Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

Today I watched the Cleveland Heights Memorial Day parade make its way past my perch on the stairs outside the Rockefeller building.
As the police car drove past us at the tail end of the rather short procession, my friend, Susan, looked at me and asked,

"Where were the vetrans? There were no vetrans in this parade! Isn't there something wrong with a Memorial Day parade with no vetrans?."

There were plenty of politicians, boy scouts, girl scouts, old cars, and a couple marching bands, but no vetrans.
It was rather disturbing.

On Memorial Day we pay tribute to those who made the supreme sacrifice.
Many of us are familiar with these two poems from our high school Literature classes. They tugged at my heart with their timeless message when I first read them as a girl during the Vietnam War. The rising death tolls in Iraq and Afganistan remind me how little has changed.

"In Flanders Fields"

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing, fly.
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short day ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1919)


Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo
Shovel them under and let me work-
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work.

Carl Sandburg (1918)
"Nations have recently been led to borrow billions for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education. Probably no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both."

Abraham Flexner (1930)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

My Virgin Ears!

The bell rings for dismissal at 2:22. Moments later students begin streaming out of the building towards their cars or the bus stop. The horseplay begins in the hallways and makes it's way out into the parking lot. It is a typical day at the high school.
I had several visitors coming to the school that afternoon for a 2:30 meeting. As one of the women clicked down he hallway toward me in her low heeled pumps and polyblend suit, I couldn't help but notice her furrowed brow and tightly pursed lips.

"Hi, I'm glad you could make it. Is there something wrong?"

"That language! Such foul language! All that cursing. Those kids are just awful!"

Her words and tone, ironically, brought a smile to my face and a mental flashback to a parking lot thirty years ago.

I was a senior at Notre Dame Academy. Usually I rode home on the bus, but that day my mother came to pick me up after school. While she waited for me in the parking lot, a group of girls in preppie blazers and saddle shoes, came walking past her open car window, using profanities that would make a sailor blush. Mother was appalled...Her virgin ears defiled. I was treated to a lecture on the evils of vulgar language all the way home.

How does a teacher handle inappropriate language in high school?
Every teacher has their own style. Some give detentions, some deduct points, others are defeated. I like the honest approach.
At the beginning of the year when I initially discuss my expectations and class rules, I simply tell my students the truth.

"I love to swear. I consider it the most effective form of stress therapy. I cannot drive my car without it. Anyone who has ever been with me in rush hour traffic or the teachers lounge on a bad day will vouch for me.
However, because I respect you, I will make every effort to use appropriate language when I am speaking with anyone in this classroom. I expect the same from you."

Since taking this approach, I rarely have a problem with language in my classroom.

Teenagers understand that word "respect". They long for it. They will strive for it. In the relationships that they have with adults it ranks right up there at the top. They also understand that respect is a two way street. They will not give respect to anyone who does not respect them. (At least, not for long.)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

"You Can't Solve Their Problems by Throwing Money at Them"

The short, blonde haired woman was as loud as she was animated.
"Those kids have too many problems. The public schools can't begin to address their issues. You won't solve any of them by throwing money at the schools. Cleveland already spends more money per pupil than the suburban districts."

About six participants in the Case University's REI event at the Ritz Carlton Hotel stood around the professor from Cleveland State as he wrote notes upon the large pad of white paper hanging from the easel. The break-out group was supposed to be discussing ways that Cleveland State University might help to raise the graduation rate for the Cleveland schools. What ensued was a gripe session full of misconceptions about the school district. I was the only District employee in the group, and although I was the expert, each time I tried to offer an insight, I was interrupted with an arguement. It was soon obvious, some of these folks had no interest in the facts; what they were looking for were excuses. Excuses to justify doing nothing. Excuses to justify paying nothing.
Excuses are so much easier to make than progress.

I was still annoyed when I came home in the afternoon. I sat down at my computer to catch up on my mail and the news of the day. On a roll,I responded to a query in George Nemeth's blog, Brewed Fresh Daily

"No one wanted to pick up the race question...
Is that because it's not an issue?"

The race issue in Greater Cleveland has morphed. We have become a region of 'Haves' and 'Have-nots'.
The 'Haves' look upon the 'Have-nots' as society's baggage-- somehow responsible for their own plight. They are uncomfortable, if not fearful, in the neighborhoods of the poor. The children of the 'Have-nots' are overwhelmingly needy. "You can't solve their problems by throwing money at them." Besides, it is easier to build "Quality Places" than quality people

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Do I really Need More Problems?

" There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in it's hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts."

Richard Bach

I must be in need of many gifts. There has been no end to the problems that have cropped up this week.

The Soapbox Derby project is no longer on time to meet the June 25th dedication deadline, it will be runnning at least $5,000 over budget, and I have had to witness grown-ups, who claim to be professionals, behaving very badly.
Yelling, screaming, swearing, fingerpointing, lying, blaming, threatening, crying.

I am glad for my years of working with adolescents...I am used to emotional outbursts and over-reaction. I have been dealing with the blame-game for so long, that I can easily remove myself from the fray and look at the situation from the perspective of an observer. I've learned how to focus on the objective and find solutions. I try not to waste my time and energy by getting too worked up over disappointments. I don't take things personally. I've learned to let go.

This week has been stressful though. These artists! They are starting to make me crazy.

I find myself wondering whether the students are learning enough to make all the hard work worth my while. I'm not getting anything extra to put this project together. Maybe I should be like so many other teachers. Stick to the curriculum. No more public art. No more community collaboration. No more late nights. No more five hour meetings. No more working weekends. Just do the job I get paid for. There would be a lot less aggrevation.
And a lot less fun.

So I will try remember to look at the problems as opportunities, look at the emotional reactions as passion, and look at the dramatics as entertainment.

Now, if I can just find that $5,000 to finish up the stonework, I can regroup and start planning a dedication ceremony for the fall, and get to thinking about next year's big project.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Where are our Piorities?

Between teaching at Garrett Morgan School of Science in Ohio City, and Max Hayes High School in the Detroit Shoreway area, I've worked in this near westside neighborhood for more than fifteen years. My adopted "hood", I've explored it's sidewalks from W.25th Street and Lorain to W.65th and Detroit Avenue.
We are a part of 'Cool Cleveland'.
Expensive townhouses are beggining to gentrify blocks of the inner-city that, only a few years ago, were the domain of the dealer. The creative class moved in, displacing the desparate and disfunctional. When the infamous Jay Hotel finally closed it's doors, the community breathed a collective sigh of releif, and we all felt a little bit safer.
Fresh facades and familiarity provide a false sense of security.

The police blotter tells a different story. Thugs and perverts continue to troll for victims. Passengers waiting at bus stops and conveinience store clerks are easy marks. We keep our eyes open as we hurry to our cars after work.

Yesterday morning two adult males came into the school lobby and robbed one of the senoir boys. They were armed with guns, took the boys shoes and some other belongings (from what I heard) and immediately left the building. We haven't been told whether or not the police have arrested anyone, or even have any leads.
Before this week, I never felt unsafe here at school. There were always plenty of security guards and a police mini-station in the building. The crisis in school funding has forced the eliminaton of most of the security staff. Word on the street is we are easy pickins now...walk right in.

When will our officials pay attention? When will the community demand safe environments for our children? The community should be outraged, yet this incident didn't even merit a mention in the news. The media was too busy gushing over the new plans to rebuild the Flats entertainment district.
Brand new condominiums, stores and restaurants will replace the old bars and night clubs.
It was announced that public money will be needed for that project.

Hmmmm...I wonder who those hard-to-get tax dollars will go to first?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

"Well done is better than well said."

Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Soapbox Derby Update

Here is an update on the Max Hayes sculpture project. (Read first post

The project design was begun last spring, when local sculptor, Steven Tatar, came on board with the Max Hayes art students, to create an eye-catching entrance for the Cleveland Soapbox Derby park on the city's near-west side. It calls for two stainless steel race cars that will sit upon sandstone pillars, like trophys, on either side of the gate. A low 75 foot sandstone wall will run along the driveway, bearing the Cleveland Soapbox Derby sign cut out of stainless steel.
Ground-breaking began in November on the new entrance, located north of the Shoreway at the West 49th Street exit.

Unfortunately, not much progress was made after the initial footers were poured and the cinderblock laid.
Much to my frustration, fabrication was delayed for more than twelve weeks due to some design problems and other complications.
Thanks to the Cleveland Institute of Art, our cultural and fiduciary partner in the ICARE grant which funds this project, we are now working with nationally renouned scuptor Aimee MacNeel. Aimee, who chairs the Institute's sculpture department, came to our rescue with Mark and Derek, two of her graduating CIA students. They are providing us with the benefits of thier MIG and TIG welding skills, working along with the 2nd year Max Hayes welding students, in the shop.

The month of April was not kind to us at all, as late season snowstorms created additional delays for Anthony McCullah and the Bricklayers Union apprentice program. They had planned to come out and work at the 49th Street site in early April.
Now that spring is finally here, the crew has started facing the wall and pillars with Ashler sandstone, in a style reminiscent of the walls built by the WPA during the 1930's in Cleveland.

The dedication, however, will have to be delayed.
Originally scheduled for June 4th, it will now take place on Saturday, June 25th at 1:00 pm. This coincides with the local Soapbox Derby championship races running all day at the track.

So come on down to the park and check out the sculptures, watch the kids race, and take a good look at what can be accomplished by a collaboration of dedicated, creative, Clevelanders.
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Thomas Edison

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Hot-Room

If the head of a school is the principal, and the heart lies in it's teachers, the spirit is found in the students, then it's soul resides in the "hot room".

The "hot room" is where you find the boiler, that monster contraption which regulates the heat for the entire building. It is also the first place to go when you are looking for one of the custodial staff. For me, it is the best place to find an escape from the whirlwind insanity of 600 teenagers. The commradery of the hot room has a different vibe than any of the teacher workrooms or staff lounges. More grounded.
The school janitors and housekeeping staff have a different point of view than the folks in academia. They see the nuts and bolts of the building itself. They've been in every nook and cranny, the storerooms, the basements, even the sub-basements.They know what is going on in each teacher's classroom by what is left behind at the end of the day.

The custodial crew always has the inside scoop on the rest of the staff.
They walk the halls, they are in and out of teachers classrooms. Their presence working around the building is so taken for granted, they nearly become as invisable as the fly on the wall. They see things...they know stuff.
When I first came to Max Hayes, the cleaning ladies happily advised me who I should befriend, who was stuck-up, who was creepy, who was smart, who to stay away from. Good information then, and consistantly reliable over the past seven years. Even now, I will still go to the ladies when I want to catch-up on the scuttle-butt.

I learned very early on in my teaching career, the importance of befriending the custodians.
When my compressor for an air brush project blew out the circuits seven times in one week, the power was restored to my room immediately, with no scolding...just a few blonde jokes.
Extra soap and paper towels? No problem...just "Hey, didja hear the one about the dirty blonde?"
And when I got three flat tires in three months, parking next to the dumpster in the school parking lot, did I ever have to call Triple-A?
The custodians came to my rescue every time.

Tommy, a custodian at Max Hayes, has been with the Cleveland School District for well over thirty years, and has finally decided to retire. The year of the three flat tires, I promised Tommy a trip to the Cheesecake Factory at Legacy Village, so I could thank him for his help and patience with me. For one reason or another, I never got around to scheduling that cup of coffee and desert.
Long overdue, and facing a deadline, I brought up my debt as we sat around the table in the hot room yesterday afternoon. Come June, I will finally redeem my reputation as a dead-beat squelcher.
I'm sure they've been talkin' about me.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


"How many more days of school do we have left?"

I looked at my calander and counted. "Hmmm... twenty-two."

"That's not very many." The 19 year old stared down at his drawing.

"You don't sound too enthusiastic. Aren't you excited?"

The young man's gaze shifted somewhere off into space. "I'm not going to graduate this year. I'm working, but can't afford night school. I probably won't be able to pay for summer school either. Too many bills, I have no money left."

"So are you coming back in the fall?"

"I want to graduate. I hate my job. I'd like to go to college...commercial art...something creative." he sighed. "I wish I didn't cut so many classes when I was younger. You don't think about how much it's going to cost later on when you're out of your mom's house, and have pay for everything by yourself."

"You will probably have to go to Extension High School. Since you're over 18, they won't let you come back here."

"Maybe I should just quit school. I feel like I've already messed up my life, and I'm not even old enough to buy beer." He shook his head. "You know, people kept telling me when I was a kid that I could do anything I wanted with my life, that I could achieve great anyone whatever I wanted. They made it sound easy, so I didn't think I would have to try very hard. I didn't realize you had to work at it. I blew my chance."

"It's really not as bad as all that. Don't think of it as blowing your chance. Look at it as learning a lesson. There are always more chances. The adult classes are full of people who are in the same boat with you." I tried encouragement, but he seemed intent on self-pity.

"No one in my family ever graduated from high school. Maybe I am destined to be a loser..."

"Stop whining. There are millions, maybe even billions of people in this world who would gladly trade your life for theirs. You can read and write, you are very creative, you live in a country where opportunities are available for those who pursue them, you are healthy and good looking. You have many gifts, but it is up to you to use them." I was beginning to get a bit impatient. This was a kid who had a lot going for him despite his current circumstances.

He sensed my changing attitude. "I don't know how! I don't know anyone who can help me."

"I think you do." He smiled, and I added. "Go down to guidance, find out what you need to graduate, and Monday we will make a few phone calls.

The bell rang to signal the next class. Saved by the bell, my young friend smiled. "Have a good weekend."

Once again we address the old question, "Is the glass half full or is it half empty?" As always, it all depends on your perspective.