Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Teacha Fashionista

"Oh my God! That is heinous!"

I shook my head as Susan grinned and held up a sweatshirt bedecked with sequined turkeys and pilgrims. The racks at Kaufmans held shirts, sweaters, jackets and vests seasonal decorated with appliques ranging from autumn leaves and conucopias, to ghosts and jack-o-lanterns, to candy canes and reindeer. Each one tackier than the next, and every one over-priced.

"Who wears this stuff?" she laughed.

"You will." I smirked. "I'm buying you that one for your birthday."

"Then, you're getting this one for Christmas."
Susan pushed aside several garments to reveal a Santa in swimtrunks and sunglasses stitched to a sweater. "You know, they make these things especially for teachers. You are the target customers...Look! She pulled out a knit vest decorated with apples.

My jaw dropped. She was right. Her statement evoked the images of my colleagues gathered in the teachers lounge in holiday attire. ANY holiday, EVERY holiday. Ties and T-shirts, jumpers and jewelry. Even shoes. Teachers take to theme-dressing like bloggers to snarking...Both are distracting and keep us from being taken seriously.

I recall a former co-worker whose attire rivaled that of the "Mimi" character on the Drew Carey show. Her September wardrobe featured pencil earrings, chalkboard brooches, and "A,B,C" "1,2,3" tights. October was resplendent with witches and scarecrows. In December, I can remember being amazed by a headband with antlers and a necklace of flashing Christmas lights. I would walk away from conversations and not be able to recall what we discussed because, I couldn't keep my eyes off of her outfits.

Every now and again I hear talk from administrators and board members about instituting teacher dress codes, and the occasional comment about having a uniform for faculty members. They should keep in mind the effect that would have on stores that deal in seasonal attire. Without the teachers, they would loose their customer base and I'm certain those places would go out of business.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

It's Back! Max S. Hayes Adult Evening Class: Welding for Artists

"I always wanted to learn how to do that."

Two years ago I came up with an idea to offer an evening class to artists (or anyone else) who always wanted to learn how to weld, but didn't want to make a career out of it. I had a number of artist/sculptor friends who were envious of my access to the shops and the technical expertise.
I asked Ron Herman, the welding instructor for the adult job-training program, if it was do-able. He said, sure, he'd like to teach the class, but I would have to get it okayed by the administration.
Several months of badgering got us the 'go-ahead', and that winter the first class of ten artists donned leather coats, gloves, and helmets, and learned to create new objects with metal and fire. The class consisted of men and women from three counties, all art professionals, working in museums, colleges, schools, and public art. They became friends, sharing their phone numbers and portfolios.

Changes in the administration created confusion the next semester, and I threw up my hands in disgust.

"Why do I bother? I set up a great program, and the know-it-alls come in and screw it up. I don't get paid extra to do their jobs or make them look good. I guess since innovation isn't in my contract I'm not gonna do anything extra. Who needs the aggravation? I give up."

This summer I met Jacqueline Comeaux, the new Director of Adult Education at CMSD. She said she had heard about the 'Welding For Artists' class that I'd initiated, and she would like to give it another shot. Her enthusiasm and vision won me over.

So, ladies and gentlemen, once again we'd like to offer you the chance to learn a hot new skill:

Welding for Artists

This is a class for adult artists interested in expanding their repertoire of sculptural skills to include welding technology. Learn the basics of oxyacetylene welding, cutting, MIG, and TIG, with an emphasis on safety.

This class is also ideal for any adult welders interested in learning advanced welding techniques.

Course begins: October 17, 2005 - November 2, 2005
Class schedule: Mondays & Wednesdays 6:00 - 8:00 pm
Tuition: $300 (Includes use of tools and supplies.)

