Day 10 Monday June 21, 2010: Tracks In the Dust


Today is Monday, June 21, 2010 and Day 10 of my time left at the Mont. I destroyed the O-Zone. Everything has been removed that is me except for the coffee-maker stand I built last winter. It, my laptop and I will travel out together on the 25th and an era will end. Well, to me it’s the end of an era. Just thinking about the trailer for “Star Trek III: The Search For Spock”: “See the last voyage of the Starship Enterprise.” So this is the last voyage of the o-Zone. At least here.


I miss certain familiar rhythms which happen and so I wanted to record the event, to show the full effect for those C-Trackers who are always off when it happens, for those who never worked at the Mont, and for those who never made to my room for a cup of coffee and the daily madness. It might make you look at your rooms a little differently, might give words to your feelings about rhythms and patterns and routines which have been thrown out of whack,


Any typical day begins at around 5:20 a.m., when I first enter the O-Zone. No sane person shows up at that hour, I admit, which is probably what allowed me to run into the rat (see Day 109 “King Rat”); by the way, the rat trap is still there. That said, because I share the room with Adult School and Saturday School like the land and the river share a flood plain, I could walk into chaos, with missing furniture, everything moved around, garbage on the floor. Or the chairs might all be up on the tables, which is a mystery to me, since nobody ever mops and I was issued brooms to sweep with. I also get to remove the empty coffee cups and gum neatly wrapped in little foil balls on my desk. No point in complaining; when I asked Adult School to please pick the trash up off the floor, I found all of the trash piled neatly on my desk blotter.


The routine is then to set up the laptop, check on what happened to the desktop overnight or over the weekend (I use both at the same time because our server is often as crawling server).  You’ll note the precious icons: the blotter filled with pictures, the Maple Leafs puck and Doug Gilmour card, the Wolverine/Sabertooth clash a student felt needed to live on the desk. Laptop on, portable drive plugged in, go grab the speakers from the cabinet so I can get rock and roll or jazz going REAL LOUD. Barbara, Susan, Mickey, Dan and Sarah, I now formally apologize for inflicting my musical taste on you at those levels.


The cabinet is usually filled to bursting; often there is armor during the Fall semester, and sometimes weapons, transparencies for the unit, papers for the next unit. When I’ve pulled what I need for the day, one door has to be closed to display what I like to call the “Pathfinders” poster, while the other door has to be left open to do likewise with what I call my ego poster. You’ll also notice there is a bell (liberated from a Chili’s that was closing), used for a lesson on Pavlov and conditioning, as well as a prop for any bell humor (if you’ve taught at the Mont for any length of time, you know all about the bells); the shrunken head has the added feature that one of my girls, Pookie, put little clips in its hair, and serves as a great source for mirth whenever someone new comes into the room and asks for the stapler or some other supplies. At that point, students watch for the reaction. It’s a way to pass the time, eh?


The podium gets lifted off the coffee maker, placed in its new home, as well as the barstool I took from Chili’s, then the coffee maker gets opened up; the top gets folded down to provide a larger surface (years of experience on watching coffee mugs hit the deck); plug and load. This step also allows me to plug in the extension cord for the overhead projector, built into the Northwest Coast Indian cabinet, and allows. The projector comes out of its hiding place (AdultSchool and/or SaturdaySchool have either liberated it or actually performed crude surgery on the cord to fit their needs). Then it’s time to get the coffee started and put up the quote(s) for the day, and whatever madness we are covering.


The podium, which also serves as storage space, has certain … expression in Latin, just for attitude: “Quocunque ieceris stabit” (Howsoever you cast it, it will land on its feet), “Resurgam” (I shall rise again) and “Aut viam invenium aut faciam” (I shall find a path or make one).


After I sign in, I’m either arming up, if it is Fall semester, or grading, and awaiting the arrival of those who wash up on the beach. Some kids by 6:30; some teachers, as well. For the kids, I create a “safe zone.” Some show in the mornings; maybe they need help, or a place just to escape what’s going on at home, or a place to work on stuff for my class/other classes. This is also why I rarely make it to lunch Fall semester, why my room gets invaded during my conference (I believe every kid deserves a time-out a month from some period, when stress gets to be too much), why I end up with refugees during the day.


