Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Max Hayes Blows Glass.

"I keep looking at your blog, and I see you haven't been writing."

"You know, I've been starting to go back into your archives to read some of your old stories, since there's nothing new."

"When are you going to post our pictures? You promised us you would put them online weeks ago."

Thank you my friends, students, and readers for gently nudging, reminding, and finally out and out nagging me. You make me feel wanted.
I've been neglecting this blog for more than a few weeks, and I beg your forgiveness, but honestly, I have been busy.

The school year is flying by, and the Max Hayes Art Club, especially, has been having a lot of fun this winter.
From paint to pastels to play-dough, my students experimented with new techniques for classic materials and also reacquainted themselves with a sticky medium from their not-so-distant childhoods.

But as much as the kids enjoyed working in the studio at school, the real highlight of the past month was our trip to The Glass Studio on Superior Avenue one cold afternoon in February.

For the second year in a row, glass artist Mike Zelenka invited interested art students to learn glass blowing at the studio where he works in Cleveland's Mid-Town neighborhood. For many years prior, Mike demonstrated the ancient craft to visitors at Hale Farm and Village. These days, he and his colleagues teach classes and create beautiful works of art at their facility behind the Tyler building at East 30th and Superior.

Mike became part of the Max Hayes family last year, when he took over the Phys. Ed. classes while the former instructor was on an extended leave of absence. An athlete a well as an artist, he also coaches the school's tennis team. Last year Mike raised money for the team with a silent auction of art glass which he and several other artists donated to the school.

The students watched in wide-eyed amazement as Mike dipped a long metal pipe into a pot of glowing molten glass, and proceeded to blow a bubble as thin as cellophane and fragile as soap, that shattered into a thousand pieces with the slightest touch.

The next red hot glob became a bowl as he showed the students how the glass responded to centrifugal force.

Blowing glass transcends the typical art lesson to become a fully integrated experience; combining physics and chemistry with creativity, visual problem solving, and aesthetics.

Each student in our small group was able to take a turn creating their own glass piece. Step by step, one at a time, Mike talked them through the process. By the end of our visit, five colorful paper weights were slowly cooling in the annealer.

People spend an awful lot of time in schools sitting through lectures, copying information, memorizing lists, and regurgitating facts... and after just a few short years, the majority of that information (or at least the stuff we don't need to use or think about) is forgotten, or sent to the brain's biological version of the cyber-trash bin and buried.

The learning that sticks with a person for a lifetime are often experiences outside the classroom, like those my students had at the Glass Studio this winter. It's kind of ironic, the things I volunteer to do on my own time will probably have a greater positive impact on my student's lives than the mandated curriculum I am hired to teach.

Experiential learning is by far the most effective learning method. The phrase is becoming my mantra.

Many thanks to the generous folks at the Superior Glass Studio for welcoming the Max Hayes Art Club, and a very heartfelt Thank You to Mike Zelenka for sharing his knowledge, skill, and passion.
The Cleveland arts community is the BEST!

Check the sidebar for a slide show of more pictures.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

The 200 Day School Year: Reactions From the Teachers' Lounge

Last night I listened to Dick Feagler and his Friends on WVIZ discuss Governor Strickland's education plan for the state of Ohio, slated to be piloted in the Cleveland Municipal Schools. When Mr Feagler asked his panel's opinion of the proposed 200 day school year, all of his highly educated guests nodded in agreement. "Of course it is a GREAT idea!" "Some other countries have school years even longer than 200 days." "Another month of school makes sense. We need to prepare Ohio's children to compete in a global economy." "It's about time. After all, the current 180 day school calendar is outdated, being based on the needs of last century's agrarian society."

I noticed none of his guests were teachers.

The view from the people who work on the frontlines of education was substantially different.

As I sat with a small group of colleagues eating lunch in the teachers' lounge the day after the governor's State of the State address, one of them asked, "So did you hear Strickland wants to add another 20 days to the school year?"

One of the guys, who had two kids in college smiled and said,"Another month of work will equal an additional month of pay, right?"

"That's great," commented a young teacher with only a few years in the district, "but where is the money coming from? The school board is already talking about the possibility of hundreds of teacher lay-offs."

"Maybe they don't intend to increase our salaries, just extend the calendar."

Another teacher asked "How about all of the new teachers with bachelors' degrees who need to get their masters' degree to keep their license? Without the summer semester, when will they have time to take classes?"

"And when will we be able to take all the coursework we need to meet the No Child Left Behind mandate to stay "Highly Qualified'? You know businesses pay their employees tuition to upgrade their qualifications. We teachers have always had to foot the bill ourselves, but at least we had the time to do it. Now it looks like we won't get the compensation or the time."

I added, "I'm assuming all of the folks on the Governor's committee who came up with this recommendation work in air conditioned offices in July and August."

The rest of the group laughed. "I'll bet they never had to spend a single day sweltering in a 95 degree office, let alone shut up for hours in close quarters with 30 sweaty, complaining kids, in a room with one door and windows that don't open. Do they even realize that most schools in Cleveland have no air conditioning (except for maybe the administrators' offices) and our classroom windows are nailed shut for security reasons?"

"The district doesn't even provide us with fans. Teachers who need a fan have to bring in their own. On hot days I need at least three in my classroom just to feel some circulation."

"You get a few students in the class whose families don't have washing machines in their homes...Phew! Some of the kids can get pretty ripe on a hot day. A lot of the kids from poor families don't wash their school clothes on a regular basis. I feel embarrassed for them."

"And sorry for the rest of us!"

"It figures...the suburbs have new buildings with air conditioning, but they want to pilot the 200 day calendar in the decrepit schools of Cleveland. The politicians want a 21st century education implemented in 20th century facilities, and there's no money to fund it. "

"But if we complain, we are perceived as lazy, greedy and incompetent."

"The headlines, of course, will read, 'Cleveland Teachers Union Against School Reform'. "

"Sometimes it seems like we are being set-up to look like the bad guys. Is this just a political ploy to make it appear as if the state is trying to do something about education, or is it a back-door attempt at union-busting?"

Sadly, I shook my head and sighed, "It's probably both."