👾 Pixels

For the past 25 I worked diligently through the various “levels of adult life.” Much like most video games, I found the introductory life level of high school rather mundane. The game-play tutorials struck me as rather obvious and not at all engaging. Minimal energy and computing cycles were needed to conquer the mini-bosses of assignments and assessments. I collected the coveted diploma artifact after negotiating the “senior level,” and discovered the map to the following level with ease.

When I first arrived in the post-secondary world of “University Land,” I made the common game-play mistake of wandering away from the primary mission of the level. Instead enjoyed the “side quests” a bit too much. Socializing, parties, and sleeping in quickly dealt heavy hits to my “XP score” (my GPA that is). Fortunately, around this portion of the game, a wise older sage who had journeyed these levels recently (my older brother) informed me that I should spend more time maximizing skillsets via corporate internship side-quests.

The advice of the elder sage proved invaluable as I secured access to a coveted bonus level called, “Microsoft Employment” immediately after finishing “University Land.” In corporate-land everything was more challenging than what I had experienced before. But again I learned to form alliances with other players, invest my resources in the right places, and I found that I could quickly move up levels, and gather more coin.

And so my game play went. For over two decades I farmed experience, unlocked new levels at different corporate lands, and gathered more and more coin along the way. Before long, I too played the role of a wiser old sage, assisting others through their quests. I found I deeply enjoyed being a guide to other players.

🗺 Navigating Levels

by RON is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Looking back over the journey, I realize that my “player” attributes – my gender, the hue of my skin, and having two loving and nurturing parents provided me a veritable set of “cheat codes” to quickly advance through the levels of the game of life. For example, my father unlocked that key first internship level for me by introducing me to a CEO of a startup tech company. And from there my game-play went swiftly.

Ascending the levels of the big tech world was easier for me because I looked like many of the players there – other cis-gender white males. I could blend in, speak in the secret language of acronyms, and I also wielded the power of being able to write persuasive emails. Being able to quickly absorb and master new languages spoken by computers anointed me with a wizard-like status too. I began writing enchantments in HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, Java, and Ruby. The computers that ran the game were now following my typed commands. It was magical.

And so my game play went for over twenty years. Gathering experience. Climbing. Harvesting coin. And then just about a year ago I began to notice bugs in my game play. After each day’s mini quest I found myself feeling sad. My vision was often shrouded by tears. I really couldn’t see a good path forward in the world I had been living in for decades. I had entered the fabled under-world of burnout.

🔙 Warping Back To A Prior Level

by RON is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Through hours of meditation and introspection, I realized that my “avatar” was broken. The quest for more coin and climbing higher had become this non-ending level of the game that just seemed to be stuck on repeat. I felt as if I had lost the map to the world, and just did not know where to go next.

Fortunately, my partner in this game of life for the last 22 years, had been playing a different version of the game alongside me. Becky, my partner in this adventure, had been questing through the mystical land of “Elementary Education.” Indeed, she had chosen the adventure of a full-time wise sage – one that guided level 3 gamers through the very early stages of life.

I always admired how she played the game. Her version was less focused on physical things like coin and avatar job titles. Instead, she traded in intrinsic rewards. She built connections, inspired players, gave them invaluable tips and tricks to game play. But she didn’t do this alone. She had a team of other amazing educators by her side. They traded secrets, supported each-other through what seemed like a never ending abyss of remote learning. I was in awe of how she, and everyone else in the land of “Elementary Education” kept playing the game when everything was turned upside-down during the pandemic.

These players in the land of Education inspired me so much that in January of 2022, I started my game over. I left the high levels of my career and warped back to a prior time. I returned to the confusing land of “Middle School,” my least favorite level – but this time through, I was playing as a Substitute Teacher.

🐍 The 6th Grader Inside

When I warped boldly back to “Middle School Land” – I thought it would be wise to get in touch with that sixth grader that still lives inside me… a great opportunity to build a foundation on empathy. You see my first trip through Middle School land was not a happy one.

I moved to Bellevue, Washington from Dallas, Texas in the 5th grade. I didn’t have many friends in Middle School, and I can vividly recall many memories of being bullied and confused. I found solace in the alternate reality of video games. Pixels on screens provided a safe world I could explore and make mistakes without criticism from unkind classmates. My favorite escape was guiding Link through his journey to save princess Zelda. That gold game cartridge of Legend of Zelda helped me through the awkward land of Middle School.

So when I arrived at High Desert Middle School in January of 20222, I decided to create a token of my past – a reminder of how challenging Middle School Land is for students. That is how the HDMS Pixel Diamondback came to be. I printed stickers and one t-shirt of the pixel mascot. I distributed these stickers while subbing last year as rewards and each time I see one on a student’s iPad or water bottle, it brings a smile, and serves as an important reminder of how tough things are for students.

More importantly though, it reminds me that so many of the “young players” in Middle School Land were not given the same advantageous player attributes like me at the start of their game. Their skin might be a different color. Their gender identity could be an entire challenging side quest like I never experienced. They might not have a home to return to each night. They very well might only find nourishment in the school cafe. They might not know what it feels like to be loved – or safe.

🧙‍♂️Training To Be a Wise Sage

And that is why I just started a new “level” in my game of life. I am venturing boldly into “Graduate Schooltopia” seeking the wisdom that comes along with obtaining a Masters of Arts in Teaching. Already I can sense this will be more challenging level than “University Land” – but I also believe it will enable me to help other “young players” find hope and success while navigating the confusing land of Middle School.

As I gain more knowledge – I hope to wield it along with my player’s positive attributes to help others who weren’t given “cheat codes” like me. I will do my best to make *all* students feel safe, seen, respected, and cared for. And hopefully show them how fun it is to never stop learning and exploring new “levels of life.”

So please, do follow along this blog for my new journey… and if you have ventured this land ahead of me, I would love to have you share any comments, tips, or wisdom in the comments below.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *