April 2013

Day 139: Coming out of spring break, a teacher often expects torpor. Not so with 1st AND 2nd block today, many of whose minions jumped right into our poetry unit with BOTH feet and produced excellent drafts that sounded even better read aloud. Topics: being stuck inside the bottle, the resilience of trees, and the importance of simply enjoying life. Also, a fond farewell to Mr. Joe Lindsay, one of the coolest students I’ve ever taught, whose surgery will take him out of the rest of the school year, but who can get his hooks into an “A” by reading and reporting on three books by May 21. Joe, you will be missed, buddy!

Day 140: A sad salute to a former student, loyal friend, terrific cook, total crack-up, indefatigable poet, and hardcore ’80s R&B nut who just shuffled off this mortal coil. He was a one of a kind Kewpie (from a one of a kind 1990 “Exploring English” class of 32 that damn near killed me with its personality) the likes of whom we shall not see again. RIP, Cleveland Adams.

Me and Cleve

The author and Cleveland Adams, a poet and gentleman.

Day 141: Thank you, Justin Parker, for letting me use your gloriously goofy school picture to illustrate the poem I wrote today for my lit sem classes, whom I am forcing to write poetry this unit. Title: “School Pictures,” about how much a school picture can reveal.

Day 142: Here’s to some of my favorite Kewpies who are the often-invisible reason why things usually go so swimmingly at Hickman: Vicki Palmer, Alexander Dante Epperson, Sam Kriegel, Jim Kome (OK, he’s very visible, but his stealth moves are often the most crucial), and Paige Reed (I said “invisible,” not necessarily “quiet”).

Day 143:

Scene–Science Olympiad mini-meeting to calibrate prior to state competition.

Issue—when to arrive for registration.

Argument–6:45 a.m., “early bird gets the worm,” instead of 7:00 a.m. as proposed.

Ryan Eiffert ‘s rebuttal: “Actually, it is the later birds that get the most worms, stay the warmest at night, and…survive.”

The mind of a scientist…always awake.

Ryan Wood

Ryan Wood, scientist, is not mentally awake.

Day 144: Two chapters into The Picture of Dorian Gray, I gave students a quiz that required them to intellectually engage with two of 18 selected quotes from that section. Those who’ve read it know that the book’s plot can seem simply an excuse for Wilde to float out aesthetic aphorisms. Reading some of their responses as I fetched their quizzes, I was delighted by the wit and good sense (the latter of which Wilde might not have admired, but would have had to respect) in their responses. In an unrelated note, I began to fully realize how hard Michele Sun will be to replace as the ACTUAL coach of our Science Olympiad team (so much done selflessly behind the scenes), and was overjoyed to hear about Emily Thornton’s bounteous NYC college visit.

Day 145: So many of my excellent colleagues have been asking me, “Are you counting them down?” I am happy that this daily Facebook experiment has provided me an automatic retort: “Nope, I am counting them UP.” It suits my disposition better, anyhow. Also, I received notice from the district today that I have to fill out a form for my successor that explains my monthly duties over a 12-month span–I treated the form like a 1040EZ, ’cause no way can I (or, frankly, WILL I) be able to get all that down on a district form–but Tranna Keely Foley suggested I just tell the corresponding district officials to “friend” me….

Day 146: I was out of school today to take care of some family business, but, like any other teacher who misses school for whatever reason–even high fever–I found time to grade some stuff and finish a book about education. We have a tendency to redefine “sick.”

Day 147: Just have to holler a big shout out to my student Tia Vega, who a) was so inspired by the slam poet Nova Venerable (from the Louder Than a Bomb documentary) that she wrote a killer poem emulating her; and b) provided killer responses during our discussion of Wislawa Szymborska  ‘s “Photograph from September 11 (see below). This week, we’re writing poems about “Moments,” and Tia was brave enough to be enthusiastic, which is not common or easy at the ol’ high school (“high cool”) level.

Day 148: I am going to miss the lively debates that spring up at school like mushrooms on a lawn. Today, Jim Kome, Tranna Keely Foley, and Jane Jouret and I considered the state of public schools; I started it by continuing my passionate attempt to sell everyone within educational earshot on Sarah Carr’s HOPE AGAINST HOPE. I will spare you the details, but teaching at Hickman for 17 of the last 24 years has definitely made me a better person (as opposed to “crushed my soul”), and it’s conversations like these that reaffirm your commitment to certain instruments of democracy.

Day 149: Here’s to the simple pleasures–like hanging out during supervision time and talking to Brock Boland about late-period Prince, and to Sean McCumber about the upcoming NBA Playoffs. Sorry, it’s not always about lit and literacy…thank the stars!

Days 150-151: Advice from an old hand–when balancing school and family, always lean toward your family (it’s not as simple as it sounds, and it’s why I skipped a night). And if you’re craving something more entertaining, today I licked 115 invitation envelopes shut, handed them to our powerful administrative assistant for mailing, and heard her say this: “We have a machine that does the licking.”

