Battlestar Teaching

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Jul
  • 12
  • 2007

On a friend’s suggestion, I rented and watched the Battlestar Galactica miniseries last night. 2 chicken soft tacos, 1 small bean and cheese burrito, 2 Fat Tire Amber Ales, and 3 hours later, I finished. Some very cool stuff, folks, so grab a copy of it and plunk yourself down on the couch. The old theme song is even there, if you listen closely, the Cylons have been heavily updated but still remember their roots, and Edward James Olmos does a great job as always.

It’s no wonder I saw teaching throughout the show. Several characters, if combined into one, would create the perfect teacher.

The Line Up

Adama: Admirable Traits — conviction, focus, flexibility, expertise
Even in the face of personal trauma, Adama doesn’t stray from the task at hand. As new problems appear, he never misses a beat, modifying previously laid plans to achieve the best outcome. He’s certainly down for creating lesson plans and sticking to them, but he’s not afraid to do something different if the situation calls for it. Because he knows his subject matter, he’s comfortable with on-the-fly changes. His students clearly respect his opinions and look up to him. A pep talk from Adama could get a student to complete just about any assignment.

Starbuck: Admirable Traits — honesty (with herself and others), ability
This is a teacher confident enough in her skills to know what she can and cannot do. She’ll create an awesome assignment using blogs and presentations, but knows to draw the line at wikis and lectures since those are areas of weakness for her. Though she’s far too hot headed for the classroom, she calls a spade a spade and kids need that. She’s the teacher who looks that tenure jockey in the eye and says, “You need to quit. You are hurting our students. And I don’t care if you hate me. Leave the profession.” And then goes back to her classroom, a fun and educational space. But if that “A” student hands in “C” work, she’ll give it a “C” and tell why.

Saul Tigh: Admirable Traits — burgeoning courage, beginning introspection
He’s the Executive Officer of the ship I question Adama putting in charge and the superior officer Starbuck slugged and called out for being a drunk coward. But near the end, Tigh seems to privately acknowledge that Starbuck is right. Tigh creates his lesson plans and doggedly sticks to them, a bit too afraid to look as if he doesn’t know what he’s doing — even though he sometimes doesn’t. At the end of the year, though, he knows he did a crappy job and starts to make changes. We’re all bad, to some degree. All of us. As long as we keep staring at our problems and make moves to correct them, things are going to get better. As soon as we think we’re prefect, we need to quit.

President Roslin: Admirable Traits — confidence, poise, empathy
If you watch the show, you knew I’d mention her, right? At one point, Adama says, “We’re at war and you’re taking directions from a teacher!?” He’s right; teachers aren’t prepared to lead a war. But Laura Roslin surrounds herself with experts and bases her decisions on that expertise. She’s that teacher who left the private sector last year, not entirely prepared for the classroom ahead of her. Like Adama, she never breaks down under the weight of both the external and internal crises she faces. Unlike Adama, though, her emotional and personal connection to students is what motivates them to rally for her cause. And like a true professional, her personal opinions don’t get in the way of her decisions. Even though she hates Mortimer’s attitude, she’ll work with him in her classroom and show him nothing but respect.

Cylons: Admirable Traits — knowledge, camouflage, connections
These aren’t your old “chrome toaster” looking guys. They can now be anyone and anywhere. They blend in. They gain trust. They observe. They know how to interact. They catalog information. They probably know pop culture references. Last year, I asked my seniors, “Ne-Yo?? Who’s that?” Guess who my kids thought was an alien? Cylons would never ask a question like that.

Number Six: Admirable Traits — manipulation, showing and not telling
I hesitate to list her, so please don’t read too far into this. If you don’t see how manipulation is an important trait for a teacher to have, I’m not going to comment further. Sure, this is not anywhere near the kind of manipulation teachers should use, but Number Six says and does what she needs to in order to take care of business. She has a goal and works toward it. But she doesn’t give all the answers; instead, she points people in the right direction so they realize things more-or-less on their own.

A Notable Exception

Apollo: Admirable Traits — none
Apollo should never be anywhere near a classroom, a teacher college, or any place where learning happens. He’s the model of that 20% of your class that causes 80% of the problems. Huge chip on that guy’s shoulder, though it perhaps slides off a touch toward the end when he hugs his father. He’s still a jerk, though. If you can create class curriculum that Apollo would find interesting and learn from, you can do anything. In that regard, he’s important for teachers to have in mind because we all have Apollos from time to time. I just took two of them to Japan…


1. Dan Meyer says:

[7/12/2007 - 4:20 pm]

Um, apparently no one told you tv and teaching are mutually exclusive. They’re enemy combatants, you know? I’m not sure who you think you are trying to force a connection.

And manipulation a desirable skill? If you don’t take flak for that one I’ll be plenty surprised. Not from me, though, that’s for sure.

2. Todd says:

[7/12/2007 - 4:31 pm]

Ah, the sarcasm is palpable. For the record, I never said the two aren’t compatible. And I’ve always held that teachers can improve by watching TV — particularly advertisements. Which is a nice segue…

You really think that any teacher reading this is going to think that manipulation isn’t a good thing to have in the bag-o-tricks? I never even thought it possible to be an effective teacher without manipulating students at least a little.

3. Laurie says:

[7/12/2007 - 9:05 pm]

I think this is a very interesting way of looking at how to tap into the power of TV on our students. The only thing I fear is that the next conference or “convention” we go to requires the wearing of pointed ears.

4. Dan Meyer says:

[7/13/2007 - 8:52 am]

Yeah, the sarcasm is really misdirected here. I’m still smarting from awhile back and feeling petty.

Funny about the manipulation thing. We kinda went a few rounds on that one awhile back.

5. Todd says:

[7/13/2007 - 9:13 am]

Dan, there could be so many things that you’re still smarting from that I’m not sure which one it is. And as long as the biting remarks steer the conversation forward, have at it! Yeah, manipulation isn’t all we do, but it’s a necessary component. The idea that I’m somehow accountable if my manipulation fails, though, is what we were talking about in those comments. I’m currently inclined to call more of what we do manipulation, if that makes you feel any better.

Laurie, what I’m going for here is a way that TV can help teachers. It can help students, but there’s a lot for teachers to learn there. And I assure you that pointed ears will be optional.

6. Dan Meyer says:

[7/13/2007 - 7:00 pm]

Nah nah, sorry, the whole t.v. thing still has me bothered from back when I got read the riot act by a buncha other educators. Not you.

7. elona says:

[8/10/2007 - 2:22 pm]

I think Apollo is a jerk in the classroom because the classroom doesn’t met his needs. His next assignment is not university so why should he pay attention to the training he doesn’t need?