This is all fine.  But the visual of the arms flying out of Brock’s sides and then retracting without ripping his clothing or jostling them in any way just struck me as … unbelievable.

Yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds.

I normally have no trouble suspending my disbelief, but those “venom” bursts just bugged me to no end.  There may very well be an explanation provided by the movie makers or comic books for this phenomenon, but I’m certain that explanation won’t help me get past the literal visual.  It took me totally out of the moment and seemed unnecessarily fake when compared to all of the texture on Venom’s CGI body.

While I’m at it, I think they made a mistake in touting Venom as an “anti-hero” movie.  With movies like Logan and Deadpool, the term “anti-hero” has gotten a bit stale.  Those two movies had great concepts that made them both quite unique when compared to other comic book movies, but it seems that Venom doesn’t utilize any such distinctiveness.

Personally, I think they should have gone after a straight “horror” vibe.  In my opinion, Venom can’t be the hero, anti- or otherwise.  He needs to be the monster, the one we fear, the thing that keeps us up at night.

I’d also like to acknowledge that this movie probably isn’t made for me.  I’ve got Secret Wars #8, the issue when Spider-Man got the black orb that provided his new costume.  I’m also fortunate enough to have Amazing Spider-Man #300, Venom’s first appearance.  I bought these when I was a kid — I had no idea Venom would become a pop culture icon.  I just really liked Spider-Man!  This movie version of Venom doesn’t seem to be my Venom.

Several teenagers have told me that they cannot wait to see Venom.  Apparently, from what they’ve shared with me, it looks to closely follow the Venom origin story from the Spider-Man cartoon.  I haven’t seen this cartoon series, which may explain why the trailer didn’t connect with me.  Furthermore, the studio has clearly stated that they realize Venom is extremely popular with teenagers and that they aimed the movie at those fans.  This is totally fine, just unexpected.

I say it’s unexpected because it never occurred to me that Tom Hardy would make anything less than a movie that reflected his personal sensibilities.  Making a movie specifically for teenagers doesn’t seem like his style, but who’s to say?

Maybe I’m wrong about this whole thing.  I’ve been wrong about many things in my life.  It’s entirely plausible that  Venom could be an incredible movie that will blow people away.  Judging from early reviews, though, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Either way, I’ll never know.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Boys Will Be Boys … But Will They Be Men?

Let me first say this from the outset: I have no problem with little boys.  Believe it or not … I once was a little boy myself.  So this article isn’t going to bash little boys or demean them in any way.

However, it is going to be tough on grown men who still act like they are little boys …

Yesterday, President Trump said, “It’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of.  This is a very difficult time.”

I can’t know President’s Trump heart and soul, but this quote struck me as misguided.  Taken by itself, the single quote isn’t awful, though I would argue that it would be scary for anyone to be guilty of something they may not be guilty of.  I’m sure many can relate to this fear.

But what President Trump is actually saying is that it’s a scary time for young white men to be accused of something for which they may not be guilty.  Logic dictates that this must have been his true message.  I think we can all agree that young black men have been found guilty for centuries when they were actually innocent.  We could in fact argue that most minority men have endured this hardship as well, no matter what the race, creed, or color.

By that rationale, false accusations is not anything new for any young man who isn’t … well … white.  Therefore, I think I stand on solid ground when I say that President Trump’s subtext was meant to specifically refer to young white men.

As a middle-aged white man, I’m here to offer a bit of news.  Men, if you behave yourselves, if you take others’ feelings into account, if you are polite, if you keep your hands to yourself, and if you act as a general gentleman, you have nothing to fear.

My personal opinion as to what President Trump is insinuating is that it’s a scary time for young men because they no longer get to do what they want, when they want, to whom they want without fear of consequence.

There’s an old saying that I’ve heard time and again: “Boys will be boys.”

I often hear this cliche whenever a little boy is almost being held accountable for bad behavior.  I say almost, because when it’s time to serve an actual consequence, the phrase “boys will be boys” often arrives in its stead.

Broadly speaking, it’s hard to make little boys behave.  I recognize that.  It takes routine, boundaries, and actual consequences.  For many adults, that’s an ongoing fight they just don’t want to have.  As a result, though, little boys are conditioned to believe they can do what they want, anytime they want, without much fear of getting in trouble.  And, as children, that’s fine.

The problem, however, is that these little boys can potentially grow into men who can’t break this bad habit.  I’d like to think that with age comes maturity and responsibility, and for most this is true.  With the #MeToo movement’s revelations, though, it’s clearly not the case for all.  We’ve had too many men using their power — whether it be political power, financial power, or physical power — to commit atrocities against others.

Sadly, it appears that for some, hearing “boys will be boys” throughout their childhood may have led to a lifelong motto.

I wish all little boys grew up to be men — real men.  Responsible men.  Loving men.  Kind men.  Compassionate men.  Disciplined men.  Ethical men.  Inspiring men.

Obviously, I wrote this article not only in response to President Trump’s quote, but also because of the ongoing saga between Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh.  I admit this is a very difficult situation due to the fact that both of them, under oath, swear that they are 100% sure of what they are saying.  They are both credible, intelligent, respected individuals.  Yet both of them also have glaring inconsistencies in their accounts.  Like with President Trump, I can’t look into their minds to know who is telling the absolute truth.  But I do know this — no matter how much time has passed, no matter how many details can’t be remembered, no matter how esteemed the accused, we must insist upon a society that makes men and women feel safe to seek justice.  We cannot shame victims into remaining silent.  We cannot, by default, give sexual abusers all of the power.

Therefore, I must disagree with President Trump.  His idea of a scary place is all wrong.

