Thursday, May 15, 2008

Random Thoughts

End of the Year: It is a very difficult time for teachers in my school. In many schools, students are geared up for finals and are working hard at this time of the year. In fact, several schools declined to participate in the Film Fest because it was happening at the end of the school year and the students would be too busy with finals. At my school, it seems like the entire student body, 9-12, has seniorities. As soon as spring hits, attendance drops by half. It makes for a difficult year-end wrap-up and it makes the last 3-6 weeks feel ineffective. Of course, as I write this I've got several students sitting at computers tapping away at screenplays. They always try to prove me wrong, even when they don't know they are doing it.

Student Teaching, Part 2: I just got a reminder in my email to call my teacher/supervisor for the second half of my student teaching. I am dreading it (the student teaching, not the call). I have never been one of those MEA students who are already teaching and who refuse to admit they don't know it all. I've always embraced everything I've learned at Augsburg and much of has been applied to my classroom pretty quickly. I'm sure this will be the case when I complete my student teaching, but... It's in Woodbury, gas is almost $4.00, I am going to miss my wife and kids, I need a summer break to rejuvenate... On top of all of it, it seems like the supervising teacher is looking for me to come up with all of my own curriculum. He says they are in a two year cycle at this school, and that he is in his second year there, so he has no curriculum written for the units he is teaching this summer. Writing curriculum is one of my strengths; one of my favorite parts of teaching. But I have my own to do! I have given myself the huge task of getting a video/film curriculum online so that I can let the more academic stuff run on its own as I teach the more hands on aspects of the course. I feel like I'll never have enough time.

Filmmaker Badges: I made up all these badges on lanyards for the film festival. Green for regular attendees, red for festival sponsors, and blue for filmmakers (students with a film in the festival). Immediately, my video students started to ask if they could have theirs right away. At first I resisted, I was pretty sure they would get lost and I would have to give them another. Eventually, I gave in and started giving them out...with a promise from the students. They had to wear them everyday, in school and out, and tell anyone who asked all about the festival. They all agreed. I now have twenty or so very proud kids wearing their blue filmmaker badges wherever they go. None have been damaged or lost. Many times, because of the adult things my students have to experience, and because they look so grown-up, I forget that they are just kids. Little things, like being recognized as special with a plastic badge can mean a lot. They amaze me as they confuse me. I don't think I'll ever get them completely figured out.

PS: Still no R. I wrote a letter to his mother and sent it via snail mail. No response. It's time to let it go. maybe he will pop up again next year. I hope so.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Screening: Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation

Where: Minneapolis Parkway Theater
Presented by: .edu Film Fest
When 5/23-5/25

After seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, three 12 year old friends, Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb, began filming their own shot-by-shot adaptation in the backyards of their Mississippi homes.

Seven years later their film was in the can.

Fourteen years later, in 2003, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin Texas was proud to announce the theatrical world premiere of
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

And in 2004, it was announced that Hollywood producer Scott Rudin had purchased the life rights of Eric, Jayson and Chris to make a biographical film about their experiences making Raiders: The Adaptation.
Writer Daniel Clowes is currently working on the screenplay. To be released by Paramount Pictures.

Please come out and see this picture. Proceeds go to the nonprofit .edu Film Fest and will ensure that this festival continues to be free to all Minnesota high school students. Support this important festival and see a really cool movie at the same time. Tickets are $5.00, available at the Parkway.

Show times available in the City Pages and at

Friday, May 2, 2008


I realized today that it has been over two weeks since I've seen R. Last week, I was calling the answering machines and dead phone numbers that fill the majority of our students parental contact pages and I was surprised when R.'s mother's phone reported that it did not accept incoming phone calls, at the subscriber's request. She was our only link.

R.'s parents are first generation immigrants from Liberia and his family lives miles and miles out in the suburbs. He is not embedded in the usual neighborhood net that can locate a lost kid, or a least report if he's okay or not. He rides the city bus for over an hour to get to school and spends his out-of-school time working at a big, suburban technology store.

R. is a great kid to have around. He's smart, interested in what I teach, and enthusiastic about learning. He comes in at lunch and takes tutorials on the internet, learning things about the applications that I don't even know. For a while, he was a big part of my program, taking both screenwriting and video. Then he started to slip. First it was his attendance, some tardies, then a day or two here and there, then it was a week. Next, when he did show up, he was hanging with a different crowd of kids and he was not acting like himself.

My colleague and I talked it over and decided to call in his parents. The conference was interesting. Liberia is an extremely messed up country - no government, tribal warfare, anarchy - and when R. was very young, he and his parents traveled across the country, waited it out in a refugee camp, and eventually made it to the U.S. Needless to say, these folks are justifiably pissed off that their kid would squander away the advantages that they risked their lives to give him.

In that meeting, R. finally admitted that he had been skipping school and smoking dope again. He made a commitment to get back on track. We put together a plan for him, little things to keep him hanging with the good guys and away from the smoke-in-the-park crowd. Publish PostHe did really well for a while, he was back to the old R. that my colleague and I really liked.

But lately, it is the same thing all over again. When he went missing for a week last month, he claimed that he got confused and thought it was spring break. He convinced his mother, but we weren't so sure. A few weeks ago, he had trouble concentrating and understanding a fairly straightforward task in a computer program that he knows pretty well. So I guess I wasn't surprised when I realized that he hadn't been around for a while.

I talked to the staff member who is charge of truancy. I told him about R.'s mom's phone. He said he'd do a little digging. We know the name of the store he works at, just not the location. We'll try to get him on the phone. Maybe that will help. Maybe not.