January 2013

Happy New Year

Day 88:

Me: “Welcome to your–and my–last semester of public education. It’ll be bittersweet for all of us.”

Student: “Do you think you’ll cry?” Me: “No, because then, to be fair, I’d have to do it for the other four classes!”

Day 89: Two interesting transition-hinting moments. In second block, I received a new student: the son of a former student (you done good, Tim Matney!). In the radio station, to which I have over the years bequeathed some excellent vinyl items of which I have duplicates (but which have not been getting played), I learned that one of our DJs got a turntable for her birthday–so I fished out some winners (Only Ones, Wild Magnolias, Heartbreakers’ LAMF remix, Lefty Frizzell, Tom T. Hall, Archers of Loaf) and gave ’em a decent home. About 30 years ago, I did the same thing with my baseball, basketball, and football cards, and my comics (at least at present I have about 1,500 records left), which I hope that kid–now a man–still owns. Bonus moments: The Phaggs (one of whom is a former Kewpie) personally delivered their new 45 to my classroom, and this chunk of dialogue tickled me, though the humor may not translate: Me: “I don’t like red grapes.” Adriana Cristal: “Grapes, figs, and bananas have non-viable seeds.” Patrick D King: “What are non-viable seeds?” Adriana: “You can remove non-viable seeds and plant them, but they won’t grow, and–wait, I haven’t finished the packet.” We are waiting with bated breath, Adriana….

Day 90: One thing I will definitely miss about this gig is being able to observe special student friendships, especially ones where one admires the kids separately, THEN discovers they are buddies with each other. My mind was blown this morning before school when two students I would never have guessed even KNEW each other (one a superb, humble, smart human from my reading class, the other with the most phenomenal range of music interests I have seen in a student in three decades) came in to introduce me to another student I had only heard…legends…about. After we talked (and set up a gig at The Bridge!), they stepped outside, and I could hear them continue to talk, with another, ALSO familiar voice chiming in. I stepped out of my room a few minutes later to discover the three of them were buddies with one of my all-time favorite students I have ever thrown out of class (he has made anonymous appearances in two previous posts). It’s this kind of friendship that is one of the few things that makes high school–particularly PUBLIC high school–VERY unique, and it’s very ennobling to witness.

Day 91: Had to search a bit today–morning was alright, looked forward to the afternoon, but got disrespected and exploited instead (another day in the human race). However, seek and ye shall nearly always find: had a nice meal at Lonnie Ray’s with Nicole Overeem, Mr. Benjamin S Carpenter (the former student who turned me on to the place) and his wife Becky Byrd Carpenter, plus their loquacious kid, Miss Vivian. Sometimes you bond so completely with a student that 22 years later he gets to buy you dinner, and you leave the tip. It’s on me next time.

Day 92: Gratitude–Zane El-Shoubasi, thanks for teaching me about Eid; J. M. Coetzee, thanks for writing so powerfully; Core 4, thanks for being so much fun today; Science Olympiad team, thanks for working so hard and enjoying each other so much; Joanna Zou, thanks for flexing your leadership; and thank my lucky stars tonight was my last Curriculum Night ever!

Day 93: Weirdly, I will miss writing grants! Today, I put together one (probably the last, at least from me) asking for funds to further grow the Hickman Media Center’s American Roots Music Listening Library, which is already about 500 discs strong and stretches from 1895 to 2008. As seen by that range, it needs some updating, so, if I’m fortunate enough to get the funding, I am going to collaborate with student experts in hip hop, punk, and blues to make the selections and write the new descriptions for the database. It will be nice to see some new students join names like Jon Hadusek, John Grupe, and Jordan Maze in the pantheon of Kewpie rockwriters.

Day 94: My longtime colleague George Frissell gave me a yin-yang test. I came out with a yin score of 16 and a yang score of 15, fairly balanced if a shade…soft. As the man himself said, “It’s not a very scientific test.”

Pound Game

Pound Game at the Bridge!