A nation that refuses to give victims the benefit of the doubt, a society that encourages men to objectify and abuse women, a government whose leadership is primarily comprised of powerful white men willing to turn a blind eye towards sexual misconduct, and a country where men prefer to behave like little boys … that’s a scary place.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Edutainer

There’s a term that has come into vogue lately that I find a little troubling–“The Edutainer.”

If you’re unfamiliar with this word, it’s combining “educator” with “entertainer.”  The idea is that a teacher performs daily for their classes in such a way that the students are entertained.

Not just engaged, but actually entertained as though they were watching a show.

Yes, on the surface that sounds wonderful, but I think most of us realize that there are very few people from any walk of life who can perform daily for eight hours a day in such a way that children/teenagers are both learning and laughing nonstop.

Furthermore, I think it’s very unfair to make teachers feel as though they are somehow less effective if they are not constantly entertaining their students.

I’ve been teaching long enough to know that certain “buzzwords” come and go.  Usually these buzzwords are developed by a person or company looking to make a buck.  I’ve heard of professional development, workshops, and even college courses pushing “edutainment.”

Now, if we’re being honest, I’ve been told that I’m an “edutainer.”  I’ve never quite figured out if that’s meant as a compliment or an accusation, by the way.  However, I know myself well enough to realize that my “edutainment” is just part of my personality.  When I’m in front of a group of kids, I get silly.  I can’t help it.  I like to keep things light.  I like to joke around.  I like to make people smile.

This is fine for me, but I would never dream of forcing other people to adopt this methodology if it’s not part of their personality.  At the end of the day, teachers must teach in a manner that makes them comfortable.  Obviously, no matter what, lessons must be engaging, but to ask a teacher to put on a “show” is not really fair, especially if that’s not a component of their persona.  I’ve personally had some really funny teachers in my life, but I’ve also had very serious teachers as well.  I learned a great deal from both because–most importantly–they were effective teachers.  Let’s not lose sight of what were really trying to achieve.  First and foremost, our students should be learning.

It is worth noting, however, that teachers can still incorporate “edutainment” in their classroom even if they are not specifically the “edutainer.”  There are plenty of educational websites and learning programs that deliver fun, entertaining content to supplement a teacher’s lessons.  I would encourage teachers to look into those things because I also believe the days of asking students to listen to lecture while taking notes is over.  Our students are accustomed to bouncing from one thing to the next, and I would venture that the teachers operate like that in their personal lives as well.  There’s an old saying that teachers should switch up their activities during a lesson every fifteen minutes.  “Edutainment” programs would be one helpful way to achieve this.

At the end of the day, I would encourage teachers to accept who they are as people.  If a teacher is not an “edutainer,” that’s totally okay.  No teacher should ever feel less effective if they are not comfortable with a style that contradicts their persona.  As long as students are treated respectfully, with kindness, and provided consistently engaging lessons, I think the kids will be just fine.

Clown, Crazy, Happy, Funny, Cartoon

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Last Chance To Thank Your Child’s Teacher

If you’ll indulge me …

My wife is the absolute best.  She goes so far above and beyond in thanking our children’s teachers during “Teacher Appreciation Week” — it’s amazing.  Classroom teachers, librarians, administrators, office support staff, coaches, Girl Scout troop leaders, Sunday school teachers — everyone gets a little token of appreciation.  Furthermore, she develops a cute theme to go along with the gift.  This year everyone got an Amazon gift card decorated as though it was a special delivery by our girls.  I asked her to count up how many gift cards she doled out.  I wasn’t upset, just curious.  The number?  About twenty-two (at last count).

By the way … my wife is a teacher.

She gets it.

She understands the emotional stamina, the intrinsic motivation, and the sheer patience necessary to be a teacher.  She knows that by the end of the year, every teacher needs a little show of appreciation.

By the way, I’m a teacher, too.

I teach about 130 students a day.  I received not one “thank-you” from a student’s family during “Teacher Appreciation Week.”

I get it.

Hey, I’m busy, too.  I won’t pretend that I’d have taken over thanking my daughters’ teachers if my wife decided to take the year off.  I forgot it was “Teacher Appreciation Week” during the actual week — and I am a teacher!  Trust me, if you haven’t thanked your child’s teacher, you’re not alone.  I’m personally just as guilty.

The point of this is to tell you that it’s not too late.

Yesterday, several of my creative writing students went out of their way to tell me how much the class meant to them.  Today, two students came up to shake my hand and tell me “thanks.”  It meant the world to me.

Listen, I don’t entirely fall into the “I’d teach for free I love it so much!” category, but I also recognize that teachers make more money than a lot of people, have more vacation time than a lot of people, and enjoy more benefits than a lot of people.  But I’m here to tell you, folks — it’s a demanding job.  Not physically, but emotionally?  You bet.  Mentally?  Absolutely.  There’s no down time when you have a room full of children or teenagers.  There’s no mentally checking out.  Teachers are constantly monitoring and assessing.

You know how “busy” it can get when your child has friends over?  Imagine a room full of that.  Imagine coaxing them along through the power of personality.  Imagine talking, thinking, managing, and assessing all at the same time while also trying to be interesting enough to capture thirty children’s interest.  Let me tell you — it’s tough.  I’m sure you can imagine.

So, here’s what I propose — thank your child’s teachers.  Right now.  Send a little email.  Even if you you weren’t all that impressed with them, drop them a little note at least letting them know you appreciate their efforts.  If you thought your child had a great year, by all means, tell them as much!  It doesn’t have to be in-depth.  Just a note.

Trust me, it will make a huge difference to the teacher.  What a wonderful way to say goodbye, right?

Thanks for indulging me.

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