Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Footsteps I Follow (and the Few I Avoid)

It's Teacher Appreciation Week. Well, at probably every school except for the one where I work. We had ours back right before Spring Break. The Powers That Be decided that with it being so close to the end of school having Teacher Appreciation Week and End of Year gifts to think about was too much; so they moved it. 

A good friend posted on his Facebook account a list of 12 teachers by name and had nice things to say about them. This has prompted me to do something similar. Being that I am verbose I had to do it in this format, so David Slagle, thank you for the inspiration.

1st Grade - Mrs. Underwood. Yes, we called her Mrs. Underwear behind her back. She was mean. 1970s public school teacher mean, but she saw something in me and chose, for whatever reason, to not smack it down, but encourage it. We were making paper mache piggy banks and I decided to do mine all different colors instead of just one like everyone else. When she shouted out my name after looking at mine I thought my world was coming to an end. Instead she made everyone else do like I was doing.

2nd Grade - Mrs. Gartrell. Sweet, old southern lady that gave me a great line for my classroom, "Don't blame your mother for not having your homework."

3rd Grade - Ms. Rosen. She played "Disco Duck" on the record player for the class and one day when more than half of the class was out sick she took us on a walk around the neighborhood. I can't even imagine that nowadays.

4th Grade - Mrs. Pullen - Beautiful woman. Very kind. She left for a large portion of the year due to breast cancer, I believe. Her substitute, not so beautiful, not so kind. Maybe I'm holding a grudge because she busted me forging my mom's signature

5th Grade - Mr. Boyd. My first male teacher. Tall, salt  & peppered afro and goatee. Drove a silver Trans Am. He would leave the class for 15 - 20 minutes at a time. One time when he was gone I got up and was goofing around, looking out the door to see if he was coming. When I turned around to go back to my seat he was standing outside the building at the window of the classroom, just watching us/me.

6th Grade - Mrs. Rainey - Another kind, kind woman. I don't remember much other than she was basically the antithesis of the other 6th grade teacher we had - Ms. Stallworth

7th Grade - Mrs. Thomas. I sold Mrs. Thomas a lottery ticket from the Briarcliff Community Sports raffle and she won $100. That's what she wrote in my yearbook, "To my $100 friend."

Growing up in DeKalb County in the early 80s we didn't have middle school we went from elementary to high school. Starting in 8th grade I started a fairly consistent downward  slant in my academic career.

From 8th grade to the end of 10th grade nothing really stands out as positive. I know there are some moments there, but by and large it was a very negative experience for me academically. Unaddressed attentional issues, not understanding the importance of actually doing homework and knowing how to study guaranteed that these were not smooth years. I almost didn't pass 8th grade ELA because for some reason I could not grasp the concept of diagramming sentences. To this day I cannot stand the idea, and will avoid it at all costs.  My 8th grade composition teacher told me that everything I wrote was absurd. Granted, it probably was, but would it have killed her to throw me a little encouragement, or to try to steer my writing to something less absurd? I failed Geometry at mid-term in 9th grade and was convinced I would fail it altogether. I had one of the vilest, most evil teachers that I have encountered. I was horrified to find out that she was still at my high school 20 years later and was still spreading malevolence and ill will at students. She is the teacher that would literally smile as she handed back test papers with grades of F.

In 10th grade I asked my mother to move me out of advanced classes to general ones, but at the encouragement of a neighbor who taught ELA classes at my school she kept me in,  and then something happened in 11th grade that made the last two years of high school not just bearable, but mostly enjoyable.

11th Grade - Mrs. Merkle & Mr. Glass - Mrs. Merkle was the school yearbook editor, junior and senior ELA teacher and the teacher of my favorite class ever, Humanities. For lack of better wording it was a class on appreciating all aspects of the arts; music, architecture, literature, art. Mrs. Merkle was probably the first teacher since primary years elementary school that I wanted to please. I had her my junior and senior year. She was, to my memory, the first teacher to not just assign a book to read, but to actually talk about the book. She was the first teacher to help me relate to the characters in the stories. She got me to see that novels and short stories are more than just words on a page.She was a significant influence on me as a teacher. Sadly when I saw her again at the unveiling of the new additions at Lakeside High School she looked at me with absolutely no recognition at all. I was more than a little hurt inside. 

Mr. Glass was the art teacher at Lakeside. He was a meticulously dressed and groomed gay man. I have no idea what he was doing surrounded by the stinky, unkempt hormone crazed high school students that clearly repulsed him in so many ways, but he was always there. It was well known that art classes were where most of the stoners, rockers and punks could be found. Being that I was none of those I'm not sure how I ended up there. I had several friends that took art and loved Mr. Glass, so probably by way of those folks. Mr. Glass was incredibly patient with me. As Glitter Queen can tell you, I am a painfully slow painter. He would offer encouragement and snarky critiques as I finished my pieces. He was entertainingly offensive and offensively entertaining. He did not suffer fools and spared no one. At the same time, you could tell that he really cared for some of his students. You could also tell that he couldn't stand others of them.

