Sunday, October 31, 2004


For the first time I won't be passing out candy.

I'm having a new driveway put in, and it is blocked off. I really hate it when people stomp through my flower beds, and they do, even when the driveway is accessible.
We get literally hundreds of trick-or-treaters on my street in Cleveland Heights. Van loads from Cleveland and East Cleveland. Occasionally I will have one of my students or former students come to my door, and when I ask what brings them to my part of town, I'm told they come here because it is a safe neighborhood, and we give out lots of candy.

I normally have three different baskets of candy. Big candy bars for the kids who actually live on my street. Trick-or-treat size candy (Snickers, Reese's etc.) for kids in costumes, and gumballs and pixie stix for the teenagers and adults who come to the door with no costumes and a gimmme attitude.
It seems like each year there are more and more adults who just haven't been able to let go of the trick-or-treat thing. You'd think they would be embarrassed.

I don't chastise...that's not my place...I just wonder, raise an eyebrow, and hand them a pixie stick.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

The Political Right Acting Ethically Wrong

My oldest son, Ben, called to tell me about a letter he received from the board of elections in Summit County saying that his right to vote was being challenged by a woman from Copely whom he had never met. The challenge stated that he did not live at the address listed on his registration (he is registered a a Democrat). Ben has been living at the same address in Cuyahoga Falls for two years now.

What is happening here in Ohio?

Who are these people who will let themselves and their names be used by a political party to deny other Americans, whom they do not know, the right to vote? Were they tricked, or did they fully understand their part in these political shenanigans? Are these people issuing challenges simply because they have been told to with out asking why?

I want to believe in the fundamental goodness of Americans.
I want to believe that common sense is not rare amongst the common people.

What I see happening in Ohio frightens me.

Bill Callahan post his comments about the Summit County voter high jinks this week in his Cleveland Diary with good links to other news stories about this season's election mischief

Friday, October 29, 2004

Potential Targets?

In the interest of keeping our children safe, we limit access to school buildings. Many schools have buzzers at the entrances, security guards, and even the occasional metal detector.
Yet we use these same buildings, when they are full of children (voting always occurs on a school day), as polling places.

Whenever there is an election, we open the doors of our schools to hundreds of strangers. They walk through the buildings from dawn until dusk on the most politically charged day of the year.
Am I a little paranoid, or does this seem rather reckless in a day and age of terrorism? Especially in the light of the horror which occurred at the Russian school a couple of months ago.

Just a thought...Wouldn't it be prudent to close our schools on election day if we are going to use them as polling places?

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

What Do You Tell a Cutter?

Oh boy!
This is a topic which never came up in any of my teacher education classes while I was in college:
What do you say to a cutter?

I'm not talking about the kid who occassionally skips a class to go catch a smoke in the restroom. I'm talking about the kid who rolls his sleeve up and you see the marks. Scabbed over slices, or patterned scratches, occassionaly words, cut into a young arm... or arms, or chests, or faces, or necks.

Each year I meet them.
The kids whose lives have been so very painful to them, who repress anger, who have spent a short lifetime trying to kill feelings, whose lives feel out of their control.
These kids discover one type of pain they can control. Self-inflicted.

The technical term for this behavior is Self Injury (SI) in the pysch books. If you look it up online you can find all of the medical descriptions, case studies, and therapies. Most informative are the message boards and the SI chat rooms. Here people with SI share their stories, and give each other support and tips on how to deal with this disorder.

Although I have known and taught kids who cut themselves throughout my entire career, It wasn't until I discovered the message boards that I truly began to understand what is going on in the minds of the kids who manifest this behavior.
They are not typically suicidal, in fact most suicides don't cut, and most cutters don't attempt suicide. But they are in pain.
They have just found an unusual way of dealing with it.
The cutting brings relief.

So what do I say to the kid who shows me his cuts, either purposely or accidentaly?
I say. "Makes you feel better doesn't it?"

The kid is always so amazed that I understand. I don't tell them they are doing something wrong. I don't presume to judge them.
They start to share their stories.
We talk about safer methods for dealing with the emotional pain. Creative outlets; painting, poetry, music, writing.
The arts can be such good therapy.


To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach for another is to risk involvement.
To expose your feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas, your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To believe is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.
Chained by their attitudes they are slaves; they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.

Anonymous Chicago Teacher

Ground Breaking to Begin on Public Art Project

Well folks, I think it's finally going to happen. At last we have set a date for groundbreaking!

The Max Hayes/Soapbox Derby public art project, more than two years in planning, will start to become a reality. Footers are scheduled to be dug and concrete poured next week. The block and sandstone will be laid the following week.
Work on the stainless will take place over the winter, final installation is scheduled for spring, and the dedication will take place in June.

The concept of arts integration, although becoming accepted methodology in academic subject areas in education, has taken a very different twist here at Max Hayes Vocational High School.
Several years ago, we began integrating art into teaching the trades classes by inviting sculptors to work in the shops with the welding classes and the building construction students.
I was able to get funding to pay the artists through an ICARE grant sponsored by Young Audiences of Greater Cleveland.

We established a partnership with the Cleveland Institute of Art, and brought numerous artists/professors to the school to work with the trades students.
At the same time we were coordinating with the City of Cleveland, the Detroit Shoreway Neighborhood Development organization, various neighborhood block clubs and businesses, the Soapbox Derby Commission, the Cement Mason's Union, the Brick Layers Union, and last but certainly not least,(in fact, most importantly)the Steven Tatar Studio. The result is going to be a beautiful new entrance to the Cleveland Soapbox Derby Park, featuring an elegant sanstone wall and two stainless steel, art deco styled, soapbox derby racecars.

I will try to post the project drawings done for the planning commission later this week, as Steve told me had digitized them.

This is gonna be sooooo cool!


As a little P.S. to all of Cleveland's chronic complainers who like to whine and say,

"Nothing ever gets done in this city"
"People have no vision here"
"Clevelanders don't know how to work together"
"It's all just a lot of talk"
"New ideas don't stand a chance."
"The Cleveland Schools suck."

At Max Hayes, we refused to get caught up in all of that negativity...We're makin' it happen...Ha!


First quarter grades are due this week, and I may not have time for a press release. Know anyone in the media? Please have them e-mail me or call the school. Thanks.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Test of Courage

Often the test of courage is not to die, but to live.

Vittorio Alfieri

One cannot answer for his courage when he has never been in danger.

La Rochefoucald

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face....
You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Terror and Tragedy, Horror and Healing

Flipping through radio stations, searching for a tune to fit my mood, I paused as the voice of a newscaster announced a breaking story from Cleveland's near west side. "Seventeen year old girl escapes from burning house. Father killed."
"Please..Not one of my kids" I silently mouthed the plea I've murmured each time I hear about a tragedy involving teenagers in Cleveland.
Too many of my kids have made the headlines.

That day I prayed to no avail. The child was one of my favorite students, and this time the headlines would last for months.

Hour by hour the details of the story were announced by the reporters:

In the early hours of the morning a man broke into the house off of Fulton Avenue. He silently crept up the stairs, to a bedroom where the owner of the house slept. With a hammer he picked up from the man's toolbox downstairs, he pummeled the sleeping man to death. Next, he entered an adjacent bedroom, and awakened the teenaged daughter.
Brutally, he raped her, finally dragging her into the bathroom. He slammed the young girl down onto the hard tile floor, beat her, then tied her wrists to the plumbing with shoelaces.
To cover up his crime and eliminate the witness, he poured gasoline throughout the house, lit a match, and walked away.
The fire accelerated rapidly. Soon the blaze spread into the bathroom.
Determined not to die, the teenager strained toward the flames as they spread into the room where she lay. Using the fire, she was able to burn through her bindings, all the while screaming for her father.

Battered and bleeding, naked and terrified, she ran out of the house calling for him, just as the structure was engulfed in the inferno.

Soon my phone began to ring.
"Damaris. The girl in the news is Damaris."

My heart sank. That such a tragedy would befall anyone is unthinkable.
But Damaris!
Sweet and gentle and beautiful, Damaris was an eleventh grade building construction student at Max Hayes. She was in my 9th period class, taking a second year of art.

Emotion became entity that Monday as students gathered in hallways and classrooms at Max Hayes. Disbelief entwined with grief. Anger mixed with hatred and fear.
The killer was still out there.

Damaris had identified her assailant. She knew him from the neighborhood. A friend of hers had dated him a couple of times, and he had come by the house a week or two earlier to ask her father about getting a job.

The police issued an APB.
His mugshot glared from the pages of the newspaper. It was broadcast during the news reports on every television station.
Surely he would be caught soon. Very the police, we all hoped.
A number of the boys from Max Hayes took on the role of vigilante, as the days began to mount without a capture. Rumor had it, the Max Hayes boys were carrying guns. The potential for the tragedy to escalate rose with each passing day. He had been spotted in the neighborhood.

Finally, he was captured. Thankfully, by the police.
He had been hiding out, like a rat, in a tunnel that ran underneath the shoreway.

Damaris returned to school after several weeks.

A very different young woman sat at the table in the art studio now. The chatty, happy, giggling child, had been replaced by a silent, staring, wounded woman.
My gift of empathy proved both blessing and curse in her presence. The intensity of her pain, weeping spirit, bleeding soul, was difficult to witness.
There were days when distress immobilized her.
I could see the tears well up in her eyes, and I led her into my office.
"I can't draw." She whispered. "There are things I need to say, that I want to express, but I can't draw them."
"Do you think you could write them down?" I asked.

The following day I brought her a journal; 300 pages, hard bound, fabric cover. Later that week she shared three poems with me... pain-filled and powerful releases.

Over the summer Damaris continued to write. She steadfastly worked toward her own healing.
The winter of her senior year reopened wounds that had begun to close. Her attacker was going to trial. It was a death penalty case, and as victim, Damaris would have to testify. Due to the strength of her testimony, her father's killer sits on Ohio's death row today.

Damaris began to tell her story of horror, hurt, and healing, reaching out to other victims of crime. She was even interviewed by Montel Williams on national television.

Eventually she filled the three hundred pages of that journal with her poetry.
When she came to Max Hayes to visit with me a few weeks ago, she told me of her conversation with a publisher about making her chronicle of pain available to a wider audience of readers.

I shall look forward to reading about her journey.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Brain Drain

Occasionally I get out and rub shoulders with the corporate crowd. Upon introduction, people inevitably respond with either sympathy or awe. The resultant conversations will usually focus on how brave I must be, and how hard my job is.
This week, during the course of one of these discussions, the question was asked, "What would you say are the biggest frustrations you have as a teacher in Cleveland?"
My answer was not the one that was expected.

My biggest frustrations are the smart kids.

I just don't have the time for them.

Years ago the practice of tracking students according to their ability was abandoned in favor of classes containing a mix of diverse aptitudes. The rational was fairly logical. By eliminating the stigma of being in the "slow" class, low achieving students would be challenged by higher expectations and motivated to work harder, essentially being pulled up by the high achievers.

The problem in Cleveland is this. For a variety of reasons, we are a system with a disproportionate number of low achieving students. We are so bottom-heavy, that it is impossible to expect the masses of low achieving students to be buoyed up by the high aptitude kids...After all they are just kids.

As teachers we are often forced to practice a type of educational triage in our classrooms.
First we attend to the "noisy-needy", those in-your-face personalities who will become disruptive unless attended to.
Next, we are pulled to the kids who are stuggling with basic comprehension of the subject matter. With large class sizes of 30-40 kids, in a 40 minute class period, these kids will easily demand all of a teachers time, when they make up about 60-70% of the class population.
The smart, quiet kids that "get it" are low maintenance. They don't demand immediate attention, so they usually don't get much. Rarely are they challenged, often they are bored. In many cases the street is much more interesting than the classroom, and if the student comes from a family without a history of academic success, one that doesn't place a high value on education, we lose them.

The media talks about the "Brain Drain" from the greater Cleveland area, referring to the exodus of college graduates from the region, as they move to other cities in search of jobs.
Cleveland Schools have their own version of a "Brain Drain", as our students with the most potential desert our rosters for the street in search of new challenges.

