Saturday, July 24, 2004

HELLO my name is SATAN

As I flipped through Scene Magazine's 2004 Music Awards issue I was not surprised to see Mike Campbell's face looking out at me as I turned to the Best Hard Rock listings. Mike plays with the Sign Offs, whom Scene describes as; "Punk-damaged rockers(they) could be on the verge of major-label activity". 
Several weeks ago, Mike called to tell me they were signing a deal with Columbia records. I'm so proud of him. 
 I want to share his story here,  because I know that some of the people who read my posts are teachers.
Some of you teachers are just beginning careers, and may have a student like Michael Campbell in your classroom one day.  If you do,  fasten your seatbelts, 'cuz boys and girls,  you are in for a wild and wonderful ride. 

The first time I saw the kid with the long dark hair, intense brown eyes and wicked smile, he was creating drama.  The hallway was full of students changing classes and Mike was standing by the lockers waving a yellow intend-to-suspend notice and ranting.
" Can you believe it ?  He wants to send me home for my shirt!  This f__ing shirt!  He says it's offensive.  Does anybody think it's offensive? He's offensive!"
I glanced at his T-shirt and started to laugh.  The shirt was all black with a white printed patch on the chest that looked like a name tag and read "HELLO my name is SATAN".  I silently agreed with the young prince of darkness. The shirt was not worth a student losing class time over, (especially in a school system struggling to keep kids in classes) when the only person who was offended by it was our rather religious principal. The suspension, however, did inspire a change in dress and behavior. From that point on, Mike began to dress to impress. He discovered that clothing could create controversy.  He began to acquire quite a collection of "offensive t-shirts" and eye catching punked-out clothing. He thrived on the attention.
The administrative altercations continued. One particularity pointed fashion discussion went something like this;

" What is your problem Mike? When I was in high school nobody came to school dressed like that."
"Oh! So I should come to school dressed like you did when you were in high school?"
" Yes! That would be great. "

The next morning the hallways at Max Hayes High School rocked with laughter as Michael strutted along in full Saturday Night Fever attire. Platform shoes, red satin shirt, and a polyester suit that demanded disco.

Mike's quest for controversy didn't end with his dedication to dress-code violation.  Teachers, students, even total strangers were potential adversaries for a verbal spar.  Not ironically, Mikes favorite position was devil's advocate. Whatever the consensus was, he would take the opposite stand.  Race, religion, sex...Any topic that could elicit an emotional response...Mike would throw it out for class discussion. Constantly baiting his teachers, he reveled in his ability to shake things up, and get people flustered. Needless to say, being kicked out of class was a fairly common occurrence.  His resultant hallway wanderings eventually led to our friendship.

One afternoon I was addressing my general art class when I caught a glimpse of Mike staring into the room as he walked in the hallway past my classroom door.  A few moments later he stuck his head inside the room and asked in a loud voice,
 "Has anyone in here said f-ck yet?"
 Although somewhat taken aback, yet not surprised, I managed to look non-pulsed as I smiled and said,
"Well, yes...I think someone did." 
Not quite what he expected, Mike seemed lost for words, so I added
 "C'mon in. Want to see what we're doing?"
He knew a few of the other students so he came in and sat with his friends as they worked on their sculptures. The next semester he signed up for my class.

Mike loves to talk, and it didn't take long to find out all about him.  He was part of a big family of foster children who had been adopted by a wonderful older couple. Not surprisingly, he had ADHD, but didn't take medicine for it. Most importantly though, he was a musician, he loved music. He'd been playing guitar for years, but he still practiced constantly. He had an electric one with some brand new amps. I told him I would love to hear him play. A few weeks later he got his mom to bring his speakers to school. He set them up in my class at the end of the day and played an amazing concert for me and some of the kids who were still hanging around after school.  That was his senior year.
Mike was scheduled to graduate in June, and passed all of his required classes, but he couldn't receive his diploma. He had not yet passed the math portion of the Ohio proficiency test.
Many students who don't pass the test  drop out or give up. Mike wasn't one of those students. He took a proficiency preparation class, got a math proficiency tutor, and for the next couple of years took that proficiency test each time it was administered. Each time he would be only one or two points away from passing. Last year he finally passed the test, and finally earned his diploma.

He stopped by  after school one day to take me out to lunch in Lakewood so we could catch up on each others lives. He's been so busy on the road with his band touring and seeing the world.  I am extremely proud of this persistent, demanding, funny, and talented  young man. I wish him continued success.


guv said...

yeah, the Sign Off's ROCK! and its great to hear a teacher reporting on the happenings of our cherished schools. hopefully, more people will get to read your insights into education in "the city" i taught for 3 years in chicago public and 4 more in a ritzy suburb of cowlumbus, i really miss my chicago kids!

keep up the great work and ill spread the word.

peace and one love!

mr. mcgovern

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