Listen My Children…

Listen my children and you shall hear of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Twas the 18th of April, ‘75, hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous day and year

As he said to his friend, “If the British march by land or sea from the town tonight, hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch of the North Church tower as a signal light.

One if by land, and two if by sea, and I on the opposite sure shall be ready to ride and to spread the alarm through every Middlesex village and farm for the country folk to be up and to arm” (Longfellow)

Miss Meehan, my 5th Grade teacher at Woodland Street School in Worcester, MA wrote this on the chalkboard and had the students memorize and recite it. I’ve never forgotten it. Of course, there’s lots more to the poem.

About 1981, on April 18th, was driving along the New York State Thruway, Rte 90, at an excessive speed. Why so fast? Because I was reciting this poem out loud, caught up in a bit of patriotism. At least that was my story to the state trooper who commented, “I bet Paul wasn’t going this fast”, as he handed me the speeding citation.

I will never forget the poem, the officer, the patriotic deed by Paul snd friends, nor Miss Meehan.

Steve

Happy Patriots Day to all Bay Staters today, as well as Boston Marathoners and my beloved Red Sox (who are losing as I write this post)

Reading For a Straw: A ‘Eureka’ Moment

Sometimes, the simplest reward can motivate kids. Take the 1 cent Pixy Stix…

A Chrysler assembly plant and Green Giant packing plant were the chief employers in the small northern Illinois town where I began my working career fresh out of college, an elementary school teacher for five years before transitioning into a life long sales position.

I had 32 students at a time when classroom size was not a high priority, especially in this rural blue collar town. The work was hard, fun and challenging. It’s teaching!

In elementary school, you teach the gamut of subjects: math, social studies, language, handwriting and reading. Specialists visited weekly to teach art and music. There were no computers in the class, nor the school, nor anywhere except big, temperature controlled rooms in office buildings.

Lesson plans were followed, accordingly, as we covered ‘new’ math, old history and the wonders of science. But reading, and reading for pleasure, piqued the kids’ attention the most.

A time was set aside daily for reading aloud, students rested or doodled while listening to Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, Charlottes Web, The Old Man and The Sea and others. The daily read was a hit, for the students and me.

But how could I motivate the kids to read more themselves and even stand up to talk about it? I found one answer by noticing the kids enjoying one of their favorite snacks, Pixy Stix, the sugary treat in a straw.

Pixy Stix* had been around for years. I loved them as a kid, myself. Not only popular but these treats were cool looking with their varied colors. And, they were cheap, a penny a straw. I bought a hundred to get started.

The plan, read a book and get a Pixy Stix. It was an instant hit. Yes, gimmicky, but there was more to it. And the results were profound. Every student read a book, two books, three books and more. Sure, the reading tapered as the year progressed, but the drop off was insignificant. And most surprising was the level of enthusiasm from some students who were lower achievers in the general subjects. I was ecstatic having this ‘Eureka’ moment.

Here’s how the project worked:

  • Select a book and show me
  • Fill out a book marker with title, author and student name
  • Report back to me upon completion and tell me a few things about the book
  • Give an oral report to the class (voluntarily)***
  • Staple the bookmark to the bulletin board display and select a Pixy Stix

I remember one student, in particular, who never raised his hand in class but gave the best oral reports of all students. Made my day!

My books are my ‘trophies’

Steve

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*From Your Dictionary: ‘Pixy Stix: A confectionery item in the form of a (non-edible) straw filled with sweet-and-sour powdered candy .

Listen My Children…1775

‘Listen my children and you shall hear…of the midnight ride of Paul Revere…T’was the 18th of April, ’75…’ (H. W. Longfellow)

A little bit of US history as memorialized in Longfellow’ long poem, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.

My 5th grade teacher, Miss Meehan, wrote several stanzas on the blackboard (remember those?) and we had write them, ourselves, then memorize them.

I’ve never forgotten those stanzas and am reminded of the history and Miss Meehan every April 18th, today. It’s important to remember our history and important people in our lives. Miss Meehan was a good teacher and that period in US history was, well, what can I say.

It’s also important to understand our past, as a country and an individual, so we can learn and make in-course corrections as we continue to grow.

Paul Revere wasn’t the only rider that night and the British grabbed him before he got carried away with his warnings to the public. However, HWL chose to use him in his narrative and now his name is synonymous with revolution and liberty.

