Honoring the Legacy of Long-time School Employees

When I first started working at Hoover High School in September of 1989, the school was so overcrowded that there wasn’t a classroom available for me so I became a traveling teacher:  four rooms in five periods.   That meant I had to carry chalk, erasers, paper, pens, staplers, paper clips, and more in my bulging briefcase.

It wasn’t until my second year that I had my own room, but there was a catch.   It was a temporary room, a portable bungalow out near the softball field.  While it was isolated next to three other portables, it had its own air conditioning unit that I controlled, unlike the permanent buildings where the thermostat was managed by the district office.

A couple of years later when high schools converted to four-year institutions, a new building was erected to accommodate the additional ninth graders.  Then principal Don Duncan invited teachers to choose their own classrooms while construction was underway.

I selected a room away from a stairwell to minimize outside noise.  I also wanted my windows to have a view so I chose one that faced south overlooking Glendale’s burgeoning skyline to my left and the Hollywood Hills to my right.

And I have remained there ever since.

This school year marks my 30th as a teacher.  It also happens to be the 90th year that Hoover has been around.  That means that I have taught at Hoover for one-third of its entire existence.   During my tenure, I have worked for six principals and five superintendents.

Reaching such a milestone has made me reflect on many of my former co-workers who are no longer at Hoover.

Too often these people just disappear whether through retirement or moving on without announcement or acknowledgment of their service to the school.  There is no mechanism in place for their legacies to be memorialized.

Past superintendents in Glendale have their photos mounted at the district headquarters.  No matter that the average tenure has been eight years, with one serving only a year, these men remain the face of the district despite working at other districts for the majority of their careers.

However, for those teachers, secretaries, custodians, and cafeteria workers who have devoted their lifetime to GUSD—20, 30, 40 years’ worth—their work is not preserved.  Nowhere are their photos or names displayed.   That is like having a memorial dedicated to the armed services with only the names of the generals on it.

These people have more of a connection to students than do superintendents.    Preparing food, cleaning campuses, greeting visitors, and teaching students—these are the most meaningful jobs at a school.   If it weren’t for these people, there wouldn’t be a place of learning.

Just last month a custodian who worked 39 years, Glen Esquivel, retired. Where is his photo?  His name?

As soon as he left, the history of his stint in GUSD disappeared. It’s as if he never worked in Glendale schools.

Thirty-nine years.  Vanished.

Devote your entire working life to a company and never be remembered.  That’s a terrible lesson to teach young people.

Never mind the clichéd certificate of recognition at a school board meeting.  As the district prepares to move to a new administration building, serious consideration should be given to erect a Hall of Fame with the photos, names and years of service of all employees who have worked for GUSD at least 25 years.

It’s the right thing to do.

 

Former Student, Current Filmmaker

As I enter my 30th year of teaching, I reflect frequently about the thousands of students who I have been privileged to work with over the years.

More often than not, a teacher rarely hears back from students once they have grown up and established themselves in careers.

It is always a pleasant surprise, however, when I do.

“Mr. Crosby!” came from a grown man among the crowd of teachers filing into the auditorium for a meeting at the start of the school year.

I tend to recall faces not names so when I realized it was a former student, I admitted to him that I recognized him but couldn’t place the name.

Arin Gregorian (class of 1996) was in my English class over 20 years ago, and for the past 14 years he has taught math in Glendale.  What a delight that he went into the teaching profession.

Then, about two weeks ago, I received an email from Sev Ohanian (class of 2005) who worked on the school newspaper for three years, serving as editor-in-chief in his senior year.  In my 26 years working on the school newspaper, Sev was one of only four male EICs.

His tireless determination to do a quality job was evident even back then.

Under his leadership, the paper earned First Place awards for photo and graphics from the National Scholastic Press Association.

We first reconnected back in 2013 when I found out that he was a producer on the critically acclaimed film “Fruitvale Station.”

He told me that his latest film, “Searching,” which he produced and co-wrote with director Aneesh Chaganty, was about to open in theatres across the country, a movie I was already interested in seeing.  Knowing that Sev was one of the creative minds behind it made me even more excited about it.

The film stars another Hoover graduate, John Cho (class of 1990), as a father searching online for his missing daughter.  It is a compelling story told from beginning to end on computer screens, immersing the viewer in the contemporary social media world; quite an intense and emotional experience.

“Searching” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January earning the 2018 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and the NEXT Audience Award, with Sev being honored with the Sundance Institute/Amazon Studios Narrative Producer Award.

Within hours after the showing, Sev had an exhilarating all-nighter entertaining offers from several companies vying to purchase the distribution rights.  Sony Pictures made the deal for $5 million.

In only two weeks, the film is near the top of box office receipts, and has earned the prestigious Certified Fresh rating of 91 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes website, 93 percent from top film critics.

