The 10 Type of People You Always Find on Volunteer Committees

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At this point in my life, I've served on enough committees to be a career politician. The following list is based on my extensive (and, I will confess, sometimes amused) observations:

  1. The Alphas. There's always that one person who assumes they should be in charge. This, by the way, has nothing to do with whether they're actually the most qualified/knowledgeable to assume a leadership role, but everything to do with personality - Alphas tend to be assured, confident extroverts who naturally assume that they are destined for leadership roles, regardless of qualification. If you're lucky, they're the pleasant, competent types who don't mind delegating. If you're unlucky, they're the acerbic, arrogant types who treat everyone else on the committee with condescension.
  2. The Betas.  As implied, the role of the Beta is to enthusiastically endorse all suggestions put forward by the Alpha. In the case of acerbic, arrogant Alphas, this person will often adopt the role of "Alpha interpreter," smoothing over any of the Alpha's rough edges, as in: "I think what Alpha meant to say was ...." 
  3. The Stealth Alphas. These are the people who actually get the work done. Stealth Alphas, often introverts or simply do-gooders, work quietly behind the scenes, unconcerned with garnering either attention or praise, who's just worried that the work gets done.  If they're very good at their job, they'll even manage to see to it that the Alpha gets all the credit for the success of the event.
  4. The Soloists.  The soloists are those committee members are willing to help out, but not if they have to work with anyone else. All they want is to be given a job and then to be left the hell alone. This isn't to imply that they're always unpleasant about it. On the contrary, they'll often phrase their preference as a favor, as in: "I know you're overwhelmed, so let me take care of this for you. Don't even worry about it." Actually, they're introverts or control-freaks who don't mind helping out but who don't want to have to deal with someone else's issues.
  5. The Overpromisers.  As the name implies, there's always at least one Overpromiser - those committee members who volunteer to do way more than they're ever actually going to be able to deliver. Sometimes you figure this out in time to avert disaster, sometimes you don't. 
  6. The Visionaries. The idealists of the group, Overreachers tend to focus on what could be rather than what probably should be.  They see possibilities rather than realities, which can go both ways: sometimes, they elevate the process by providing vision and inspiration; other times, their stubborn determination not to compromise on lesser solutions can bring things to a skidding halt.
  7. The Martha Stewarts. Unlike the Overreacher, the Martha Stewarts aren't necessarily worried about creating the best possible event - they're more concerned about crafting opportunities.  They're the perfect folks to put in charge of invitations, decorations, and/or catering.
  8. The Conciliators.  God bless Conciliators, for they always mean well, and often they are able to smooth over personality conflicts and disputes.  Only one thing is certain: no one will ever thank them for their efforts. 
  9. The Parliamentarians.  The opposite of Overreachers, Parliamentarians tend to be more concerned with process than outcome. They're there to ensure every motion is seconded, every word ends up in the minutes, and nothing gets decided without a quorum.  
  10. The Scars.  I've borrowed the name of the resentful villain of The Lion King, because Scars are nothing if not resentful. Often it's because (like Scar) their Alpha pretensions have been thwarted; other times, their resentment may arise from feeling underappreciated or misunderstood.  No matter what decisions are made, Scars dedicate themselves to explaining why they're misguided, ill-considered, and potential disastrous. Rarely, Scars have better ideas to offer; more often, they're much more interested in finding fault and tearing things down than rebuilding them.


Book Look - Pacific, by Simon Winchester

In this outing, Winchester has attempted a history of the Pacific Ocean – a vast undertaking, even given that he has limited himself to events since the end of WW1.  In the book’s lengthy introduction, he explains how he eventually settled on the approach he has taken, focusing on a different aspect of Pacific-related history in each chapter.  Much better, I think we can all agree, than a chronological account that would necessarily tangle hundreds of disparate story threads into an unintelligible knot.

