Behind the scenes of a full-grade public share
A Hollywood line producer takes care of all the production infrastructure: hiring workers, arranging equipment, crossing all Ts, dotting all Is. You only notice their work if they mess up. People notice the actors, the director, the set design, nobody ever says, “Wow, that movie was great, I’m sure all their location permits were in order.” A good line producer is invisible, but if they do it right, you don’t even notice they did anything. It runs smoothly to let the stars shine.
I thought about this during my nonstop Friday building toward a full-grade share of This I Believe essays. We invited parents, and sixth graders shared in small groups, then we all came together in the gym for a few kids to share with everyone. The kids were the stars, and indeed they shone. Behind the scenes, I had my hands full all week:
Organizing the four cohorts into 23 groups. I wanted to mix up kids so they heard new voices beyond their usual cohort class.
Printing every kid’s essay, 96 shared Google Docs on my temp Chromebook, because of course my computer crapped out last weekend. Occasionally reducing the font or deleting returns to keep it to one page, sometimes adding a name. A solid 45m thanks to slow loading times.
Organizing every kid’s essay into the right one of 23 folders. Giving a kid an essay Thursday and saying “Bring it Friday” is a recipe for reprinting Friday. They were printed by cohort, but the groups were mixed, and with a due date of “when you go to sleep Thursday,” I had to print everything Friday and cross-reference to sort the previous day’s kids into the right folders. Friday classes just put their essays back in the corresponding folder. Confused?
Creating and printing rosters for each group, plus a master list to let others direct parents to the right room. Greeting parents, helping direct.
Organizing my classroom for the actual share and making sure other teachers did the same, getting the gym ready (eg, asking custodians to pull out the bleachers).
Scheduling the small group share to end with enough time to transfer everyone downstairs to the gym, but with enough time for every sixth grader to share, especially if their parents came. That factored into the number of groups I divided them into (23 was better than the more numerically logical 24).
Timing the large share to end with the school day. Too early and it would be chaos, too late and the bell rings mid-essay.
Deciding who shared with the whole group, balancing half a dozen variables.
Odds and ends: Inviting parents, writing a blurb for the school newsletter, schlepping my mic and speaker downstairs, emceeing the actual event (LOVE).
And oh yeah, seven English classes leading 96 sixth graders to examine example essays, then brainstorm, outline, write, rewrite, and practice reading their own essays.
Just like the NPR series, This I Believe essays have kids writing about a value alongside a personal story that helped form, change, or reinforce that belief. It took some doing, but the final essays were incredible. Life isn’t fair, Practice makes perfect, Black lives matter, Always be yourself, You can’t hide your emotions. Well worth sharing, and the four large group speakers brought the heat.
Parents arrived between 1:45 and 2, kids arrived at 2:05 and we were sharing soon thereafter. I popped between rooms, and it was lovely everywhere. Transition to downstairs was 2:30-ish, dismissal 2:55. After absences, there were about 90 kids and maybe 50 parents. I was in constant motion and everything ran smoothly, the end result was a great day for the sixth grade. One teacher complimented me on the event being well managed, and I was gratified to see my line producing acknowledged. I gave it the full effort so the kids could shine. And they sure did.
The Week in Dog Poo
Walking the dog in the rain is always a balancing act: leash in one hand, umbrella in the other, eventual poo in one or the other. I used to bring coffee, but it was too much. Maybe if I was an octopus. And I am not! My rule is if Winnie poos in the first half, we turn around, so I always pray for early returns. Should I have done a poo dance? It would have been hard; the wind blew my umbrella inside out more than once.
We took our shortest route: up the street, left a short block, down the street over. Soon we hit the precipice where a lack of poo would mean a longer walk. Inches before that rubicon, a glorious poo! Against a fence, of course. I balanced the umbrella and the leash and reached into my pocket for a bag, and just as I was juggling it all, a gust of wind blew my umbrella so hard it flew over the fence. I said out loud, You gotta be kidding me, and a passing woman gave her best Nelson Muntz. I thought about climbing the fence and envisioned disaster, and the opening was far enough away to make trespassing undesirable. So I walked home, wet and down an umbrella, but with a poo fully in the bag. Literally.
The Urban Blah
Back in 2009-11 I collaborated with the brilliant Lovisa to make a webcomic that failed to become syndicated across the globe. I am pro-recycling.
One of my favoritest comics, I loooooove that monster, major Jim Henson vibes. This comic resonated more when I had an office job with interminable dull meetings. Teacher meetings involve less existential dread, mostly because just like class, they MOVE. Also, we’re in a union with a contract, so the meetings end on time.
Also, Lovisa has a substack, you should subscribe!
Jam of the Week
At school, I try to keep my holiday musical selections non-denominational, and Booker T & the MGs’ Jingle Bells is an all-time fave. The opening to Steve Cropper’s guitar solo is magic. I’m also a gigantic fan of the Phil Spector xmas album, even if he’s a monster. But the Ronettes didn’t kill anyone, so their Sleigh Ride is a top pick. If ever I do get xmas-referential, I’ll go with Mariah or the best of the best, Run DMC. My name’s DMC with a mic in my hand, and I’m chillin and coolin just like a snowman. It cannot be topped.
My Back Pages
From a Nov 3, 2006 blog post entitled “Towed the Wet Sprocket” comparing the experience of my car being towed in Los Angeles vs Boston:
LA: Had to walk approximately 20 minutes, most of it on super-hip Melrose Ave, a shopping mecca stocked with pretty ladies and tattooed gents.
Boston: Had to stop by the police station and walk approximately 25 minutes, most of it through a pretty sketchy part of town.
I did live in one of the cooler parts of Los Angeles, but we had a small one-bedroom apartment and our landlord was a maniac.
Comfort drink while in transit
LA: Jamba Juice, probably a Peenya Kowlada or however they cutely misspell it.
Boston: Dunkin Donuts, medium coconut regular.
I was once besotted with Jamba Juice, not fully comprehending it was a full meal. Sixteen years later, the above remains my standing DD order, although I usually phrase it, “medium regular, coconut flavor.”
LA: Hipster production dude acted like I was his buddy and got me in touch with the tow company.
Boston: Called the police tow hotline every 15 minutes from 10 am to 1:30 pm until I finally stopped getting a busy signal.
I don’t remember the experience, but Boston public services be like that. Edge to Boston on Cost, and Stupidity was a wash because both had signs we saw earlier and missed when parking later.
Connection to Good Will Hunting
LA: Ben Affleck towed my car. After all, it was a Project Greenlight shoot (one that happened between seasons 1 and 2 and must have been really, really awesome, which is why all of you have totally heard of it). Saw that stupid clown-haired redhead guy from the Project Greenlight show.
Boston: My car got towed from a spot less than a mile from where Ben Affleck was shooting a movie a few months ago.
ADVANTAGE: Ben Affleck
I forgot about that show, but I watched the first season, kind of lost interest after the tow. But neat that they filmed across the street. The movie shot near me in Boston was Gone Baby Gone, which I remembered but had to be reminded by the wife that it was directed by the jerk from Dazed and Confused.
Having your car towed sucks in any city, but it’s slightly more infuriating when Ben Affleck is involved. He wasn’t today, but I’ve never forgiven him for that first time, and deep down, I suspect he’s somehow is responsible for today.
Man, I’ve been irritated by Ben Affleck for a while! I teach in Cambridge, and our now retired Spanish teacher taught all those guys, liked Matt Damon best. Our now retired science teacher HATED Casey Affleck. Ben did not merit mention. Crazy that all three are Oscar winners.
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