*Returning students receive $100 discount when using own equipment

Max S. Hayes Adult Training Center4600 Detroit Avenue - Cleveland, Ohio 44102
For more Information Call:
(216) 634-2157

Register in Person:September 27th & 28th 3:30 - 7:00 pm
October 4th & 5th 3:30 - 7:00 pm
October 11th & 12th 3:30 - 7:00 pm
October 17th, 18th & 19th 3:30 - 7:00 pm

Tuition payment is due at time of registration.
Payment plans are available

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Making a Case for Technical Education

Today I recieved this comment on Monday's post:

catfood said...
I'm a bit torn on this point, MB. I believe that students need skills that will get them jobs. But I'm also a liberal arts snob, and I believe that everyone needs general, primary knowledge of the world--including arts, sciences, and social sciences. So when someone says we need a better workforce coming out of our public schools, part of me goes eeeewwww... why don't we aim for a better/smarter populace and let the jobs take care of themselves?

I'm not sure that's been tried.
I guess he got me going.
I am posting my response.

My dear catfood,

We need both; the liberal arts and career/technical training. We can't neglect one for the other. There is no one-size-fits-all education style. The college prep track just doesn't work for everybody. It is presumptuous to assume everyone should want or need that type of education.
Who is going to build, maintain, and make all your stuff unless we train people to do it?
Oh...that's right...the Chinese.

Friday afternoon I listened to economic futurist and author Watts Wacker speak at Tri-C Corporate College. He cautioned us (Americans) to wake up and pay attention to China. The Chinese have certainly been paying attention to us, and they have learned a lot. China learned how to make stuff.
First they made it cheap, then they made it well, and now they are investing in automation for manufacturing and training workers to use it. They are taking our jobs. They are eating our lunches. (And by the way, today 400 million Chinese speak English.)

The jobs here aren't taking care of themselves.
The manufacturing industry in the United States is desperate for skilled workers. Thousands of high tech manufacturing jobs in Ohio are going unfilled. Non-automated factories are closing their doors because they can't compete globally, and they won't invest in the new technology because they can't find the people to run it. Young people aren't encouraged to go into manufacturing.
Training programs have few students.

The drop-out rate in our district is about 50%, somewhat improved from the 65% of two years ago, and the unthinkable 75% a few years before that. Although school administrators rejoice at the increased numbers of graduates, very little attention is paid to what happened to those who never finished high school.
50,000 families in Cleveland are headed by dropouts. We cannot attract companies to this city because such a large percentage of our workforce is uneducated and unskilled.

Cleveland's economy was built on manufacturing. It was the industrialists who built the universities as well as the arts and cultural institutions in this city.

We still have the infrastructure.
We can easily revitalize the manufacturing industry here by providing skilled workers trained in automation and robotics. With a skilled manufacturing workforce, existing companies will be able to invest in technology, increase production, and compete with offshore manufacturers.
A skilled workforce will also enable the city to lure big manufacturers here without tax abatements.

Today's manufacturing jobs are high paying. Higher paying jobs will allow Clevelanders to support the arts, send their children to college, play (not work) in casinos, and not have to shop at Wal-Mart.
(And maybe take a course in Chinese.)

Friday, September 23, 2005

Making Change: Election '05

The invitation was last minute.

"MaryBeth, we would like to invite you to attend a discussion this evening with the mayoral candidates at the Key Club, and could you bring several students?"

Sure. I hustled around to recruit a few interested upperclassmen. Lots of the kids said they would like to go, but most of them had jobs after school. 5:00-8:00 PM are the prime working hours for high school students. I got four "maybe's".
I sat close to the door in the club meeting room to keep watch. None of my kids showed up. Too bad.
A few of the students had expressed an interest in politics. It would have been a good experience for them.

Listening to the candidates answer questions about personal thoughts and feelings, as opposed to promoting or defending their stand on the issues, presented a very different view of the personalities running for mayor. I found myself sizing them up in the same way that I look at a class full of new students.