I invited Sev to speak at a schoolwide assembly at his alma mater.  With his parents in attendance, it was a powerful moment to hear him motivate the students with his success story.

Sev already is in the middle of several other projects so it was kind of him to visit his old school (and teacher).  He kept his word in the final piece he wrote for the school paper:  “I will always come back to visit.”

I am sure there are other former students leading rewarding lives that I don’t know about. That is part of the job, though.

A teacher works and works and works and is often not sure how much of the lessons, the lectures, and the laughs stays with the students.

I am fortunate to know what happened to a few of them, and that motivates me to continue working hard with each year’s new crop of kids.  I can’t wait to find out what they will end up doing in the future.

 

Preserving Old Disneyland

“Remember when there were always people, but never a crowd?”

This saying comes from a calendar whose theme revolves around the past.  It also reflects how I feel about Disneyland.

As a kid, I thought Disneyland was crowded. I didn’t realize how wrong I was.   Now when I go there, it is so packed with people that it is difficult to be happy at the so-called happiest place on Earth.

As much as I still like Disneyland today, it doesn’t have the same feel as it used to due to the crowds.  It doesn’t seem to matter how high the admission is, money has no effect on thinning out the masses.  Multiple hour long lines for rides and bumping into people when walking around do not make a visit enjoyable.

This thought has been running through my mind ever since I visited “That’s From Disneyland!” a 20,000 square foot temporary exhibit of Disneyland artifacts housed at the old Sports Authority building in Sherman Oaks which will be auctioned off this weekend.

For those of us who grew up with the park, this time capsule of Classic Disneyland is an emotional trip down memory lane, a reminder of simpler and less congested times.

Richard Kraft, a talent agent representing famous composers, has collected a massive number of items from Disneyland over the past 25 years and is now selling them all.  For $150,000, you can go home with a Dumbo from the Fantasyland ride.

What impressed me most about the exhibit was its scope. Never again will one be able to walk into one building and view vehicles from defunct rides, menus from bygone restaurants, posters of rides old and new whose bright colors stir anticipation, as well as artist conceptions of attractions never realized.  There are even some animatronic robots including Jose the parrot from the Enchanted Tiki Room and singing children from It’s a Small World.

When I was a child, my family did not have the wherewithal to take elaborate summer vacations so the one big trip each year was going to Disneyland.   We knew we had to make the most out of that one day, arriving at 8:00 a.m. and staying until midnight.  Back then, we were able to get on most of the rides, an impossible task today.

I was allowed to get one souvenir and each year I chose the same one, a large foldout map of Disneyland, which was continuously being updated with areas labeled “future attractions.”   Some of those places such as “Liberty Square” off of Main Street never materialized.  How strange to see some of these maps framed and mounted on display for sale.

It would be hard to believe that anyone else has as immense a collection as Kraft does.  This makes visiting the exhibit bittersweet because once the auction is over with, all these items will be disbursed to who knows how many people.

Funny how Walt built Disneyland as an idealized facsimile of America at the turn of the 20th century, and now his creation has become an idealized version of mid-20th century America.

What a shame that the Disney company can’t or won’t swoop in like Dumbo and buy the entire Kraft collection.  Keep it there in that building, and with the help of the creative folks at WED, re-imagine the displays like a Smithsonian museum, preserving it for future generations to learn the history of the one park Walt Disney supervised and visited.  Include videotaped testimonies of surviving workers and artists who were there from the beginning as well.

With lines outside waiting to get into this exhibit, it is surprising that the marketing marvels at Disney don’t realize the financial potential that could made from such an endeavor, or can’t see how this would continue the legacy of its founder in preserving the past.

 

 

Watch Out for the Other Guys

Do you stop at stop signs?   So few drivers do that Glendale posted temporary electronic signs informing drivers to “stop at stop signs.”   What’s next: “breath in and out”?

Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but I actually stop, not slow down, not a California stop, but an honest to goodness full and complete stop.  About the only place where you see this is at the rides at Disneyland.

I do this even when no one else is around to see me do it.  I want to have the muscle memory to instinctively make full stops just in case a police officer may be around.

Because there are so many four-way stops in my neighborhood, I am extra sensitive to drivers who view the stop sign as optional.  Not a day goes by that I don’t observe dozens of motorists brazenly cruising through with barely a decrease in speed.

Last week city workers were putting on a fresh coat of paint on a crosswalk near a school.  There were orange cones all around this four-way stop as they did their work; they were impossible not to be seen.  Yet a truck driver going 30 miles per hour drove through the intersection as if the stop sign was not even there.  All the workers could do was mockingly applaud as he flew by.

About the only time people slow down or even stop is when multiple motorists arrive at the same time.   Then the merry-go-round game begins figuring out which driver arrived first, which one is to the right, etc.