Friday, October 22, 2004

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul, can always depend on the support of Paul.

George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Student Teaching Revisited: A New Teacher's First Day in the Classroom

This past spring I received an award from Young Audiences of Greater Cleveland naming me the Northeast Ohio Arts Educator of the Year. Upon recieving that distinction, Cool Cleveland published an interview with me. One of the questions asked about any mistakes I ever made during the course of my career.
I am going to repost my answer namely because I've been thinking about student teaching since I am getting an intern from Cleveland State University next week.
Secondly, I'm reposting it becuase it is just a darn good story...and every word of it is true.

My student teaching assignment was eighth grade art at Glouster Middle School. Glouster is located in southern Ohio, a depressed coal mining town, buried in the Appalachian foothills.
Back in those days, the student teacher came in to the school, worked with the cooperating teacher in the classroom for a few days, then the cooperating teacher took off to the teachers lounge, and the student teacher was on her own.

This was to be my very first day teaching classes alone.
I said goodbye to my Co-op teacher at the door of the lounge, and headed to my class. When I walked in the door, there was the entire class in a crowded circle at the center of the room, yelling at two big ol’ boys trying to beat each other senseless.

Hey, I grew up with brothers, no problem!

I convinced a few of the bigger kids to pull the combatants apart. I then put on the meanest, craziest face my 21 year old, little 110 lb. self could muster grabbed a heavy wooden chair by the teachers desk, and slammed it up against the wall. I pointed at red-faced Jimmy and said, "You! Sit there."
To my secret surprise, he sat. I grabbed a second chair, and slammed it into the wall next to the first. The other boy, Billy, a hulking 16-year-old, crumpled to the floor weeping.
"My foot! You hit my foot!"
I wasn’t going to fall for that ploy. Remember, I had brothers.
"Get up, you big baby. You're not hurt. Go to the office!"
The boys limped off, everybody sat down, and I started class.

I was sooooooo cool.

That afternoon, there was a knock on the classroom door. It was the principal. He looked very serious.
"Miss Miles, there was a fight in your class this morning?"
I nodded.
"We had to take Billy to the hospital. He has a broken foot."
All my mind could do was scream "SSSSHITTTT!!!!!!"
Four years of college down the drain.

"Billy’s father would like to speak with you."
What little blood was left in my face drained completely when I saw the man who was coming around the corner. He looked like a tattooed mountain wearing a wife-beater undershirt and a ZZ Top beard.
"Hey !" he drawled, extending his hand. "My boy got in a fight in your class?" My "Yes sir." was barely audible.
"Now listen" he said, and grabbed my hand, "if that boy gives you any more trouble you just go ahead and break his other foot. You got my permission."
His face broke into a big smile and he pumped my arm in the heartiest handshake of my life. Then both men turned around and headed back down the hall to the school office.
I could hear them chuckling.

I can recall standing there for a long time, amazed and bewildered by what had just happened. I had always considered myself lucky, but this went beyond being lucky, to the realm of the bizarre.
My career has maintained that tenor throughout the years, and I have received somewhat twisted satisfaction in the knowledge that as long as I continue to teach, I will never be bored.

The Intern

It's official...Finally after a few phone calls and faxes, Alice, my student teacher from Cleveland State will begin her internship with me Monday. She will be the 10th "rookie" I will have had the pleasure of working with directly since I began teaching in Cleveland.

She is coming to me from an eight week stint at a K-8 building in the Cleveland School District, and she can't wait to start in a high school.
My kind of attitude...We are going to have fun.

Many veteran teachers won't take an intern, because they are a lot of work, (paperwork, time, discussion) but I love working with student teachers.
I like to be able to have them experience that a learning environment can be focused on creativity, tolerance, and respect, as opposed to rules, rules, and more rules.
How can we ever teach people to "think outside of the box" when we haven't climbed out of it ourselves?

Yep, we're gonna have fun....I'll keep you posted.

Monday, October 18, 2004

If a blade of grass can grow in a concrete walk, and a fig tree in the side of a mountain cliff, a human being empowered with invincible faith can survive all odds the world can throw against his tortured soul.

