Mosquito Pool Update

Mosquito nursery site in Pasadena

This is the third summer that my next door neighbor has been breeding mosquitoes. The first and second years, other concerned neighbors on my block added bleach to the pool to try to kill mosquito larvae. This year, I finally notified the health department. Not long after that, the side poles were dismantled but now this is four weeks later. The defunct pool is still breeding just as many mosquitoes.

Anne Arundel County has a huge mosquito problem and our neighborhood has been sprayed recently. I suspect that this pool has negated the spraying on our block because I am itching more than ever.

Here is the original post on the second year of this mosquito nursery:

Posted in abandoned pools, backyard, breeding, health, Maryland, mosquito, Pasadena, pool, problem, unhealthy | Leave a comment

The Weight of Recycling in Anne Arundel County

[Good news! My recycling was collected today, May 23, and the truck had a semi-automatic lift to assist. I am so glad to see this. This changes much of what I have said below.]

Our Anne Arundel County (Maryland) government recently delivered new, huge recyling containers to each home. I was delighted. Instead of having to drag my two smaller old yellow recycling cans to the curb, my new container has wheels and a lid. I put my foot on the tilt section at the bottom and the container tilts back on its wheels while I hold the handle and roll it to the curb. Now, instead of two containers, I only have to deal with one. This is definitely an improvement…

… Or so I thought until I stood curbside and watched two recycling employees try unsuccessfully to lift my new cart to empty into the truck. The older of the two finally decided to do it himself and got the job done. I lamented to him that it was too heavy and that they should not be expected to lift these. He smiled and claimed, “Oh, it ain’t so heavy.”  I asked when they would start using the automatic trucks. I assumed, because of the design with the lower lift bar, that they were designed for automatic trucks. He responded, “I don’t know nothing about that.” Then he added, “You have a good day!”
These new containers are 65 gallon-size, 41” in height, 27” wide and 28” deep. My guess was that they weighed about 25 pounds empty, but when I checked with the county Recycling Division, I found out they really weigh 36 pounds—empty. I thought that could not be right, so I called the manufacturer, Rehrig Pacific Company, and it confirmed the weight was 36 pounds, empty.
True, they appear to be quite sturdy and built to last. The product seems to be a good one.  The problem comes when I read our county’s rules. Its Web site has not been updated, but the rule for the largest of the older-style containers was that everything should be limited to 40 pounds total. I assumed that was for concern of the recycling workers.
Now, if the limit is 40 pounds, do the math — we can add just 4 pounds to max out.
“Please note that you do not need a yellow recycling container to recycle in Anne Arundel County; you can use any container that works best for you, just be sure to mark it with “X” and please make sure the loaded container does not weigh more than 40 pounds.”
If the weight limit is raised, then the problem is that recycling workers will be asked to lift more weight than is reasonable.
Stack up a week of newspapers and junk mail, four or five wine bottles, empty metal, glass and cardboard food containers, some old magazines, lots of plastic, we can come close to filling that cart, and it will surely be way over the weight limit.
The county’s recycling slogan is, “Recycle. More. Often.” It even publishes a map comparing quantities collected from various areas of the county, along with grades. My area earns a grade of B-. 
I am concerned about the men who pick up these heavy containers. I expected that semi-automatic trucks would be used, which means the men would roll the cart to a ground-level platform and then push a button which would raise and tilt to dump the contents of the carts. Last Friday, in my neighborhood, the old trucks came as usual and these men were lifting more than the usual weight. I wonder if they will be making more money and if they will be given more time off for back injuries.
On Facebook, I found a page for AAC recycling. Another woman had posted her concern for the weight that workers had to deal with. The county’s response:
“…many of the trucks are equipped with them already. It is the contractor’s choice to dump by hand. They find the carts are light (as most recycling is empty bottles, cans, etc.) and it’s faster for them to do it that way.”
Really? Did anyone tell the county that the containers it is using are designed for automatic or semi-automatic truck loading? Do they think that a quantity of empty bottles is light? The company that makes these recycling carts specifies that they are designed for semi-automatic or automatic collection.
When I tried to find through OSHA what weight limits would be recommended for sanitation workers, I found a very complex math formula (see link notes below) that required specific measurements for actions of a particular job.
It is reasonable to predict that workers will be lifting 50 pounds or more, one after another, throughout the neighborhood. They roll the cart to the truck (the easy part), pick it up high enough to reach the mouth of the truck and twist their bodies to empty the container’s contents. Our community has more than 400 houses.  This constant, repetitive action most likely will lead to more serious back injuries.
OSHA recognizes the dangers:
“Workers involved in waste collection may be at risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from workplace activities which force them to work beyond their physical capacities (i.e., lifting an item that is too heavy, or lifting too often, or working in awkward body postures). MSDs are a serious problem as they can increase the number of employee lost workdays, increase insurance costs, increase training and staffing costs, and reduce operation efficiency and quality.  Improvements in the workstation designs, work pace, work postures, weight of materials and other changes allow workers to work within their physical limits and will likely reduce the number [of] errors, sick days, and injuries and enable workers to be more productive and produce a higher quality product. Ergonomic improvements are often simple and obvious, such as sorting on elevated tables, the use of simple lifting mechanisms, and rotating workers through different job tasks.”