12th Grade - Ms. Shelfer - Ms. Shelfer was the teacher that made me love to write. She was the first teacher since probably primary elementary school that I wanted to please. I loved that woman.

I was going to go into some vitriolic diatribe about the teachers that were so horrible, but it's not Hate on Hateful Haters' Week, it's Teacher Appreciation Week. So for all the teachers that have had a positive impact on me, THANK YOU! For all those other teachers that just had an impact on me and so many others, well,unwittingly you showed me how NOT to be a teacher, and because of that I will also say thank you.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

LP means Long Play

If you have old records and you haven't taken the time to play them lately you really should do yourself a favor and do it.

And look, it takes time. It's not a quick scroll through your Playlists to find what you're looking for, click the button and then go. No.

It. Takes. Time. But man, oh man. It is time well worth spending.

I grew up listening to records. Not just the radio; although that's the only place that I heard current stuff, but my dad's record collection. I've written about this before. Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, etc. In our basement we had Dad's stereo set up with all of his records taking up about 6 feet of space on the bottom shelves. Going through those record covers, flipping by them, pulling them out to inspect. I literally spent hours of my youth doing this.

At first we had one of the turntables that you could stack up several records and after a side finished playing another record would drop down on the turntable and it would start up. It was fun, but you know if you want to listen to an entire album you either had to have to copies - which we didn't - or you had to not do the stacking method. 

[aside]Nothing is convenient about records. Nothing. And that's probably one of the main reasons that they went out of style. As I said above, it takes time to listen to a record. Very few of us want to take that time to do that nowadays. Nowadays? Good grief. [end of aside]

So sometime around 7th grade I started getting my own records. We upgraded the turntable around the same time. Gone was the stackable option. That was okay because I didn't do that too often. I think maybe that was really for playing a stack of 45s for a Rompus Room Dance Party. I never had a Rompus Room Dance Party. Promise. My dad was a member of Columbia Records Club. I enjoyed going to the record store more than ordering records from the Club though. Again it is the visual and physical sensations of flipping through the records, looking at the front and back album cover art and design.  In the the Club if you knew what you wanted that was one thing, but in a record store a big part of the experience for me was browsing.  [I still enjoy it today; although I can't tell you the last time I was in a store that sells records] 

I think the first record I bought with my own money was Rush - Moving Pictures. 

Great record. Great cover and inner sleeve design too. I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to keep the inner sleeve in good condition because it was printed on really thin paper. Really thin. As you know, 7th graders aren't necessarily gentle creatures so as you can imagine, my fear was well founded. Even the record cover paper was thin. I was surprised. I was used to handling thick cardstock covers from my dad's collection. This was so thin. So was the vinyl. Dad's Ventures album was about two times thicker than my Rush album.

If you had your own record collection, or were allowed to use your family's then you know how to handle records. I just said that 7th graders aren't gentle, but to have access to the records in my house you had to prove that you knew how to handle them correctly. Fingers had no part of holding a record. Dirt, oil, grease, who knows what else could be on those fingers. The less skin contact you were able to make with the record surface the better. That was one of the harder things about the Rush album. It was so THIN and flimsy! Holding it between your palms, (or once my hand got big enough to put a finger in the hole of the record my thumb on the edge of the vinyl) showed a lot of flexibility. Lots more than I was used to. I remember being at friends' houses who didn't put so much care into their records. Finger prints all over them. Dirt and scratches. Not at the Benefield house. As I said, you had to prove that you were ready.

So along comes the Walkman and suddenly music is totally portable. At first I was content to record my albums on cassettes. TDK Chrome was the best blank cassette you could buy of course, but I didn't get those as often as I'd like.

 Then I started just buying the cassette versions of the music I wanted. In my mind it was far superior because it saved me the time of making that recording. Making sure I had the levels just right so it sounded good on the cassette. I got a little obsessed with cassettes. I had so many cases that I would take with me on trips because I had to have ALL of my music with me in case I wanted to hear a particular song. Obnoxiously I would take three or four cases full of cassettes on trips.

The Walkman to the Discman to the iPod. Portability and convenience. I love it, but it is still a different experience listening to music on the iPod than it is on a record player. Like so much else that goes on today it's quick and impersonal. The picture you see of the album cover, if there is one at all, is maybe one square inch. Liner notes? Maybe on the Internet. Convenient, yes. An Experience, no.

So again, if you have records and a way to play them I would encourage you to take set some aside some time, grab 10 - 15 of your favorites and immerse yourself in that aural joy of records. It's good by yourself, but it can be even more fun with a friend. I need to get my turntable fixed so I can share this with my Girls.