Robert H. Schuller

How Many Students Really Graduate?

I thought I would share this posting from Bill Callahan's Cleveland Diary


I looked at the Cleveland school levy campaign's new website yesterday, and was shocked to see a claim repeated in several places that the CMSD's 2004 graduation rate was 47%. (The site actually says that this was a near-doubling of a 28% grad rate in 1996, which raises its own big questions, but that's another story.) So I went to the Ohio Department of Education site and found their current report card numbers for the CMSD.
Lo and behold, they're showing a graduation rate of 49.4% for the Class of 2004!

As far as I can tell, this is the only way to find the number... it's not on the 2003-2004 District Report Card, which lists the Class of 2003 grad rate (about 41%... hence my mistake in the chart here, for which I must now apologize.)

The campaign's use of 47% instead of 49% may betray some nervousness about ODOE's figure at the School Administration Building. And I'd still like to know where Byrd-Bennett is getting that 28% figure for 1996, since the last published version of the grad rate for that year was ten points higher. But neither of these points matters much compared to this: After losing 60-70% of every graduating class since the mid-90's and before, has the School District actually managed to get diplomas into the hands of almost half of the kids who started high school four years ago?

If so, the district -- and the kids -- deserve a loud, sustained round of applause. This would undeniably be major progress that should give a significant boost to the levy campaign

My comment to Bill was:

I am not positive about the source for that number, but I will venture a guess. Figures for graduation rates in past years have had numerous flaws in data collection. For example; Any student who left the district was listed as a nongraduate, even if they did graduate from high school in another school district. Because CMSD's student population is so transient, this may have accounted for a large percentage of students who were listed as nongraduates. A while ago I heard that these issues were being looked at by the state auditors. This could very well be the reason for the big jump in the percentage rate

There are many other flaws in the data collection for figures concerning high school graduates in Cleveland.
In the same building that houses Max Hayes High School, is a program for high school students over the age of 18 called Cleveland Extension High School. This school schedules classes to accommodate older students who are also holding jobs. If a Max Hayes student turns 18 and opts to take the adult classes to finish their diploma requirements, the fact that the student left the regular high school program is counted AGAINST the graduation rate for Max Hayes High School, even though they take classes in the same building and receive their diploma from the same principal.

The GED program for Cleveland is also located in our building. GED recipients are also not factored into Cleveland Schools graduation rate, although passing the test does signify graduation equivalency.

Gives you something to think about eh?

Sunday, October 17, 2004

PBS/ McNeil Lehrer : 'By the People'

The small alcove overlooking the lobby of Case University's George Dively building was filled, as fourteen strangers gathered together, seated in a circle on couches and easy chairs, to discuss one of societies most controversial topics...Politics.

We were one of ten groups scattered around the building Saturday to participate in a type of social experiment sponsored by PBS and McNeil Lehrer. Cleveland was one of 18 cities to host these discussions, which will be broadcast both locally and nationally October 21st.

At the behest of Betsy Merkle from REI Weatherhead at Case, I was acting as moderator for the group as they voiced their opinions on national security, the war on terror, global economics, and personal income tax. The goal of the conversation was to frame several questions that we would like to ask a panel of experts in those particular fields of security, terrorism, global economics, and government, later that afternoon, as a part of a larger group discussion involving 120 randomly selected people from northeast Ohio.

My group was diverse. We were small business owners , students, retirees, accountants, teachers, technicians, executives, salesmen, and housewives. Democrats, Republicans, and independents.
The discussion was informed and enthusiastic. We were serious and we laughed. We were respectful of one another's opinions, yet felt free to voice friendly disagreement. The three hours in our small groups flew by, and by the end of the second session, everyone felt as if we had made some new friends.

It will be interesting to see the results of the final survey.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Stress Management

I read this article. It said the typical symptoms of stress are eating too much, smoking too much, impulse buying, and driving too fast
Are they kidding? This is my idea of a great day!

Monica Piper

Nothing is more destined to create deep-seated anxieties in people than the false assumption that life should be free from anxieties

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

What...Me worry?