Day, 152: Definitely wayyyyy up there on “Coolest Student of the Year” ballot is the kid who a) got awesome results from an important nursing test today (he passed); b) continues to revise and re-revise an essay he’s calling a poem (and I understand why); and c) gave Nicole Overeem a rosary to give to her ailing mother and, looking into her eyes, said, “Never give up hope.” Not quite so high, but pretty damned high, was the former student who, before I recognized him, walked up to me as I was leaving my mother-in-law’s hospital-breakout dinner at The Ouchback– glowering, imposing, seeming about to kick my ass–then hugged me and said, “Hey Mr. Overeem, come meet my wife!” Marquis Lewis, since you were in sixth grade, you have always kept me on my toes.

Day 153: America’s worst nightmare–80+ public school high school kids mingling together in a dark room on a Friday…and hailing from the notorious David H. Hickman High School – Home of the Kewpies, no less! Make sure you bolt those doors! Just jokin’, y’all. THESE kids were primed and focused and perceptive, the dark room was Ragtag Cinema, the subject matter was the documentary Bully, I saw nary a cellphone out during my last-ever field trip (sniffle?), and the discussion afterward should have been filmed it was so spot-on (way to go, Dorothy Owens!). Thanks to HHS Success Center and Lit Seminar kids for making Nicole Overeem, Hannah Wren, Jerome Sally, and I proud to take you out, and making my field-trip swan song awesome.

Day 154: Educational bucket list item checked off–taught a decent mini-unit on The Clash. First class, I was a little too excited to be fully coherent; second class, I got it down. Both groups of kids seemed interested and had insightful things to say (especially Brandon Kellogg, Marielle Carlos, Mary Clare Agnew, and Sean Brennan), and I actually felt chicken skin rise on my arms while playing, then discussing, “Clampdown” and “Death or Glory” (what lyrics–perfect four outgoing high school seniors!). Also, I was proud to tell ’em that I might be the only Kewpie teacher to have seen them (twice), and certainly the only one to meet Joe Strummer (while he was in The Clash)–and could report that they were decent to fans while also expecting what they demanded of one in their best songs.

Day 155: Socratic seminars today on Ch.8-14 of The Picture of Dorian Gray. One ultra-sharp from a group perspective (2nd block), one messy but full of neat theories (3rd block). Big ups to Caitlin Tuttle for connecting Dorian to Jay Gatsby; it’s not a perfect parallel, but it’s a fascinating study in contrast for two self-invented invented humans–and it says a bit about England vs. America turn-o’-the century. Also, thanks to Sean Brennan for suggesting a T/F Film Fest Youth Brigade/Bio Club team-up on The Island President after school today, and Hickman High School for supporting the Super Kewp Ceremony. All former Super Kewps in the FB house say, “Owwwwwwwwwwwww!”

Day 156: When I hear someone refer to a modern workplace as a “family,” I tend to theoretically reach for my revolver (the requisite warmth and interconnectedness for such a state is difficult for most actual families to achieve). However, I have been forced to eat theoretical crow by the amazing support the staff and students at Hickman have offered my mother-in-law Lynda Jo Evers and her daughter Nicole Overeem. I would like to extend special gratitude to Dr. Pam Close and her science-niks for making it way easier to graze on the go. As purt-near always, I am proud to be a Kewpie.

Day 157: If you’ve never endured me as a teacher, today’s performance is about as “normal” as I can think of:

1) Explained my James Booker shirt by playing the Bayou Marajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker trailer.
2) Tried to sell George MacDonald Fraser’s FLASHMAN series to summer readers by using a persuasive e-mail I had just feverishly sent to my colleagues Dixie Grupe and Greg Butz.
3) Apologized for doing the latter two things.
4) Screened last half of A&E Oscar Wilde doc and discussed what the script writer meant by saying Wilde was “crucified.”
5) Entertained a battery of great questions by one student.
6) Forced students to listen to the late, great George Jones while they were completing a debriefing on yesterday’s Socratic, and imploring them to pay attention to his treatment of vowels and his swoops into baritone. (Song: “Things Have Gone to Pieces”).
7) Pointed into the air at certain Jones vocal moments even though no one was paying attention to me.
8) Asked students to hold their assignments aloft when they were finished so I could come fetch them.
9) Begged them again to check out Fraser and Jones.

This would never pass muster with Michelle Rhee….or Madeline Hunter, for that matter.

Phil George

The author and the Possum (sorry, Nancy)

Day 158: Poetry slam day in Lit Seminar. I did not vote with the masses in giving top honors to Justin McCollum, who wrote about how three maligned creatures have things to teach us: the snake (always moving forward…even being limbless), the shark (never stopping), and the vulture (always exercising patience). Bravo, dude.

Day 159: Today, once again, I am sitting on the “Faculty Selected Scholarships” selection committee, one of my favorite Hickman experiences, mainly because I get to see the range and depth of excellence of “The Cream of the Kewps,” represented not just by data, but also the impassioned testimony of my peers. Tranna Keely Foley, you don’t mind me Tweeting the results, do you? (Psych!)