David Tuller in Health Day writes

Like other professions that require physical labor, garbage collecting can put tremendous strain on your body as well. In some cities, trash pickup crews still run an average of 20 miles a day behind moving garbage trucks. “Vehicular traffic and repeated lifting while on the run causes thousands of crippling injuries each year,” says labor historian Earl Dotter. According to a report from the US Bureau of Labor statistics, in 2006 there were over 3,000 instances of lost workdays nationally because of injuries to garbage collectors working for private haulers. This figure does not even include injuries or lost days for garbage collectors working for county and city collection services. Some injuries stem from constantly repeating awkward movements, such as jumping in and out of garbage trucks and lifting cans that can sometimes weigh 100 pounds or more. The weight and the often-awkward positions can cause back strain and ankle sprains.”
I like that our county is encouraging recycling and it was good to receive ergonomically designed carts that we can easily roll to the curb. But what about ergonomics for the workers? Their job is made more difficult and is likely more prone to back injuries. The county has a recycling motto and has provided nice looking and efficient containers, but has shown a disregard for the backbone of recycling—those men who come around once a week to collect our many pounds of household recycling.
For more information, see the following links:
Controversy over chips that keep track of recyling amounts for each home. (I do not care if the county wants to measure my recycling but some people are paranoid about it.) The chips are not being used now and if in the future they are, no one has to use containers with these chips.
For Semi-Automatic or Automatic Collection
Container made by:  Roll-out Carts & Recycle Bins
“Your customers want roll-out carts that are right for their purpose, easy to handle, stand up to a beating and stay good-looking over the long term.  Proven to withstand the rigors of both fully and semi-automated collection systems like yours, Rehrig Pacific’s HuskyLite® Roll-out Carts are setting new industry standards for durability and efficiency.  Available in a wide range of sizes, for nearly any curbside application – including refuse, organic waste and recyclables – these carts roll easily even with heavy loads.  The continuous one-piece handle provides a strong gripping area and the wide wheelbase makes maneuvering easy.
HuskyLite® carts are flexible, yet hold their shape even after years of service.  A reinforced top lip adds strength and rigidity as do the double drag rail and reinforced bottom.  The specially designed wide ground-hugging base helps keep these carts upright and stable.
You can customize the roll-out carts to your specific needs.  Options include internal and external locking lids, which can be made with slots for collecting confidential documents; and cutouts for recyclable beverage containers.  Wheel options include blow-molded wheels or quiet treaded snap-on wheels that install in seconds.”
Recycling collection – ergonomics
Green Job Hazards: Waste Management and Recycling: Collection – Ergonomics
Workers involved in waste collection may be at risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from workplace activities which force them to work beyond their physical capacities (i.e., lifting an item that is too heavy, or lifting too often, or working in awkward body postures). MSDs are a serious problem as they can increase the number of employee lost work days, increase insurance costs, increase training and staffing costs, and reduce operation efficiency and quality.  Improvements in the workstation designs, work pace, work postures, weight of materials and other changes allow workers to work within their physical limits and will likely reduce the number errors, sick days, and injuries and enable workers to be more productive and produce a higher quality product. Ergonomic improvements are often simple and obvious, such as sorting on elevated tables, the use of simple lifting mechanisms, and rotating workers through different job tasks.
Weight Lifting – lots of math!


AAC recyling map by area
Solid waste industry
MUSCULOSKELETAL DISORDERS- Workers across many services sub sectors are engaged in tasks that have been associated with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs are injuries or inflammation of the nerves, tendons, muscles and support structures of the upper and lower limbs, neck, and lower back. The disorders are caused, precipitated or exacerbated by sudden exertion or prolonged exposure to physical factors such as repetition, force, vibration, or awkward posture. Many services sector workers are required to complete repetitive tasks and often exert considerable force in sometimes awkward positions.





Posted in Anne Arundel County, ergonomics, Maryland, recycling, Recycling Division, Rehrig Pacific Company, weight, wheeled carts, workers | Leave a comment

Too Many Choices?

© Photo by Bonnie Schupp

Which one should I choose? Elastic, fabric, flexible or new skin liquid bandage? Waterproof, heavy-duty waterproof, water block plus or breathable comfort wrap? Tough strips or gentle hypoallergenic strips? Color, clear or sheer? Small, regular, large, extra-large or assorted? Anti-bacterial, advanced healing hydrocolloid or advanced healing blister care? Disney princess, Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse, Disney Pixar, Sponge Bob, Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or plain?

This is a sticky problem. Maybe I should buy the stretch net that eliminates the need for adhesive bandages?
Four long CVS shelves accommodate an array of way too many boxes of bandages or Band-Aids. When I was a young girl, if my mother sent me to the store to buy some Band-Aids, I would be in and out of the store in an instant. Today, it takes me 15 minutes at least to study all the choices, another 5 minutes to make up my mind, and another 5 minutes to question the wisdom of my choice. 
We pride ourselves in our freedom of choice, but have we come to the place where our freedom is actually enslaving us? Having so many options is overwhelming and at the very least, time consuming. Is consumer choice causing anxiety?  Is constant decision-making affecting our sanity and taking time away from things that really matter?
Rather than an entire aisle, part of one shelf of bandages is plenty for me.

Is less better? Perhaps. 

Check out the links below and you decide. (Please note: Because I am a kind-hearted human being, I have intentionally limited your choices for reading.)
(If you do not have time to look at all the following links, this one is the best.)
“The tyranny of choice: You choose.” The Economist,         
“Are too many choices a bad thing?” Mother Nature Network,
“Why does having too many options make it harder to choose?” How Stuff Works,    

In case you doubt what I said about bandages, check out the 5 (yes, five!) pages for bandages on the CVS Web site.

Posted in choice, consumers, too many choices | 4 Comments

What to do When the Creative Mind Becomes Blocked?

The Gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in New York City’s Central Park 2005

©Photo by Bonnie Schupp

What can we do when our creative bucket has a hole in it and inspiration has dribbled out?
Instead of stressing and fermenting negative thoughts that only exacerbate the problem, we need to seek the unfamiliar and try on the uncomfortable. When we push ourselves to hang out in settings we do not particularly like, and when we attempt to find something of value in things we do not like, our mind-block can crack and crumble. Several years ago, I traveled to New York City and saw the Gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Central Park and I listened to comments of people walking around. Some people did not see it at all as art while others did, but whatever anyone thought, the Gates succeeded in opening up discussion and stretching how people view art.
Curiosity about everything– not just what appears to be directly related to our own art– should drive all artists. For example, once I went out of my way to go to a performance of throat singing at the Theatre Project in Baltimore, part of the High Zero Festival. This was something I had never heard of and was unrelated to my art of photography. Was it art? Did I like it? That doesn’t matter. It gave me a new way of thinking about what music is, what singing is. When we begin to redefine things, then our new definitions may spill into our own art.