Alfred E. Newman, Mad Magazine

Friday, October 15, 2004

Learning the Trick

The mouth, typically in motion, was still. His eyes, focused on the paper in front of him, shifted to my face as I stood next to the table.
"I never knew I could draw."
The warm beginning of a smile, started moments ago in my heart while watching this boy work, spread to my eyes, as I said, " See how easy it becomes once you know the tricks?"

So many people believe they have no talent. They will say to me,"I'm not an artist."
To which I respond. "You don't have to be an artist to draw. You just have to learn the tricks"
Once my students think there's a trick to it, they aren't afraid to try. What I'm really teaching is technique, but if I call it a trick, they think I'm teaching them a special, easy way to do something...Like I'm making them privy to the artists "cheat sheet"...Now, suddenly, they're game.

You see that's my trick.

I know that once I can get them past the fear, the fear that they have no talent, and get them to participate, it won't be long until they discover their creativity. Tap into those creative spirits and all of the sudden ...BAM...I've tricked them into becoming artists.

Yep, there are lot's of tricks to teaching, and one of them is discovering the right spin.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Cleveland's Future

Yesterday evening, I attended an event at Key Tower called the Connection Series with three of the Senior Class officers from Max Hayes. The evening involved networking, discussion, and a hands on activity creating a collage/mural. The topic was future visions of Cleveland, and the participants were Clevelanders with civic concerns and etrepreneural spirit.

I love being able to give my students the opportunity to interact with community leaders in activities where they are participants as opposed to observers.
I was so proud of them.
They dressed professionally, conversed easily and made a great impression. Although they were young, they did not seem out of place.

I felt just like a parent at a child's coming-out party. These kids have a very bright future ahead of them.

Do not follow the path. Go where there is no path to begin the trail.

Ashanti proverb

Monday, October 11, 2004

Portrait Project

My Art 2 classes are beginning a unit on self-portraits. We will be drawing in charcoal, and so we are taking digital pictures and printing them in black and white as references.

Since I cannot show you pictures of my students online, you get to see my headshots.
I was told the first pictures that I posted of myself weren't very good. Maybe these are better?

As I play around with photo-editing, I am reminded once again of how much I love black and white photography.
So distractions.

Next Picture

I lost the cheesy smile in this picture....Even looks like a good-hair-day.

This is the Picture

This is the picture I will be using for my charcoal portrait unit demonstration. It's really simple, especially after I cleaned out most of the gray tones.
I'm sure I can complete the demo in about twenty minutes.

I love technology! It took me just a few quick key strokes to to adjust the composition and contrast instead of fumbling around with filters and chemicals.
Of course, there was a certain romance to processing black and white pictures in the darkroom back in the day...ahhh...but I probably shouldn't go there.

A Lesson in Honesty

I rarely sit down at my desk when I am in my classroom. That would be unthinkable with studio classes of 28 - 45 students. I buzz around from student, to storeroom, to computer, to student, to get the picture.

With large numbers of teenagers in one space I'm constantly watching out and listening for "something stupid". I define something stupid as the little pranks and bone-headed stunts kids do (remember?) that, when allowed to escalate, will trigger chaos.
I've gotten pretty good over the years at spotting the kid who is just about to bean a classmate with a broken crayon, or sensing when the good natured jibes about "your mamma" are about to get really nasty.

Friday, I looked up from the student's project I was discussing, just in time to see a folded paper missile fly across the room from its rubber band launcher, and smack a ninth grader in the arm. When I called out the shooters name, he looked at me square in the face and said,
"I didn't do it."
The rubber band was still in his hand, a little pile of the paper missiles was stacked in front of him, and I had, with my very own eyes, witnessed the attack.
Yet this boy had the nerve to keep insisting that it wasn't him.

I could feel a teachable moment coming on.

I took the opportunity to talk to my class about honesty and respect.

Most people can relate to the experience of being caught doing something negligent, or stupid, or just plain wrong.
In order to avoid embarrassment, or a reprimand, they lie.
Some people will lie in order to gain something.
To gain admiration they make up a story. To land a job they fabricate a resume. In search of adventure they remove a wedding ring.

At first glance, lying seems to be a rather positive experience.
It works.

