Another day, another 150 students

school-blog-1

Let me give you a little background for some of my upcoming blog posts. I’ll be writing about public schools on theoretical and practical levels. I may delve into issues of public policy, culture, unions, schedules, testing, and lunch at 10:30am. You’re probably thinking, “Did she get a degree in education?”

No.

I’m going into my 4th school year as a substitute teacher. (BTW, all the titles listed in our county library system with ‘substitute teacher,’ in them are for school-age readers and all allude to subs being evil, sinister, monstrous, or alien beings.)

I work at 3 area high schools and one middle school. They are all good schools. So my personal experiences come from being in classrooms with lots of resources and many of the kids from nice houses in the suburbs or rural areas. The racial makeup in the area is 94% white.

There is often a shortage of subs, sometimes called guest teachers, in the schools I work at. Much more so in the city schools. The hours are great. Pay is lousy. Assignments unpredictable. Much of it frustrating. How I got talked into this is for another post.

In case you are wondering what the qualifications are to be a substitute teacher in Michigan (and probably everywhere else), here they are:

  1. Have completed 2 years of college
  2. Have not been convicted of a felony

The unofficial qualification is to “show up.” Front desk women (yes, they are always women) are usually happy to see me lately. I thought it was because of good feedback and my charming personality, but it’s just because I always “show up.”

Step into a school building and you will be humbled many times in a day. And amazed almost as often.

 

This is the first post in an ongoing series on education issues.

I’m Back….with Some Random Observations

“Okay, cutting to the chase, not dead, back, big surprise, nevermind.”*

My list of favorite scriptwriters now includes Steven Moffat.

I was in church last Saturday night and the man across the aisle was wearing a gun. Apparently, the law here is that if you have a concealed carry permit, you can open carry in church. I did not know the man. I did not feel safer. I felt less safe and wondered what his worldview was that he felt he needed to bring his gun to Mass.

I know summer’s over because:

  • I see geese flying in V-formation
  • I saw my first branch of autumn leaves
  • My Jobulator app, after a quiet summer, has started sending out alerts for substitute teaching
  • I’m starting to think about things with pumpkin
  • I looked up when BCHS has home football games

IMG_1109

My gardenia tree has about 20 buds on it. Two less because of a squirrel that eats them as they start to open. I’m going to watch Caddyshack for ideas on vermin eradication.

If this is possible – I am a late bloomer who is ahead of my time.

Please don’t use these words around me: Hacks. Literally.

Point to ponder: “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” George Carlin

 

* Missy, in Dr. Who, Magician’s Apprentice.

How Wonderful is Pandora?

vinylrecordThe Pandora Music Station/App/Radio-like product is one of my new favorite things. I’ve been listening to it for a couple years now, but I’ve used it really for background sounds to set a mood. Maybe because it’s Spring Break and it’s snowing (grrr) and I’m waiting for the carpet cleaner, I’ve been checking out the genre stations. While you can’t select individual songs, you can certainly get close. Here are some random observations from this afternoon:

  • I miss Henry Mancini and Burt Bacharach.
  • How much fun Ferrante & Teicher must have had playing The Theme from Exodus.
  • Are there any optimistic songs written today that are as excited about the future as Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In?
  • Whenever I go to the ShowTunes station, Phantom of the Opera is ALWAYS playing.
  • They have music stations to go along with the cuisine you’re cooking.
  • When you set up a station to listen to a specific artist – you will never hear that artist on it.
  • They need a button that will prevent most of James Taylor and all of Pink Floyd from EVER being played on my selected stations.

Emptying My Bucket List

OK, I can cross this off now.

OK, I can cross this off now.

A bucket list is important in shaping what we strive for and reminds us of the variety of experiences that we might lose sight of as we go through the routine of daily life. We get excited when we find something we want to add to it and savor the ability to cross an item off as accomplished. I realized recently that my bucket list needed emptying.

It came innocently enough. Now, don’t sneer, but I have been a Barry Manilow fan since college. He did write some songs that resonated with me at the time. And mostly they cheered me up. Bandstand, It’s a Miracle, even the one with his jingles (Advertising major, remember). Although, if I never hear Copacabana again, that would be fine. Seeing Barry in a live performance was one of those items my bucket carried. So it’s his last concert tour and he’s stopping in my city. My last chance to see him and cross this off my list.

I decided it’s not important to me now.

I am starting my Shelf List.

A Shelf List is for the time in your life when you gasp at your upcoming birthday and have no idea how time passed so quickly. A Shelf List is a way to get things off the wish list and focus on what’s important to get done. Not so much to experience or learn as to share, create, contribute. A time to realize that while it may be still possible to learn to tap dance, is it still a worthy pursuit?

Mr. Manilow is going on my shelf, along with running for a political office, and owning a vast collection of cute shoes. Things I no longer care about or realize it’s too late to really do anything with. Am I really going to read/re-read those books? Does anyone really care what’s on my feet?

Am I passionate about it? Will it help someone? Everything else goes up on the shelf and out of the way. I’ll leave those things for someone else to do.

The View From Here

IMG_0558It’s the Friday after Thanksgiving and I am avoiding stores. Shopping is stressful enough, and as a perpetually overstimulated introvert, I savor a day to recharge at home. It’s morning and still dark. I have the little white twinkle lights on because they make me smile and think of the millions of the same twinkle lights in the trees along Michigan Avenue. Living in an apartment again – and love it. The kitchen is perfect. The layout feels spacious. Possessions have been trimmed to the favorites. It’s quiet and peaceful here. As I look around, every item has a story. Drinking my Starbucks Morning Joe coffee, comfy in my favorite chair, I’m thankful for all I have and for everything, and everyone that have brought me to this place.