Like most photographers, I am used to carefully composing the photos I take. Recently, I began to think about what would happen if I did not carefully compose my images. What would happen if I did not even look through the viewfinder? For a month, I did just this. I held my camera upside down, aimed from my shoulder over my back; I held my camera at my hip without knowing exactly what might be captured in the viewfinder or not. I did not even think about whether this experiment would succeed or fail. It didn’t matter. What was important was that I was curious about the results and this drove me to try something new.

Allowing ourselves to have new experiences, in fact searching for new experiences, will do wonders to lift the fog that often clouds our vision. It does not matter if the new experiences are good or bad because both the good and bad fertilize the creative ground.
Just as a seed slowly pushes up from the soil, so does a creative idea often evolve. Of course, inspiration can sometimes burst through the fog like the sun but more often creativity gradually evolves— if we allow it.
Remain Open
For I was born to shiver
in the draft from an open mind.
–Phyllis McGinley
Cultivating an open mind is so important. We can be our own worst judge and shoot down our ideas before they ever have a chance to germinate. In fact, judgment can be bad whether we are judging the art of others or our own. One of the purposes of art is to stretch the way we think.  A quote attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. succinctly states, “A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimension.”
When we allow our ideas to come to a dead-end because we are not sure if they will work, then they won’t. It is important to embrace ambiguity. “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties,” Erich Fromm reminds us. Creativity demands that we take risks and open ourselves to criticism and our own feelings of foolishness.
Sometimes the dead-end is actually one we have created ourselves because we are living with blinders—doing the same things we’ve always done, hanging with people who think just like us.  There is a certain amount of comfort in this but what happens when we try to get our car out of a snowdrift? We spin wheels, dig a deeper rut and wind up stuck worse than ever. To get out of this snowdrift, we might need the help of someone we have never talked to before or we might need to use something as a new tool or we might have to get out the shovel to sweat a while without thinking about where we are going.
When ideas become sluggish, it also could be a message to take a hiatus. Just relax without worrying about being creative at all. Everyone needs a break and time to rejuvenate. Instead of painting a pumpkin patch, maybe it’s time to carve a pumpkin. Instead of taking photos of dancers, maybe it’s time to learn a new dance. Instead of trying to write a new song, maybe it’s time to create a collage of musical notes. There are times when I intentionally do not take a camera with me. Too much immersion into our own art can be like wearing blinders.

Sometimes, just walking alone in the woods is the answer. Julia Cameron writes in Walking in This World, The Practical Art of Creativity: “It is on these walks that my best ideas come to me. It is while walking that difficult clarity emerges. It is while walking that I experience a sense of well-being and connection, and it is in walking that I live more prayerfully.” She talks about a “creative unfolding.”

Research at Stanford University confirms the importance of walking in the creative process: “Through a series of studies, we have demonstrated that walking can enhance one part of the creative process, specifically coming up with new ideas; walking outside is even more beneficial. This effect held up for a more stringent test of creativity, which involved generating analogies. Walking also seems to help increase everyone’s number of creative ideas, regardless of their IQ. The effect of walking does not benefit activities that require more focused, convergent types of thinking, such as when you must choose one correct answer.”
Creativity Acrostic
Often I need to remind myself about the creative process. Here are some paths that I’ve taken to wake up my creativity. Maybe this list will work with others:
Create solely for the joy of it.
Regard the world as if you were an ant, egret or alien.
Experience something new each day.
Abandon your need to fit in.
Trust and nourish the child in you; let this child come out to play.
 Investigate  what if.
Vegetate without fear of wasting time.
 Ignite your curiosity and let it drive you.
Throw away the judge in you that sets rules and boundaries.
Yield and give yourself permission to be eccentric, even outrageous.
For further reading:
Washington Magazine, Washington University in St. Louis:
Some of my blogs:

Posted in acrostic, Christo, comfort zone, creative block, creative solutions, creativity, curiosity, open mind, the Gates | 2 Comments

