Day 136 Tuesday, February 16, 2010: Teach Your Children

 

Today is Tuesday, February 16, 2010 and Day 136 in my time left at Fremont. I got my transfer papers signed, which was coincidently the day the applications for the “reapplication process” (redundant, eh?) were placed in our mailboxes. Two of the SLCs marched in en mass and had their papers signed. I went in solo—better that way, I guess. It did allow me to see one of my favorite kids as I came out the principal’s office.

 

This child was a major irritant to me the first ten weeks of school. You know the species: 15-year-old eye-rolling chatterbox addicted to her Ipod and Iphone and so lazy you’d have to tell her to breathe. Then there was some miraculous understanding in week eleven, where I stopped longing for her to be absent and instead of jumping her case about being LATE, she’d be a minute late to first period and I’d raise a Mr. Spock eyebrow. She’s also a “B” student—might even get an “A” this semester if I know my kids, and I’ve been teaching since 1983 and I usually watch them come ALIVE in my class second semester. She asked, “Are you making trouble again?” We matched grins. You see, she understands why I am doing this.

 

Kids like this mean a lot to me. As I’ve said before, I feel good teachers teach life lessons all year long—they just use their subject areas as the vehicles to do so. Another kid, who’s playing basketball, got into a massive yelling match in September, which was especially painful because this is another of those “lazy” kids who eventually earned a “B” and I fully expect to get an “A” at year’s end (the joy of 10th grade—first semester is a nightmare and second semester I watch them bloom) expressed his concern for me a couple of days after the Cortines bombshell. “Hey, O, you straight?” It took a while for me to reply, but did my usual minimizing what’s going on with me.  He didn’t buy my bull and told me, “Hey, it’s not your fault.”

 

That’s two reasons right there.

 

Another set of reasons comes from a lesson I do annually, this happening a couple of years ago. When I teach the Cold War, my all-time favorite lesson involves giving the kids lyrics to a dozen songs, with images of the time. I play the music, starting with “For What It’s Worth” (all the youngsters can stop rolling your eyes now); on that day, all the kids have to do is read the lyrics, listen to the music and look at the images, sort of a multi-media romp through the Sixties and Seventies. In twenty six years of teaching, I only have had to shut down this lesson TWICE out of all of my classes. In the year in question, most of the Fremont staff participated in a one-period boycott. Students and community members watched us as we demonstrated; those of us who did taking the loss of an hour’s pay. The lesson? Everything comes with a cost. In the words of Stephen Stills: “Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground.” But that day, those kids heard the music—really heard it—and saw what we were doing—for them! After one period, I had a couple of girls come up to say, “No one in our lives has ever taught us like that. Thank you.” There’s intangible rewards. Yeah, I’m not one of those teachers who gets praise from colleagues or administration—the previous principal pretty much denigrated me for five years. But I’m not doing this for him. It’s for those kids, hoping they can take my lessons and go further, kind of an Isaac Newton, “We stand on the shoulders of giants” sort of thing.

 

That’s why I’m doing what I am doing. This isn’t to feed my ego and have sixteen-year-olds praise me. It’s to have them see the life lessons. One of my kids said today (I saw an amazing number of them today): “You don’t give a damn what anyone thinks.”  “Not true,” was my reply, which came from the heart. Does it matter what others think of me? Of course it does. But what matters more is to be the person I was raised to be; there were lots of hands in that process: my parents, my sister thirteen years my elder, the example of my stiff-necked grandfather who died in a gulag, teachers I have known, science fiction writers I have met, other writers I have only known through their works, such as Tolkien (and for the record, I look like Gimli, think Aragorn/Strider is the coolest one, but it is plain old Sam Gamgee who is the real hero), poets, musicians, comic book characters (for the record, again, Green Arrow, because he has always fought for those who need a champion)… and those I’ve met along the way in the Society for Creative Anachronism. All of these shaped me, gave me my pain-in-the-butt, devil-take-the-cost attitude.

 

This, too, has been my favorite teaching “gig,” sixteen years’ worth. That’s also why I had to put in transfer papers today. If I stood by and did nothing, EVERYTHING I TAUGHT MY KIDS WOULD BECOME A LIE! And I firmly, passionately believe in what I am doing and what I am teaching. I must teach and lead by example. There another couple of quotes that come to mind:

 

“When one man says no, Rome begins to fear. We were tens of thousands who said no. That was the wonder of it.”—Kirk Douglas in “Spartacus”

 

"I think there's only one thing that a father needs to leave his son, and that's a good example of how a man should live his life. Anything else, the son can learn for himself. The greatest gift my father ever gave me was the courage to trust my own abilities, and I learned that through his example."—Fraser, Due South (The Gift of the Wheelman”).

 

I haven’t lied to Mr. Balderas. I haven’t lied to the kids. I’m not about to start.

 

While a number of us have been stumbling across reconstitution in the media (and some of it is about the Mont), I thought I’d post a few links (many of the Fremont faculty have seen these—some are repostings of my writing, but there are comments and insights to think about):

 

This was from abc7.com: the December 16 Rally held to save FremontHigh School jobs:
http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/video?id=7173389


 

Anthony Cody, Teacher Magazine, has reposted several of my musings, relating our challenge:

Day 168

http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2010/01/how_does_it_feel_to_be_reconst.html

Day 152

http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2010/02/the_battle_for_fremont_high.html

 

He has also written an article on reconstitution, bringing in a broader perspective, as well as publishing a couple of pictures from the February 9 rally that almost wasn’t:

http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2010/02/reconstitution_there_has_got_t.html

 

In addition, Susan Ohanian, reposted Day 168 and discusses reconstitution:

http://susanohanian.org/commentaries.php

 

And Education Notes Online reposted Day 152:

http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/

 

An article about how reconstitution at a high school in Seattle didn’t work: http://www.theskanner.com/index.php/article/view/id/6642

 

Happy Mardi Gras.

--Chuck

 

Day 136 “Teach Your Children”—Chuck Olynyk—was reposted by Anthony Cody at Teacher Magazine as “Fremont High, Day 136: Life Lessons From A Reconstitution”

http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2010/02/fremont_high_day_136_life_less.html


 

 
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    Chuck Olynyk is a Social Studies teacher who saw the effects of reconstitution upon John C. Fremont High in Los Angeles. These are reposting of his original blogs from the Save Fremont website.

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