Updated: Jan 11, 2019
I love music, and when I say I love music, I mean I love all genres. To me, music is magic. It inspires. It motivates. It provides solace in melancholic melodies. It summons thoughts of home, growing up, and Spanish moss-laden streets. Music breaks the constraints of this world and sends me time traveling with the help of a few harmonious notes strung together in perfect accord. It opens portals to other worlds long faded. Because of this magic, I have leveraged music in my classroom to reach students, engage them with content, build rapport, and explore deeper meanings. The true beauty of music is that it connects people. I have my own private radio that is permanently on shuffle, my mind the DJ who drops the needle on life’s playlist. I also have a literal playlist, my “zombie writing music” playlist, that I listened to while writing this book. It inspires me when my mind fails to summon words or exude the creativity needed to push on. Fox, dance party of one—unless you count my DJ, Alexa, and she is pretty rad.
When it comes to my music collection, I like to think of myself as eclectic but not a real
connoisseur. I mean, how can I take my musical library seriously when I have Hannah Montana and one-hit wonders like “What Does the Fox Say” (Hey, my last name is Fox!) on the same playlist as jazz legend Louis Armstrong, guitar wizard Carlos Santana, and lyrical genius Lin- Manuel Miranda? Sometimes it’s the music that reaches deep into my bones, and other times it’s the lyrics that get me moving.
The phrase, “When words fail, music speaks,” adorns one of my favorite T-shirts, which was given to me by a dear colleague. (My nerdy T-shirt game is strong.) I was born in the 1980s and came of age in the 90s, and in those pivotal decades of development, music spoke to me. It became part of who I am. Melodies become woven into the fabric of our DNA. My fabric also happens to be didactic. A teacher’s blood courses through me, and it’s through that lens that I view life.
In addition to music and teaching, I possess an equal love of film. Using video to tell a story and carefully storyboarding each shot with intentional meaning makes my nerd flag fly so high. Films hold so much more than stories; they hold histories. They act as mirrors, reflecting social constructs, policies, and even the fears of a nation. Films become time capsules meant to be poked, prodded, and dissected. And if you are lucky, you get to make your own or teach others to become part of the cinematic fabric of their generation.
I was able to do just that while teaching film to middle schoolers. But long before I was a teacher of film, I would create little scenarios in my mind. If this were a movie right now, what song would I play in the background? What is my soundtrack? How can I enhance the mood of the moment?
What is your soundtrack? Is it upbeat? Is it melancholy? We have playlists for all walks of life, but your teaching playlist should be inspirational! If it’s not, that might be something you need to work on. You might be doing it wrong.
My scenario game continues:
If this were a zombie apocalypse, what is my best exit strategy? Where do I hide from a mob of undead? And I’m just walking into Wal-Mart, people! If this were the zombie apocalypse, at least I know I would have bucketloads of Twinkies and hopefully a kickass partner in crime like Tallahassee from Zombieland. My teaching partner in crime would definitely be Tampa—the Latin teacher in E-2 during my time at the STEM Academy.
So on film, music, and teaching . . .
By this point, you are probably wondering where I am going with this. I’m getting there! These two loves, music and film, along with my teacher lens intersected to create the ripe conditions to write this book. It’s been in the making since 2015. Really, since the first year I started teaching when I was handed a copy of The First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong. A lot of the advice in their book is centered around classroom management and procedures for the first days of school, whereas I feel rapport, team building, and focusing on getting to know your students is a much more valuable use of a teacher’s time. The world has changed. The classroom landscape has changed, and the way we teach must change with it. Still, the Wongs’ book inspired me—not to spend my days implementing better strategies but to write a book that speaks to this generation of teachers. A book with edge. A book that calls out the unacceptable and brings about a paradigm shift. A book that guides teachers to embody that paradigm shift. To become a catalyst that fans a spark into a flame. To build a legacy that I can plant and see.
One of my favorite film genres to teach is the horror genre. It provides a rich context for nonlinear writing, themes, insight into human fear and psychology, and how the body processes all of this scientifically—looking at the amygdala—in the brain, of course. And while teaching students about soundtracks, ambiance (or “zombiance”), lighting, the many subgenres, antagonists, and fears that go into crafting a horror story, I looked around at the current state of education and played my fun scenario game. It went something like this: If the teaching profession were a horror movie, what subgenre would it be?
It was a no-brainer (pun intended). A zombie one!
And so my research of the undead began, and as I wove it together with education with the needle of metaphor, the pages of this book on teaching and zombies grew. (So did my playlist. You can’t embark on epic adventures without an epic playlist!) While investigating the parallels between zombie films and the teaching profession, I discovered one common denominator: the extreme need for hope in a time that breeds hopelessness.
At many times in my career I have felt immobilized by hopelessness; it would take hold and infection would spread and infect my mindset and actions. I would become overwhelmed by the weight of endless tasks and the dichotomy between being a teacher and being human. It is a dark time for our profession as accountability trumps trust; our very safety is threatened as we are asked to don weapons while wage raises and summers off are questioned. Morale can plummet if we let politics get the best of us. But unlike the victims of an apocalypse, we chose this role not for money, not out of pride, and not out of martyrdom, though some have sacrificed their lives at the hands of the unjust. We went into teaching to change the world for the better and to breed hope. To make passion and kindness the viral currency of this generation. In that spirit, I hope this book—with its rules, the speculative historical context on how we got here, and all the content within—proves to be a beacon of light, provides you with practical strategies, and becomes a fun guide for survival. I hope the words I have planted bloom in the hearts of the weary and that you hope along with me for a better world.