Birth of an Idea – Some Thoughts on Creativity

Fertilize the Mind
How is an idea born? Paradoxically, the answer remains an enigma even to those who spend their lives creating ideas.
Designers who talk about their creativity in the book, A Smile in the Mind by Beryl McAlhone, all work with basic elements of the creative process: fluency,  the process of developing a multitude of ideas;  flexibility, the ability to see different approaches; originality the result of new combinations; and elaboration,building on these ideas. However, none of these designers can concretely explain how original connections happen. There is no road map, no template to follow. Instead, people use various techniques to fertilize the mental ground where these ideas grow.
Getting Started
Like many designers, Milton Glaser starts with words and, as in any communication process, he begins with what the audience knows. He uses familiar clichés as the medium to establish the context. However, this is only the beginning of the process. “You must use clichés to set the stage and then twist it in such a way to disrupt it.” Once the audience recognizes the cliché, the context, then the cliché needs to be “detoxified.” Glaser discusses the importance of shaking up expectation. He says the successful execution of wit is the “penetration of the immunity of an audience.” When the cliché they understand does not follow through in the expected way, it breaks through the immunity. This wit is what people remember.
There are a number of creative “models” (CPS Model, James Higgins Model, de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, etc.) which attempt to be templates for the creative thought process. Glaser, however, talks about how creativity is not a rational process. You cannot generate ideas if you are traveling a linear path. Often ideas are born not only off the path but also on different levels. Picture an idea as a living thing meandering on a flat piece of paper on a desk. In this scenario, there is a limit to where the idea may travel.
Now picture an idea meandering in and out on the crinkles of a balled up paper, taking flight on a ribbon of steam from a coffee cup, grabbing the sound wave of a ringing phone and then hopping back on the ball of paper. Infinite possibilities abound on this second journey. The important thing is to keep an open mind about how and where ideas may travel.
Be Ready
Some people use certain mechanisms for triggering ideas, such as talking with others, starting something new, sleeping, smelling apples or walking. I find that most of my ideas come while walking or driving. Usually when I walk, I carry pen and paper to jot down ideas before they are lost. On several occasions, while driving I’ve become so wrapped up in the flow of ideas from so many directions that I have wound up lost in a stranger’s driveway. Glaser suggests that ideas happen when you allow yourself, in a relaxed state, to go off on tangents. Most of the designers in this book say their ideas come when they are not thinking about the project. They allow the subconscious to work and make connections. Bill Moyers reminds us that you must “pay attention to your preconscious self that slips messages to you, much as a note is slid under the door.”
Glaser says it helps to place yourself in a state of readiness. In order to discover concealed relationships, you must be ready to accept them. This cannot be willed. “Ideas happen when you release your mind from its willful demand for something to happen.” You cannot insist on getting an idea, for instance, by four o’clock this afternoon. I’ve always understood this. As an undergraduate student at Frostburg, I became upset when my creative writing teacher announced that we would take a creative writing exam at a scheduled time. Creativity does not happen by arriving at a two o’clock exam and following a prompt to create on demand. I took a big risk and protested this philosophy. I showed up at the scheduled test time, ignored the creative writing exam, and wrote about why I was refusing to take the exam and how I perceived the flow of the creative process. What I wrote must have made sense to the professor because I received an A for the course.
Filling in the Spaces
Finally, Glaser looks at design as narration and suggests that the most important element is what is left out. It is important for the viewer to complete the communication by connecting with what is not said, with what is not shown. This pulls the audience in as collaborators in the creative process. Many teachers complain about the lack of student imagination and creativity. David Thornburg calls creativity the “new scarcity” in educational institutions and Jonas Salk says our future depends on creativity. Perhaps today’s students may not be challenged enough to fill in spaces. Audience participation might also be the reason why reading a book is almost always better than seeing a movie. The reader must fill in more spaces when reading, while movies tend to complete things for the viewer. When the audience participates, there is an intrinsic sense of satisfaction in making the connection. And often this connection does not stop with the “aha” moment. The audience not only remembers the message, but also uses imagination for further elaboration of their own.
It is the process of filling in spaces, putting yourselve in a state opf readiness and giving yourself permission to meander that fertilizes the mind for creative growth. You may be unable to describe the birth of an idea but you can certainly put out the welcome mat.


See more of my blogs on creativity:

Posted in A, Beryl McAlhone, creativity, elaboration, flexibility, fluency, ideas, metaphor, Milton Glaser, originality, Phaidon Press, Smile in the Mind | 3 Comments

