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So you've all heard I got a promotion, which starts in a week and a half (ie next pay period).

I need not rehash it. It's gratifying that management supported me, that I work at a place where such a thing is both possible and encouraged, that my supervisors are educators whose support thus means a particularly great deal to me - I don't have to look ONLY to my professors from grad school as guidance now, though I love them so - that I really feel like I can learn here, and that I feel like I'm really helping my city, albeit indirectly.

You know, I wanted to come back home to help New York. For better or worse, NYC is only of the two or three most beloved things in my life, in all its loud, dirty, smelly glory. I love it the way other people love their longtime pets. I will most likely decamp to a suburb at some point for family reasons and I've come to terms with that, but I must, must always have a hand in helping this city in some fashion.

So I never would have thought about another (another!) degree while at my last job. Indeed, just last year I had cockamamie ideas about random businesses to start because I was just treading water there. Now that I feel like I'm really learning a lot, I want to learn everything, although that's impossible.

And with my skillset growing to include curriculum development for adults - real serious, from-scratch curricula - I realize that part of the reason educators aren't respected the way they should be is that the training for new teachers - and old teachers! - is so haphazard. Yeah, some teachers get copious training, expert training, wonderful training. I sure did in grad school.

But then, much as I love my alma maters, I know for a fact that some of the teachers I had were woefully unqualified and/or undertrained. It turns out that, like me in Korea, some of them figured out they were great at some aspect of it and developed into superstar educators. But a lot of them either left (which is fine) or just stayed the same.

A lot of little kids hate their teachers for dumb reasons - she gives too much work! etc - and so I can't trust my 8-year-old impressions very much. But I do know that no teacher should be expected to flourish without top-notch training and consistent development. Many dedicated teachers try to improve themselves, and they do improve. And the very worst often teach until TFA lets them stop, and move on.

But what of all the teachers in the middle? Not everyone is going to be the best, and few will be the worst. That still lives tons of poorly trained, overwhelmed people trying to do a job that is very, very hard.

I work adjacent to the government though I'm not a city employee. And I think, if I do go and do something else, get another degree with a whole nother bucket of endless debt (there really aren't very many scholarships), training teachers to be the very best is where I can succeed and flourish and help my city all at the same time.

Onward.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Working with what you've got: or, how I learned to stop worrying and love my voice

I've always hated my voice. Well, not always. But since I was about 12 or 13 and other boys started to have theirs deepen. Even now, every single one of my close male friends has a much deeper voice than I do, and mine gets even higher when I'm excited (and, of course, excitement is how I connect when I teach, so that's a lot of the time).

I used to try and disguise this. Not really consciously. I didn't affect an accent or anything. But I'd try to speak slower and such, and hope I could get around this. 

It's not really possible though. Like a lot of things, your voice is your voice, at least until you get much older. But I doubt I'm suddenly going to have this bass voice when I'm old. I'll just have an old high-pitched voice.

My voice isn't really shrill or unpleasant, but, along with my height and my former status as a non-athlete, it always reminded me how I didn't fit the qualities a typical man was expected to have. It shouldn't matter, but it did matter to a certain type of guy (and to certain women I tried to meet). Last week, I spent a considerable amount of time on the phone trying to deal with airline seats, and at least three times, the people on the phone (all of whom were women) asked to confirm that they were speaking to Alissa rather than Justin. It immediately brought me back to being 13. I wasn't really upset like I used to be, but it was still a reminder of how uncomfortable I always was in the body I'd been given.

I need my voice for my work. Just this morning, I had to get up and give a short presentation for the entire staff at my job. And I did well, high-pitched voice and all. The team and the students here respect me, and my students always have. The ones who didn't, it had nothing to do with the pitch of my voice.

I would have killed to have a voice more like some of the men I know. When I was younger, I read things that suggested a deep, heavy voice was one of the ways a woman would find a man appealing. I heard all those Boyz II Men songs, the songs that just stopped stone cold to let the one guy speak at the audience. (That was weird, right?)

But the one thing I came to see, eventually, was that all those cliches and all those expectations are just nonsense. You get the voice you get, and what people respond to is the person it's attached to. People will find your high-pitched voice appealing if they respect the rest of you, and all the deep manly tones won't get you anywhere if you don't build the rest of your skills.