The day has its own rhythms. Crook wanders in to ask what’s going on, but won’t drink the coffee. Barbara does her fly-by. Susan grabs a cup once in a while, but she’s more of an afternoon person. Kathleen Loggins makes it in before the bell, sometimes bringing baked goods she tells me are healthy because she used yogurt (Do I look like I want to eat healthy?), then pours a large mug; she’ll be back in a couple of hours. Madame always pops in, but sometimes she’s drinking coffee and other times she shuns it. Mat shuffles in around Advisory to torment my Advisory class, which he has most of later in the day, to catch up, maybe just to sit and be. It’s one of the reasons I make the coffee and have the music going. It makes the day just that much easier to cope with, to be able to just sit and be.


The West wall is always what I call a Mind Map of the Unit. Some people talk about thinking maps. Mine is a mind map, really a flow chart of key ideas and points throughout the unit. Lots of color gets used. Lots of arrows and boxes, as well. Unit-related posters end up here—well, most of them.


The East wall is where the layout for the unit ends up. The kids get a bunch of note-sheets (which they fill in), handouts, primary sources, maps, political cartoons and worksheets. On the first day of a unit, they assemble their notesbooks, with a day-to-day format I’ve laid out. This is a rough guide for organizing their stuff. When they come in, they copy the quote(s) of the day, which relate to what we’re talking about, take notes, and write about anything new they’d learned; the writing later becomes rough drafts for essays—I push a lot of writing; after all, every writer I ever talked to said, “The only way to get better at writing is to WRITE!” Also on the East wall are the sacred Standards, as well as a whiteboard which tells them (really, it tells administrators) what the unit is, what music is playing in the background or as our soundtrack, important dates, where to find extra credit and what has aroused my ire. There’s also a bit of ego there: stuff on “In Service to the Dream”, the documentary on the Society for Creative Anachronism, which I was in and which had a couple of scenes filmed at the Mont, and the “Los Angeles Excellence in Education Award” I was given (along with 23 other teachers) in 1999; this is what Mat is referring to whenever he calls me a, “award-winning teacher.”


The North Face (just had to say that) bats clean-up: posters and maps, flags draped over the windows, the full-sized “In Service to the Dream” poster. The windows are always open because the A.C. has asthma. I also normally get a really cool view of Downtown, especially from Room 225; this always leads to me making the kids go to the window early in the year. I make them look at the  L.A. skyline and talk about how those buildings represent money and success to many, something to inspire them. Sometimes it works.


Then there’s the icons. My posters. They live in different parts of the room for particular reasons. My Lord of the Rings stuff ends up on the East wall, always, as do certain Marvel comics characters: Wolverine, Captain America, Magneto, whom I really don’t consider a villain—just messed up. So does that cool DC poster (I guess it’s about ten years old, judging by the appearance of certain characters) and my Bluto Blutarsky “Animal House”.


The West wall get a lot of the DC stuff: Nightwing, a bunch of Alex Ross posters of Alan Scott’s Green Lantern, the Spectre, the Martian Manhunter. Aquaman, Hawkman and the Atom mingle with the Marvel Universe ( I think that’s ‘90s) and a Frank Miller Daredevil. The Hulk poster was in my very first classroom, back in ’83 and has managed to survive every act of vandalism in 27 years of teaching.


Due South (wanted to write that), right of the clock: Justice League, in various phases. Under the clock: the picture I took from Chili’s when I took the bell and the stool. The first time I hung the monkey picture, my class debated where it should go. This was 2 months after a horrible news story about a man attacked by chimps. We voted to put it up anyway. To the left of the clock: Green Arrow/Zen stuff, with a little Batman and Marvel comics thrown in. Superman gets a special spot, guarding the door; it’s an old pre-9/11 poster and you see the WTC in the background.


Now it’s gone. My touchstones are missing. There’s a book by David Crosby called, “Stand and Be Counted.” Gee, wonder why that’s there? I might take some time to leaf through it, but I think I’ll be trying to keep busy, just so I don’t notice how empty this place is. The kids don’t like it. They complain that the room’s too bright with all the posters gone. They also miss the posters. Adults haven’t enjoyed coming in, either, not the regulars. Those who rarely venture in now come to stare at the bare walls, as if seeing them makes what is happening finally real.


But the very first lesson I teach my students is to empty the cup. It’s a Zen thing: when a cup is completely full, nothing can be added to it. In order to grow, one must first empty the cup. Perhaps it is time to put my money where my mouth is and empty the cup.


So? Next year. They rebuilt the Enterprise, eh?

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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.


    August 2010



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