Tag: education

What’s In A Name?

Wood. It’s been my last name for as long as I can remember. It’s not as common as say a “Smith” or a “Jones”, but I’m sure it’s up somewhere near the top in terms of commonality. The truth is, I’ve really started to grow fond of it. With four letters, it’s an easy name for people to remember. And it also allows for me to be called “Woody”, a really cool nickname.

But I have to admit, growing up and having “Wood” as a last name angered me; especially during my  school years. And I think my problem with it actually started way back in second grade.

In class, the teacher made a list of a dozen or so menial tasks for students to do over the course of the school year. Each student would be assigned a task to do every day for several weeks before moving on to the next task in the list. Some of the tasks were rather boring: like watering plants, washing windows and organizing paperwork. Others though were extremely cool: like actually going outside to clap out erasers (we’re talking 1977 here folks). 

The nice thing (or so I thought) was that the coolest of the tasks (eraser clapping) was placed at the very top of the list, and I couldn’t wait for my turn. That is until the teacher decided how she was going to dole out the tasks to the students: alphabetically by last name. That meant that “A’s” clapped erasers first, then “B’s”… and so on.

insert heavy sigh here…..

Having already mastered my ABC’s a few grades ago, it didn’t take long to realize that having a “W” in my last name put me at an extreme disadvantage and meant that I would be one of the last kids to get the cool task. So, while some knucklehead whose last name just happened to start with an “A” clapped erasers, I would have to wash windows.

Yep, I was taught early on in life that being a “Wood” put me behind the 8 ball. Oh sure, I eventually got my chance to do the eraser clapping, but instead of remembering how cool it was to go outside and clap erasers for ten minutes, the thing I remember most is having to WAIT almost the entire school year to do it.

The curse of the “W” would continue throughout my school years. Everything from gym class activities to where you sat in Science and English classes became organized and/or assigned by the first letter of a last name. And can you imagine my sorrow when I’d go to class for the first time and notice there was a cute girl whose last name started a dozen or so letters before mine?

Chance of me sitting next to her? ZERO! It’s no wonder why I became an introvert.

I eventually would overcome my loathing of the “Wood” name though, and am now fully content with it. It’s also given me a great deal of respect for those poor souls whose last names start with a “Y” or “Z”.

Now, if I can only get people to stop asking me if I’m related to James Woods the actor.

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Back To School

I have to admit, back in “the day” I kind of looked forward to the first day of school. Sure, it was the end of summer, but it was also the time for a fresh start and new beginnings. A chance to see many of the people I hadn’t seen in a long, long time (hey, two months is a lifetime to a kid).

But this coming school year is extra special. For this year marks the first year that I was officially out of K-12 program and began “college life”. Looking back on it now and thinking about the feelings I had at that point in my life is surreal to say the least.

I’m sure some of my fellow classmates will probably tell you that at this point they already had their post high school lives planned out to the finest detail. Everything from which college they were going to attend to what fraternity or sorority they would pledge.

But me? Well, I hadn’t even had given a thought about it. I was more concerned about when my grandmother was going to make her famous sausage casserole for dinner again.

Yes sir, frequent readers of this blog are already well aware of my procrastination and laziness post high-school. In fact, I didn’t take my SAT tests until the very last-minute, and even then just waddled my way through them. I sure as hell wasn’t going to stress myself about studying. I think that the only thing that I was even the slightest bit concerned about was making sure that I registered with Selective Service before I turned eighteen (does anyone else remember that)? Somehow though, I wound up getting accepted into Penn State.

Looking back now, I really lament not taking it more seriously. I spent the first two months at Penn State Allentown and quickly decided to drop out to become a working musician. The extra money I received from Pell Grants and student loans I used for personal things and not for tuition or books. Heck, I figured I had six months from the time I left school to start paying it back, and by then I’d be RICH; or so I thought.

Over the next several years, I was in an out of bands (and becoming a transient college student) before finally coming to the realization that I had made a mistake and needed to enter the work force. Having now started to find “my place” (and with a steady paycheck), I was eventually able to obtain a post high school degree thirteen years after I had graduated and, in 2005 FINALLY paid off the last of my student loans. Better late than never.

