Thursday, December 20, 2018

WHAT EVER HAPPENED...? "Tribute from Friend Marla"

          Janet asked me to write a piece for her book. She didn’t give me too many specifics regarding content, so I have had difficulty getting started. Janet told me to feel free to say whatever I want to say. Of course, if there were negatives, I would not include them, but there are no negatives in Janet’s story that she would not hesitate to tell you herself. Janet is a very interesting person who is in love with Mickey Mouse. A smile comes across my face as I type.

I first met Janet when she took over teaching my special education class for the summer session. This was not an easy summer job. There were only six students in the class, but they all had severe behavior problems and serious learning disabilities. As my replacement, Janet had the lucky opportunity to work with my dedicated teacher assistant, Beverly K. Following the summer session, Janet was hired full-time by our school district and became my colleague.

I was awed by Janet. She was extremely capable, hard-working, dedicated, energetic, and seemed to master the job with ease. Janet loved all her students and did her best for every single one of them. She was creative in her teaching. One of my memories from way back then was a weekly assembly program Janet and her class was responsible for. Janet had her girls dressed as a current rock-and-roll group. She taught them to lip-sync and do accompanying choreography. Janet turned this activity into a reading lesson using the “whole language approach.” [Ed.: The whole language approach favors having children recognize whole words as such rather than using the “phonics” approach, which has the students break down the words, analyzing them phonetically.] Janet gave every child in her class a world-class Disney-themed birthday party. She went out of her way to make each child feel special and loved. (Most of our students came from troubled families. Many of them had never experienced a birthday party given in their honor.)

          Way back when, probably in the very late 1980s or early 1990s, Janet was a very fast talker. To this day, she continues to be able to squeeze more information and words into thirty seconds than almost anyone I know. I love to teasingly ask her to “please repeat that a little faster.” Along with her ability to be a faster-than-fast talker, Janet lacked a filter. There were many times back then when I was stunned at the things Janet would say to authority figures (the school principal, site supervisor, or even the superintendent of schools). Janet said exactly what was on her mind and never seemed to suffer any negative consequences. My mouth would hang open listening to Janet, while feelings of jealousy grew inside me. Janet would say things I wanted to, but I would not dare. I was amazed at how she got away with it.

          Janet was a dynamo of a teacher. She was the school district whole language expert and taught many workshops in which she trained other teachers to use the whole language method of teaching reading. Janet made reading fun for kids.

I remember Janet’s classroom being overloaded with beautiful books of all shapes and sizes. “Big books” were a large part of the whole language approach. Janet purchased the majority of them with her own funds, usually spending up to $6000 per school year on books and classroom supplies. (The government only allows teachers a $250 per year tax deduction for classroom expenses.) To supplement the student desks, Janet equipped her room with a comfy couch, bean-bag chairs, and rugs.

Some people may have described Janet’s classroom as cluttered. The walls were covered with colorful posters, and the shelves were full of manipulative learning materials as well as books and supplies. Educators often have different opinions on what the best learning environment should look like. Some people might say that Janet’s room was too stimulating for hyperactive, attention-deficit students. Other teachers might view it as a highly stimulating environment that makes children want to learn and tweaks their curiosity. Janet would have special activity days devoted entirely to reading for pleasure. (I doubt any teacher would dare to attempt such a thing in today’s classrooms.)

As far as I know, Janet started having a fear of germs after she changed school districts. I didn’t realize how serious and debilitating that fear was for her. I remember meeting Janet for lunch at a diner one day after school. Janet pulled out her bottle of [hand sanitizer] and wiped down the salt and pepper shakers, as well as the utensils. She told me she was seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist. I knew life was rough for Janet, but I don’t think I fully understood how much she was suffering. I suppose her fear of germs greatly interfered with her ability to do her job. At that point, I knew Janet had a very serious problem.

My memory fails me, but I’m sure Janet has explained all the details of exactly what her experience had been. In time, Janet told me that she found out she had a brain tumor. I think it was July when she had her surgery at NYU Medical Center. I hopped on the bus to New York City to visit her.

When I walked into Janet’s hospital room, I was shocked. She looked terrible. Her face was swollen; her mouth was not in the position it belonged; her head was bandaged up, but she was smiling and happy. Her two sisters, Joyce and Jayne, stood at the foot of her bed. They had just returned from going to a cupcake bakery and handed Janet a huge chocolate cupcake. Janet had tears oozing out of the corners of her eyes. She stated something like, “I don’t have to wash my hands! I’m cured! I can’t believe that I’m not afraid of germs!” Janet wasn’t able to eat more than a few bites at that moment. She then proceeded to tell me that the doctor had removed from her brain a tumor that was the size of an orange. Her instant cure from germ-phobia was a miracle.

