The Ceiling Tile Assignment

At the end of each year I allow my students to add to the panache of my classroom by decorating the 2′ X 2′ ceiling tiles in my classroom.  The only real rule to this assignment is that the tile they create should reflect something from the class that they found important/memorable/inspiring, but many times they ignore this and just make fun of me (those tiles don’t stay up long). This has been going on for about ten years now so I’ve got quite a collection of student artwork hanging above my head, and the nice thing for me is seeing the tiles from years past that make the cut each year, reminding me of those students who are at this point probably finished with their college undergrad careers.

Anyway, I thought I’d show off a few of them here (click on the pic for a bigger size)…

What Would Twain Do?

Mark Twain is a common inclusion on these tiles, as  I make no secret of the fact that he’s my favorite classic American author. This one obviously is a rip-off homage to the “WWJD” bracelets that were popular a number of years ago, although this tile’s sentiment is probably a bit easier to achieve, if only because Twain wasn’t, you know, God.

Time tile

This one has a number of quotations concerning the passage of time swirling around a working clock that the student had placed in the tile.  The hands of the clock are made from balsa wood, and I remember the student complaining about the time it took him to get the weight correct.  I need to get up in the ceiling to replace the battery…

Many times the tiles students create (they aren’t actually using the tiles themselves – they use posterboard cut to size) reflect some dominant image from a novel we read.  Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s disembodied eyes are a popular choice each year.

 … above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg.   The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic – their retinas are one yard high.   They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose … But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.

Silver Surfer

Other times students pick up on the fact that I am a Marvel Comics fan.  The student who created this work of art knew that I put “SSURFR” license plates on my silver Camaro  (I was tempted to go with “Radd“) and ran with it. Yes, that’s a three-dimensional Silver Surfer hanging upside down from my ceiling.  I’m amazed at the time/effort she put into this – it’s so much fun to look/gawk at.

Captain America makes numerous appearance each year, for some reason.  The above is from this past year, as well.  I don’t see myself taking this down…ever.  I think I’ll have it buried with me. And, yes, that says “Mr. Williams is a HERO.” Future students, take note.

Then there are tiles that reflect something so specific to that class/year, that for future students and other observers they’re cryptic and/or nonsensical. Such as the above.  Yes, that’s a psychedelic-colored picture of  a younger, thinner-faced me, the words “Sin is Tasty” and a pie beneath that.  It relates to this AP prompt borrowed from Gary Soto.  In this class’s discussion of said prompt, the allusion to the original sin committed in the Garden of Eden drew attention, and I had them look at how the young Soto relished the stolen apple pie:

But even that didn’t stop me from clawing a chunk from the pie tin and pushing it into the cavern of my mouth. The slop was sweet and gold-colored in the afternoon sun. I laid more pieces on my tongue, wet finger-dripping pieces, until I was finished and felt like crying because it was about the best thing I had ever tasted.

“Sin is tasty” I apparently told them, and for a group of about four students, that’s what stuck.  I have my moments.

Other times I don’t.  This tile has been up since my second or third year of teaching AP juniors. That year, a few parents (two, I think) complained to my principal about a novel on the class’s reading list, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.  One parent went so far as to type up every passage from the novel she deemed offensive and gave it to the principal.  This was a few months before we were even going to get to the novel, and I remember thinking, “I don’t have the time to fight this battle” [actually, it was “time for this shit”] and some other ruder thoughts about the intellect of the parents who complained. So I made the decision to pull it off the reading list that year to avoid the hassle.  That decision’s one of my biggest regrets of my teaching career. The school paper at some point  that year did a story on book banning and the English class reading lists (the newspaper staff is always chock-full of AP English students), and I was interviewed for it.  That quote on the tile came from the story and it’s something I believe with all my heart. The pictures are the covers of the books we read that year.  All of them are open except Cold Mountain.

Vindication came the next year (my juniors’ now seniors): Cold Mountain was a title referred to on the open-ended question of the AP Literature exam.

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One Response to “The Ceiling Tile Assignment”

  1. Suzanne Swierc Says:

    I am flattered and honored that our tile still graces your ceiling and that it made the cut for this post. Your quote is one I recall often, and your class was one of the most fun, challenging times of my life.

    P.S. I eventually read Cold Mountain.

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