Category Archives: Teaching Ideas

Thoughts on The Bear, Season Three

Some spoilers, if you haven’t watched it yet. Some profanity, too.

I loved the first two seasons of The Bear. I learned so much from them. So this isn’t a review, it’s a way for me to think about all the stuff that this show made me think about. It’s also what I need to do before I start reading what the critics and the other knights of the keyboard have said about the show.

As a teacher, I think a lot about Carmy’s character. He was motivated. He was going to be excellent. He cared deeply about things. The memories that Season Three brought forth (in way too many Gilligan’s Island flashbacks accompanied by the best of Midwestern alt-rock from the 90s) gives us that window into his early excellence and utter devotion. But we also get to see the kinds of teachers he had — some gentle, some awful — and then we get to see who remains with him.

How many times have you thought about the kind of teacher you want to be? Do you want to be the Olivia Coleman character, or the French chef Thomas Keller who teachers him about the wishbone, or perhaps Daniel Boulod, the chef who asks him to hear the music of the frypan? More likely, you have teachers you want to avoid becoming, i.e., the NYC cook who couldn’t remember Carmy’s name who has clearly traumatized his staff. Carmy has all of these great examples of the kind of leader/teacher/cook he wants to be, yet out of all these inspirational folks, who does he most resemble, at least in season three?

This happens. This happens too much. It’s one of my early lessons from Marsha and Bob — you will slip back to the teachers who taught you if you’re not paying attention. Then mix in your own faulty wiring and situations in and out of your control, and if you’re not careful, your default setting will be far from what you want it to be.

‘Cause Carmy is trying, trying really hard, to be someone different, to change. Never underestimate the cost of going to meetings, how much it takes to drag yourself to that chair. Or his agonizing over Claire. Like most of us, he’s damaged, and trying hard usually isn’t close to enough. And then add in a fucked up family of origin.

Contrast his character with Marcus, the dessert chef, who was so clearly loved, as you see in his homily for his mother. Or for that matter, Sydney, and her doting father (man, it’s good to see Robert Townsend.) I think about this a lot as a teacher — who seems to be inoculated or safe from the terrible things life can throw at you — and what are the protective measures that enables some students to move forward. Can I add to those measures? Or can I at least get out the way?

Indeed, how do you make a classroom that might offer some protection? And how do you take care of kids until they’re ready to take care of themselves? My favorite episode — when Mikey hires Tina, I think episode six — and that line about how some days just feel so good (right before he tells Richie to shut the fuck up) that’s what you’d want. I’ve written about creating these spaces a lot. I’ve worked jobs and at schools where kids want to be there. Some of these have been pretty effective places. Others not so much. Wanting to be there is only part of the battle. If you’re there, what are you contributing? How are you making it a place that other people want to be? I think this is as true of students as it is of teachers.

Which is another thread I think about from this show — how do we care for others? How do we do it in our daily lives, as friends, as partners, as parents? And how do we do it through work? Hospitality/restaurant work is one thing — people are paying to be there, they want to be there — and the employees generally have a sense of what they’ve signed up for. Schools, though: these are compulsory spaces; I’m caring for a kid because they’re in my room and it’s both my job and my mission in this short life. But I can’t expect kids to return the favor. Many will — see my point above — as they understand that great places don’t occur magically. But I can’t expect it.

There’s another piece in here about recognition. I remember an interview with two writers from the Seth Meyers show where one of them talked about how comedy writers don’t laugh at other comedians; they just sort of nod and say, yep, that’s good. I think the restaurant scene is like this too — you eat terrific food and say, I’ve got to get better. When I watch teachers, great teachers, I feel this sometimes as well: they’re doing it, yep, they’re doing it. Let my poach that idea.

Within schools, recognition versus accomplishment plays out as well. Restaurants get “stars” and sometimes teachers get “awards” but everyone who matters in the scene knows what’s what. What counts are the people and the world you make together, which is the thread around legacy that runs through season three. It’s not really going to be about the food but about the relationships created in the pursuit of something awesome. The best schools and teachers create this sort of thing — Marsha and Bob, Susan, that crew around the Philadelphia Writing Project — they’re like the outstanding chefs whose restaurants created the next round of great teachers.

I think that teaching is like restaurant work in that you can’t leave it alone, even when you want to. In one of the late episodes, everyone has the day off and yet everyone is in the restaurant, working on their stuff. How many times have I exchanged texts with my fellow teachers over the weekend, when we shouldn’t be thinking about school or curriculum or the students, but, wait for it, that’s all we’re doing. Part of the manuscript I’m working on right now tries to get at this point — teaching is rich, awesome work that lets you think about so many cool things. And the cool parts — thinking about how to open up a book, figuring out how to frame a project from beginning to end — can be so rewarding.