The rest of my day will be planning the next three weeks of classes until Christmas Break. I am teaching U.S History and World History high school classes this semester for a dear friend who had back surgery. (I told him it’s a good thing he teaches history because if he taught algebra, he’d be on his own!) It is a challenge that is taking almost all my waking hours and all my brain capacity. It is good. It is good to be challenged and learning everyday. Every night I’m up working until I stumble – really, stumble into bed. Every morning I’m up before my alarm goes off at 5am, ready for another day.

The one where I try to sum up my 2013

This was the year I regained my senses (at least sight and hearing), became a Catholic, and reconnected with high school classmates that I have not seen in 39 years.

That about sums it up.

The forbidden Wild Cheetos tree, the fruit of which, inspires Steelcase designers

The forbidden Wild Cheetos tree, the fruit of which, inspires Steelcase designers

Ok, if you insist, here are some details. First, the senses thing. The world had very quickly become dark and blurry in 2012. I went to see my new eye doctor (a BCHS grad) and had cataract surgery on both eyes before February. What an amazing procedure – but, I hate to think about the first person who had it, “You’re doing WHAT to my eyeball?”  I also developed some hearing problems that I didn’t take care of right away because I kinda liked having the world be not so loud. But, fixed that in the last couple weeks. I realized that I am more distracted by sounds than sights – hence, the beagle running through the house is OK, but his barking/howling bothers me.

 

Beagles, as a species, would be extinct if they weren't so cute.

Beagles, as a species, would be extinct if they weren’t so cute.

Second, it took a year for me to become an official Catholic, and I have so much more to learn. I love the Mass and have found comfort and power in the Rosary. I have met amazing people on my journey – Father Mel, Rhonda, Dan and Betty, Gene, and my sponsor, Linda (a BCHS classmate). I find that I love Ordinary Time. Perhaps I’m getting old, but I also appreciate vanilla ice cream, plain bagels with plain cream cheese, black coffee, plain chicken and rice, unflavored potato chips, simple dark chocolate. Ordinary – no frills.

And……I'm in!

And……I’m in!

Now, when I’m asked about my time on staff at an Evangelical megachurch, I can respond, “Well, I’m Catholic now,” and leave it at that. (It was the staff retreats at St. Mary’s Seminary that got me started if you want to know, not the shaming or the pressure to reinvent Christianity every week.)

Third, in a project that went way beyond what I had imagined, I started hunting down and meeting with members of my high school graduating class. I thought, with our 40th reunion looming, and with my returning from Chicago after several decades, what a great excuse to reconnect. Not everyone is on Facebook and not everyone has email.

It's good to have friends/classmates in high places.

It’s good to have friends/classmates in high places.

I found and talked to about 35 so far, out of a class of 109 graduates. We’ve had two small get-togethers and I started a newsletter. I’ve also been so impressed with the changes in my little hometown that I’ve been researching and writing about it (see my blog at www.cynthiahoppe.com).

The summer went by way too fast and I got too few walks on my beach.

Not my beach. Saugatuck, where we go when being around people is OK.

Not my beach. Saugatuck, where we go when being around people is OK.

I am discovering other county parks in the area (thanks to Bob, a BCHS classmate). And stay tuned (for those of you who know me at all, you better sit down) – as I start as a substitute teacher (there is, of course, a story). Yeah, just gonna drop that one there and wish you all a great 2014.

 

Mighty Fine Arts

When I was in high school, if the marching band could play “Rock Around the Clock” and not bump into each other – it was a good day. As the assistant director of the school play my junior and senior year (there was only one play a year) we had to do “something funny” or no one (parents, community) would come. Forget anything involving singing, dancing, crying, etc. I should not complain. If we didn’t put on “Harvey” my senior year, I wouldn’t have met my husband, I don’t think a teen crush on the asst. director could have prompted him to try out for, say, “Oklahoma”.

Jazz Drummer Ali Jackson working with BCHS students. Photo: Marc Townley

Jazz Drummer Ali Jackson working with BCHS students. Photo: Marc Townley

 

Recently, I went to Byron Center High School’s “Artastic”, billed as “A Holiday Celebration of the Arts in our School!” Let me toss out some statistics gleaned from the program. First – it was well over two hours of amazing art: singing, musicians in groups and solos, and videos. There were two acts; the first had 20 performance pieces and the second had 21. While there was overlap, here are the number of members in the performing groups:
BCHS Orchestra – 42
BCHS Wind Ensemble – 71
BCHS Jazz Lab – 27
BCHS Symphonic Band – 80
BCHS Jazz Band – 18
BCHS Jazz Orchestra – 24
Women’s Chorus – 27
Concert Choir – 36
Vocal Expressions -22
Advanced Jazz Combo – 5
Sixteen Strings – 4
BCHS String Quartet – 4
Brass Quintet – 6
BCHS Theatre – 4
BCHS Audio/Visual – 6

That’s 376 positions – probably over 300 kids! In 1974 terms – everyone in the sophomore, junior, and senior classes. Then there was no “jazz”, there were no strings, there was certainly no “theatre”. We had a “play” and had a small marching band that occasionally performed sitting on folding chairs in the gymnasium.

One thing that struck me about these kids was how well they performed as a group, especially in formation or in unison. In the 70s, we were all individuals and we were like trying to herd the proverbial cats – we did nothing in unison. Being good at anything other than sports was scorned – it wasn’t cool. These kids I saw at Artastic had great technical skills, and also the very important life skills of being a team, supporting each other, acknowledging a solo performance, time management, and the discipline of daily practice. When there was a solo or another group performing, the others on stage where quiet and focused on the performers. I saw no fidgeting – and I was looking for it because it was remarkable for its absence. I wonder if it’s too late for me to learn.