February 2013

Day 108: One for the books! Old Hickman pal Mike Burden and colleague Brett Kirkpatrick brought Jamaican-born, Africa-tested, and NYU-schooled Alrick Brown to the Little Theater for one of the most entertaining, interesting, and inspiring talks about filmmaking I’ve been present for (Columbia folks, best go see his Kinyarwanda at MU tomorrow at 1). Frequent Tour reference George Frissell again proved his commitment to selflessness by allowing me to redeem myself for a scheduling error and agreeing to a one-day partnership with HHS Science Olympiad (but they all say that with Frissell, payback is a bitch). My third block class did a great job getting their personal essays started, especially Stephanie Lamoreaux, who’s writing what will prove to be an entertaining and useful “How-To” paper that John Keats would appreciate. Fourth block learned not to sell me short on rap knowledge and paid rapt attention to a 50-minute reading from A Lesson Before Dying. I met retired legend Henry Landry for coffee and received a one-of-a-kind memento from his recent trip to NOLA that connected to another kind of professor. And I got to eat at Tony’s Pizza Palace with Nicole Overeem and her interview subject and stellar student Mr. James Allen. Note to Doug Gordon: your dongle is safe in the hands of the Hickman High School Library Media Center.

Day 109: I had waited all weekend to share A Rip In Heaven author Jeanine Cummins’ responses to my first and second block literacy seminar’s (excellent) questions with the kids. Ms. Cummins, closing out preparations for the release of her new book, had generously taken the time to e-mail us answers after I sent her a message on Goodreads. I even made copies of their questions and her answers, just so everyone could read along. First comment–before we had even begun reading together–delivered with a prosecutorial edge by a sophomore: “How do we know these are REAL????” And they say today’s kids aren’t critical thinkers…

Day 110: Today, to practice looking at stylistic and thematic commonalities between a poet’s poems, we looked at some selected songs by Ray Davies of The Kinks. I know it’s due to the film Juno, but it warmed the cockles of my heart to hear most of the class singing along to “A Well-Respected Man.” And it produced a devilish grin on my grill when many who had always sung along to the chorus of “Lola” got to close-read its lyrics. Commonalities we discussed: irony, class alienation, ambiguity, satire and sarcasm, the hollowness of mere “respectability,” slant rhyme, dissonance (in the playing, and in the rubbing between the brightness of the music against the darkness of the subject matter), and artistic intent. I learned a TON.

Day 111: It has been a slow day–too many music references lately to convey my joy in Ross Menefee having his curiosity piqued in the radio station by Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman,” and not much eloquence I can add to Zane El-Shoubasi impassioned sales job for the original British Shameless (I WILL watch it!)–so, when all else fails, a list.

The Top 15 Most Successful Materials I Have Ever Used as a Teacher

1) To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

2) “The Scarlet Ibis,” by James Hurst.

3) The Monsters are Due on Maple Street (“Twilight Zone” screenplay by Rod Serling).

4) The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison.

5) Cool Hand Luke, directed by Stuart Rosenberg, written by Donn Pearce.

6) Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell.

7) “Ozymandias,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

8) “Me and Jesus the Pimp in a ’79 Granada Last Night,” by The Coup

9) Selected lyrics by Chuck Berry.

10) Selected lyrics by Ray Davies.

11) “The Flea,” by John Donne.

12) Macbeth, by William Shakespeare.

13) Red Sky at Morning, by Richard Bradford.

14) The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

15) The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer (6th-7th grade editions).

Day 112: Another slow day, another list–the 11 teachers I owe the most to (for being models, for being supportive and encouraging, for thinking I had potential, for opening my mind, for training me to think and see, etc. eternal etc.)….

1) Howard South, my high school art teacher.

2) Mrs. Phipps, my ninth grade English teacher who taught me discipline without disciplining me.

3) Mr. (now Dr., I think) Soos, my freshman comp teacher, who was so good he made me want to do this.

4) Dr. W. D. Blackmon, who taught me science fiction at SMSU and gave me the best reading list I’ve ever received.

5) Bob Bilyeu, whom I taught with at Parkview and who taught me the concept of benign negligence, which it took me years to successfully utilize and fully appreciate.

6) Charlie Smith, whom I also taught with at Parkview and who taught me “the ropes,” more or less.

7) Karen Downey, my longtime teaching partner at Hickman and Smithton, who taught me how little I knew, then filled in most of the gaps.

8) George Frissell, my longtime colleague at Hickman (OK, moratoriam on Frissell references starts now!), the most highly-evolved human I know. (And one of the funniest.)