Day 95: I got to do three things today I don’t normally get to do–a) talk in-depth to my kids about next year’s enrollment; usually my advice is not needed, but this year I have several students who felt my thoughts and advocacy came in handy; b) share “Top 5 Hip Hop MCs of All-Time” lists with  Ziggy Vann Lyfe and his buddy Colin (for the record, and this will reveal my “vintage,” mine were Chuck D, Rakim, Jean Grae, DOOM, and a tie between Nas and Eminem); and c) help construct the next “Academy of Rock Showcase at The Bridge” flyer. And I got to see one thing I have never seen at school: a parent snatch a perpetually ringing cell phone out of her spouse’s hand and physically remove it from a meeting (it sounded like she flushed it down the toilet)!

Day 96: Abortive plans are a workplace hazard in this biz. Today…how could it go wrong? Same plan for both Block 2 and 3–finish “The 16th Man” (ESPN 30 for 30 doc on the role of a rugby match in immediately post-Apartheid South Africa; used to background our study of Coetzee’s DISGRACE a bit), give quiz over reading, use quiz answers as springboard for discussion, share research on South Africa. 95 minutes, less than 30 left in film–PLENTY of time. Plus, three activities planned for such a time period–that’s good methodology, Overeem. BUT…one of my students had to leave early, so she wanted to take the quiz ahead of time, so I just flipped the order of activities, BUT I jabbered and set-inducted so long that by the time of the quiz, the kid had already had to leave. Still time. I administer the quiz. Ten minutes, students have it done, steady as she goes. Quiz #1, nice, neat discussion, on the mark. Quiz question #2 dealt with the issue of consensual vs. non-consensual sexual relations as they play out in the early part of the book…65 minutes later–PING! That’s the sound of dismissal. Block 3? Rinse, wash, repeat. At least the prolonged discussed drew closer attention to the issue, especially for students who haven’t tuned into the news from Steubenville and New Delhi.

Day 97: I often mourn the fact that multiple pernicious forces (Jack White and Black Keys notwithstanding) have sucked the blues essence out of American pop music. Some would argue–and I’d have a hard time denying it–that it was inevitable. But my day was made today during my afternoon radio station supervision when one of our forces brought his guitar and amp and suddenly rippedout some gnarly slide. It had been a frustrating day but it all went away instantly. Also, at Science Olympiad, I suddenly realized that the little kid who, along with a few of his sophomore peers, talked me into coaching the club had…sniffle…grown up–he seemed twice as tall and possibly able to whoop me.

Day 98: Several years ago, by fond and oft-mentioned colleague George Frissell and his bride Susie Frissell suggested we attend the annual Columbia Values Diversity Breakfast, and I haven’t missed one since. Today’s was very special: a magnificent gospel choir performance directed by the esteemed Dr. Clyde Ruffin (whose wonderful daughter Candace Ruffin I taught as a middle schooler many years ago), and a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. III. The cherry on top was being able to bring some great, social justice-minded students (Aaron Bressman, Tierney Morales, Adriana Cristal, Zane Elshoubasi, and Marielle Carlos). AND…I got back just in time to finally teach a decently organized lesson, which I not so ironically did by not teaching much.

Lawrence 2Lawrence 1

In and around a nice trip to Lawrence, Kansas. Bands on left are Natural Child (top) and Mr. and the Mrs. (bottom)

Day 99: A quiet but deep thank you to longtime colleague Mark Blount for courage and a call to sanity. Would that all ears were open to your message, and now I see why Jacob Blount and Nathan Blount are made of such fine stuff. And good luck with the chemistry curriculum rebuild!

Day 100 (my, they are slipping by): That wacky B Day, Core 4 literacy class. Walked in worried about how they would perform on their first scored book talk of the year, on 13 Reasons Why, and was met by Sha’Quan Davis, who handed me a pen rigged to shock the sh*t out of me, which it did. Not the best omen. Two kids were behind in the reading; one had a horrible weekend dealing with a death in the family, and chose to sit it out. Uh-oh. BUT…they responded with a book talk that topped the three Brit Lit Socratics I’ve seen this year, balancing their discussion, actively monitoring their progress, evoking strategy use, quoting and READING ALOUD text sections (not required, or even encouraged!), and…having FUN. My shy gal Lashana Lopez even asserted herself eloquently. And the group dealt intelligently with these questions: What motivates suicide, and how does it affect those left in its wake? How can two different experiences of a single first kiss clash destructively? And how does a reader deal with diagesis*? (*Don’t feel bad, I just learned it myself last night from Ron Rosenbaum’s The Shakespeare Wars; it’s when a work of art, specifically a film but in this case lit, manipulates conflicting time frames–and I am not kidding, the kids explored it.) A day I would have worked for free.

