Monday, November 16, 2009


It is November in Cleveland. Already.
A few short weeks ago the world was brilliant with the blazing hues of maple, ash, and oak trees, transforming the shady side-streets of quiet city neighborhoods into festive pathways of scarlet, gold, and orange. The sky was blue and the air was crisp. The excitement of a new school year and a fresh start held forth the promise that anything was possible.
And now it is November.
The dark nights come early, and the timid mornings begin late. I look up at the skeletal branches of trees, then down to the brown leaves blowing across the gray asphalt. Gray has become the predominate color of the city; gray streets, gray buildings, gray sky, gray moods. The first quarter report cards have been sent home, and students who couldn't make the grade have been sent packing. The honeymoon of a new beginning is over, reality made her entrance, and the long haul has begun.
It has been a mad rush kind of school year for me thus far. In typical CMSD style, my student rosters continue to change, with two new boys added to my eleventh period class just this week. I have a full schedule teaching 6 periods a day, with one brand new course; a digital photography class.
After serving more than twenty years in the district, I was not surprised by the fact I would be teaching a class for which the school has no textbooks or equipment. So, for this first year, each student must bring in their own camera, and I stay a jump or two ahead of the kids, designing the projects and curriculum as the class progresses. This elective course is an experimental pilot, and I feel pretty good about the outcomes so far. We've been able to schedule several speakers and a couple of field trips. The staff from the educational non-profit, Facing History and Ourselves, has been extremely helpful in working with us to connect art with social justice issues, history, and photo journalism. The theme we decided on for the school year is "Finding Our Voices; Telling Our Stories". The class is currently working on Life Magazine style photo-essays dealing with neighborhood landmarks and community. I would like to find a public space, or neighborhood gallery, to exhibit the work in the spring. If anyone has a suggestion, please, please, let me know.
Contributing to my manic schedule this year are a couple of new responsibilities. I applied for, and was admitted to, the district's new PAR (Peer Assistance and Review) program. Two young teachers, from other buildings in the district, have been assigned as my "mentees". For a semester I will serve as their advisor. My task is to help them with the challenges that face so many teachers when they are beginning their careers. I get to spend time in their classrooms, listening, observing, and answering questions. Together we will talk, set goals, plan, and try new strategies. I wish there was a program like this around when I was a rookie. All of my lessons were learned the hard way.
The PAR program is a collaborative effort between the district administration and the Teachers Union to address the issues of teacher quality, retention, and professional development. It is relatively new to Cleveland, and is only being implemented in a few other school districts nationwide. I will share my thoughts on the effectiveness of the program (with respect to confidentiality ) in future posts.

street photography photos
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