educators’ podcast: ‘mr. clark’s big band’ teaches how to help students with loss

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The “10 Minute Teacher” podcast recently featured Mr. Clark’s Big Band, specifically how Mr. Clark and fellow educators at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass. were willing to try novel and untested means to help their students through the grief of unexpectedly losing a fellow student.

Vicki Davis — aka “Cool Cat Teacher” — conducted the brief interview with me, asking whether teachers reading the book would find strategies to help students cope with the complicated feelings they experience after a peer passes away. My response included something Mr. Clark once told me, “If you give your students what they need, you’re never going to fail.”

You can listen to the podcast by:

Image credit: Cool Cat Teacher.

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essay: adventures with a dairy allergy

dairyIt was a serendipitous coincidence that my latest column for The Mighty website, “Got Milk? Adventures with a Dairy Allergy” was published as many were celebrating National Cheese Day an event in which I, sadly, did not partake.

The piece involves Thanksgiving dinner at my sister-in-law’s house, a jar of gravy, and a couple of doses of Benadryl. It starts this way:

My legs seemed to dissolve beneath me. My eyelids grew heavy as I plunged into sleep like I was falling off a cliff. Actually, it’s more accurate to describe what happened this way: I passed out in my sister-in-law’s guest bedroom, as if I’d been drugged. Blame it on the dry milk.

Read the whole essay here.

Image credit: The Mighty website via Getty Image/Baibaz.

essay: ms keeps some patients under summertime house arrest

the-mighty-300x300The website The Mighty has published a piece of mine about the brutal impact of summertime heat and humidity on multiple sclerosis patients.

“I am locked in a personal war with heat and humidity,” I wrote in the piece, my first at The Mighty where I am now a contributing writer. “To me, they are more than mere summertime annoyances, inconveniences that cause one’s hair to frizz, make-up to melt off one’s face in a colorful oil slick, and perspiration to soak one’s clothing with unsightly blotches. To me, heat and humidity are my jailers.”

Read the whole essay here.

Image credit: The Mighty website.

‘mr. clark’s big band’ goes to southborough library & the symphony

southborough library photo

The book talk/signing at the Southborough Library finally — finally! — happened after being rescheduled three times following snowstorms and a bout of the flu.

claflin obrien and clarkParents of current and former Trottier Middle School students who attended the reading at the library (see video below) told me they were mentally and emotionally brought back to the days when our children roamed the halls of the middle school, when some of the kids played music for Mr. Clark, and when all of the students mourned the loss of their friend, Eric Green.

Two days later, Mr. Clark and I chatted about Mr. Clark’s Big Band with music fans at the Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra’s final performance of the season, a season in which music educators were celebrated.

Some current Trottier Middle School students attended the show in Milford’s historic town hall and stopped by to greet Mr. Clark, who couldn’t play the trombone with his pals in the Claflin brass section because he recently had elbow surgery (see the sling he’s sporting in the photo below).

claflin obrien and clark2Several folks also paused at the book table to fondly remember former Algonquin Regional High School music director Dennis Wrenn, the man who helped Mr. Clark get his job in the Southborough school system and who is mentioned several times in Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

It can sometimes seem like a small world indeed.

Image credits: Southborough Access Media (first image), Scott Weiss (other two images)

talking student journalism at umass amherst

UMass Collegian panelI climbed into the mental “way-back” machine at UMass-Amherst over the weekend at a reunion of fellow alums who’d spent countless hours tucked away in the windowless Campus Center basement working on the university’s student newspaper, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian.

Invited to speak on a panel of alums — along with S.P. Sullivan, award-winning investigative journalist and Larry Bouchie, president of a public relations firm — we talked about our respective career paths, taking chances, and being willing to continually learn and update one’s skills. The intrepid B.J. Roche moderated. Meanwhile, the student editors schooled us as one introduced us to a new app (new to me anyway), Slack.

The afternoon event also included a keynote speech from Boston Herald sports columnist/UMass grad Steve Buckley, a discussion about local newspaper ownership in New England, and a presentation from the current Collegian editors on the publication’s evolution to a largely digital news outlet.

Image credit: Mark Curelop.

‘big band’ book wins publishing award

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Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room has won a 2018 Independent Publisher Book Award.

The group–which received over 4,500 entries for this year’s contest–honored Mr. Clark’s Big Band with a bronze medal in its Education: Commentary/Theory category.

“This year’s winners represent books from 41 U.S. states, Guam, and DC; 6 Canadian provinces; and 12 countries overseas,” the Independent Publisher group said in a press release.

Ironically, the silver award winner in my category is Joseph E. Aoun, author of Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence and president of the university where I teach. Two Northeastern University educators in one category. Not too shabby!

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Mr. Clark’s Big Band is also a finalist for the Foreword INDIES Award, in the Education category.

foreword finalist

Image credits: Independent Publisher Book Awards and Foreword INDIES.

signing sneakers & arms at a massachusetts middle school

ac82ea3d-b0de-4adb-b1d4-4a76ff1c0fd6It was in Monson, Mass. where I autographed my first arm.

And my first sneaker.

And a slightly sweaty palm.

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Students from the Granite Valley Middle School — where I spoke in March about Mr. Clark’s Big Band — were full of questions, energy, and requests for me to use my green Sharpie to sign … their various limbs and footwear. (They SWORE their parents would be totally okay with this. For the record, I remain skeptical.)

Before I spoke in the auditorium, I visited the Granite Valley band room where students assured me that their Mr. Clark — who goes by the name of Mr. Topham in Monson — is just as lively and off-center as the lead character in my book.

a012dafb-8c38-4c57-9cb9-84193fa88e57Later, I shared stories about how and why I came to write Mr. Clark’s Big Band about a middle school jazz band about an hour’s drive to the east, told them tales about Southborough’s Mr. Clark, and read passages aloud while a PowerPoint presentation behind me showed various images of Mr. Clark (including one of him in a goofy pink wig during a performance), and of the Trottier Middle School band room.

The image that got the loudest response? The one of chicken-in-a-can that was on screen as I read a segment from the chapter called, cleverly enough, “Chicken-in-a-Can.” At least the presentation was AFTER lunch so it didn’t spoil anyone’s meal.

a1e0c588-b981-4df5-a402-4b3fc295c218I also got the opportunity to catch up with my friend from West Springfield (MA) High School, Granite Valley’s Principal Mary Cieplik (above, on the right), who generously invited me to address her students.

If you’d like me to visit your students, or your book club, send me an email: mereditheobrien@gmail.com.

Images from Granite Valley Middle School’s “In the Loop” newsletter.