Seated in front of me were seven leaders, seven different dispositions, seven different attitudes, seven different competencies, and seven different personal styles. While some came across as friendly and engaging, others appeared aloof, one was even angry and combative. It was easy to see who was self-absorbed, who had creative vision, who truly listened to what others were saying, who had tunnel vision, who was laid back, who was obsessive, and who needed their medication adjusted. It was interesting to see how they related with one another. Who smiled or exchanged words, and who ignored whom.

Missing from the group last night was Frank Jackson, a man I would have liked to have seen interact with this group and respond to these personal types of questions. Of all the candidates, he always came across as the most guarded in public. Seeing how he stands a decent chance of becoming my next boss, it would have been nice to be able to scrutinize him along with the others.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Educated Workforce = Economic Development

I stood in the campaign headquarters of Cleveland mayoral candidate David Lynch this past Friday, before a press conference he was holding to discuss his platform on education. I don't live in Cleveland, I can't vote for Cleveland issues, but I work here, I teach kids here, and am very much affected by the politics of the city. Cleveland's next mayor will be my boss.
I respect David for making education a primary topic in his candidacy.

For too long the city schools have been like the crazy relative the family doesn't like to talk about.
The problems seem so huge...insurmountable...embarrassing...our politicians would much rather talk about the exciting, do-able, project oriented topics. Lakefront development, convention centers, casinos, new shopping centers, arts and cultural attractions.
Creating new spaces and places is much more exciting than figuring out why 50 percent of Cleveland's students drop out of school, and how we can employ this huge demographic without high school diplomas.

Instead of fiddling with the numbers to change the city's status as the poverty leader, then rejoicing that another city has taken the lead, someone needs to take the bull by the horns and figure out how to create a workforce in this city that is educated enough to attract companies.
Tax exemptions didn't lure Toyota to Toronto, skilled workers did. Do companies want to locate in a city where 50,000 families are headed by someone who dropped out of high school?

Education reform and building a skilled workforce need to be this city's top priorities. The candidates need to concentrate on the following issues:
1. Lead abatement. The city of Cleveland has one of the highest concentrations of children with lead poisoning in any urban area. Lead poisoning leads to mental retardation. About 38% of the CMSD student population are identified as special needs. Anyone see a correlation here?
2. Improved discipline and learning in the classroom. New school funding strategies are essential to accomplish these goals.
3. Job training and adult education programs that will address the needs of the current population of city residents who are lacking the skills needed to pull themselves out of poverty.

Without education there can be no economic development. An uneducated population cannot sustain itself. When city leaders finally realize this and make educating Cleveland a primary focus, only then will we see jobs return to the city.


"Oooo...Somebody was HATIN'!"

The students were crowded around the window, looking across the street.
Parked in the driveway, just outside the garage of one of the expensive townhouses on Tillman Avenue overlooking the lake, was a black Hummer. With Krylon yellow spray paint on the passenger side, a message was scrawled in big angry letters, "FUCK YR MONEY".
The painter attacked the back of the vehicle, and the driver's side as well, with spattered lines and swirls of yellow.

"Who do you think did that? Someone from school?"

"Naw. That's a relationship pay-back."

"He made somebody pretty mad."

"It's kinda funny, actually."

"Somehow, I just can't feel sorry for the guy."

...Somehow, I can't either.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Don't be Boring

"Geeze, that kid is as smart as he looks." I muttered.

The heat and humidity were starting to get to me, eroding my patience for the goofy antics of teenaged boys.

My intern, from Cleveland State, looked across the room to where the lanky kid with the towel draped on top of his head plopped himself down on the table's edge, making faces at his classmate, who had nearly busted him upside his dome during the new teacher's lecture on shading geometric forms.

"Sit in the chair please!"
My voice reflected the testy attitude that accompanied the emerging half-headache.

"So what started the problem?" he asked.


The bewildered look on his face begged a better explaination.

"Our friend was trying to be funny. He gave a two-finger smack to the back of Vonne's head. No reason. Just out of the blue. He was bored. It nearly became a fight over nothing."