Teaching in the 60’s and 70’s

What do You Want to be When You Grow Up?
“I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up—a brain surgeon,” I announced when I was around age 10 or 11. I always read my grandmother’s (Mom-Mom’s) Readers Digest and I had just memorized a section about the brain. My parents always encouraged my sisters and me to do our best but never fostered what they might consider out-of-reach goals. We were an ordinary middle class family living in a Baltimore row house.
Not long after my announcement, my parents talked with me. “Bonnie, girls don’t become doctors—and besides, it’s too messy. You should be a secretary or a teacher.” I remember my mother saying at another time that she would never go to a woman doctor but I like to think that she would have had confidence in me if I had taken that path.
Although at that age I was teaching myself to type and had already typed several pages of a 60-page book I was writing, I couldn’t see myself sitting at a typewriter every day. Maybe I would be a teacher. I needed to start practicing right away. My middle sister Nancy, two years younger, was already as smart as I was, so that left my youngest sister Jaymie, who was nine years younger than I was. As soon as she was old enough, I began playing school with her. As it is now, she turned out to be very smart, with or without my teaching.
So I didn’t become a brain surgeon when I grew up; I worked with brains on a different but important level. I became a teacher.
Rookie Teacher
I was supposed to be ready to teach after I graduated from Frostburg State College in western Maryland  and completed my student teaching assignment at Herring Run Junior High in Baltimore. After sending my college transcript and applying to teach in Baltimore, I was hired without an interview, not even by the principal of my assigned school, Benjamin Franklin Junior High in Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood.
My English department head, Magdalene Rice, handed me a pile of papers and showed me to my classroom, P8, “P” standing for “portable.” A “temporary” white wooden classroom building dating from World War II guarded the playground after the student population outgrew the main brick building. Eerily somber in its silence, my room held 35 graffiti-riddled desks with dusty book bins beneath the seats. Before she left me in my room, Ms. Rice gave me some advice that I thought was strange at the time. “Remember—don’t smile until Thanksgiving.”
Wearing proper teacher garb, a skirt and blouse on this first teacher day, I was walking down the hall in my portable building when a man approached and reproached me. “What are you doing in here? You’re not allowed in the building until school starts.” After my initial confusion, I realized that this was my vice-principal, Ben Joffe, who thought I was a student—understandable since I would be only 9 or 10 years older than my 9th-grade students, I looked young and had long hair going down my back in the popular teen style of those days. After clarifying that I was one of his teachers, he let me stay.
As I began to tackle my classroom so it would be visually inviting, two big boys arrived at the classroom door. “Hey, you’re our new teacher. Can we help you do something?” I found out they were Rufus Shank and Dean somebody and that they would be in my homeroom. Of course, I was delighted with the helpful and enthusiastic attitude of these two students and I gave them the job of assembling and tacking up the bulletin board. After about 20 minutes, they said they had to leave because they had promised their mothers they would be home by noon. I thanked them and thought about what my department chair had said. There was no reason not to smile when my students wanted to help. A half-hour later, I was ready to eat my paper-bag lunch I had on my desk. It wasn’t there. I could hear my metaphoric balloon popping as I realized that these two helpful students had come to check out their new and very young-looking teacher. They stayed only long enough to satisfy their curiosity and to see what they could get away with. They got away with my lunch.
As the semester started, I learned more about them. Rufus was a constant disruption in class despite his mother working nearby in the office. And I found out that Dean was 17 and living independently in his own apartment. Sometime in October, Dean stopped coming to school. The reason? He had been arrested for tying his sister to a bedpost and raping her. I would be removing his name from my class roster.
On the first day of school, my knees were literally shaking.  An introvert by nature, as a child I was too timid to raise my hand in class. Now, as an adult, I was afraid of standing in front of a roomful of kids. Eventually my knees stopped misbehaving and I breathed a sigh of relief when the bell rang at the end of the day.
Exhausted at the end of the first school day, I drove home from Brooklyn to my Charles Village third-floor apartment which I shared with my first husband. After I lugged myself and my briefcase up the narrow steps, I collapsed on the sofa and my kitten jumped on my chest, ready to play after being alone all day. All I wanted was a sympathetic presence; instead, my kitten scratched me and made my arm bleed.  At that point, the tears started—not only did my students hate me, but my kitten hated me.  I must have cried every day I came home from school for the first three weeks. I constantly reminded myself that I wanted to teach and that I needed to toughen up. I must have forgotten and smiled. I was beginning to respect my department chair’s advice.
I was 24 years old and idealistic as I set out to make a difference as a teacher. I expected that I would make a difference to every one of my students; in retrospect and on many levels, my students made a huge difference in my life.
Teacher as Learner and Risk-Taker
Because I was young-looking and inexperienced, my students knew they could take advantage but gradually that changed. At the same time, I was willing to take risks even though it might reveal my weaknesses and render me vulnerable. I asked my area supervisor, Manny Velder, to come to my school to watch me teach so that he could advise me of what I needed to change. I knew I needed better classroom management skills if I were to be a good teacher. Manny was surprised. Apparently, I was the first teacher to ever invite him and ask for help. Most teachers are nervous about being observed. It was a good move because he watched me in action and offered advice. Ultimately, I followed his suggestions and continued to improve.
Did I mention that every waking hour in my life was spent preparing lessons and grading papers? Goodbye to carefree weekends. Goodbye to relaxing Sundays. Soon I found out that more was expected of me. Besides regular classroom duties, as a new teacher, I had to go to school headquarters every couple of weeks to sit in a classroom with other new teachers from around the city so we could learn how to teach. Never mind that the teachers who were teaching the teachers did not know how to teach.  I especially wasn’t impressed when for our second class we were assigned “homework.” What?! I did not have time for these meetings, much less do their silly homework. Many years later when I would return to teaching, this time at Annapolis Middle, my principal Charity McClellan told me that my goal that year was “to survive.” That was the kind of understanding I needed in Baltimore City as a new teacher.
At this time, I considered my options and goals. My goal was to do a good job teaching and to make a difference however I could. The new teacher-required classes were interfering with this goal. If I did not go, I knew I could be fired or reprimanded at the very least. However, I would have more time to plan and succeed in my job. It was clear what I had to do. I stopped going to the required classes.
Eventually vice-principal Joffe received a letter about my lack of attendance and he called me on it. I told him that my goal was to be an effective teacher in his school but that new teacher classes were preventing me from doing my job. I also told him that I would not attend any more. His response gave me new respect. “Okay,” he said, and walked away.  I wasn’t reprimanded or fired and I continued to put my heart into teaching my students.
Sometimes I took risks with my students. In one of my classes, a disruptive student (maybe named Tyrone) was making it difficult for me to teach the rest of the class. I gave him detention. I told him that in two days he would teach his class. That got his attention! He had to come for detention the next day too, and I would work with him to help plan a lesson for him to teach to his peers. I announced to the class that Tyrone would be their teacher the next time they came and that I would be sitting in the back of the room. You could see the “Oh boy!” in their eyes. I also told them that Tyrone could give them detention that I would require them to serve with me. (These were the days when detention mattered, unlike when I returned to teaching in the 90’s and parents told teachers and principals that their children would not be serving detention.)
The next day arrived with a nervous Tyrone. The tough guy wasn’t so tough any more. He followed the lesson we had worked on together but not without some disruptive attempts from his classmates. They kept turning around to see if I would call them on their behavior. I did not but was waiting for their fellow student to do this. Tentatively he took charge and did not do a bad job at all. Afterward he told me that he’d never been so scared in his life. Also, after stepping into his teacher’s shoes for one class, his newfound empathy led him to be a more cooperative student.

And then there was Basilio Thrasher, who only sneered and fiddled with a chain. It was obvious that his life experiences were beyond my understanding. We sort of came to an unstated understanding that if he sat quietly in his seat, no rattling of the chain, I would not bug him. I suspect he was merely waiting for a birthday that would allow him to drop out of school.  