Which leads me to this: next week my little girl will start seventh grade and once again I am left to ask the question, “Where does the time go?”. I know it won’t be long before she’ll be faced with the same uncertainty and stress about what lies ahead for the next phase of her life that most high school graduates face. The feeling of needing to find her place.

I think one day I’ll have to sit her down and tell her my story and why its important for her to forge her own path and take her education seriously. Maybe we’ll discuss it at dinner one night over Nan’s sausage casserole. I think I have the recipe for it somewhere…

Yesterday

Easton Area High School Class of 1987 Yearbook

Sitting down at my computer early in the morning and drinking a cup of coffee is a ritual that I follow religiously. Browsing my habitual news and entertainment websites each morning not only gives me the chance to catch up on what’s currently going on in the world, but this “alone time” also allows me to reflect on what today’s agenda holds for me.

Today, that agenda includes mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, paying bills and maybe, just maybe if time permits, fixing a loose faucet. You know, grown-up stuff.

But this morning, I can’t seem to get myself focused. The news websites and celebrity gossip just doesn’t interest me at all. Rather, I find myself looking at the dozens of Facebook posts and pictures from yesterday’s 25th high school reunion picnic that I attended.

Yesterday. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were all sitting in class together? Each of us spending as much time as possible in our own little clicks: the jocks, the cheerleaders, the geniuses, the geeks, the stoners, the in-betweens. (I’ll leave you to figure out which of these clicks fit me)

As I watched the attendees (my classmates) arriving one by one, it was as if time stopped. People I haven’t seen since the days of Pac Man and Members Only jackets seemed to appear out of no where. Although we are all now long since grown, I found myself feeling more youthful than ever just being around them.

Handshakes and hugs weren’t just a means of saying “Hello”. For me, the feeling behind each was much more than that. Imagine losing something that you valued for a quarter of a century and then suddenly finding it again. That’s what each reunion felt like.

“Do you remember the time….” seemed to be the five words that started many conversations.

I could write a novel on all of the wonderful reunions I made personally (and who knows, maybe some day I will), but for now, let’s just say that we talked a lot about yesterday, where our journeys in life have taken us and what our hopes and dreams are for the future. Each of us had something different and interesting to say and the hours quickly flew by.

At one point during the day, the heaven’s opened up and it began to rain steadily; forcing us all under a pavilion. In retrospect, it was probably the best thing that could have happened, because it drew us all closer together. It literally was the perfect day.

Truth be told though, I was a bit worried only about one thing: I figured at some point during a discussion with a classmate, sooner or later, someone was going to say something to me that would hit a nerve and the joyful emotions inside would make me have to walk away somewhere lest I become a quivering mess right in front of them. Not cool. I came pretty close a few times but was able to hold it together and was beginning to think I’d make it through unscathed.

But as daylight turned into dusk, I noticed a girl, well now a woman, sitting at a picnic bench making small talk with her friends. A person who graduated with me and someone I remember mostly not from high school, but rather from attending third grade elementary school together. A school that was subsequently torn down in 1979 and caused many of us to separate and transfer to other schools for a year.

Her name is Beth and we both took clarinet lessons after school thirty-five years ago. She and I had both spent many an afternoon in the school’s basement together with an ornery teacher who berated us every time we played a note incorrectly. It’s funny how all of these years later, that one particular memory still sticks out in my head.

Beth and I were never “friends” in high school. We were more like two people who might have just said “Hey” to each other in passing on our way to biology class; on a good day. I haven’t seen her at all since graduation and, quite honestly was a bit apprehensive about going up to her. (Someday, I swear I will outgrow this shyness). But, the thought of this being my only chance to ask her about clarinet class was all the incentive I needed. I went over, sat down next to her and we immediately reunited. She remembered me and we quickly caught up on what we’ve been up to.

And then it happened…

“Do you remember when we used to have clarinet class together in elementary school?”, I asked.

“Porter School!!”, she replied. “Yes, I do remember being in clarinet class with you! I loved Porter School.”

Now, I don’t know if it was the emotion of the high school reunion finally hitting me, Beth saying the words “Porter School” or the way she talked about the school we both attended and loved when we were 8 years old that triggered it, but something inside of me at that very moment said: “Prepare for waterworks!” and I soon found myself having to tell her that I’d be right back.