I sometimes consider what it would take to run for a public office. And truthfully, I'd still be scared that my voice would disqualify me, since a certain subset of men (and women) wouldn't take me seriously no matter how capable I otherwise seem. How can I make a rousing speech if getting excited just makes my pitch rise even higher? 

The only thing I can really do is steer into the curve. Take the voice I have, in all its high-pitched glory, and use it as a tool to connect with my students and my colleagues. Find the strength in how I speak. 

The one thing I do have, is that my voice cuts through the air like an arrow. I can and will make myself heard, and you'll remember what I sound like. And the sincerity in my voice is very easy to spot, to the point that if I'm insincere it's obvious too. My voice carries the weight of emotion that others might not. And even if I wish I sounded a little more like a typical grown man, you'll definitely never forget it.

Societal gender expectations are awful for women, but they're damaging to men, too. My voice and my feelings about it are tied very closely to most of my insecurities and anxieties, yet when I actually have to get up and connect with an audience, all the fear and the worries go away in an instant.

I suppose the lesson is that society doesn't know a damn thing about you or what you're supposed to be. I don't know that I'll ever stop wishing, at least a little bit, that I had a deeper voice. But my voice, for better or worse, is mine. And that makes it something to cherish.

 

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Fall Marathon Training Week #10: Mostly in Curacao, but a strong weekend upon return

Miles: 54.4

Well, the first 26.5 of thosemiles were repeated slogs, back and forth, in the blistering tropical sun, stopping for water every two miles, when I was stuck in Curacao. Curacao is a gorgeous place, one I'd recommend, but boy, will you be easily dehydrated while running. 

I took week 9 mostly off, ran only three times, with no real speed, as I was scuba diving a lot (and we had actual homework). One week, I figured, wouldn't hurt me, and might actually help if my hip and my toe etc could heal.

But then I suddenly had 5 more days there, and now I knew, from winter, I'd need to train.

So I ran the same 7.5 miles four times (the first time was last Sunday, so that's not part of the mile count), plus 5 on Thursday, and I came home, dead worried I'd lost my speed and my endurance.

I had, apparently, forgotten to sign up for the Marathon Tune-Up in the park. I like that event, mostly because it's sort of a family reunion with Team for Kids during all the loops, but this weekend's weather has made me glad I ran by myself.

First, yesterday, I returned to the bridge, sure my lung power diminished. But maybe all those deep breaths underwater helped me, as the better of my two repeats yesterday was my best bridge repeat in 6 or 7 weeks, and I never really felt winded.

Then, today, I did my normal Sunday 10.45 mile run up to the 19th avenue factories, but I did it twice. And I was a grand total of 30 seconds slower the second time (not per mile, overall), despite  the sun coming out for said second lap and it being my first time actually running that far since the winter (since I only managed to run about 20 in Boston before I crawled to the end, almost literally). 

Had I been in the park, I would have had race-brain, and I would have been out there trying to crush it, and the humidity would have eaten me like last year and I'd be puking somewhere now. Marathon day will not be anything close to this weather, so racing today, 7 weeks out, wouldn't have helped me and might have hurt. I ran a minute slower than race pace (mid-7s to high-7s but never above 8), took two gels (glad I have my Huma gels back), took gatorade in the middle (I left it in my mailbox at home and stopped before going back out), and took salt pills before starting.

I haven't lost my speed, or my endurance. My first of 3 20+ runs in the next four weeks (with two races on the other two weeks) went about as well as I could have hoped. And I still have a tan. Cool. I think forcing myself to run in that heat meant that this weekend's humidity sucks but my body still is glad it's not in Curacao's sweatbox.

Next week: da Bronx. A race that has always helped my confidence, and I expect nothing different next week.

...if it would be so kind as to drop about 15-20 degrees.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Behavioral Book Breakdown: "Invisible Influence"

Year: 2016

Author: Jonah Berger

Whereas "The Power of Habit" was the first behavioral book I sunk my teeth into (or, fitting for the subject, sunk its teeth into me), "Invisible Influence" is one of the more recent I've come across, looking around for a book to chew over on my commutes to and from work and finding it pleasant, if a bit short. It's 232 pages, but a lot of those pages are cut in half by titles and such. It's written by a marketing professor, and many (most) of the examples used are from real-life business decisions and other such accessible subjects. I complained about it being slight, but on the other hand, accessible though it may be, something like "Thinking, Fast and Slow" (which I'll get to in this series, eventually) is nearly 500 pages of dense (though engaging) writing, and you and I both know that most people don't bother with that sort of thing. And even if they do bother, they skim, or give up.