I loved the diversity at Ben Franklin Junior High, both among students and faculty. The staff socialized outside of school and I never noticed a racial divide at #239 as I did when I returned to teaching in 1988 at Annapolis Middle. I had the same expectations of all my students, regardless of race, so I was surprised when Doris Williams, an excellent black vice-principal, approached me about a student (Mavis maybe) who complained to her that I was prejudiced against her because she was a “Negro.” Doris laughed as she told me because she said Mavis also complained about her history teacher, Charles Minor, who was black. It turned out that both of us had given Mavis detention and she thought she could get out of it by accusing her teachers of racial prejudice.
I’ve always been lucky and somehow escaped reprimands from administrators, even when I threw a stool in the classroom in the late 90’s when teaching in Pasadena. (But that’s another story for later.) The original wooden portable buildings became extremely hot in warm weather. The usual attire for female teachers in the 60’s was a dress or skirt and blouse with stockings. (Later when teaching at George Fox Middle, I wore slacks and even hiking boots sometimes.) When temperatures rose, I found stockings unbearable. So did Sara Conlee, another English teacher who taught in a room close to mine. Principal Edna Carter reprimanded Sara for not wearing stockings. I was surprised that anyone would be reprimanded for trying to stay comfortable in an uncomfortable environment. I was never approached about this. I don’t know why but I would probably have continued teaching without stockings.
Going Beyond the Classroom
Unorthodox approaches that might have worked in the past would never work in today’s educational climate. I remember another student (maybe a Wayne) who was not a bad person but just immature and disruptive. After keeping him in detention, I told him I was going to drive him home to talk with his mother. His mother came to the door and told me I had her sympathy. “I can’t do anything with him. He keeps acting up. You have my permission to spank him if he gives you trouble again.”  Of course, I did not spank him but her words seemed to have helped him to be in a more positive place.
Another student I had for a first-period class was a girl (name escapes me) who had trouble getting out of bed in the morning and arriving at school on time. Because of this, she frequently missed my class. She wasn’t trying to avoid my class. We both liked one another and later that year she planned a surprise birthday party for me (during class, of course) with a card that said, “We love you like a sister.”  One day I was determined to take unorthodox action. She lived across the street from the school and still had trouble getting there on time. I left school, with my homeroom students in the room, walked across the street and knocked on the door. When her mother answered, I asked her why her daughter wasn’t in school. She responded that she had tried to get her daughter out of bed but she didn’t listen to her. She suggested, “Why don’t you go down to her room and drag her to school.” She let me in and I descended steps that led into a bedroom painted black on ceiling and walls and with a young girl still in bed. I told her to get up and get herself to school right away. I returned to my homeroom and she got to school quickly.
Another student (again I forget his name) seemed to be a little needier than the others. He was a foster child. I invited him to come home with me and paint my back porch. It would be a paying job. By this time, I had moved to Brooklyn Park, which was closer to work. The next day, after school, he painted my back porch. I never asked him if he’d ever done any painting. For some reason, this didn’t matter to me—but it did matter to my first husband, who was a good painter and who did not appreciate the sloppy work from my student. This experience for my student, seeing his teacher at her home, was enlightening to him. He told me, “Until today, I always thought my teachers left school and curled up in a black box until the next day.” He learned that his teachers were regular human beings. I learned that I should have supervised his painting a little more closely. Later, my first husband and I made an appointment with social services about the possibility of becoming foster parents for this teenage boy. We were turned down—something about us being too idealistic.
I learned that there were some students I could not help. A girl who was on my roster never showed up and I found out that she was a runaway. I contacted a friend who worked with the Fellowship of Lights in Baltimore, a service that worked with runaways. He made contact but she still never returned to school.
Field Trips and Assemblies
As I gained experience, I decided to become even more involved. Another teacher, Eileen McKinney, and I started a United Nations Club. We took a bus trip to the United Nations, another to D.C. and visited embassies. We invited a speaker from the Peace Corps to talk with our group. As it turned out, the speaker who was sent was someone I grew up with as a child.
The trip to D.C. was interesting but was not without a mishap that shook me up a little. One of the students on this trip was frequently ostracized by his peers. We did a buddy system and head count when we returned to the bus after each embassy visit—all the normal checks. However, as we drove up to our last embassy, this student was outside the bus and met us at the curb as the bus pulled up. His buddy hadn’t raised his hand, maybe wanted to leave him behind. This student who missed the bus was smart enough to know our itinerary and he caught a cab to our next stop! I always counted three times after that experience.
Along the C&O Canal © Bonnie J. Schupp
I also started a Travel Club and remember two trips in particular—one was a bike ride along the C&O Canal in the D.C. area. We met with a junior high group from Suitland, Maryland, that was led by my Frostburg roommate who taught there. It was a good trip with city kids riding bikes on a dirt path rather than the street. Our Ben Franklin students were well-behaved while having fun.
A more complicated trip to plan was camping and tubing at Harpers Ferry. I think it was a first-time camping experience for most students who signed up. One fell out on the tubing trip but was okay. Then it rained that night and a tent collapsed. The next day we dried out at the laundromat. In spite of everything, that too was a good trip.
Every year our school treated graduating 9th-graders to a special year-end field trip. Some years we rented the Port Welcome for a boat trip from Baltimore to Annapolis. Other years we went to Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, which was first integrated in 1963. Some of my students twisted my arm, almost literally, and I had my first roller coaster ride on the wooden roller coaster. To be honest, I preferred the carousel, caterpillar, airplane and bumper cars. The park closed in 1973 after flooding from Hurricane Agnes but the carousel was moved and is still operating on the National Mall in D.C.
I noticed by the time I went back to teaching in 1988, teachers planned fewer and fewer field trips, myself included. By the beginning of the 2000’s there were so many students on medication, mostly for ADD, that logistics became complicated. Before the field trip, the school nurse had to put each student’s medicine in a bag labeled with name, dose and time. An administrator had to give medicine to each of these students during the outing. For a group of 150 students there could be as many as 20 students needing to be medicated. Taking this into consideration, along with the new pressure for teaching students for standardized testing, it is understandable why there are fewer field trips in schools now.

