Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Season of Love

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has the eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.

Saint Augustine.

I am rapidly becoming overwhelmed by the Christmas advertising blitz in their attempt to convince us that we need to spend lots of money to show our love. This year I am determined to devote less time to the the shallow materialism of the American holiday season. Instead I will focus more of my energy on the gifts that come from the heart.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Plain Dealer Article

Today's Cleveland Plain Dealer carried an article about the Max Hayes High School/Cleveland Soapbox Derby Sculpture project on the first page of the Metro section. Pictures too! Check it out!

Saturday, November 27, 2004


"One can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay, you haven't much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why sometimes I'd beleive as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Lewis Carrroll

There comes a time in a man's life when to get to where he has to go--if there are no doors or windows--he walks through a wall.

Bernard Malamud

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Parent-Teacher Conference

She was at her wits end.
The mother of three sons, one a high school drop out at the age of 19.
Her second son stood about ten feet away from his mother in the school office while the principal searched through the stack of report cards for her youngest boy's records.

"F's and D's" she fumed "F's and D's. I send you to school every day, and these are the grades you get? Look at all of these absences. Cutting classes? What are you doing when you cut? Where do you go? Are you hanging around with that girl with raggedy tennis shoes? "

The dejected young man stood silently eyes cast upon the ground.
The boy's younger brother was in my afternoon art class.
I introduced myself.

"This is kind of embarrassing isn't it?"

Glancing up quickly, the seventeen year olds face grimaced momentarily, and he scuffed his shoe against the tile floor.

Her voice softened.
"They have watched me struggle to support them. I got my GED. I go to Cleveland State at night. I want to get my master's. I try to be a good role model. Yet my son's ignore me. They come to school to play..to hook up with the girls. They cut classes, don't study, no homework. They think they know it all already. I'm ready to give up on them. I have a grandchild to raise now."

Turning again to the uncomfortable boy, I queried,
"Do you know how lucky you are?"

The look he shot me said "Are you crazy?"

"Look around this place tonight." I continued. "Only a handful of parents showed up to talk to the teachers tonight.. You mother came, because she cares. She's not here because she want's you to feel humiliated. Many of your classmates have parents who don't give a damn. They never set foot in this school. You mother is here. She want's desperately for you to grow up to be a good man. Your mom knows life is hard, but she's got your back. You're one of the lucky ones."

The mother's grateful face encouraged me to continue.

"We have excellent programs here, and teachers who want to help you, but nobody can force you to learn.
We want all of the students here to succeed. We can't do the work for you though. I get angry at the kids who say they never got anything out of this place, when they never put anything in. The desire must come from you.
I guarantee, if you walk up to any one of your teachers after class and ask them to help you, they will work with you. You have to be sincere. Nobody's going to chase you around to make sure you go to class and get your assignments done. You are responsible for yourself.
In another year or two there will be even fewer people around to help you."

"I'm afraid for you" whispered the boys mother.

I could see the tears beginning to well up in the young mans eyes as he looked past me into the face of his mother.

I nodded good-bye and turned to walk out of the office.

"Thank you." The mother reached over and touched my arm.

"I wish it were so easy." I thought.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

When the Student Outpaces the Teacher.

When the student outpaces the teacher, it can be confusing, disconcerting, or intimidating. Or sometimes, it can be downright exhilarating.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked my Art 2 class if anyone would like to volunteer to take a few pictures for me, documenting one of our projects. Two students raised their hands. I directed them to our technology specialist, who hooked the boys up with a couple of digital cameras.

My background in photography is very limited, a couple of college courses back in the day when 35mm's ruled. I have no real experience with the digital stuff. Looking at these new cameras, without a users guide was enough to drive me to distraction.

Once I set Chris and Joe loose with the cameras, marvelous things began to happen. Both boys had an innate sense of composition and an understanding of their subject matter. The picture that they took made you want to look at them more closely, repeatedly.
Joe knows how to make objects and landscapes tell a story. Chris can capture a narrative in the human face and form. Each day i send them out on a new mission with the cameras, and they come back to experiment with photo editing.

My regret is that I don't know enough to teach them anything.
What I do know, is how to find someone who can.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


Mea culpa, mea culpa.

I feel awful for neglecting my journal.
I cannot even give a good reason, like my computer crashed, or I was called out of town to attend to matters of health, wealth, or adventure. Truth is, I just didn't feel like writing...or even thinking too much for that matter.

Some really exciting things have been happening here at Max Hayes too, and I promise to fill you in.

But.....not right now...

I promise

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Project Update

My parents always taught me that I could do anything I wanted, and I always believed it to be true. Add a clear idea of what inspires you, dedicate your energies to it's pursuit, and there is no knowing what you can achieve, particulaly if others are inspired by your dream and offer their help.

Pete Goss


That tinge of doubt.
The little voice that whispers insidiously, "Something will go wrong."
Thank goodness my inner child grew up to be a smart-aleck teenager with an attitude.
As Doubt cautions, the Smart-aleck responds, palm raised and head turned away, "Whatever".

This week about 70 students in the building construction program worked with, and watched, as artist and contractors, masons and brick layers, began the first phase of construction at the entrance for Clevland's Soapbox Derby racetrack. So many people came together to make this happen.
....And the weather was good.
I can't stop smiling.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Who is Not Participating?

I am often guilty of distracted listening...Especially at meetings. I hear and focus on the speaker, but there are always so many other thoughts and ideas racing around in my mind. I can only describe this distraction as analogous to the "picture within a picture" feature on many television sets. Kind of a mental multi-tasking.

Today's meeting in the Peter B Lewis building at Case University was no different for me. Ed Morrison and Jack Ricchiuto were reviewing the agenda for a group of discussion moderators involved in REI's "Making Change" symposium scheduled for November 15th at the Ritz Carlton in Cleveland. The conference will discuss various issues affecting the revitalization of the economy in North East Ohio.
Jack had been reading aloud from a page of questions that we would be asking break-out group participants next Monday.

"Who is not participating in these (economic development) conversations, and why?"

Suddenly all of the screens in my mentalvision were flashing that same question.

Cleveland Municipal Schools are NOT participating in these discussions about Regional Economic Impact.
The question is: Why?

The public schools are recognized as THE key component to workforce development (or lack thereof) We are more than 6,000 employees serving more than 70,000 children in this country's most impoverished city. Yet I am the only Cleveland teacher I have ever seen at REI.
Again: Why?

The answer to this question should be enlightening.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The Voice

I finally had to replaced my defective cell phone.
Dropped calls and missing words had increased to the point where they'd become the norm, and a "No Service" message was now being displayed on my screen.
The technician at Verizon said he couldn't fix my phone, and told me it would cost $50 to replace it.

I was incredulous.

I had been waiting in line for about 20 minutes and the room was crowded with customers.

This poor, unwitting man was going to force me to pull out my secret weapon...The Teacher Voice.

With a smile on my lips, and a glare in my eyes, I stared at the man wearing the polo shirt with the company logo.
First,I assumed the attitude: Very calm.
Then,The Voice: Rather loud. Very firm.

"Let me understand this.
I am paying for your company's service.
This phone, which came with my service plan, through no fault of my own, stops working.
I am losing business calls, which I am still paying for through your service.
Now you want to charge me fifty dollars to replace my phone because you can't fix it."

I smiled sweetly, turned around and looked back at the room full of customers, waiting for service. They had fallen silent. All eyes were upon us. I turned to face the technician. My sweet smile broadened into a grin.

"Sir, I think I'm getting screwed."

Coughs and snickers replaced the silence in the room behind me.

"Excuse me." The man mumbled.
He immediately went into the back room and came out with a new phone...no charge.

Sometimes it's just so good to be me.

Friday, November 05, 2004

It may be that your purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others


Thursday, November 04, 2004

Death Knell

The mood in the teachers workroom was somewhat somber. I could easily compare it to that of a wake. Not the wake of a person suddenly cut down in the prime of life, rather like that of a long-ailing relative. The death knells, having been expected, were finally beginning to play.

No one really expected the school levy to pass, yet while it was on the ballot, there remained that sliver of hope. Today we look around at the bare bones of an educational system in the poorest city in the United States and wonder, what else can be cut? Rumor has it, hundreds more teachers will be laid off in the next couple of weeks. From where? Class sizes are already huge. We have had no money for supplies or materials or programs.

We understand how this happened, what we don't understand is why it continues. How can the rest of Ohio, the rest of the country continue to look away?

Is it because these 70,000 children are the children of the poor?

If their parents had been more ambitious, they would be in a suburban district.
If those parents would have stayed off of drugs, would have gotten a good education, would have kept a job, would have not gotten sick, would have married the fathers of their children...then they could send their kids to private schools. Then they could move away from Cleveland. Why should anyone who has worked hard to become successful have to support the children of those who did not?

We have been abandoned

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Joke of the Day

My son's friend Brandon told me this joke, which I then passed on to my students.
It is so corny, I know, but it made them laugh.
Yesterday I overheard the joke being retold as I plowed my way through the halls between classes.

What do you call a deer with no eyes?

I have no eye-deer

That's one of the things I love about high school; we are so simple.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Too Liberal?

I woke up in the middle of the night still mulling over the department chairs meeting of yesterday afternoon. The topic was clarifying the new attendance policy which was put in place by the discipline committee at our school this summer.
The new criteria disturbed me from the start, and now that it will be implemented I felt that I really must organize my thoughts and express my concerns.
Since I spent the last hour typing up this letter, I figured I would also post it here for my readers.
Sometimes I am afraid that my colleagues consider me too liberal in my views of education. I think I am simply applying common sense.
Let me know what you as former students, parents, and teachers think.

Re: Max Hayes new attendance policy

My understanding of the new attendance policy put in place by the discipline committee this summer is this:

Tardies in excess of 10 minutes equal an absence.
with a pass - excused absence
without a pass - unexcused absence
10 or more excused or unexcused absences a semester equals an automatic failure.

*Failures due to excused absences may be appealed.

I have some concerns.

According to this policy, a student could be 10 minutes late to class 10 times during a semester, (missing 100 minutes out of the 3,600 scheduled) earn an A (according to points earned on the grading scale for the class), yet get an F on his report card and have to make up the class in summer school or night school.
Another student might be absent for 9 days, (missing 360 minutes from that class) and pass the class, perhaps even also earning an A.

Now, of course, the grade may be appealed before a committee of the principal, school nurse, and UCC chair.
A time consuming process, but I'm sure in line with professional responsibilities. These appeal meetings will certainly be scheduled after school, so that the student will not be absent, yet again, from class.

My question is philosophical.

When we grade students using this attendance criteria, what exactly are we assessing?
I was under the impression that a grade was an assessment of learning.
The attendance and tardy records are intended to speak for themselves.

We require attendance to facilitate learning. If a student has learned despite poor attendance, should he be required to relearn the material in summer school or night school? (At a rather substantial financial cost to himself or his family)

What is the difference between an excused absence and an unexcused absence with this policy, other than allowing a student to appeal a failing grade, thus requiring the formation of an appeals committee?
(My personal observation is that our administration is already a bit overscheduled, but...I could be wrong)

The district policy is:
5 unexcused absences a year equals an automatic failure.
Excused absences are determined by parents and teachers. Individual teachers are entrusted to use their professional judgement to determine whether or not a student has exhibited sufficient learning in order to pass his or her specific course.

Max Hayes in the attempt to raise our standards, by disregarding excused absences, may have unwittingly instituted an attendance policy that may simply serve to raise our failure and dropout rates, as opposed to enhancing any real learning.
In addition, it places policy ahead of professional judgement.

My graduate coursework on Assessment in Education and Education Philosophy stressed the necessity that any policy set by a school must, first and foremost, advantage the child.
Is there any advantage to the child with this new attendance criteria?
I am hard pressed to see how this attendance criteria will result in more learning than the one that has been put in place by the district.

Can we change it now?
If it will help our students succeed, I think we should.

I do appreciate your comments.

Monday, November 01, 2004


Lord, make me so uncomfortable that I will do the very thing I fear.

Ruby Dee

The thing that we are used to is comfortable in it's familiarity. We are reluctant to let go, when we know that change will bring us face to face with...? What? ...Something different.

We can live with the constant dull ache, but when the ache becomes pain, we are moved to do something about it. Nothing will move us forward faster than pain.

My survival is dependent on making changes. Therefore, I need to anticipate the pain, welcome it's arrival, and quickly get past it. I simply cannot survive the status quo.