"So, how did you deal with it?"

I had solved the problem in the hallway, out of sight and earshot of my intern and the rest of the class. He was eager to hear a first-hand accounting of my classroom management skills in action.

"I had them look me in the eye, stand up straight, explain the problem, then go back in and sit down on different sides of the room. No big deal."

I sometimes forget how tricky and psychological all this stuff looks to the novice. New teachers tend to overreact to some things, and not respond quickly enough to others. Behavior management in the classroom is now so second nature to me, I really have to think hard about what it is I do exactly to make things run smoothly. Knowing what bores kids and figuring out how to keep wandering minds on track, I discovered, is much more important than knowing how to break up a skirmish. These are the things best learned through experience, however.

More difficult for me is this student teacher mentoring. Critiquing without discouraging is really tricky. I'm not very good at taking critisism, so I am very cautious when I have to point out other people's shortcomings.
Perhaps I should talk about the absolute necessity of using humor in a lecture...It's better than saying "Don't be boring."

Monday, September 12, 2005

Where've You Been?

"Hey! How are you?" The seventeen year old's face peeked around the corner of the doorway with a grin that began on his lips, and shone through his eyes.

"Great. Where've you been? I thought you might have left. I haven't seen you around."

Tossing a sketchbook on my desk, and ignoring my question he said, "Look at these."

Ten pages of sketches...Street characters, names, designs, tags...All done in that hybrid urban style of hip-hop/Latino artwork, part graffiti, born on the street, carefully studied, practiced and refined.

"These are wonderful. You were busy drawing this summer I see."

"Yeah, I couldn't do much else. I spent a lot of time in the hospital."


"The doctors think I might have stomach cancer. They say I have strange bile. They keep shoving these cameras in me. I have to get one shoved down my throat today after school. I haven't eaten all day..I'm starving."


Some days this job is really hard.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

City Kids at the City Club

This past Tuesday I was invited to bring three students from Max Hayes to a luncheon at the Cleveland City Club sponsored by the Cleveland Excellence Round Table. The featured guest speaker was Rebecca Ryan from Next Generation Consulting, who has just recently concluded a project in Akron focused on attracting and retaining young creative talent. The room was filled with leaders from Cleveland's civic and business comunities. We were the only high school invited.

Senior students, Tabatha Knight, Joella Blount, and Quadre Nichols are all bright young minds with leadership abilities. I felt this luncheon would be a valuable opportunity for them to experience a social setting outside their normal sphere. Mingling with civic leaders would help them see the possibilities they have to make a difference in their world. These are the kind of experiences that can influence the choices they make as they plan their futures. The gap between those with political influence, and the average citizen is not as impossible to bridge as it might first appear.

I've had a problem over the past several years with the media's discussion of brain drain, and brain gain.
Cleveland is busily trying to attract new bright young people, the new
creative class, to our freshly gentrified neighborhoods, while we neglect
our own children. I believe we need to grow our future, not lure it here.

Tabatha, an outspoken sixteen year old, with a mind as sharp as her tongue, listened to the discussion during lunch which focused on economic development strategies that would bring business and educated young people to the city. I could see her becoming uneasy. She leaned over the table and whispered to me.

"I'm going to make a comment."

"Good for you. Go ahead."

She raised her hand, and stared at the people around the room.

"Everyone here is talking about businesses and colleges in Cleveland, and how they are going to save the city, but not one person has mentioned the schools...the middle schools, elementary schools, and high schools, in Cleveland. Nobody is talking about them. They are terrible. They are run down, we have no books, we are losing our teachers. We need education. How can you plan to change the city and forget the schools?"

A few of the civic leaders in attendance responded by blaming the state system of school funding for the problems of the city schools.

"None of them has the answer." she whispered to me again.

Maybe the solutions will one day come from the people who have experienced the problems.
Nobody else really seems to understand.