So there is a place and a purpose for a slimmer tome.

Berger's argument is essentially that we must not deny the fact that our behavior is rarely something we fully choose for ourselves, much as we headstrong Americans like to think we're independent. Of course, one of the principles of behavioral science is the fact that we tend to deny or ignore facts that don't fit our worldview, so, paradoxically, the people who most need to hear this sort of thing would have the hardest time accepting it. 

Some of the fun examples here include the fact that many successful athletes have older siblings (that they wanted to keep up with and then, eventually, defeated), why expensive products have barely visible logos, why running with people slightly faster than you can improve your own speed (you know quite well I enjoyed that part, and it explains why I'm slower this year when I've practiced with the team less often), and, sadly but importantly, why many black students have their academic achievement impacted by the spectre of "acting white."

It's essentially a series of vignettes - there's a lot of Gladwell in it - but plenty of the real data to back it up. And, hilariously, it uses examples from my own eating club in college, Terrace, and how people can tell we belonged to the club by what we wore. 

It's not the "I'm trying to make this dense subject palatable" hard-hitting work of a "Power of Habit" or a "Thinking, Fast and Slow." It's more like tying together narratives that appear disparate but aren't. And I think one thing that fascinates me about this topics is that it can be both a science that needs to be made accessible AND a bridge that brings groups of stories together.

Berger also usefully concludes each section with ways that the various stories and studies he has just mentioned can be used. This is a key, and it's one thing that's similar to "The Power of Habit." None of this stuff is valuable if we can't take it and use it.

And that's my goal here, to encourage you to go out, learn more, and use it. It's interesting and fun and all, but ultimately, if it's not practicable, it's pointless.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Fall Marathon Training Weeks #8+#9

Miles: 46.81 (well...)

So I ran 45 miles this week, and on 9/10 I will race one mile, so that's the total.

I am going away tomorrow. I will run a few times, at least one of those times being for speed and one for some distance. But I'm not going to stress myself. It's my last chance to heal up before I have, in order, mile race, 20 mile tune up, 10 mile race, 23 mile longest training run, half marathon, 21 mile long training run. 6 weeks that are make or break time.

Essentially, resting up right before the postseason.

I hit my goals on Tues and Weds. I feel good.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Behavioral Book Breakdown: "The Power of Habit"

Year: 2012

Author: Charles Duhigg

This one, this is how it all started. I received this for my birthday in 2012, just as I was getting into running, and it helped me focus and really believe I could improve in my fitness, in my relationships, in my career. I have often referred to this book as my bible, but it's more like my amazing grace, as I once was lost, and then, after this book, I was found.

But what does it actually say?

The main concept is that every thing you do regularly consists of a three step process. A cue, a routine, and a reward.

The cue is what it sounds like - maybe that's your alarm waking you up - and the routine is the actual process - perhaps that's dragging yourself downstairs to run across a bridge - and the reward is what you get for it - in my case a sense of satisfaction at achieving goals.

Setting up cues isn't very hard, and most can do so. And it's pretty easy to envision rewards. But sticking with the routines is the challenge, and what trips most of us up. How many times have you decided you were going to lose weight or gain a new skill or save money and then fallen short? Even just this year, the very focused version of myself failed at learning to program because I couldn't figure it out without an instructor's guidance.

So the key is to make that routine different, and then to stick to it. Easier said than done! But necessary.

Learning to delay gratification is a great way to build willpower, even if it's for something minor. Not being allowed to skip the routine in the middle to get to the reward can change anyone's behavior. Even if you have to metaphorically tie a hand behind your back, do it.

For me, I used to always skip runs for dumb reasons. Or slack off on schoolwork. For running, instead of just running however much I felt like, I put it on my calendar, and that blaring reminder got me out the door. I got better clothes and shoes. And I didn't bring a metrocard so I couldn't cut it short. And over time it just became harder NOT to run than it was to run.

Make your cue strong, find a way to get through your routine, and then reward yourself for achievement.

"The Power of Habit" was the first book about behavior that reached me. You should read it if you want to learn about it yourself.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Race Report: 2017 Percy Sutton Harlem 5k/2017 Fall Marathon Training Week #8

Time: 18:29/Mileage for week: 43 (after tomorrow's easy 10 miles)

Yay! Not a PR (that's still 17:55), but I ran negative splits (though with a giant downhill in mile 3, you'd hope so), and I didn't fade on or after the hills, and I really did a nice job in mile 3 at 5:40. I could have done better on the .1 but whatever.