I hope you find the poem to read, yourself. And, as I like to do, read it aloud. It seems to resonate better with me when I do.

Remember history, and the teachers who made it come alive for you.

Steve

The Crossing Guard Chronicles: The Facts, Just the Facts… ‘Did You Know Abe Lincoln Had A Sense of Humor’?

‘We miss your facts’, a student at my school crossing post offered. ‘Well, here’s something, did you know that President Abraham Lincoln had a great sense of humor?’ No, she didn’t and neither did other students. I didn’t, either, until I recently read* more about Lincoln.

‘His pictures always show him looking sad or serious’, another commented. ‘Well, he was often sad and serious. He had much to be both sad and serious about in his life’.

One can get a potpourri of facts by reading.

This is the stuff we talk about at the Curbside Classroom. Facts. But there’s more. And the kids love the ‘more’.

He changed the world for the better. Dr. Jonas Salk did that. I was working on March 26th and reminded the kids about Dr. Salk and his successful research into developing a polio vaccine on this date in 1953. We discussed what we could in the very brief time before crossing.

Tying the polio epidemic and the successful vaccine then, when I was a kid, to the Covid-19 pandemic, I thought, was interesting for the kids, as well as a couple of teachers or adults who happened to benefit from crossing at the Curbside Classroom, that day. Understanding that events in history often repeat themselves was a good lesson. And to have an eye witness, me, who experienced the anxieties of both, tell them about it, was a plus.

Some of these kids are graduating this year and it’s exciting to see them planning their future. It’s been a challenging year because of the pandemic but kids are resilient and they seem to have handled it fine, for the most part.

I like to think that the Curbside Classroom helped them kick start their days. I hope it will be a fond memory, as they continue along a successful Life journey and maybe, just maybe, change the world for the better.

Congratulations, Class if 2021!

Steve

* Team of Rivals’ by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Bar Chronicles: #5, ‘Seniors Say The Darndest Things*’

*thank you, Art Linkletter!

Bar Night 2

The heat and humidity has been off the charts this summer in western New York. Lawns are brown, plants are wilting, farmers are worried and throats are parched. Sounds like the perfect time for another ‘bar night’.

So, tonight we found ourselves gathered around a back room table at Johnny’s Irish Pub in Rochester.  Four seniors, friends from our neighborhood, here to enjoy some beer, brotherhood and ‘man talk’, the simple art of filling time with random thoughts, guffaws and past recollections.

Four old guys, we seem to be a bit of an odd attraction to the regular patrons, a generally younger, blue collar type. Then again, everyone is generally younger nowadays.  And the collars?  Well, we’re retired, collars are a low priority.

This is our fifth ‘bar night’, we exhude confidence, experience and maturity as our beer is served.  “Run a tab, we’ll be back for more”, one of us bravely barks out, earning a few approving nods from customers standing at the bar.  There was a time, once, when we could stand at the bar,  but now, sitting is preferred.

The beer was cold and the brotherhood about to begin. With a clinking of our mugs, a “here, here” to each other and our hands cupped behind our ears to catch every word, we leaned in and began our evening in earnest.

The cacocphany of background chatter  interfered with our own table talk, as we huddled closer, like a football team calling a play.  The interval between our yawns grew shorter. Our energy level was was being tested when the call came for a second round. We endured, ordered refills, closed out our tab, and began the ‘second half’ with unexpected profundity.  ‘Who was your favorite teacher and why?’, I asked.

“Simple, it was Miss Sullivan**”, one of us enthusiastically blurted out, “she had the biggest bosom.” The answer grabbed our attention and would have been enough, but he continued.  “And, she dressed provocatively. My 10th grade friends and I never missed a class…”.  I bet they didn’t.

While not the insight I expected, nevertheless, it was honest. More importantly, to the four of us, it was funny, a classic way to end our ‘bar night’; good timing, excellent delivery and a willing audience eager to kick back a chair, slap the table and ‘guffaw’.

The bar quieted as we filed out to a humid night. Neon signs from other establishments gave a colorful tint to the neighborhood and tall street lights lit our path to the car with another good time behind us.

As we drove home along tree lined streets through old neighborhoods, the car was quiet. Two beers may have made us sleepy, but I imagine the real reason was that three of us were silently wishing that we had been in Miss Sullivan’s** 10th grade class, too…

srbottch.com

**name changed for obvious reasons.

Dedicated to Steve, Tom & Jim