Unless you are the person being lied to.
I asked my students how they felt when they discovered they'd been lied to.

"Angry", "Hurt", "Like they think I'm a fool.", "Disrespected", "Unable to trust."

"How do you feel about the person who lied to you?" I asked.

"They aren't really your friend.", "You can never believe them."

Throughout the discussion the boy with the rubberband sat silent.

Finally I asked him, "So, what do you think?"

"What do I think?"
He paused, "I think I'm sorry."

Good answer.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

For Love and Money

Here Is an update on the poster contest that was held at Case Western Reserve University for the Vice Presidential debate this past week: (Remember the post 'Keeping Expectations High', where I described my frustration with the quality of the work my student were producing?)

Maximo Martinez a 12th grader at Max Hayes won a third place award in the high school division. His work was picked by the RTA to be reproduced and displayed on the outside of buses throughout the city of Cleveland. I am very proud of him.

Max is one of a group of boys here at school who I've half-jokingly dubbed "The Sons I Never Wanted"
These are the kids who always seem to be in the art studio.
They skip lunch to come up to the art room, spend their study halls here, and get passes to my room from other class teachers. Some of them took my class a couple of years ago, but still hang around even though they have no art course on their schedule this semester.
Let me correct myself...'hanging around' isn't allowed. If they are going to be in the studio they must be making art.

Some of the school's best artwork comes from the kids who are not taking an Art class. They like the vibe of the space and their motivation to work is the threat of being kicked out for not working.
I don't allow them to "work on an idea" That, too often, can be an excuse for fooling around and doing nothing. The idea has to exist before they walk in the door.
In the studio, they must be producing.

These are usually the kids I can get to participate in contests. Since they aren't taking the course, they don't need to follow the curriculum.
They like to compete for cash, and so I post all the calls for entries outside the door to the art studio.
Max won a fifty dollar savings bond for his winning entry.

One of the life lessons I talk to my students about is choosing a career.
"Find the thing you love to do, and discover how to make it pay." is a phrase I repeat to the point of redundancy. Each time one of the kids in my class wins a contest, or gets a paid commission for artwork, I point to the entrepreneurial opportunities made available by their creative efforts.

Occasionally one of my students will ask me,
"So if you love art, why aren't you working as an artist?"

To which I respond,"There was something I loved even more.
You see, I grew up with brothers. As a young girl I discovered that I really loved to pick on boys, make fun of them, and boss them around. Eventually I became really good at it, and now I get paid for it. Working here at Max Hayes is truly the perfect job."

...And they think I'm just kidding.

Thursday, October 07, 2004


My friends know that the "H-word" is rarely in my vocabulary.

I always find it easier to do things by long as I know what I'm doing.

However, I am smart enough to recognize my limitations. I know when I need help.

My city has a problem, and my school has a problem. I have an idea but no experience, so... Here it is:

Cleveland needs to build a skilled workforce in order for it to maintain or attract business. The mission of Max Hayes High School is to build a skilled workforce. We have been working very hard to develop new programs, and raise academic acheivement levels.

This year, the district is broke. By now you are all familiar with the stories. Fewer teachers, bigger classes, no money for textbooks, materials, transportation, substitutes, field trips. You name it, we don't have it.
To fix the problem,the district is running a levy in November, pinning all of their hopes on an issue that begs more money from the poorest population in America, the residents of Cleveland. I recall an old saying my grandfather usd to say, "You can't get blood from a turnip".

So what will happen to the great programs we've begun at Max Hayes without the money to sustain them?
Hmmm...How does the private sector solve this problem?
They raise the money.

I've been to many benefits for various arts organizations and charities. These organizations seek patrons and ask for support. Why can't we do that at Max Hayes? The Cleveland School of the Arts does it.

What if we could get financial help from the corporate, business, and manufacturing community?

I've decided I would like to organize an event or benefit which would taget the business community and raise money for tools in the shops and materials for academic classes.
We desparately need money for things like nails and lumber in the construction classes, and gas and metal for welding. Money is needed to replace broken tools, and pay for paper and copying. We also need to replace missing textbooks that cost $60-$100 apiece.