The other day I pulled up to such an intersection.  Cars were at each of the four stop signs.  To my left was a car making a left turn.   The next driver to go was supposed to be me.   Just as I released my brake ready to enter the intersection, the car immediately behind the one that made the turn quickly followed right behind so closely that it appeared one car was towing the other.

It was one of those eye-popping “did that just happen” moments.  There were at least five other drivers who witnessed that illegal and highly dangerous maneuver.

What was going through that man’s mind behind the wheel?   Obviously, he did not give a whit about the rules of the road and was determined to shave off a few seconds from his commute—to hell with everybody else.

More disturbing is to realize he did not care what anybody there thought of his daredevil antic.  He had no shame or embarrassment.

Those who ignore traffic laws must convince themselves that driving recklessly outweighs the financial penalty of being caught once in a blue moon.

In what little research that exists on the matter, there is no correlation between getting moving violations and changing one’s driving habits.

So, if the law does not alter people’s behavior, the only thing left is for individuals to have a moral responsibility to do the right thing and be courteous of others.   I recognize this is so 1960-ish; however, we all could benefit from more teaching of one’s civic duty both in the home and at school.

One quick fix at four-way stops would be to install speed bumps; at least they would slow people down.

A more draconian solution would be too expensive to implement:  embed spikes into the white lines where cars need to stop.   A computer can detect which car arrives first and if a car makes a complete stop.  Not until that is determined do the spikes recede allowing clear passage.

Until then, it wouldn’t hurt to update defensive driving tip number one: “watch out for all the other guys.”

 

Fit to be Tied (neck-tied)

File this story under the heading “can’t these politicians think of a more important issue to tackle than this?”

Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris wants to ban companies from mandating that workers wear neckties.

Parris is basing his proposal on a small German study he found online that examined blood flow to the brain in men wearing ties, finding a 7.5% drop in circulation in men wearing the ties compared to the group not wearing them.

First of all, one doesn’t need to have a doctorate degree in scientific methodology to know that a study size of 30 participants is insufficient.  Second, just how tight were those ties tied?

In interviews, Parris expresses a predisposed disdain for ties despite having to wear one as an attorney in the courtroom.  When he came across this shaky evidence that a tie causes harm, he was ready to take a Mission Impossible leap over credulity.

Parris’s law firm focuses on personal injury cases with “over $1.4 billion won” as claimed on its website so it’s not surprising that he is wasting taxpayer time on a nanny state matter such as regulating employers’ dress codes.   By the way, his photo is the most prominent on the website and, yes, he is wearing a tie.

When one looks around and sees how poorly people dress all the time, the last thing we need is a law forcing people to look less dressed up.

We are living at a time when people dress like slobs everywhere they go.  Men’s attire these days often consists of a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops whether at work, attending a theatrical performance or dining at an upscale restaurant.

In “You Are What You Wear: Rude,” Times columnist Meghan Daum wrote that people dress as if everyone else around them were invisible.  They really don’t care what anyone else thinks; “do whatever you want” is the mantra.

Many experts think that dressing up instills confidence and power.  Baltimore clinical psychologist Jennifer Baumgartner told Forbes magazine that “when you dress in a certain way, it helps shift your internal self” similar to actors who by “putting on a costume facilitates expression of character.”   Think of work clothes as superhero outfits.

My wife works from home once a week.   Even though she does not leave the house, she wears business clothes as if she were at her office.  Why?  “It’s a part of my professional attire.”

A 2014 study by the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that when participants wore doctor’s lab coats they not only were perceived smarter, but they made fewer mistakes because of what they wore.  In another example, people dressed in suits negotiated better business deals than those dressed in sweats.

Where I work, I am the outlier wearing sport jackets and ties.  Not even some male administrators wear that attire.  Schools often talk about dress codes for students; there should be one for teachers.

One student teacher I worked with asked me how to dress for Back to School Night.  I told him to wear a tie; he told me that he didn’t own one.  And he was 40 years old.

A much younger student teacher wore concert t-shirts and white sneakers every day to work.  Office messengers would often mistake her for a student and end up giving me the summons.   We would not want to confuse doctors with patients based on how they dressed, would we?

Let’s hope Mr. Parris doesn’t come across a study on the internet concluding that wearing underpants constricts blood flowing to the heart.

 

 

Oh How We Could Use Mr. Rogers Today

Summer time is movie blockbuster time, but for those who are searching for a film that doesn’t depict the end of the universe (like any Marvel offering), try “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the documentary about Fred Rogers, the creator of the long-running “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” children’s show which aired for more than 30 years on PBS from 1968-2001.

How refreshing to see a portrait of a public figure that doesn’t tear apart the image of the person being examined.