Day 101: As the True/False Film Fest Academy and Youth Brigade (and friends) watched Mads Brugger negotiate his way through the corrupt labyrinth of The Ambassador in the Hickman Little Theater today, I began to wonder whether we had chosen the wrong movie–it was making Nicole Overeem’s and my own head hurt trying to following Mads (and the money), and WE’D seen it once before. Generally, when such a mismatch happens, the high school version of Roger Ebert’s “Thunder Index” kicks in: the thunder of feet stomping up the aisle and out the door. However, our intellectually committed youth hung tough for the duration, and closed our session out with some great discussion, even though it was already 4:45 p.m. Aaron Bressman, Komina Guevara, Adriana Cristal, Ambrosia McCord, Zoe Marie Clark, Savannah Brenizer–thanks for your enthusiasm!

Day 102: Spent two consecutive 95-minute periods taking apart and admiring (fortunately, those processes did not interfere with each other) Andrew Marvell’s philosophically seductive and seductively philosophical “To His Coy Mistress” and discussing J. M. Coetzee’s approach to psychological realism (particularly the nature of a 53-year-old disgraced male’s actual thought-flow). Diverged into actually relevant stories about sabotaging my math teacher’s graphing chart with a Playboy centerfold (with Todd Freeman) and once, as a youth, imagining that, if I’d produced offspring, s/he might have grown into a serial killer. Props to Emily Thornton for calling up the following Marvell lines for justly high praise: “…therefore, while the youthful hue/Sits on thy skin like morning dew,/And while thy willing soul transpires/At every pore with instant fires,/Now let us sport us while we may….”

Day 103: Today was as fraught with failure as yesterday was sparkling with victories. As Nina Simone sang, it be’s that way sometimes. A manic depression profession. BUT…I bow to two young ladies who stayed cool when they could have erupted, a reading group who didn’t want to meet but rocked, and a radio station denizen who turned me on to an ill-starred Japanese free blower last name of Abe who blew me away. And now I get to spend some quality time with my favorite colleague first name of Nicole.


James Carter at the Folly, KC

Day 104: Gave my Brit Lit students the option of writing to the first prompt I ever received as a college student, and the first prompt I’d ever received PERIOD where I had ANY wiggle room: “Write a personal essay about vacillation.” No specs other than 650-750 words. They have broader freedoms but I hope some will take the proffered angle.

Day 105: Another in a recent string of hard school days marked by painful but necessary decisions involving students I have great admiration for…salvaged by T/F Film Festival Youth Brigade and Hi Def Academy meeting at Ragtag Cinema where acclaimed Missouri director Chad Friedrichs (of The Pruitt-Igoe Myth fame) took students’ questions, talked nuts and bolts, showcased a clip from one of his own favorite directors (Adam Curtis), and previewed a piece from his mesmerizing and fairly hilarious new project. Also, Academy members shared their progress on their audio interview projects, the ideas behind which are very promising. Finally, great encouragement and good cheer from our fearless leader Polina Malikin and her fellow film culture abettor Jonathan Westhoff. Columbia is truly a place where I am fortunate to teach and, you, my students and local comrades, are fortunate simply to reside in. Sorry ’bout that closing preposition.

Footnote 1: Emma Lopez, that was the funniest IEP meeting I have ever attended where I would not dare have laughed.

Footnote 2: Israel Santana, thanks for justifying our belief in you.

Day 106: I fully enjoyed, through a simple conversation, helping Bailey Marie Wilborn arrive at a way to make her electronic portfolio thematically integrated–and therefore, actually–could it be?–fun to put together. Also, a quartet of students traveled the twisted and knotted road that brought me to Hickman (and, thus, to the vehicle of my soul’s improvement) through an impromptu narrative I spun out (it’s one of my favorite stories, and maybe I’ll tell it here one day). Fortunately, it was a work day in the lab, and the quartet (I hope) was ahead on their work.

Day 107: Scenario–Science Olympiad meeting in Gold Lab. Enter, one of my Brit Lit students seeking peer editing advice. Her instantaneous response upon taking in the tableau–“What IS this???” They get that a lot.

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