I spent the next few minutes alone in the bathroom composing myself.  Of all things, talking about a silly clarinet class at a high school reunion triggered it.

I shouldn’t say “silly” because I was actually glad that it happened. I think we all need to feel emotion like that in our lives to remind us that we’re human.

What If?

EAHS Class of 1987

This week will be interesting. In just a few short days, I’ll be attending my 25th high school reunion.

The last time I was in the company of many of these people, the world was a much different place. Back then, it was all about sneaking out of restricted study hall at lunch to head over to the nearby Burger King.

It was a time when the only thing that really mattered was getting through the week so we could all go hang out at the mall on Friday night, drink Orange Julius and play Dragon’s Lair.

For me, it also included choir trips, endless hours of practice on my black Gibson Explorer guitar, the longing for unattainable love and of course, a heavy dose of hair metal. I’m actually tearing up right now just thinking about it; the hair metal part that is.

But, I’m looking back now, a quarter century later and am feeling pretty good about how I turned out. Especially when you consider what my original goal was.

Back then, my dream was almost laughable: In a “lather, rinse, repeat” cycle all I wanted to do was write music, record and tour. Pretty much in that order. If I had to sleep on the floor in some stinky tour bus on the way to Small Town, USA or pan handle on the streets for money to buy guitar strings I didn’t care. Music was going to be my life. I wanted to be the opening act for Bon Jovi; at least just long enough until he became the opening act for me.

It wasn’t until the day I woke up in my college dorm room; a twenty year old man with literally nothing but the black guitar and $1.37 to my name that I had an epiphany. And thus began my entry into the work force.

Don’t get me wrong, over the years I was still able to live the dream: I was part of several bands that achieved great things; even playing in front of crowds of 6,000 people. But, there are times that I still think about what might have happened if I had stuck to my original vision.

If things had worked out as planned well, you all would have seen me on the cover of Rolling Stone at least a few times by now. I probably would have also “guest starred” on Adele’s Grammy winning album and who knows; it might have been me in the judges panel on American Idol instead of that guy from Aerosmith…what’s his name again?

Anyway, as I’m typing this entry, over to my right; still hanging on the wall is that very guitar. The same one I put all those endless hours on. The one that contains all my feelings and the one constant that reminds me continually of those days and that dream. It’s still as great as ever 25 years later. I think we all are too!

 

I believe things happen for a reason. And I’m looking forward to hearing how everyone else’s dreams turned out at the reunion.

Making A Difference: A Conversation with Felice Schachter

Felice Schachter is making a difference.

Most of us remember her as the wholesome brunette Nancy Olsen from the first season of Facts of Life. I personally remember her as Bernadette from the movie “Zapped!” where she played the class president and was the only one who wanted Scott Baio’s character Barney to use his newly acquired power of telekinesis for the good of mankind.

In an environment where nerdy science student Barney (Scott Baio) and rich jock Peyton (Willie Aames) promote recreational drug use and freely drink alcohol on school grounds, Felice’s character was the voice of reason – even telling Barney not to use his new-found ability to cheat at gambling!

In addition to the ridiculous antics, we as viewers also get to see the seed planted for what will become Felice’s future in real life.

In one of the later scenes, Felice’s character is shown setting up for the high school prom while wearing a Brown University sweatshirt. Normally, a movie about high school students wearing a college sweatshirt might not be all that big of a deal. But in this case it means much more. Felice had already committed herself to take a break from acting and pursue college and asked producers to wear this particular shirt for the scene. Wearing the shirt made a statement about where her life was going.

Today, Felice is making a difference in the lives of children by teaching those with special needs and helping them reach their fullest potential.

It was a pleasure for me to speak with Felice and find out what she’s been up since the “Facts of Life” days and “Zapped!”

gJg: I guess the first big questions are: How are you and what are you doing now?

Felice Schachter (FS): I’m doing really well! I’m a special education teacher working with children from 2 to 10 years old.