Besides instruction, kids had some interesting assemblies. One was when some of the younger teachers decided to put on a play for students. We practiced at night at one another’s homes. Wish I remembered their names. It was such fun just to practice and then, on stage, to hear the kids’ laughter watching their teachers act like fools. I doubt this happens much anymore. Most schools don’t have an auditorium with a stage and lights. Our play involved pretend drinking of alcohol and shooting with a fake gun. Today’s school rules do not allow even a fake gun in school—not even a piece of bread cut out to look like a gun.
9th-Grade Teachers, Publishers, Filmmakers and Snakes
Ben Franklin once housed two wings—one a junior high and the other an elementary school. I thought that proximity provided a great opportunity and I arranged for some of my 9th-graders to tutor elementary school students who might benefit from one-on-one reading help. It was rewarding to see my 9th-graders take a grown-up role with the younger kids. They all seemed to enjoy this. The newspaper wrote about this project but I can’t find the clipping.

One year, as the new schedule was being constructed for the next year, I was approached. “I hear you are a good typist.” Yes. As a 9thgrader at Woodbourne Junior High in Baltimore, I won the top award for speed and accuracy. “So many students want to take typing that the typing teacher has one more class than she can handle. Would you be willing to teach one typing class next year?” Sure. I discovered that typing was ten times easier to teach than English was. For one thing, this was an elective class and the students were motivated. No behavior problems and students were focused. Typing tests were self-graded on the spot and we followed page by page in the typing instructional manual. No special planning, no grading, no behavior problems. It was a nice break for me but, in spite of the challenges, I really enjoyed teaching English better.

I devised English classroom lessons that students might connect with and offered encouragement for the smallest glimmer of light. The two years I taught a typing class were the years my students put together a literary magazine. There were opportunities for longer pieces but also for short insights/phrases. With my students, we spent hours typing, editing. I believed it was good for students to have something tangible to be proud of, something with their words and name.