With every chapter devoted to a different aspect of the history of the Pacific ocean, I suspect many readers will find this an uneven read: it’s hard to imagine a reader who’s equally as interested in the history of U.S. atomic testing (chapter 1) and the semiconductor revolution (chapter 2), the evolution of surfing (chapter 3) and little-known chapters of the Korean conflict (chapter 4), the fate of the RMS Queen Elizabeth (chapter 5) and supercyclones (chapter 6), wacky Emperial politics (Chapter 7) and undersea hot spots (chapter 8), the perils of climate change (chapter 9) and geopolitical squabbling over international waters (chapter 10). (All of the aforementioned topics, by the way, are foreshadowed in the book’s subtitle – “Silicon Chips and Surboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers” – so at least you can’t say you weren’t warned!)

Having said that, Winchester’s done his usual adept job of stuffing every chapter to the brim with obscure but entertaining bits of history, science, and politics – not entirely unexpected, given that obscure history is Winchester’s specialty.  (This is the same guy who wrote “The Professor and the Madman,” about a mental patient’s contributions to the first dictionary, and “The Map That Changed the World,” about an obscure naturalist who created the first geological map.)  I’m fairly knowledgeable when it comes to history and world events, but many of the tales recounted in these chapters were new to me – which, frankly, is why I keep reading his canon.  Some of Winchester’s anecdotes are, one could argue, deservedly obscure; many, however, provoke fascination, astonishment, enlightenment, and/or thoughtful reflection.

In summary, this book reminded me of why it’s important to read history.  Whether you bother to read that whole chapter on surfing or skip straight to the atomic testing, we should all be grateful there are historians like Winchester out there, working their hardest to remind us that: (1) what we learn in school is maybe 5% of what actually happened; (2) those who don’t take the time to learn from the mistakes of history inevitably repeat the same mistakes; and (3) every organism and system on Earth is intractably interrelated – pluck on one string, and the resonance of that action has the potential to shake the whole world. 


A Thousand Words - Seriously Angry Squirrels

TRUE MEN STORIES, August 1957. Cover painting by Wil Hulsey by SubtropicBob, via Flickr:

"Flying rodents ripped my flesh!"  Seriously, what do you have to do to a squirrel to provoke this kind of attack - forget to fill the bird feeder? Personally, I'd be more worried about those "Teen-Agers in Leather Jackets" - a title that takes me right back to reading E.F. Hinton's The Outsiders back in middle school. Attack of the Greasers!