Spoiler alert:   It turns out that Mr. Rogers the TV personality was identical to Mr. Rogers the human being.

While I was too old to watch “Mister Rogers” when it first aired, I had a perception of him as a benevolent TV personality who oversaw a little show done with inexpensive sets and sock puppets.  This documentary reveals the thoughtfulness behind his mindset.

Before conceiving his show, Rogers is shown in an old black and white clip talking directly to the camera, musing out loud while on a piano about what he would like to do for children and how he would approach such an endeavor.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” will make you feel guilty for not appreciating or realizing that Fred Rogers, an ordained minister and amateur child psychologist, was quite talented, writing 900 shows and 300 songs.  He took his job seriously and made it clear that others should likewise be responsible in developing tasteful television shows for children in a comforting and nurturing way; he disapproved of most children’s programming which focused on frenetic and insulting rather than calm and uplifting material.

In a tightly compacted 90 minutes, which includes new interviews with his widow and grown sons, a sense of “wow, what a good man he was” overwhelms you. Through a television screen, he made a direct connection to youngsters by emphasizing their uniqueness at the same time acknowledging their universal fears.  Rogers did not shy away from confronting mature issues such as racism, war, and death.

When observing him interact with kids in personal appearances, he always gives his full attention to what they have to say, something few adults do.  Too many parents ignore their children instead of interact with them, leaving them alone to their own devices, literally.

To hear him speak so eloquently and extemporaneously in front of a U.S. senate committee on funding for Public Broadcasting in 1969 is remarkable.  Mr. Rogers was on a mission to ensure there would be at least one decent TV show for kids on the air.

There are many moments in the film when a viewer’s eyes will fill with tears.  The most poignant one comes near the end when you hear Fred Rogers’ voice asking the audience to take a minute “to think about those who have helped you become who you are today.  Some of them may be here right now.  Some may be far away.  Some may even be in Heaven.  But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside yourself.”

To ask such a profound question, and to grant permission to have a minute of silence to think of that person encapsulates the soul of Fred Rogers, a humanitarian for all of us.

However, the saddest part of seeing the movie is that you are overcome with a sense of loss that there is no Mr. Rogers for children anymore.  The positive response to this documentary is proof that people crave someone like him especially in these fractured times.  Who is the savior today in the realm of children’s programming?  The void is heartbreaking.

 

Hath Not a Republican Eyes?

When a driver cuts you off in traffic, the devil inside you wants to catch up with that discourteous motorist and cut in front of him—tit for tat.  One of those “There, how do YOU like it?”

While this might feel good for about a second, what does this behavior say about the so-called good driver?

This is how I view the recent spate of people ambushing Trump administration officials while they are out in public as private citizens with their families.

Last week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was refused service at a restaurant.  And Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had protesters interrupt her meal at another restaurant; some shouted outside her home.

These incidents bring a smile to those opposed to President Trump’s administration and its heartless policies; however, they are trading a pound of incivility for an ounce of revenge.

Is that the best way to respond to someone whose views we don’t agree with, berating them as they eat out or yelling at them where they live?

I wouldn’t want someone who disagreed with my views harassing me as I shopped at a market. It’s like the fans in a sports arena interfering with play on the field.   That’s a red line never to be crossed.

In a speech to supporters, Congresswoman Maxine Waters advocated for more below the belt tactics.

“If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station . . . you push back on them [that they] are not welcome anywhere.”

Opposed to that strategy, political commentator David Axelrod said on CNN that “a race to the bottom in terms of civility in our politics is [not] the way to go.”

You end up making those who you revile sympathetic, the opposite of what was intended.   Watching a cell phone video of an adult screaming “Shame on You!” makes these Trump employees appear as victims.

Turning away Sanders resurrects ugly memories of America’s past when African-Americans were refused service at restaurants.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama said it succinctly at the 2016 Democratic National Convention:  “When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”  It used to be the American way.

Intolerance of those who are different—be they of another ethnicity, religion, or political persuasion—counteracts values in our country that this upcoming Fourth of July is supposed to celebrate.

Every citizen is entitled to an opinion.  And every citizen is entitled to privacy.

Send emails.  Write letters.  Make phone calls.  March outside the White House and federal buildings.  Vote your opponents out.

But getting in people’s faces is boorish behavior, the type anti-Trumpers accuse the President of exhibiting.

It’s troubling when our emotions rule our intellect.

Four centuries ago, Shakespeare wrote a poignant speech for his Jewish character Shylock who is victimized by Christians in “The Merchant of Venice.”

“Hath not a Jew eyes . . . hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?”

Now, re-read the same passage only this time replace “Jew” with “Republican” or “Democrat” or any other kind of people for whom you harbor ill will.

Tolerance for those unlike us embodies the soul of this democracy.