Trouble is, I've never done anything like this before, and I could use some advice.
If any of you have some experience with event planning, or know someone who does, and wouldn't mind spending a little time sharing your expertise, let me know. I am sure the community would support a fundraiser like this, and I really want to do it right.
Any suggestions?

Thanks Jay

I would like to publicly thank Jay Miller for the article he wrote about me in Crain's Cleveland Business.

I was so surprised. Jay, I thought that after we spoke, you would just use the information I gave you to support a story about the financial crisis the school district is facing, I would never guess you would mention me personally. I am beyond flattered.

My boss copied the article and passed it out to the staff. What a nice pat on the back.

Thanks again Jay.

Monday, October 04, 2004


"I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be honorable, to be compassionate. It is, after all, to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made a difference you have lived at all."

Leo Rosten

"Keep in mind that the true meaning of an individual is in how he treats a person who can do him absolutely no good."

Ann Landers

"Kindness is never wasted. If it has no effect on the recipient, at least it benefits the bestower."

S.H. Simmons

It's easy to like the quiet kids. I'm inspired by the smart kids. The funny kids and the friendly kids are irresistable.
But in the microcosmic sample of the world that is my classroom, I also teach mean, stupid, loud, and creepy kids. My first instinct is to recoil.

Then I pause, as my mind listens to the quiet voice of my mother, a Cleveland teacher in the 1950's; "The children who are the hardest to love, are the ones who need love the most."
So many of my students live their lives in survival mode. For some of them, nasty is all they have ever known.
It must be difficult, nearly impossible, to be kind if you are rarely treated with kindness.

So I take a deep breath, quickly pray for fortitude, and try to model compasssion.
Even if the student never appreciates, or even notices my efforts, I will at least look upon them as helping to build MY character.
Thanks Mom.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

A New Year

Last night I was out until the very early hours of this morning with a group of friends, celebrating the end of one successful year of very positive changes and accomplishments. This morning, I am taking a little time to set some 12 month goals, both professional and personal.

As a teacher I have spent my life planning, writing out goals, forming measurable objectves, aligning activities, and developing pacing charts. It wasn't until recently that I saw the correlation between my classes and my life.
Hey, if I can use my organizational and planning skills to effect positive change in the lives of one hundred and seventy teenagers each year, what could happen if I applied those same learning tools to my own life?

Lo and behold! Those parts of my life that for so long existed only in chaos, began taking a direction. In areas where I had been merely a participant, I gained control.

Birthdays used to be a date to bemoan the fact that I was not as young as I used to be. Now they have taken on a new signifigance.
October 3rd has become like the first day of school. Today, I begin a new twelve month cycle of learning and accomplisments.

I look out of my window and see the sun is shining in a cloudless sky.
In Cleveland, Ohio; that is a very good omen.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Growing a Workforce

A few of my students had completed the day's exercise on light, shadow, and geometric forms. As I walked around the room checking the work, one of my bright ninth grade girls, looked up at me and said,

"Hey do you want to see the homework I finished for my MEMS class tonight?"

"Of course."

"What's a MEMS class?" a boy at the table asked.

"It's a class Ms Matthews told me about. It teaches us about Microsystems, tiny little parts for computers."

"Night school? With homework? You fail something?"

"No, you idiot! It's about learning something new so I can get a good job, and it's really cool. They're even going to give me $75 dollars to pay for the bus to get there. My mom drives me though, and she's going to let me keep the money."

"Ms Matthews, I want to be in MEMS" the boy at the table pleaded.

"Keep talking to Shenandoah. She can tell you when the next session will be starting."

The smile that started on my face was spreading through my entire being.

I just wish that Bob Schmidt, Colin Drummond, and Fred Lisy could have seen the excitement on Shenandoah's face, and heard the pride in her voice. I wish they could see the interest on the faces of her classmates. These men are not only growing a specialized workforce for their companies right here in Cleveland, but they are changing lives. Three of my students are attending the fall session of the Microsystems Academy.

This is a group of business entrepreneurs who GET IT. They see and understand the connection between education and the economy in Cleveland. They have identified a gap, and figured out a way to fill it so that everybody wins. Hopefully more businesses will follow their lead.