The school year was divided into quarters with different themed topics for English classes. One of the unit themes was “Decisions” and I thought it would be a good idea to go beyond the normal lessons for one of my classes by making a movie about decisions students make every day. These were the days before video, even before Super 8 mm film. This might be difficult for young people today to understand because they merely have to pull out a cell phone and they are able to make short movies. In the 60’s and early 70’s, a Baltimore city teacher had to call, reserve, and pick up a movie camera at headquarters. And, as we were filming, there was no instant feedback; we did not see what we filmed until it was developed. I remember the final film as being very rough but the kids had a good time producing it and I think they learned something about process—how to get from nothing to a final product.  Later, in the mid 1990’s after I returned to teaching, one of my students would win a special Anne Arundel County Public School’s award for her animated movie on nutrition.
In those days, standardized testing was not a buzzword. Teachers were encouraged to use audio visual aids to help create interesting lessons that students might connect with. One of my lessons involved reading a story about snakes. In my head, a perfect audio-visual aid was a boa constrictor I had at home. I wanted to bring the snake to school and bring it out at just the right moment, building up to the story. One of the challenges in the school building was to keep the snake warm and out of sight. The easiest way to do this was to put the snake next to my body, under a sweater I was wearing. When I had to leave my room to teach a typing class, the snake remained under my clothing until its head quietly popped out of my sweater sleeve and I had to push it back in before students noticed. In English class, the snake got the attention of the students. However, unknown to me, in one class there was a girl in the front row who had a deep-rooted snake phobia. When I revealed my snake, she screamed and ran out of the classroom. She stayed in the office that period and only returned when she was assured I had no snake under my clothing.
Teaching Timeline
My experience at Ben Franklin will always remain special because it was my first full-time career job. But even more so, I felt bonds with my students and fellow teachers—bonds that have remained over the years. When I began teaching in September of 1967, I made $5,800 a year. (I have the paycheck stub somewhere and can prove it!) Soon after I started, the annual salary went up to $6,000. In spite of low pay, I fully jumped into teaching because I knew it was an important job and I loved it. However, because it was my tendency to give so much of my time, energy and emotions, I experienced burn-out. I wanted to do so much more but felt that “the system” wore me down. Sometime in the fall of 1974, I left teaching to open a camera shop in Severna Park with a friend. It was something I had to do, something I had to prove to myself. As the years went on and as I dealt daily with money and things, I realized how much more important teaching was. Ever since second grade when I received a camera as a gift, photography has been a creative outlet. I did not find retail sales creative.
Eventually I wound up divorcing and then marrying again, David Ettlin, this second time for 34 years now. I taught photography classes through the camera shop, wrote photography columns for The Evening Sun and two more papers in Arizona and Indiana. I also wrote photography articles for Darkroomand Petersen Photographic magazines.  My daughter was born and I became a stepmother, both within a year. When my daughter was around eight, I took two required classes at AACC and applied for teaching jobs in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County. Even though the pay was less, I was open to teaching in the city. However, the interviews made the decision for me. For the Baltimore City interview, the interviewer was late and arrived with no apology. She treated me as someone definitely beneath her and then did not take into account that I had been making money writing both locally and nationally for newspapers and magazines. I was required to take a writing test! For the Anne Arundel interview, I was treated with respect and my large portfolio of published writing was enough evidence that I knew how to write. I had a second interview in Annapolis for an opening that six people had applied for. Thinking back on that interview with principal Charity McClellan, I think part of the reason I was offered that job over the other applicants was because I carried with me examples of work my students had done, things that made them and their teacher proud. I couldn’t help bragging about my students.  I was offered positions both in Baltimore and in Annapolis, but without hesitation, I chose the place where I was treated with respect.
I taught 7th-grade language arts at Annapolis Middle School for two years and then transferred to George Fox Middle which was a much easier commute for me. At first, I taught 7th – and 8th-grade language arts but for three years I was enrichment teacher. During this time, I bought a Web domain name, Reaching Minds, and kept a Web site for my students and their parents. After spending every day during one Christmas vacation working on the application, I applied to the Fulbright Memorial Teachers Fund and became the first teacher to represent Anne Arundel County in this fantastic program. The Japanese government paid for 200 U.S. teachers, four from Maryland, to travel to Japan for three weeks and learn about the Japanese culture and educational system.  Soon after that, I decided to become a student again, applied for the Doctor of Communications Design degree at the University of Baltimore, and was accepted. For several years, I existed on very little sleep between teaching 12-year-olds all day and going to graduate school at night. Finally, when I could no longer maintain the grueling schedule, I retired from teaching in 2003 and earned my doctorate at age 60 in 2005.
Parents Were Right                                   
When my parents many years ago told me that girls did not become doctors, they were trying to help me be realistic. In those days, there were lines—barriers—between male and female careers. Even if I had had the aptitude, my parents could not have afforded to send me to medical school. When I signed an agreement to teach for two years in Maryland after I graduated from Frostburg, I received free tuition and I paid for room and board and books with money I earned working summers and working on campus.
Today former students are part of my Facebook friends network, even one who sent me a friend invite saying, “I was a son of a bitch. I hope you’ll be my Facebook friend.” That’s another story for later.
As it turned out, teaching was a good choice for me.

~~~~~~~~ A Few Links ~~~~~~~
The Port Welcome

Bonnie Schupp’s photos from her early teaching days

 Student Delbert Williams is published in Scolastic Scope.

The Negro American in History – A teacher’s guide published by the Baltimore City Public Schools in the 1960’s

A condensation of the CIVIL RIGHTS LEGISLATION introduced by the president of Baltimore City Council on October 21, 1963 at the request of the ADMINISTRATION

A history of Brooklyn and Curtis Bay 

Benjamin Franklin Junior High as high school now

Posted in Baltimore, Benjamin Franklin Junior High School, Bonnie Caples, Bonnie Schupp, education, Maryland, students, teacher | 3 Comments


Pakistan in size relation to the east coats of the United States

Personal Connections

For me, an American, Pakistan was a remote country that held little interest until 1984 when our daughter, Lauren, entered kindergarten at then Gibson Island Country School.  As a precocious child, she began a year early and landed in a “little United Nations” class of around 18. Countries represented in her class were the United States, Korea, Great Britain, Turkey and Pakistan.  At age four, Lauren was the smallest in her kindergarten class and Ami, from Pakistan, was the largest. He was a nice kid who was generally on the quiet side, a giant teddy bear.  At that age, close friends were those of the same gender so I did not get to know Ami very well. I remember his mother, Salma, always smiling and friendly, wearing a sari to a special event at the school. It was a good education in many ways during Lauren’s K-5 education.
The only time I thought about Pakistan after that was when it was mentioned in the news, often in a negative light. Then in spring of 2013, my husband David and I received a call from Maryland’s World Trade Center Institute in Baltimore asking if we would host a Pakistani teacher. Although it was not a convenient time for us to have a visitor, we said yes and opened our home to Farhan Rafi, who teaches English to teenage boys. Farhan’s English is excellent.
For a brief two days, amid our myriad of scheduled activities, we learned a little about Pakistan and Farhan learned a lot about an eccentric American family. We have kept in touch via Facebook, and have Skyped with him and his students at the Access English Microscholarship Program in their city of Multan.
Our Skype session with Access English Microscholarship Program, Multan
See description on Facebook
David and I have also become Facebook friends with some of his students, although the time difference between the countries and our busy schedules do not work well for the instant chats that the students seem to crave. 

Sad News

Recently we learned sad news about one of Farhan’s young students, Abdul Muqeet. He is 15 and was seriously injured playing cricket with his school friends during a break.  After his friends took him to the school dispensary, a rescue team was called and then he was taken to the Nishtar Hospital Multan, where he underwent a critical and complicated spinal cord surgery. He is now at home, lying still in his bed, and his doctors estimate that his recovery will take at least six months.

Injured Pakistani student, Abdul Muqeet
Most of his treatment has been through donations from various sources. The three to four hundred dollars (American translation from rupees) for medication is an overwhelming burden on his middle class family. His father is a laborer, according to Farhan, who is trying to help the family deal with costs of treatment by asking for donations. He tells me that Abdul Muqeet is a very bright student who has learned English quite quickly and can speak it fluently. He is one of the more brilliant students in his school who is now lying in bed, unable to attend the classes he loves. It is touching that Abdul’s teacher is trying to help his student like this. See below about how you can help.

Learning About Pakistan

Since this new connection with Pakistan and its people, I have become more curious about this country. Farhan told me that medical insurance is uncommon in his country. When I researched, here are some things I learned:
Pakistan, which has had status as a country only since 1947 when it separated from India, has a life expectancy of 65 while the life expectancy in the U.S. is 78. Median age in Pakistan is 22, while in the U.S. it is 37. The average annual income is around 420 US dollars and 35 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line. There are also problems with water pollution and limited natural fresh water resources. A large part of the population has no access to potable water.The literacy rate is 45.7 percent, so Abdul is way above average in his country.

I was startled to learn that 99.3% less money is spent on health care in Pakistan than here in the U.S. According to the World Health Organization, “per capita public and private health expenditures combined in Pakistan are 7 USD while the United States spends 6,719 USD.”

How You Can Help

Health insurance is not the norm in Pakistan. You can send checks made out to Farhan Rafi who will give all donations to Abdul’s parents to help with expensive medical costs.
Farhan Rafi
H # 01, St # 10, Near Madrassa Farooqia, Ameerabad, Multan

Check out the information below to get a better picture of how disparate living conditions can be. Farhan understands how important education is and he makes every effort to help his students succeed.


I have always advocated the importance of education, no matter who you are and where you live. That is why I became a teacher. I just finished reading I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai who crusades for education for all and especially for Pakistani girls. If your local library does not have this book, you can find it here.  More about Malala on The Huffington Post.


Posted in Abdul Muqeet, donate, Farhan Rafi, health, health insurance, help, injury, medical, Pakistan, student, teacher, United States | Leave a comment