My job now is to work with children with special needs, especially children with autism. I use ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) to help these children learn social and language skills. I also work with the typical population, teaching them skills that raise their IQ’s, enabling them to gain acceptance into the elite private schools of New York City.

gJg: What’s a typical day like for you?

FS: As a single mother, a typical day for me includes getting my son ready for school and myself ready for work at the same time in the morning. After dropping him at school I see my students, either in their homes or at mine.

gJg: So this isn’t a typical classroom setting?

FS: No, not at all. The teaching is actually done one on one.  I go to my student’s homes, and in certain cases I may even go to their school with them.

Here’s an example: If a child I’m working with has autism, I might go to their home to do ABA (Behavior Therapy) or, if a child is high-functioning and in a school, I’ll go with them to that school to make sure they’re using appropriate behavior, language and social skills.  I support them in participating in class, finishing tasks, being flexible, etc.

To sum it up, I am an independent contractor who does early intervention and SEIT (Special Education Itinerant Teacher) work, using ABA. I balance my day by tutoring typical kids.

gJg: That is a busy schedule!

FS: It really is, but I love what I do. I’m also fortunate because I get to work around my son’s schedule. My day is usually done when he’s done. I’ll pick him up, make dinner, help him with his homework and get ready to do the whole thing all over again the next day.

gJg: How long have you been doing this for?

FS: I’ve been doing this for about eight years now. Prior to that, I worked in film and television production.

gJg: What does a job in Film/TV production usually entail?

FS: I was a production coordinator, which meant that I coordinated everything to make the production run smoothly. I made sure the actual film is ordered, all of the actors have their scripts, pretty much everything you could think of from A-Z. Basically, I was responsible for everyone having what they needed to do their job.

gJg: I want to ask you about some of your earlier roles.

FS:  Sure!

gJg: How did you get your start with “The Facts of Life”?

FS: “The Facts of Life” actually started out as an episode on “Diff’rent Strokes”. That episode was a pilot and from there it went on to become its own series.

gJg: There was a rumor that you had actually auditioned for Kimberly on “Diff’rent Strokes”. Was that true?

FS: I not only auditioned but I actually had the part. I did the presentation for NBC but they decided that they wanted someone who was more “wholesome”.  So the role went to Dana Plato.

gJg: Were you originally to have much larger role on “Facts of Life” as well?

FS: Yes, it started out that way but then they minimized it, and ultimately my character was taken off.

gJg: What do you suppose was the reason for that?

FS: I think it was because there were too many girls and it became a bit too confusing. They decided to go with just four strong characters. I was supposed to return to do recurring appearances, but at that point, I had decided that I wanted to go to college and dropped acting for a while.

gJg: What made you decide to do that?

FS: I think it was when I was supposed to travel to LA to film an episode of “The Waltons” and actually had a psychology test conflict at that same time.

I also began to think about how during high-school I was always missing out on a lot of things because of work. So I made the decision to just concentrate on going to Brown University and then go back to the business once school was over.

gJg: In a scene in “Zapped!” You’re actually wearing a “Brown” University sweatshirt. Was this done on purpose?

FS: Yes! I had asked to wear it because I knew at the time I would be going to Brown. <laughs>

gJg: What was the chemistry like with all the girls that first season of “Facts of Life”?

FS: We had a lot fun together.  We all went to school together.  I remember that we all used to go around the lot on roller skates. Even though Tootie was the one who wore them on the show, we all used to skate around the lot on them.

gJg: One of my favorite “guilty pleasure” movies is “Zapped!”.  I loved how you were the only grounded person. Even when Willie Aames’s character is walking around school with an open can of beer.

FS: You’re right, that’s a good point! I never thought about that. <laughs>

gJg: Was “Zapped!” your first feature movie?

FS: Yes that was the big feature one that I did.

gJg: What did you like most about the script when you read it?

FS: I liked the fact that it was a spoof on the horror films at the time. I thought it was very clever.

gJg: How was it working with the cast?

FS: Everyone was nice. I got along well with everyone. I especially enjoyed being around Scatman (Crothers). He was just so adorable and sweet!

gJg: Any interesting facts from the movie you can share?

FS: A couple of the other actresses who auditioned for the role of Bernadette were Demi Moore & Helen Slater. Quite a few up and coming actresses at the time were also considered.

