In my 20 years at this school, I have been stuck with 8th graders exactly three times. This is not one of those years, and since I am now the de facto “Introduction to Video Production” teacher, chances are that I won’t be again any time soon.

Whew. Although I did consider asking for a section this year just so I could have my boy for one more year. (Cue the awwwws.)

Since The Diary of Anne Frank is still in the 8th grade curriculum, I was in those years confronted with a problem. I do not like that book, nor do I see the literary significance beyond some excerpts. Notice I did not say the historical significance or the personal. I just can’t read it.

So long ago, I started substituting MAUS by Art Speigelman. This year, I decided to read it with my seventh graders. Next year they can decide whether Vladek’s or Anne’s story is more compelling.

So far, most of them love it as much as The Outsiders.

“Can we read Vladek today?”

Who’da thunk?

Anyway, things are busy around here, and I haven’t had a rerun in awhile. (What do you think? Carefully selected reruns or silence?) So here’s one from a couple of years ago, which is the last time I had eighth graders and the last time Maus was on the agenda. I wish I had time to do the interview project with this crew. I’ll beback Wednesday or Thursday with more about this and our corporate overlords.

I sort have been giving my lone eighth grade class the short shrift in this here blog lately. I guess that’s because I’m so busy trying to keep my head above water. In my 18 years here, this is the third time I’ve had an eighth grade class. And the last time was 8 years ago. Not that I’m whining or anything.

One of my fave things from back then was a tie-in to The Pigman. Since Mr. Pignati was, you know, old, I made them interview someone at least 60 years old. Then they turned the Q/A into a biographical sketch. Then I even made them present a brief (60 seconds or so–you know how short my attention span is) summary of the interview.

This year, we went from Maus, with Artie Speigelman creating art from his interviews with his Holocaust survivor father, to The Pigman. So the “grandma interviews” were especially appropriate.

I remember last time that I started the assignment with a minimum age of 70, but I had too many kids who couldn’t find someone that old to talk to. This year I went for 60, but most of the interviewees ended up being 70+. There you go.

Anyway, my regulars from last year will remember how much I complained about last year’s crew, and their laziness and suchlike. But I think I finally have this one class “doing school,” as they say. They’re still out to lunch half the time, and I still have to use the “Down  Boy!” voice now and then to bring them to heel, and one girl still runs in early before class and asks if she can spin around in my chair (and gets bummed if her friend gets there first and jukes her), but I’m actually starting to like them a little bit. I had always believed in that old saw, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” but maybe…

They sure put the hurt to this one.  I’m just burstin’ with pride.

First, nobody complained. That just about floored me. Nobody claimed they didn’t know anyone that old, nobody whined about having to talk to an old guy (like a few did back 8 years ago), and weirdest of all

Second, they all actually enjoyed it. I got essays out of two students whose COMBINED percentage last semester was less than 80%. I haven’t finished checking yet, but I think I got something out of everyone. That would be unprecedented for this class.

Third, they wrote some pretty dang good essays. Check this out.

One of the things Art Speigelman did in Maus was show us the process of interviewing Vladek in order to write the book. He shows us Vladek as an old man, as well as how he went about the whole thing. So I made them include a bit of that in their essays. I asked them to describe the person they interviewed, both disposition and looks, as well as a bit about how the interview went down.

“…the lighting in the room accented her snow white hair so beautifully it took your eyes off the horrid Hawaiian print shirt she loves to wear…”

“…her petite body walked down the narrow hallway as if she was (sic) trudging through snow…”

“…she wears bright pink lipstick, purple eye shadow, and only one kind of perfume, Estee Lauder.”

“She isn’t like other older people’ she’s not boring, or losing her memory, she isn’t embarrassing or hard to be around.”

“Every Thursday night, my Grama and I go to ___ for dinner…”

“For the interview, I sat on the couch…and she was on her recliner chair across from me. She looked pretty comfortable…she pretty much spoke like everything was no big deal. My sister says that is called being nonchalant.”

“He looks a little like a slim Captain Kangaroo, and has a moustache that looks like a white bristled push broom.”

“…I do see her every day…and I mean, there is only so much you can take of that woman…” (Shades of Artie and Vladek.)

Here and here are the links for the project.