Friday, April 15, 2011

He’s Back!

Last Saturday afternoon I caught the last few minutes of Shakin’ Up Kenosha hosted by Dennis Shook on cable access channel 14. Much to my surprise he was doing a phone interview with a former teacher of mine, Michael Feldman. They were discussing his popular radio show, “Whad’Ya Know”, which will be broadcast live from Kenosha’s Reuther Auditorium Saturday.

On Tuesday I received an email from Mary, a former classmate who has recently became a follower of my blog. She now lives in Ohio, but she had heard about Feldman doing his show in Kenosha. She emailed me, suggesting that I write about him, that perhaps people might be interested in hearing a story about him.

I remembered him quite well. He was my English teacher for my Junior year at Tremper High School. At that point he was easily the most unorthodox teacher that I ever had the pleasure of gaining knowledge from.

You see, Michael Feldman was different.

Back in the ‘70s, he was definitely classified as a hippy. He had a goatee, long hair and sported John Lennon type glasses. I don’t recall ever seeing him wearing a tie – at least, not around his neck.

The first day in class, rather than go over a syllabus, he had us move all of the desks out into the hallway. As we sat on the chairs, somewhat bewildered, we were informed that the chairs would also be gone as soon as we provided new furniture.

In the days to come, the room began to look nothing like a traditional classroom. Instead of the customary desks and chairs, it was filled with a large overstuffed sofa, several pieces of lawn furniture and a variety of beanbag chairs. I believe Mr. Feldman’s theory was that we would learn better in an environment that we were more comfortable in.

Another thing I remember is that he told us that if we ever had something more important to do, we didn’t have to attend his class that day. All we had to do was stop by and tell him that we wouldn’t be there. That’s mighty tempting stuff for a teenager, especially considering that our class was the last of the day.

Thing is, I don’t recollect anyone really abusing this unusual policy. The only time I ever took advantage of this privilege was on a Friday, because I was attending a weekend retreat for our church youth group.

Besides being different, Michael Feldman was also cool.

His unconventional methods definitely taught me many things. Not only did I learn about English, but I also discovered a lot about myself. 

Unbelievable as it may sound, Mr. Feldman actually gave us assignments. One in particular stands out in my mind. We had to write a paper on how we viewed the social structure of our class. We were encouraged to explain the different roles that individuals had and how we felt about them.

This paper opened my eyes to the fact that I enjoyed playing the part of the class clown. I loved making people laugh and come to think of it, still do.

The assignment also made me aware that I developed a dislike for a certain classmate that I had known since sixth grade. It wasn’t until we were in this class that I started to have this dislike for him. And it was because he was also a comic and I felt threatened by him. That paper made realize that.

Evidently, besides being different and cool, Michael Feldman also knew how to get people to think.

Those are some of my memories of him. When I asked Mary if she had any, she replied that she didn’t have him for a teacher at Tremper. However, while in college she had a job as a secretary in the main office at Reuther where Feldman was now teaching. 

She remembered that he chaired the first ever prom at Reuther and he officially dubbed it the “Un-Prom”, a clever homage to 7-Up’s “Un-Cola” campaign. The event was very successful and was the antithesis of what a traditional high school prom was at the time.  

More than thirty years later, things have come full circle for Michael Feldman. On Saturday, April 16th, he returns to Reuther with his successful “Whad’Ya Know?”  radio show.

The show is at 10:00 AM and people are asked to arrive early so they can be seated by 9:30 AM.  Feldman’s guests include State Representative Peter Barca, Diane Giles, reporter for the Kenosha News and musical guest will be Semi-Twang.

If you would like to learn more about Michael Feldman and his radio show, “Whad’Ya Know?", go to:

Until next time…from the booth.


Sharon said...

Interesting and what a great memory. You are the best Paul..

sue said...

You obviously learnt a lot from him as your writing is excellent. It is a great pity there are not more teachers like him - teachers that realise that more can be learnt from a 'casual' environment rather than in 'military' fashion. Enjoy his radio show - I am sure it will be good.

Paul E. Vagnoni said...

Thank you very much, ladies. Your kind words are greatly appreciated.

Susan "SB2" said...

I didn't have Feldman at Tremper but it sounds very similar to my experience with Jim Iaquinta as a teacher. Thumbs up to those insightful educators in the 70's who thought their might be another way to get the knowlegde across to a bunch of teens. Thanks for the article cuz. Sues

Anonymous said...

214 teachers positions to be cut in the KUSD. F Scott Walker

Koll Papa

Bev said...

Nice teacher Paul very good blog