I remember being told that when they were deciding on the role, one of the executives asked their kid who their favorite person was from all of the old “Tiger Beat” and “Teen Beat” magazines. At the time, I was in those magazines quite a bit, so their kid knew me. That was one of the deciding factors as to why they chose me. <laughs>

I also recall being underage when they were filming the gym scene at the prom (the one where the shirts were popping off). I wasn’t allowed to be on set for that. <laughs>

gJg: Do you have an interesting Scott Baio story?

FS: Here’s a good one:

After the movie was completed we came back a year later to redo the love scene to make it “steamier”. I remember the acting technique I used was to just be “in the moment” and be real.

So when we did the make-out scene I was really making out with him but he just had his mouth opened moving it around. I was sticking my tongue in his mouth but he wasn’t reciprocating and I remember thinking: “Oh my God! He is the worst kisser ever!”  <laughs>

Then years later, I was in an acting class and the teacher was talking about screen kisses. How you just open your mouth, put it on the other and you just move your mouth around. You do NOT put your tongue in the other person’s mouth.

I was SO embarrassed thinking there he was giving me a professional screen kiss and was probably thinking: “What the hell is this girl doing sticking her tongue down my throat?!” <laughs>

gJg: Do you still keep in touch with anyone from the movie?

FS: When I lived in LA I used to run into Scott every so often at whatever clubs were “hot” at the time. <laughs>

I remained friends with Bob Rosenthal (director) for many years. Most of my friends now are in education.

gJg: Do you have any desire to go back to the business again?

FS: No, not really. Like I said before, I love what I’m doing now.

gJg: Do you find that people still recognize you a lot?

FS: Once in a while they do. Sometimes people will come up to me and say: “You look familiar but I’m just not quite sure where I know you from.” <laughs>

gJg: Have you ever given thought to writing a book?

FS: You know, it’s funny you mention that. I’ve had people who have asked me to write. I wouldn’t write about myself but about education and/or parenting.

Right now I’m in the process of designing and developing educational apps for the I-pad to help children with test prep and raising IQ’s.

Article first published as Making A Difference: A Conversation with Felice Schachter on Technorati.

Teacher Teacher

Most of us wanted our school years to just fly by. Every day of school was just another day closer to the weekend and doing whatever we wanted to do. At the time, most of us never really thought about the real impact school and teachers would have on our lives.

Bring out the way back machine Sherman and set it to the years 1984-1987……

I’m in high school again. You know, those crazy years we all went through. Like walking down the halls in Jordache jeans while Spandau Ballet blared over the loud speakers, carrying books covered by paper grocery bags (a requirement back then and before plastic bags became ALL the rage). Ok, its “True”, I made up the part about Spandau Ballet.

In all of my schooling I can’t remember much about what was learned or very much about my teachers. Although my friend Michele has the uncanny ability to recall exactly WHERE I was sitting in history class in proportion to her location. We’ll have to talk about this at the next reunion. I have a lot of questions that need answering.

Anyway, although I can’t recall much I do remember three teachers during my tenure there that really impacted me the most: Mr. Siddons, Mr. Fox and Mr. Milisits. I won’t even bother to give their first names because to me, respectively, that’s who they will forever be known as.

Mr. Siddons was my tenth grade history teacher. His father was one of the last of the old school door to door sales people who had sold insurance to my grandparents. He was also my brother’s history teacher two years earlier. So there’s sort of a familial relationship there too.

Mr. Siddons was probably the most benign person you’d ever meet. He had a soft tone and rarely yelled. But the one trait he had that I’ll never forget was the ability to tell the lamest jokes. You know the ones I mean, something like: “Why did the chicken cross the road? Because He had to go the bathroom”. And he’d always give out a “Mr. Siddons” laugh. Nothing outrageous or anything. He would just kind of chuckle to himself. You could tell he must have been up all night thinking about it. How he’d deliver it and the kids would go crazy.

At first his shtick didn’t go over too well with me. But by the end of the first month of class I actually looked forward to the little gems he’d throw out. Even though most all were met with crickets (and he must have felt like the size of an ant in a room full of elephants) he never let it get to him. He’d always chuckle, wipe his mouth and seque with “Ok, let’s take a look at the Gulf of Tonkin”….