There was a lot going on in season three and it gave me a lot to think about. Did I feel like it was a half-formed season? Did I want about twenty more episodes? Did I feel like the best things in this show — the actors and the writers — were underutilized so that someone could make unnecessary and nor particularly effective video collages?


Am I better teacher and person after signing up for a free month of Hulu so that we could watch the entire seasons in six nights and then cancel my membership?

Without a doubt.

Jury Duty= Terminal/Herschel’s

Had a scary moment at the end where I thought was going to get picked for the jury.

Many thoughts over the course of the day:

This is an adversarial relationship yet watching everyone involved was professional, clearly able to manage disagreement with civility. I know that’s the profession, that’s their work, but it’s still kind of impressive.

This day also reminded me of the work situation where you’re in a meeting with ten or more people and the meeting is two minutes of content packed into sixty; the cost of that meeting (everyone’s hourly wage) is extraordinary. All of these potential jurors waiting around all day only to find out they hadn’t been picked.

I also had time to closely re-read the Mock Trial Case for 2024.

CRT and the Brain

So much of chapter seven revolves around the question of how I help everyone in my room see a path towards success. Did this drawing to make sense of the chapter and to think of questions I try to address each day.

Hammond, Zaretta L. Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin, 2014.

advisory activity

There’s a terrific short poem in the NYT magazine this morning entitled Small Kindnesses. For advisory tomorrow, I’m going to have the kids re-write this poem and set it in our school. What are the ways that you see kindness in the day-to-day? What are the actions they see all the time? At lunch? In the hall? In a class? What kindnesses do we want? For the last line, what are the things that create the “true dwellings of the holy” that we hear kids say all the time?

I might create a template where several lines are kept — the line about the plague and the line about having so little of each other.

Here’s the whole poem:

By Danusha Laméris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”

Drawing history

Wish I’d had this a few weeks ago when this conversation began:

“we study history so we don’t make the same mistakes.”

I counter with the “not the same man, not the same river” Heraclitus quote.

They respond with this quote, ” Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Today’s NYT had this bit of awesomeness. May use it for the next bit of the historian’s toolkit; may use it for next year.

Talk about teachable moments

One poem in a magazine. The internet explodes.

Here’s the original, which now has an editor’s note/apology.

The twitter apology from the poet, Anders Carlson-Wee.

Long, thoughtful response from linguist John McWhorter.

Former poetry editor at The Nation writing in the New York Times.

There’s twitter back and forth between Stephen King and Roxane Gay I don’t feel like screenshotting.

Times Literary Supplement here.

Two pieces from the National Review. One and two.

I would like to read this poem with a diverse group of thoughtful students.

Starting Inquiries

I would like them to respond directly to Mr. Anders-Wee. Does the poem give offense or does it poke all of us to think about homelessness? How do the different people in our room read the poem? How do we simultaneously listen to perspectives offered by our peers and formulate our own?

I would like to think about the politics behind a work of art. How do we manage representation of others in our work? Can a man write as a woman? As an old guy, may I write as a teenager?

I would like to think about when and how do we separate the author from their work. One of my favorite books for teaching about social class and race was authored by a now-disgraced writer. Should we stop reading that book altogether? Is it up to the reader to deliberate over the identity of the author?

(All of these are long-running debates in American literary criticism and politics. Amazing how one short poem can poke so many…)

Possible Activities
Read the poem once. Read the poem again with a picture of Mr. Carlson-Wee on screen. Read poem with a picture of a youngish black man on the screen. Read poem with picture of youngish Asian woman on screen. Read poem with picture of youngish Hispanic woman on screen.

How did the poem change as the picture of the author changed? Did it change? Should it change?

In small groups have students write biographies of a young poet who just got a huge break by having poem published in major magazine. Mix them up. Read three of them plus biography of Mr. Carlson-Wee but don’t let on which is which. How did hearing the biographies change things?

Risky but might do anyway. Most of my city kids have had interactions with homeless, mentally-ill and/or addicted individuals. Living in Philly since 1990, I have stories myself.

In small groups, how would you capture those stories artistically? You can describe a poem, a play, a work of art, but you must be able to explain:

  • why you choose this form of art?
  • why this is the most respectful way to capture this situation?

    As a group, we would talk about why you might want to make this art and what traps you might face in doing so…

    How do assumptions we make about people shape how we read their work? What would a checklist look like for someone trying to figure out their assumptions or biases? Is it different, the ways in which we read art versus other interactions?

    Taking these three days, what would you like to say to the poet? What would our group like to say? Maybe as a group poem to be sent to him?

    More to come…