Tag Archives: James Altucher

The Inspiration Project

Yesterday afternoon, I was listening to The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I’d heard her interviewed on Tim Ferriss’s podcast, and I was intrigued. I then downloaded (and subscribed to) her podcast. After that, I downloaded the audio version of her book (she’s got several more books).

In the book, she outlines what The Happiness Project is. (It’s basically a book about a year of her life that was spent researching and trying out things that might make one happy or that are supposed to make one happy.) The book is great. I like how it’s set up. I love the premise. I feel inspired by it. Part her idea is that reading (of listening to) The Happiness Project might inspire someone to try their own happiness project.

Then this morning I thought, “What if I wrote a series of posts on things that inspire me?” And not just in terms of teaching. Certainly teaching-specific items will be included, but it is my belief that if one is inspired in general, one will be inspired in the classroom.

It also feels to me like being inspired is a habit. Like being bored is a habit. If a person constantly thinks, “This is boring. I have nothing to do,” it becomes the norm of their life. And on the other hand, if a person is constantly thinking of new ideas and having fun in life, that becomes the norm of their life.

Another person I find endlessly fascinating and inspiring is James Altucher. He has a podcast called The James Altucher Show. He speaks to all kinds of people about their lives, how they got where they are (they are generally successful in some area of life) and how they think.

One of his books is entitled Choose Yourself! It’s probably his most well-known book, but all of his books are infused with his curiosity and energy. In the book, he suggests making a list of ten things every day. It could be anything. The idea is that if you do this every day, your brain will get used to it and you’ll become an idea machine. There are six months worth of list ideas in another of his books, Become an Idea Machine: Because Ideas are the Currency of the 21st Century. It’s actually co-written by his then-wife, Claudia Azula.

My idea here is that thinking (and writing) about things (or people or events) that inspire me will make my brain think of more things that inspire me. Also, I’d like to read about things that could inspire me and try them out.

So these are my first two: Gretchen Rubin and James Altucher. I eagerly await their podcasts each week (Gretchen’s is done with her sister, Elizabeth, which makes me wonder how I could get my own sister, Kathy, involved in this). And when I run out of podcast episodes, I listen to their books.

Will I call it The Inspiration Project (which sounds so amazingly derivative)? Who knows? What I know is that I suddenly want to write.

Help me out and tell me what inspires you.

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Being Good All the Time Would be Boring

Listening to James Altucher interview Paul Mercurio, Mercurio said, “Brian Regan said it best: It would be really boring if you killed all the time.”

These are comedians. They stand in front of people (often drunk, rude people) and tell jokes for a living. I have no experience with this, but I feel like I can relate somewhat. He followed up that quote by talking about how sometimes he goes on stage and a certain piece works. Other times he does the same piece and it doesn’t work. Maybe something happened to them before you started speaking. But if every time he went up and everything that came out of his mouth either make people laugh or got the same response, it would be boring. Part of the fun, it seems, is in not being sure of how they are going to react to the material.

I’ve long said that part of what I like about being a teacher is the performance aspect. Yes, I like being a positive change in students’ lives. I love that I can help them understand concepts, be part of their journey into adulthood, and toss juicy bits of knowledge into their hungry minds, but I love being on stage.

I’ve had teaching jobs where I had to deliver the same lesson to up to seven (yes, seven) classes in a week. That was years ago. More recently, it’s only been three or four. It’s amazing to me the difference in response that I get to the same story. I’ll tell a story in one class and they all laugh. I tell the same story the same way to another class and I may get a snicker from one kid in the back. Then I’ll try it again and get nothing. It’s the same with a reading comprehension exercise or explaining a grammar structure. Sometimes it flies and sometimes it doesn’t.

One of the most fascinating parts of teaching for me is reading a class. Each class has a different personality. Sometimes they are mostly smart, funny and ready to learn. Sometimes a cynic has infected the class and they all tend towards a sneer and an eye roll. I’ve had classes of students that have lost so many students through the year or semester that it’s like And Then There Were None. (Never seen that movie? It’s good.) They’re all looking around wondering who’s next.

The variety that we get to experience during a week (or even during a day) is truly one of the great joys of teaching. I’m constantly having to read my ‘audience’ and adjust my material (intellectually or humoristically). Did something just happen? Did they just get bad news or did someone finally read them the riot act? It’s part of the fun. It keeps me on my toes. And while there are 25 other people in the room who are sentient beings affecting the mood of the room in some small way, I take ownership of my classroom, so I feel like what’s happening has something to do with me.

It might not, but at the end of it all I always feel like that if my classes were fabulous all the time, it would be really boring.

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5 Micro-skills I’ve Gained from Teaching

The great James Altucher, whose podcast I am subscribed to, talks a lot about micro-skills. When I Google for a good definition of micro-skill, I get a very specific definition that doesn’t ring true to how I hear him use it with Mr. Altucher’s guests. It’s a very specific definition having to do with counseling. Therefore, I’m going to quote from some show notes:

Anything worth learning has 100 micro-skills that you have to learn.

Business, among its many micro-skills are: sales, negotiating, management, deal structure, execution, creativity, and on and on. I can list 100s of micro-skills in business.

In chess: you have to learn the opening, the middle game, the endgame, and it gets more granular. You have to master king pawn openings, queen pawn openings, closed tactical situations, open middle games, rook-pawn endgames, and on and on.

That’s more of an example than a definition, but you get the point.

Listening to a more recent podcast, I started thinking about the micro-skills one needs to be a good teacher. They’re sort of the same as the ones that his guest that day listed off, as the guest was a performer (a comedian to be specific) and I’ll also list a few that I grabbed off a website about counseling.

I think it’s important to recognize these micro-skills that we’ve all developed. I’d also like to come back to this idea at some point. Teaching isn’t just standing in front of a room talking. It’s a thousand other things one is doing at the same time (like many jobs).

Here’s a starter list:

  1. Be present: Being in the moment is essential to teaching (to my mind), as so much is happening. There are anywhere from 12 to 25 students in my classroom at any one time. (Some teachers have many more than that, of course.) That’s a lot going on.
  2. Trust yourself: I learned very early on that I am the captain of the ship, the king of the castle. I am the one making the decisions. There is simply no one else I can ask if I need help in the moment. I must trust myself. If I do not, to continue with the metaphor I started, there could be mutiny!
  3. Be fearless: Being fearful or scared or nervous is never the answer. Some students are like sharks. If they smell blood, it’s over. But even if they don’t attack, I know might lose them if I’m not willing to take a chance now and then.
  4. Questioning: This is sort of about being in the moment, but it’s also about coming up withgood questions (coupled with the willingness to actually ask). Be willing to ask probing, interesting questions that are meaningful and that will help my students to inspire my students.
  5. Observation: Being able to take in the atmosphere of the room, changes in a student’s behavior or a strange new vibe is key to classroom management. Why are they quiet all of the sudden? What just happened? Where is their attention?
  6. Re-focusing: With all those bodies, minds and personalities in the room, things can go off the rails (or even just off the path). It’s essential to be able to get students back on the subject at hand with a gentle, guiding nudge.

I’d love to come up with a longer list of micro-skills of teaching. When I look at even this short list, it makes me imagine trying to balance myself on a large ball. There is so much going on and so many of these skills are done while on autopilot.

Would you like to add to my list? Please help me out here.


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