Janet has had problems getting along with her family throughout the time I have known her. I suppose that the tumor blocked out the “filter” most of us possess when relating to other people. The day I visited Janet in the hospital, she was enjoying a loving, supportive relationship with her sisters. I was told that her parents also journeyed to New York from their Florida home to help and support Janet during her recovery. Months, or perhaps a year or two, after her surgery, Janet again suffered some estrangement from her family. Looking back now, I suppose that the tumor blocked Janet’s social filter, and the tumor and her operation have left some residual damage.

The Janet I know today can still talk faster than anyone I know. She works hard at taking good care of herself and managing her life as a brain-injured person, due to the trauma caused by the tumor and the operation. Janet continues to be a dynamo of energy. Janet, Beverly, and I meet once every six months to catch up with one another. It is a time we all look forward to. Janet is an Energizer Bunny. Like the Timex watch claim, she takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’!

I love Janet and admire her bravery and perseverance.

I (Douglas Winslow Cooper) have been excerpting, weekly, material from this almost-final version of the fine book by Janet Johnson Schliff, M.S. Ed., which she wrote over a three-year period with some coaching and editing help from me, through my business, Write Your Book with Me.

Her memoir is now available in paperback and ebook formats from Outskirts Press  and



Janet Johnson Schliff spoke at the Oblong Books Bookstore in Rhinebeck, NY, on Tuesday, February 6 at 6 p.m.

Janet was on WKNY Radio 1490 in Kingston, NY, on Thursday, March 1 at 9:10 a.m. 

Janet spoke at Barnes & Noble in Kingston, NY, on Saturday, March 3 at 1 p.m. 

Janet spoke at the Starr Library in Rhinebeck, NY, on March 6 
at 7 p.m. 

Janet spoke at the Golden Notebook Bookstore in Woodstock, NY, on March 17 at 2 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Morton Library in Rhinecliff, NY, on March 28 at 6:30 p.m. 

Janet spoke at RCAL in Kingston, NY, on April 3 at 4 p.m. [They gave her an impromptu book-launch party.]

Janet spoke at the Parkinson's Support Group at the Starr Library in Rhinebeck, NY, on April 4 at 2:30 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Stone Ridge Library in Stone Ridge, NY, on April 27 at 5:30 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Hurley Library in Hurley, NY, on May 4 at 6 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Kingston Library in Kingston, NY, on May 9 at 6 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Staatsburg Library in Staatsburg, NY, on May 14 at 7 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Clinton Community Library in Rhinebeck, NY, on May 31 at 6:30 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Mountain Top Library in Tannersville, NY, on June 9 at noon.

Janet spoke at the Gardiner Library in Gardiner, NY, on June 11 at 7 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Marbletown Community Center in Stone Ridge, NY, on June 20 at 6 p.m.

Janet was interviewed on radio station WTBQ-FM (93.5) on June 29 at 12 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Esopus Library in Port Ewen, NY, on July 13 at 7 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Pine Plains Library in Pine Plains, NY, on July 20 at 6 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Ulster Library in Kingston, NY, on July 23 at 5:30 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Northern Dutchess Bible Church in Red Hook, NY, on August 11 at 1 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Inquiring Minds Bookstore in New Paltz, NY, on September 6 at 7 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Adriance Library in Poughkeepsie, NY, on September 15 at 2:30 p.m.

Janet was interviewed on radio station WRIP-FM (97.9) on September 21 at 8 a.m.

Janet again spoke at the Mountain Top Library in Tannersville, NY, on September 22 at noon.

Janet spoke at the Enchanted Cafe in Red Hook, NY, on September 28 at 7 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Hyde Park Library in Hyde Park, NY, on October 4 at 7 p.m.

Janet participated in an Author Weekend at the Barnes & Noble in Poughkeepsie, NY, on October 14 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Janet spoke at the Tivoli Library in Tivoli, NY, on October 22 at 5:30 p.m.

Janet’s interview for the TV program Wake Up with Marci on the You Too America Channel aired on Monday, November 5, and Friday, November 9. It can now be found on the Internet.

Janet spoke at the Germantown Library in Germantown, NY, on November 7 at 6:00 p.m.

Janet participated in the Red Hook Middle School's College and Career Cafe in Red Hook, NY,  on December 19 at 10:30 a.m.

More signings will be coming up. A fine feature about Janet by John DeSantos [845 LIFE] appeared in the Middletown Times Herald-Record on Monday, March 12, as part of Brain Injury Awareness Month. An article about her book was just published in the May 2018 Living Rhinebeck Magazine. An article about her book appeared in the May 14 Daily Freeman of Kingston, NY. and another in the Family Life section of the Poughkeepsie Journal on June 8th. The Millerton News published an article on Thursday, August 2, about her talk at the Pine Plains Library. 

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