100+ Tips for New Teachers

It's beginning to look a lot like Labor Day, so thought I'd post this list in honor of all the new teachers who are even now chewing their nails and writing impossibly brilliant lesson plans that will never succeed in the classroom.  Unlike most other lists you'll find on the internet, this one is only partially in earnest, because if you haven't already figured out how to laugh at the job, you need to start now!
  1. Take the free food. You’ve earned it.
  2. Go to the bathroom when you’ve got the chance
  3. Everything’s better with glitter
  4. The word “Uranus” never stops being funny
  5. Your classroom will never be the right temperature, no matter how many times you fiddle with the thermostat
  6. Fire drills will happen at the worst possible time
  7. Learn to eat lunch in 10 minutes or less
  8. The day your lesson plan goes disastrously wrong is the day your principal will choose to observe you
  9. Don’t blow all that money you’ll be earning on fast cars or high living
  10. The only thing more annoying than kids constantly sharpening their pencils is kids constantly running out of lead for their mechanical pencils
  11. Choose your battles
  12. Set realistic goals. “I will survive this day,” is an example of a realistic goal.
  13. Learn to say “no”
  14. The only thing worse than writing sub plans is writing sub plans after you’re already sick
  15. Learn to celebrate the small successes. Like fixing the copier without smearing toner all over your clothes
  16. Don’t even try to do this alone.  Find teachers/mentors who will help you
  17. Don’t reinvent the wheel
  18. It’s your classroom; that makes you the referee
  19. Back up your files; you never know when someone’s going to spill apple juice on your keyboard
  20. The first people you need to befriend are the office secretary, the custodians, and the librarian
  21. Avoid asking “are there any questions?” without adding “…about what we’ve been learning?” – unless you want to answer questions about poop
  22. Dogs no longer eat homework. Computers do
  23. There’s no tired like teacher tired
  24. Invest your savings now in companies that produce tissues, hand sanitizer, Sharpies, and aspirin
  25. Forget fashion; buy comfortable shoes
  26. Never wear anything that requires dry cleaning
  27. Teaching isn’t about the content you deliver, it’s all about how you deliver it
  28. Elaborately decorated classrooms and color coded supplies have not been proven to improve academic achievement
  29. Teacher supply stores are like candy stores. You may want it, but you really don’t need it.
  30. Lessons need to be engaging. Worksheets are not engaging. Relevant, authentic, active, project-based learning is engaging
  31. The students should be working harder than you
  32. Set high standards
  33. Teach growth mindset
  34. Praise the effort, not the product
  35. Empower your students to advocate for themselves
  36. Build in opportunities for imagination and creativity
  37.  Fair isn’t equal. “Smart” takes many forms.  Differentiate your content, processes, products, and timelines
  38. Buy yourself a really, really big water bottle. And a coffee holder with a lid
  39. Get the flu shot
  40. Take germ prevention seriously. (Yours, not so much theirs.)
  41. Encourage them to explore their passions
  42. First impressions count. Make sure your first day rocks
  43. Focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses
  44. Look for giftedness. Look for disabilities. Be proactive in taking action.
  45. You don’t have to grade everything. Seriously, you don’t
  46. Stay calm. The person who gets angry first, loses.
  47. Never let them see you sweat. Children are like wolves; they sense fear.
  48. Research-based best practices need to be backed by actual research. Otherwise they’re just educational fads. Know the difference
  49. Learn their names. Then use them. All the time
  50. Most of the time, they don’t actually need to go to their bathroom
  51. When everything else fails, take them to the library
  52. Be authoritative, not authoritarian
  53. They’re going to talk anyway; make it work for you
  54. Allow wait time.
  55. Be consistent
  56. Built trust
  57. Answer questions with questions; make them find their own answers
  58. Never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want parents or your boss to see
  59. It’s about restorative justice, not punishment
  60. Never issue a threat you’re not prepared to enforce
  61. Work on your snow dance now so you’ll be ready for winter
  62. Overplan. Running out of lesson before the bell is like a lion tamer running out of meat before all the lions are fed.
  63. Don’t be that teacher that sends out communications to parents filled with spelling, punctuation and grammar errors
  64. CYA - document all parent and admin interactions.
  65. The best motivator is respect. If respect doesn’t work, try blue Jolly Ranchers
  66. Never humiliate a student. They’ll never trust you again
  67. Do first, ask permission later
  68. Be flexible. If you don’t learn to bend, be prepared to break
  69. Constantly assess for comprehension. Like, every 5 minutes.
  70. The problem probably isn’t the rules; it’s how you’re enforcing them
  71. Intrinsic motivation beats external motivation every time.
  72. Make parents your allies, not your enemies.
  73. Never email angry
  74. Look for the teachable moments.
  75. Create smooth traffic patterns through your classroom
  76. Establish consistent routines and procedures. Kids appreciate consistency
  77. Avoid negative energy
  78. Remember that being a mom/sister/wife/daughter comes first
  79. NEVER talk over student noise
  80. Plan a robust fart response protocol and have it ready to deploy
  81. The kids actually WANT to help you. Let them.
  82. Remember that most of them have the attention span of squirrel, and plan accordingly
  83. Master the art of the “side hug” – no one’s ever been sued for a side hug
  84.  Kids who are hungry, sleepy, or scared aren’t going to prioritize learning.
  85. Learn your acronyms
  86. Be compassionate: you don’t know what’s happening at home
  87. There will never be enough time. Prioritize
  88. Energy, enthusiasm, optimism, and curiosity are contagious
  89. Executive functioning skills need to be taught
  90. Crying is cathartic. Wine/beer is an acceptable alternative
  91. Disapprove of the behavior, never the kid
  92. Model the behaviours you want to see
  93. Apples often don’t fall far from trees, except when they do
  94. You can either laugh or cry. Laughing is a lot more fun
  95. The more they push, the more they’re hoping you’ll push back.
  96. The more they say they don’t need you, the more they do
  97. Get used to failure. The mistakes will help you grow.
  98.  It’s just a job. Don’t let it become an obsession.
  99. 99.         There’s always more to learn
  100. 100.      Fake it ‘til you make it
  101. You WILL get better