9) The Steitz Team (John and Jo), for showing how you do the husband-wife teaching (and kid-raisin’) thing at its most passionate level.

10) Nicole Overeem, who daily reminds me how to (and how much to) care about students.

11) My mom and dad, for basically applying benign negligence and letting me explore and learn about what I was interested in.

12) The Grupe Team (Dixie and Greg), for setting an incredible bar on a daily basis.

13) Mike Pulley, who helped me get my legs, kept me laughing through huge class sizes and grading loads, and dared to have me teach his son (first teacher’s kid I ever instructed).

14) Mike Jeffers and Tracey Conrad, who encouraged me to be a teacher leader.

15) Rod Kelly, for talking me into coaching track and basketball, which I loved. My sincere and eternal gratitude.

Day 113: I stepped out in the hall with one of my modern Brandos to wish him luck in taking the Missouri Options qualifying test. Being careful to look him directly in the eye so he knew I was serious, I assured him I’d send as much luck as I could his way. As I extended my hand to seal the bond, I suddenly noticed both of his had been buried in the front of his pants (it is, alas, a “style”), and when he extended one I…blanched a shade and recoiled a touch. Kid: “Don’t worry–they were on the outside of my boxers.” Whew. That was not quite relief enough to prevent me converting my handshake into a brief bow.

Day 114: A respectful bow in the direction of Miss Abbie Jones, who wrote a great personal essay about sometimes feeling that she just needs books to be happy (I have dedicated a song to her in the link at bottom), and Miss Hillary Henry, who helped me figure out the best possible plan for my substitute Wednesday. We had an assessment scheduled, but it’s a shade too complicated for a substitute to execute, so they will be watching a film for their “Brit Lit Film Festival” assignment: Dr. Strangelove. Poor kids.

Day 115: Got to hear a potential new band–guitar player and singer–take The Sonics’ “The Witch” for a test drive. Lead singer is a young woman who loves the material–very interesting to hear her deliver that song. I will keep you posted, but Mark Anthony, Kenny Wright, Bryan Stuart, and Nicole Overeem, you would have wanted to have been there.

Day 116: You make some great friends in this business, friends that sometimes turn into family. Thank you, John and Jo Steitz, for great support, and great timing, and big hearts. Also, it has been a difficult week already at Hickman, and we’ve lost a retired colleague in the middle of it. Here’s to Kathy Davis, and I am speaking for many Kewpies who knew her: She was a valued colleague who cared deeply about her fellow Kewpies, and was not afraid to speak the truth. She had a great sense of humor, was our student radio station’s biggest fan, and could call a snow day (complete with number of inches of snowfall and number of days we’d be out) with pinpoint accuracy. She was also very selfless when it came to fixing damned machines (and people) and running off massive packets. We have felt her absence since she retired, and we feel it even more now. P. S. Kathy, if you are somewhere able to read this, I am sorry I screamed the cuss word that one time when I thought no one was in the workroom.

Day 117: At our final Science Olympiad meeting before regionals Saturday (we are defending champs), I learned from a Mongolian-American student what a “banana” was: an Asian who strives to be Caucasian on the inside. She was very concerned about racism–she learned it from her dad–but it certainly didn’t bother me; in fact, I had thought such a one was called a “Twinkie.” But it led me to ponder what a Caucasian who strives to be Asian inside might be, or whether that trend has been birthed yet. I am sure if it ain’t, it ain’t long from coming.

Day 118: I came into this business remembering too well that I had been offered no freedom whatsoever when my high school English teachers had assigned essays. College liberated me, so as a greenhorn I was on a mission from Gahd to insure my high school students wouldn’t have to wait. But, as the Grand Inquisitor told Jesus, humans don’t cotton to freedom as automatically as one would hope, and no English teacher’s experience is complete without 15,000 “I don’t know what the write about”s, so I have not so frequently been the great compositional emancipator. I don’t know what I did differently THIS year–my LAST one, of course–but maybe something worked. First papers’ subject matter: jackfruit (real and metaphorical), a fantasy planet that’s been being created in a kid’s head for years, a wrasslin’ match with God and His signs, and a high school friendship gone cold. I hope this keeps up–some damn fine reading.

Day 119 (a little late, but I have a pretty good excuse): A tip of the hat to all of the excellent substitute teachers who’ve ever come in to wrangle my classes into shape in my absence. They have a thankless task, but a good one is a real treasure, because when he is in the driver’s seat, you can concentrate on getting well or attending to family matters without the nagging worry that ALL HELL IS BREAKING LOOSE! Dedicated to two of my recent favorites, Jared McCormack and Joe ‘Brothanogood’ Fessehaye, and one old favorite who’s gone on to rock and roll glory, Will Saulsbery. Every teacher has a sub he’s honored, at least in his heart.