Was in third place for the team, but was close to the leaders so my performance was a boon to the team.

And I was under 6 for the first time in 2017. 

This doesn't mean I'm home free to go back to PR marathon levels yet, no. But it does mean the monkey is off my back (well, out of my head) from Boston. And it means that the Bronx and SI should go well, and that even if I fall behind in those races I can come back.

It took me until this week to admit publicly that Boston broke me. Last year was rough, but you figure these things happen. But when it happened AGAIN, although I dragged myself to the finish, it said to me I couldn't hang with the big boys (and girls). I felt like a fraud, who can only do well here in NYC, not a real sub-3 BQ guy. So when I started off poorly in other races, my brain sort of shut me down and I had three piss poor races (I'm glad there were only 3). I finally went back to the track, and changed my training up a bit, and I was determined not to let my head get me down today, and it didn't.

I've run faster before, but the key is that I now believe I'll run faster again.

I think I'm back. Finally. (Just in time to go on vacation and screw it up.)

 

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Behavioral Book Breakdowns

So. I'm going to do this in a focused way. I read so many books about behavioral design, and I sprinkle what I learn into here. I hope to study how it can be used in education at some point. But for now, I have this outlet, I read these books, and I want to put it to use.

So, I am going to, book by book, give a breakdown of the themes and lessons from some books that have resonated for me, and then offer my analysis of how it can be used in education, which is something I will be doing just as a guess, but hopefully do so in a compelling fashion.

Books you can expect to see analyzed include "Nudge" (Thaler and Sunstein), "Misbehaving" (Thaler), "Invisible Influence" (Berger), "Faster, Better, Stronger" (Duhigg). There will be others (I've already read those, and have more at home to pick through), and maybe the list will change, too. But the first book, the one that helped me become a strong runner and that sparked my interest in the subject that I expect may be part of my life's work, will be "The Power of Habit," also by Duhigg.

Look for this series to begin in September at some point. All such entries going forward will be tagged with "Behavioral Design."

2017 Fall Marathon Training Week #7

Miles: 57.53

Because I ducked out on a mile last weekend, this week ended up being the highest mileage yet of this cycle. 

In previous years (last year especially), I set mileage highs in August. I think I ran 340 miles last August, an average of 10.5 a day, rather than the 8ish I'm doing now.

And then, as September came, the speed didn't arrive, and I was absolutely burned out.

I am hoping, now that I'm back on the track, and doing the same set of workouts weekly, that my racing will improve.

I have a race every single Sunday (aside from the week I am away) from next week through the end of September. By that point, I'll know for sure what kind of year this will be.

5k next week.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

The Value of Focused Versatility in Education

I've mentioned this before, but the best professional advice I got without knowing it was being told to "teach everyone" before I even became a professional educator.

You don't have to take it literally. I probably haven't taught people of every single age group. But, if you stick with a career long enough, you will be called upon to teach a different audience than the one you're most familiar with, and you must be able to do so.

In 2011, when I was still in grad school, I was looking for a better part-time job, and the business owner liked me and my personality, but he told me I needed more experience with adults because I was a bit too juvenile-oriented. At that point, I had only taught people up to the age of 20 or 21, and it showed.

Fast forward to now, and if you had to describe my career, it would be primarily adults.

I want to add to the original advice, though. It's not that you should just teach everyone. You should also teach everything.

Again, do not take this literally. If you want to excel, you can't just dabble and become some sort of dilettante. Teach history for a month and science for a week and grammar for a summer and professional development for a semester. No, you should (nay, must) build your skills within a broad realm (ELT? Adults? Early Childhood?), but don't become pigeonholed. Have you only taught preschool for wealthy kids? Then maybe you'll only be trusted with that population. And that could be fine, but it might not be.

If you get pigeonholed, and something happens, you'll be stuck. And if you're too unfocused, you will have built surface-level skills without rigor.

Focused versatility is the way to become a great educator.

And great educators, no matter what happens, will always be needed. I had a training today, with a guy who was exactly the way I hope my students see me. He was authentic and, above all else, sanguine. He was saddled with awful material, dry and poorly written (and surely not written by him), and yet he got us on his side and created a rapport with people whose names he will never know. That only comes from focused versatility. That's how it happens.

Trust.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality