Sunday, August 28, 2005

"What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, August 25, 2005

First Day of School "05-06"

"Did you miss me?"

"Miss you? Summer went by so fast, I hardly had time to miss you. But geeze... Come here... Stand next to me... Did you grow six inches in three months? I almost didn't recognize you walking down the hallway."

Devone's wide grin grew even wider. "I was wearing shorts the whole summer. I grew out of all my jeans. I needed to get new pants last week to come to school."

I unlocked the door to my classroom, and we walked into the room I'd been preparing since last Thursday. The furniture was dusted, new bulletin board displays were up, and books were placed back on the bookshelves.
Some things were still the same though. The windows still had the same bullet holes, broken Plexiglas was patched with the same duct tape, the same tiles were still missing from the floor and the ceiling, the speakers for the PA system were still broken, and the message "Stan sucks d--k" was still legible, scrawled in permanent marker repeatedly on several of the old oak tables and chairs.

The rest of the class slowly wandered into the room.

"You rearrainged the tables."

"Yeah. How do you like it?"

"It's okay...I don't like it when things change."

"It's easier for me to see what everybody is doing this way. You'll get used to it."

Of the twenty-nine students on my roster, only sixteen were in class. No surprise. For some reason I've never understood, a large percentage of Cleveland kids will not come to school before Labor Day, no matter when school officially starts.

Rather than review the syllabus, like teachers in suburban districts would on the first day of classes, I talked about the new programs we would be participating in this year; the extra curricular glass blowing classes, this year's new artist residencies, the new sculpture at the Soapbox Derby Park, and the Max Hayes/CIA video documentary project. Class rules, expectations, and the supply list will be covered when I have a majority of the class in attendance.

I hardly started talking when heads began flopping down on the table. Teenagers used to staying up until the wee hours of the morning and sleeping until mid-afternoon all summer, were having difficulty keeping their eyes open for an 8:00 AM class. When the bell rang to signal the end of the class period, fifteen students got up to leave. One freshly-shorn head remained, eyes closed, face squished against Formica. I tapped him on the shoulder.

"Bell rang. Time to go."

His eyes popped open. The boy stood up, and looked around in temporary confusion.

"Do you know where your second period class is?"

He pulled the crumpled schedule from his pocket, stared for a moment and hurried out the door. I set my hand down on the table where he had been sitting. An audible little shriek escaped from my mouth.

"Oh shit!"

I ran to the sink, pumped a palmful of antibacterial soap, and began to scrub. I grabbed a spray bottle of disinfectant and a paper towel and walked across the room to clean up a six inch puddle of drool from the table top while the next group of students walked through the door.

"Did you miss me?"

"Miss you? Summer went by so fast, I hardly had time to miss you."

Monday, August 22, 2005

Children First

Didja ever wonder, while walking through a school building on a hot muggy day, why the only air conditioned rooms in the building are the ones where adults spend the day...usually only one or two of them at a given time, and the rooms where thirty -forty children are crammed into tiny uncomfortable desks get no air conditioning, and often the windows don't open either. Why is it too expensive to air condition classrooms, but not administrative offices, or libraries, or community centers,or or city hall, or state and federal government buildings? What happened to "Children First"? Oh I remember, kids don't vote.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Tipping Point

You have to be tough to walk the halls of a public school in the city of Cleveland.

Overwhelming for the sheltered, sensitive, suburban adult; the masses of teenagers who pour out of classrooms at the sound of a bell, can offend every sense.
From the acrid stench of hormonal armpits and post-lunch methane emissions, to physical bumping and jostling from the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd moving to the next class, the easily offended are immediately repulsed. The F-bomb, often accompanied by a "mother" is used as adjective, verb, noun, and pronoun; in friendly greetings and menacing threats.

Those of us who choose to work with adolescents, develop a coat of emotional armor out of necessity. Our thick skin helps us to survive the highly charged atmosphere. The veteran of the urban classroom often appears unflappable. But every once in a while a chink appears in the protective coat, and something gets to you.

A number of years ago, I was teaching at a 6-12th grade magnet school. One afternoon, during class change, the halls were typically flooded with students. A social studies teacher stood by her classroom door laughing with a colleague, when she was rudely shoved by a skinny 11 year old sixth grader.

"Get the f-ck out of my way, you f-cking, fat, white, b-tch."

Her jovial face filled with rage, and spinning around, she pinned the nasty child up against the ceramic block wall and hissed.

"Don't you me FAT!"

She backed away, and the terrified boy hurried off to his next class, having learned a very important lesson.

There are some things you never say to a woman.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Where Do We Go From Here?

"There must be changes in the direction of the school system, and we need input. We need suggestions."
Cleveland School Board member, Louise Dempsey spoke earnestly yesterday, as we stood talking an a small group after a luncheon downtown.

"Oh, I have plenty of ideas."

"I knew you would!" She smiled.

"First," I said, "communication needs to be made a priority. The district administration is inaccessible. It is daunting for school employees to get their questions answered, let alone someone from the general public."

The smile became a laugh. "Your right. You can't even get people there to pick up their phones."

"And when your call goes to the voicemail system, the mailboxes are always full." I added. "E-mails don't get answered either in a lot of cases. Is it any wonder Clevelanders have so little confidence in this administration? They are inaccessible. The public feels alienated."

Earlier, at lunch, Scott Rourke from One Cleveland spoke about the need for connectivity amongst various institutions, businesses, and organizations in Cleveland. Technology can facilitate the exchange of information, but real solutions and innovation can only come about when people are engaged in face to face conversation.

It is encouraging to see the young business leaders of Cleveland espousing this new philosophy of social networking, rejecting the "silo" mentality the city has been locked into for decades. Educators should take a cue from the business community. We need to change if we are going to survive, and the first step must be open communication...The walls need to come down.

The community feels disconnected from the school district. They see schools as places to send their children, not places where they feel welcomed. The hierarchy is intimidating, and the public doesn't trust what they can't get close to.
The administration tells the media things are changing for the better, but to the regular citizens in the neighborhoods, everything looks the same...Or worse.

Cleveland needs to find new ways to engage the community in the process of educating children. A good place to begin the process would be to start answering the phone.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Byrd-Bennett Resigns

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the superintendent of the Cleveland Municipal School District, announced her plan to resign the position today. She will be staying on only until a replacement is hired.

I always liked her, felt that she truly had the best interests of the students and teachers at heart, and am sorry to see her leave. I do feel she had few other options following the election Tuesday. Clevelander's vote of no confidence demanded a change in leadership, and she is graciously giving up the helm.

This places an even greater emphasis on education in the upcoming mayoral election. The candidates must include strategies for finding a new superintendent and administrative team, as well as the educational reform models that will be implemented.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

To the Citizens of Cleveland,

I understand.

You voted your wallets. $200/year makes a huge dent in the budget when you are struggling to pay the utilities, when the prices for everything from gasoline to cereal are on the rise. There is no economic savior on Cleveland's horizon either. Companies are moving out. Big employers are closing their doors.
As the old saying goes, "You can't squeeze blood from a turnip."

I understand.

Some voters were angry. They felt purposely neglected, so they responded...with a vengeance.

So I ask: Now what?
What do you want the schools to do?

You have a voice. You used it yesterday. You said "no".
Now keep talking. Tell us why.
Vent, rant, fume,...Then take a breath and begin the conversation.
"Now what?"
What are Clevelanders going to do about educating the children of this city? If you aren't willing to be a part of the solution, there will be no solution.