Strangely enough, every day after having learned about Tonkin, the Volstead Act or some war to end all wars I remember giggling to myself reciting a joke over and over in my head as I walked out of the room. Surely, a joke I would never utter to anyone else. Maybe that was really his shtick. To get me to try to remember them.

During my junior and senior years I rarely got down to the part of the school where Mr. Siddons and others of his “ilk” resided. But on the occasion that I did or saw him in the hall he would always say “Hi” to me and call me by name. He always remembered me. And I’d never forget him.

Let’s transfer over to Mr. Fox in the Art department. A short, grey bearded man with a limp. Mr. Fox had suffered from polio as a child and as a result he walked a bit strangely. Sadly, I’m sure he was the butt of many jokes from cruel students but I think by this point in his life he was immune to all.

Art class was a means of escape for me. I loved to draw and became an affection ado for Bob Ross. I could watch that dude for hours paint a happy little tree. And while we never painted those trees in Mr. Fox’s class it was still a way for me to forget about all the problems of the day.

We all knew Mr. Fox must have been an artist himself. And one day we found out what he loved to do. We came into class to see these miniature models of a circus that he had constructed himself. Everything he painstakingly made from scratch with his own two hands. You could see the pride in his eyes. This guy was GOOD.

But the one day that really stands out for me was when we were drawing the human figure. We’d have students go up and just stand there while the rest of us drew. I could always draw the body (even cool detail on their Converse sneakers with rainbow shoe laces) but never the face. It never came out right. I spent a long time on it and it just wasn’t happening. He must have seen my frustration because at one point he came over and sat across from me. It was just me and him…face to face.

He looked at my piece and was impressed. Then he asked me why I was so frustrated. I told him it was because as hard as I tried I could never get the face to be anywhere close to being right. So he took a piece of paper and started doodling…all the while looking at me and just saying things like “You know, if you really want something and try hard enough, you can make it happen”.

For those thirty seconds or so I was more doubtful than ever…”Yeah, right” I thought to myself. Then he stood up and told me “Keep up the good work Jim”, and passed me the paper he was doodling on.

As he walked away I picked up the paper and looked at it. The old guy with the limp had just drawn a picture of my face. One where even the subject (in this case, yours truly)  would say “That looks just like ME”….he did that in thirty seconds of just scribble.

Finally, we move on to the music department, my personal favorite. I could write a novel on my exploits here (including the day I officially became a ROCK STAR opening for Clay Aiken) but we’ll save that for another time. Suffice to say, I credit most of my music “success” to the days of high school music theory and choir.

Mr. Milisits (or “M” as he is known) would conduct the huge high school choir. One that won many awards over the years. I’m sure for many; choir was like art class was for me. Just a way to get out of taking another boring subject. But that soon changed. Somehow, he would take a group of kids and make them WANT to sing.

He would always tell us inspirational things to keep pushing us. Quotes like “You can do this”, “A new mistake shows progress” and “Talk to me” resonated with everyone. He just had “something” that made you want to work hard.

During my senior year, it was his teaching that made me want to play guitar in jazz band and the school play. Now, to get a metal head that wanted nothing to do with ANY after school activity and would spend most of his free time jamming to Bon Jovi and Def Leppard to perform “Leader of the Pack” is really saying something.  That M’s got some strong kung-fu.

When it came time to perform, be it at school or somewhere in Canada, it was really like “rock star” night for the choir. And well, I even got to play that black heavy metal guitar during our spring concert. One that hangs on the wall in my office right to this day that I still play.

I could bore you for hours on how M’s classes changed me but let me just end by saying those classes are the best memories I have from high school.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to rejoin “M” and a few other alumni as he is now the director of the Lehigh Saengerbund Chorus.We’re preparing to perform at Allentown Symphony Hall in early June, twenty-five years after I last sat with him in high school concert choir.

As I sit in rehearsals now there’s no wayback back machine required. It’s like re-living a part of all the best days of being in school again. That old feeling of “you can do it” and “new mistakes show progress” are back.

And it’s all good.