If you hear someone knocking, it's me. I'm knocking on wood to stay on the safe side of superstition. "Tap, tap."
The first quarter of the school year ended, and I have nothing to complain about. "Tap, tap, tap."
My students this year, for the most part, are all great kids. They come to class prepared to work, participate in discussions, do their projects, and have no real behavior problems. Some of them are even pretty talented. This all makes for a great learning environment. Unfortunately, a quiet classroom full of kids studying the proportions of the human face, and working on their drawing assignments, like they are this week, is just not that darned exciting. And it's not why people read my blog.
Mostly people respond to the stories of struggle, hardship, and violence; the stories that affirm the reputation of the urban high school as a "blackboard jungle".
So far this year my classes at Max Hayes do not even come close to that stereo-type. We are not participants or victims of the oft imagined black hole of ignorance, draining tax-payers dollars.
In my classes we have been practicing skills and learning new techniques, we critique our work, we discuss art as communication, and artists as collaborators. A student who writes poetry is working with a student in the machine shop to create a sculpture of lucite panels, engraved with passages from her poems about adolescent pain and desperation. Several of my students, who are also welders, are fabricating steel towers of geometric forms, and my students who are studying the building trades are sanding down old school chairs and stools to recycle as decorative furniture, and building display cases for Mexican "day of the dead" or "dia de los muertos" dioramas.
Yes, the school building remains shabby, and the heaters are only functioning sporadically. A few mornings this week several of the kids donned the crocheted wool afghans that I keep in the classroom for the days when the wind blows through the gaps in the windows and the temperature hovers around 50 degrees indoors. Nothing much has changed over the past few years in that regard.
As for my thoughts on our new superintendent: He seems to be making an effort to connect with the community, and he also seems to be paying attention to their concerns, as "Customer Service" has been a recurring theme for all employee directives so far this year. Continuing to listen seriously to the students, parents, and teachers, those on the front lines of public education, will certainly bring to light the real issues and perhaps even elicit new solutions to the myriad problems faced by our troubled schools. For too long the agenda has been controlled by the politicians, the pundits, and the PhD's of academia, whose connections to the classroom were tenuous, at best. I hope this grassroots approach to problem solving continues, since the status quo approach of having the community's needs presumed by the administrative hierarchy has failed miserably.
Perhaps the superintendent should start a blog, then he could really get some helpful feed back from the citizens of Cleveland.