School of Rock Lesson #1 • Those Who Can Do Well, Teach Well

I re-watched School of Rock last night, for the first time as an actual teacher, and walked away with ten lessons for teachers, which you can read right here.  I’m going to spend a few days unpacking some of those lessons.

This is the first part.

[It's been ten years, but I'll go ahead and say there are a few spoilers coming.  You've been warned!]

Let’s be honest.  While many teachers go into education because they feel called to the field from an early age, many others fall into it backwards.  It’s a means to an end, a way to pay the bills.  They do it, and they enjoy it, and they love the students, but if they could rub the lamp and finagle three wishes from the genie, then they’d follow a different dream in a heartbeat.

This is written for those teachers.

You know who I’m talking about: the baseball coach who thought he would play in the majors; the math teacher who still tries to find time to write the Great American Novel; the drama teacher who imagined she would direct Shakespeare in New York; many teachers – deep down – feel like they’ve had to let go of their dreams.  It doesn’t mean they’re bad teachers, but what it might mean is that they might drag their feet to work each day.

This letting go of dreams is a recurring theme in School of Rock, where Dewey’s brother has chosen to leave behind his dream of being a musician to pursue a more secure lifestyle as a teacher.  Dewey finds himself in that same situation, fired from his rock band, and surreptitiously taking a substitute teaching job offered to his brother to make money to pay the rent.

To Dewey, the education system is “the man”.  The enemy right from the start.  His very presence in the school shows his lack of respect for the institution, with the job only being a falsely gained means to an end.  He is even brazen enough to repeat the cliché that “those who can’t do, teach” while talking with the other teachers!

W9kw9Dewey slowly shows a change of heart as he secretly teaches the students to play rock music, while seemingly not teaching them anything else (he definitely is teaching them more than rock music, but I’ll get to that later). Dewey’s  turning point is at the Battle of the Bands, when the wildly popular prepubescent band blows away the audience, but loses the competition.  Dewey is angry and disappointed until the students remind him what he said before, that they weren’t in the competition to win, but to rock.

In the process, something clicks, and we – along with Dewey – realize that the saying should actually be, “those who can do wellteach well“.  This movie has been an exploration by Dewey to discover that he is actually good at the job he’d always hated before – teaching – and that through teaching he can actually live his dream while helping guide others to achieving that same dream.

And in the end, owning and operating his own private School of Rock studio, he’s finally living his dream.

He’s teaching, and he loves it.

Even if he might not be opening for Motörhead.

So, if you are a teacher who has dreams that seem to be just over the horizon, just out of reach, be encouraged!  Don’t grow resentful that you aren’t achieving some certain dream for your life, rather let your dream fuel what you are achieving!

Let your dream ignite your passion, and in the process, you might just find that you are not only a better teacher, but that acceptance and embracing of teaching might be the thing that puts your dream within reach.

And a word to the wise.  If your unfulfilled dreams involve achieving a certain level of fame or notoriety, just remember the countless teachers who might not be well known outside of their community, but within the community they have had lasting impacts on countless lives.

They – because they were teaching their passion and their dreams – left behind something far greater.

They left behind a legacy.

Next up?  Teach to your passions, not to the test.

Nate Fleming is living the dream, teaching at an international school in China, just across the bay from Hong Kong, and writing children’s books while teaching students how to write.  He’s just published his first novel, Thimblerig’s Ark.


10 Things I Learned About Teaching from School of Rock Ten Years Later


After eleven years, Jack Black’s School of Rock has been back in the news.  First, Andrew Lloyd Webber announced last year that he was aiming to turn it into a Broadway musical, and then just last month Nickelodeon announced that they are turning the premise into a weekly series!  This, coupled with last year’s story about the cast’s ten year reunion in Austin made me realize that it might be a good time to revisit the film.

So, last night the family and I settled down to revisit rocker wanna-be Dewey Finn’s duplicitous foray into the world of elementary school teaching, and I was pleased to see that the film has held up well, and I enjoyed it as much as I’d enjoyed the first time I’d seen it, about ten years ago.

But there was a fundamental difference.  This was the first time watching School of Rock as a full time teacher.  I’ve been teaching upper elementary in Kazakhstan and China for the past seven years, and the reality of my experience in the classroom made watching Jack Black’s attempt at teaching even more interesting.

As I watched, it began to dawn on me that this film was not only entertaining, but there were some pretty substantial lessons any teacher could/should take away from watching Dewey Finn rocking out with the kids from Horace Green Elementary.  So, even though it’s about ten years late, here are my…

Ten Things I Learned about Teaching from School of Rock Ten Years Later

1.  It’s not “those who can’t do, teach” – it’s “those who can do well, teach well.” You can read my thoughts about this one here.

school-of-rock-00-400-802.  Teach to your passions, not just to the test.

3.  The best teachers take the time to discover each student’s strengths and capitalize on them.

4.  But at the same time, don’t pigeon-hole your students; give them room to surprise you.

5.  Encouragement is one of the most important gifts you can give.

6.  Administrators are people, too.

7.  Students need respect as much as adults.

8.  Give your students freedom to learn, but also help them to know the limits.

9.  You don’t have to be entertaining to be a good teacher (but it doesn’t hurt).

10.  Believe in your students, and they will learn to believe in themselves.

I’m going to unpack some of these in coming days, as well as talk about some of the “anti-lessons” of the movie, but meanwhile, there you go.

