Monday, November 18, 2013

Mannheim Middle School–Chicago

“Well, now I can scratch you off my bucket list.”

This is what our hostess Barbara Underdown told Sara once we arrived at her school on the outskirts of Chicago. Seems Ms. Underwood had witnessed Sara in action a few years back and decided she wanted to get my partner in rhyme to pay a visit to her school before she (Barbara) retired.


Well Barb retires this year and Sara came to visit. (I came along too – sort of like the icing on the cake – being the sweetie papeetie that I am.)

On the drive to the city with big shoulders Sara and I listened to The Poisonwood Bible which has a family of characters named Underdown in the story. I took this to be a harbinger of something good about to happen. I was right.

Mannheim is in a working class neighborhood and has a population of around 85% ESL (English as a second language) students. The building is a little old – but impeccably maintained. As soon as you walk in and see the work on the walls you know you are in a place where learning is paramount.

We did a couple big assemblies – one with just the eighth graders and then a second with the six and sevens that left the auditorium packed standing room only to the balcony. 

We than tag teamed a couple writing workshops with some of the sixth and seventh graders. We spoke about personification and word choice along with defining some big concept abstract nouns.


What was not abstract was the dedication and enthusiasm that Barbara had for teaching it was unflaggingly apparent – and in her final year before retirement to boot! In this standards obsessed education environment, here is one standard – the engaged and confident instructor that is sorely needed in our schools.

Yet, it seems at times, that we don’t value these spirits. We keep looking for data gathering opportunities, to ideas promulgated by folks who haven't set a foot in a classroom as an instructor, toss in folks with a five week training program and expect them to teach our children. I hope that the powers that be aren’t testing and tracking the learning right out of the classroom.

I hope that as folks like Ms. Underdown graduate from the profession that we don’t simply plug in script followers putting in a two year stint to pad their resumes before moving on to “real” jobs.

From what I saw at Mannheim, I don’t think this is going to be a problem for this middle school. I was heartened to be in a US public school where deeper thinking was obviously the goal.

Thanks Barbara – thanks Mannheim.


this pic may be out of focus but the students were not!

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