Day 120: As hard as this gig can be, there are daily reasons for gratitude.

1) Jim Kome, George Frissell, Brock Boland, Kay Garnatz, Jessica Lucas, Sharon Dothage, Tracey Conrad, Char Johnson, Leia Brooks, and Beckie Hocks, thanks for wise words of encouragement and advice.

2) Israel Santana, thanks for your ear, heart, and story-share.

3) Vanessa Nava, DeShona Rhodes, Levi Slate, and Justin Parker, thanks for staying ultra-focused and involved in discussion of 14 pages and 30 minutes of A Rip in Heaven read-aloud.

4) Spenser Rook and Marielle Carlos, thanks for running to get a new cord, playing Korla Pandit, and introducing GTA: San Andreas to the station PS2 (I could live to regret that last).

5) Sean Brennan, thanks for the cupcake.

6) Michele Sun, thank for the hug. I am not a hugger so that is always a dangerous move.

7) Jason with University of Missouri Hospital financial counseling thanks for the sanity and strategy–I hope it bears fruit.

8) Amanda Farris, thanks for doing all you could for our mutual student.

9) Nicole Overeem, thanks for the patience for bureaucratic phone calls, phone tag with me, and being a damned great daughter and spouse.

10) Lynda Evers, thanks for smiling in the face of darkness. Bonus track: Michael Linzie-Hayes, thanks for seeing me across a crowded end-of-the-school-day hallway (at Hickman, these are uniquely dense), grinning, and waving. If I can squeeze 11 out of a day like today, you can find one!

Evers Girls

The Evers Girls at True/False

Day 121: Technically, I should take a vacation from this habit, but I AM grading papers (people, if you could just get the TECHNICAL skills downs, I could actually focus on the WRITING!), slurping java, blasting Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and The Hot 8 Brass Band, and admiring the fall of snow. Also, wondering about tomorrow (“B” day? Or SNOW day?), anticipating The Book of Mormon, The Hill, and maybe Euclid Records on Saturday, hoping for some phone calls with positive insurance news (fat chance), and deciding how many more papers to grade before I start reading. A deep bow of respect to the 99% who don’t get snow days; I am grading these papers with you in mind….

Day 122: Thanks to being invited in on a grant written by one Nicole Overeem, had the pleasure of watching one of the best documentaries ever on 21st century teenagers, Only The Young at Ragtag Cinema, with 100+ extremely well-behaved and -focused teenagers from Hickman and Rock Bridge (no drama). Thanks Jonathan Westhoff and Polina Malikin for your facilitation, Tracy Lane for making the arrangement, Andrew McCarthy for providing muscle, two bus drivers for getting us there and back on time, and Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Nims for making such a great film. Also, very happy my mother-in-law Lynda Jo Evers got to see it and sit with the cool kids of today. Check out the trailer! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gY8Vmky3Bk

Day 123: Some interesting moments. You may recall an earlier post detailing a visit by three admins of varying levels to my reading class, which induced a state of near-psychedelic meta-reality. Welp, it happened again today, as we were in the midst of reading and discussing A Rip in Heaven (Will we ever finish the book? YES! 20 more pages!). I was, frankly, a little irritated that the highest level administrator actually stood in front of one of my students, blocking her view of me and talking to her while we were in the middle of trying to figure out irony. Yes…irony. I guess we all know what’s most important, eh? ANYHOW, it was a good discussion despite the distraction. Also, when I popped into an afternoon T/F assembly to drop off some tickets to be given away (I had other things to accomplish elsewhere), I got handed the mic and asked to introduce the guest speakers(?) for the second year in a row (!) [though it did result in an interesting exchange between Jonathan Westhoff (aka Ye Olde Canary) and me about early 20th century pop music, “The Old Grey Goose,” and Louis Armstrong–I am not sure how interested the audience was, but Jon and I ejoyed ourselves]. I got more fist-bumps than dirty looks for wearing my Kansas Jayhawks shirt to school, though I did get some VERY dirty looks. And I had a surprise visit from Jason Michael Herd II, who claims to want to get into education because of my influence. Jay, you SURE you know what you’re doing? (Note: Jay once totally nailed a fantastic Iggy Pop-inspired performance art piece at a Hickman Poetry Slam that silenced the crowd. And did not win him a placing position.)