Anyone have anything to add to this list?

Thimblerig Climbs Amazon Charts!

Thimblerig’s Ark is the 6th top best-seller in Amazon’s Children’s Literature and Fiction today!

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 2.32.17 PM

What an amazing story!

Today, the little un-represented, self-published book about a groundhog weathering the Great Flood has climbed to the top of Amazon’s charts, storming the free download section like the world’s coming to an end!

The best part?  You can help Thimblerig reach #1!

Here’s how:

1.  Download Thimblerig’s Ark for free yourself!

2.  Share the picture below with your friends, and encourage them to go and download Thimblerig’s Ark

3.  Be happy that you were part of something very cool!

4.  And after you read Thimblerig’s Ark, run back to Amazon and write a review.

The free download offer is open until September 14.

Thanks for supporting an indie author and self-publishing!

Free Thimblerig U2

I Won’t Forget.


One of the reasons I appreciate teaching internationally, is that every year I get to share the story of that day with a new group of students, many of whom don’t have a clue that it even happened. Most aren’t Americans, and so I help them to see the reason why this was a worldwide tragedy, and I get to challenge them to be a force for positive change in the world.

The Computer Giant, The Rock Band, The Groundhog, and Free Downloads


I woke up this morning, like the rest of the internet, to the fascinating story that U2 and Apple had teamed up once again, and that U2 was offering their new album, Songs of Innocence, for free download on iTunes.  And the internet is still ringing with the shockwave that followed that announcement.

But, in the midst of the shock, one thing that most folks reporting this story seem to have missed is that 3D T'rig Cover no shadowapparently U2 and Apple apparently coincided their big news to apparently “drop” just a couple of days before Thimblerig’s Ark became available, also for free download!  

Coincidence?  There are no coincidences.

Not when the worlds of big computers and big music collide with the world of little-known self publishing animal-centered biblical fantasies.  When that happens, all bets are off.

To make matters even more compelling, Thimblerig was actually on hand in Cupertino for the big announcement!  He’d saved up his figs for several weeks to make it there, managed to get onto the stage, but before he could do anything he was forcibly removed by some blue-polo-wearing, no-necked, hipster-bearded Apple Genius thug.

You would think this scandal would be on the front pages of all the websites of the world!  You’d think that blogs would be picking it up and running with it!  You’d think that Matt Walsh would have written a scathing, insightful, controversial editorial about the incident by now!

But somehow Thimblerig’s sad story has been quietly swept under the carpet.

Thankfully, the great equalizer – the internet – will help us prove it.  After all, a picture posted on the internet is the best proof, right?  Remember the Derbyshire Fairy?  Hercules, the world’s biggest dog?

But I digress.  To the proof:  Here’s Thimblerig, trying to get Bono’s attention, right before the no-neck Apple genius hipster rushed him off the stage.



(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Some people might think that this was all a stunt on Thimblerig’s part to try and get Bono to read Thimblerig’s Ark, or to get Tim Cook to release a new special edition purple iPod with Thimblerig’s paw print on the back.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  He just wanted to ask Bono to help get the word out about the free download of Thimblerig’s Ark, which will start on September 12 (PST) and run for three days!

In fact, as he was hoisted on the shoulder of the Apple genius-thug like an undignified sack of potatoes, Thimblerig reportedly screamed, “Just for three days!  You can download Thimblerig’s Ark for free just for three days!  It starts on Friday – Pacific Standard time!  Hey, can you guys play Bullet the Blue Sky?  Can you play Bullet the Blue Skyyyyy?Thimblerig Apple mug

But he was lugged out of the hall and straight into the Apple Company store, where he spent the rest of the afternoon playing Flappy Bird on a display iPad, and then bought a retro Apple coffee cup before heading home, dejected.

Now Thimblerig’s feeling down, feeling like he could have done more.

Well, he couldn’t.  He screwed up.

But you can help!   “How?” you might be asking your computer screen.  Well, if you would like to help Thimblerig’s morale, then you can do three simple things.

1)  Go to Amazon on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday (PST) and download Thimblerig’s Ark for free.  Then, if you like it, write a review!  Reviews are the bread and butter of non-U2-sized artists/authors.

2)  Share Thimblerig’s inspirational story with the world through your own social media outlets.  Take the picture below and post it all over the place!  Help get the word out!

3)  Finally, if you know the Edge, tell him Thimblerig apologizes for grabbing the sunglasses off his face.  He left them with a nicesunglasses person named Kip at the register in the Apple Company store.  Thimblerig is pretty sure Kip worked there.

There’s a good chance that none of the events in this story are true, that it’s some form of parody.  But what isn’t parody is that Thimblerig’s Ark really is available for free download (September 12 – 14), and we hope you’ll give it a try!

Especially if you are Bono.  That would be really, really cool.

Free Thimblerig U2And share this picture!