Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Application Process

This is my understanding of how most people in most professions get a job:

1. Get help from your college if you're about to graduate, check job-posting sites online (especially those within your industry), check classifieds, check an individual company's website if they interest you especially.
2. Send your résumé and cover letter to the places you wish to work.
3. Await responses and requests for letters of recommendation, continue searching, and follow up on leads and top choices.

This is the process of getting a job in education:

1. Apply for certification in the state in which you wish to work.
2. Your college doesn't really help (mine didn't (probably because it's just too hard)).
3. Find the state's best job-posting site (if you live in the same state as me, you'll soon discover that it is a mediocre source at best).  Find a couple of nationwide educational job sites (and then discover that their information rarely lines up with actual openings).  Read classifieds.
3.5. If searching across state borders, discover that not only is it a hassle to determine exactly which states accept certification from your current state, but also that they all have their own uniquely flawed methods of disorganization.
4. Realize that your best bet is to go to the school district website for anywhere you may want to work (this is painfully overwhelming if you're not so sure where you want to work) and search for their own postings.
5. (This is supposed to be equivalent to #2 above).  Determine how the district wishes you to apply and the materials that they want.  Realize that these will not be consistent.  Some want it to be online, some want it to be directly from a certain third-party website (which may require you to mail them things first), some want mail, and some want in-person (this is a possibility for other professions as well, I suspect).
6. Gather the materials that are asked for most often.  Child abuse clearance, state police clearance, FBI fingerprint clearance (you might cry when you realize that many districts want to see your original documents and make copies themselves, which requires either a lot of driving or some weird calls to places that are too far to drive to), your FBI clearance registration number, a standard state application, any additional downloadable application from their website (yes, they often ask for both), proof of PRAXIS scores (you may have to request and pay for these, I did), college transcript, copy of teaching certificate or a letter from you education department explaining that it is pending, possibly an ID number issued by the state which you can't get until you're certified, and letters of recommendation.
7. Fill out the plethora of applications.  Some will ask for bizarre things like where you went to elementary school.  Some will ask for questionably legal things like access to your income tax history (and give you a W-4 to fill out).  Some will ask for your high school transcript.  Some will ask for transcripts from colleges from which you transferred.  Some will ask for proof of a negative TB test.  Some will ask for the federal I-9 form.  If filling out applications online, discover that school districts do not have high quality websites.
8. Sacrifice a Chiltan Markhor.

They fight back.

As a tribute to the stunning new film Black Swan, I invite you to enjoy...

Swan Lake, Act IV Finale (iTunes)

Friday, December 17, 2010

12/17 - Last Day of Student Teaching

Wow.  It's over.

Mrs. D was amazing.  We had almost too much fun together and both learned from the experience.  She became a friend well beyond that of a typical cooperating teacher, and I'm confident that our personal and professional relationship will last for a long time.

I look forward to getting paid for this kind of work.  I'll miss these kids and this faculty, but I'm excited to be done with this culmination of my training, and want to earn money for it.  Currently, it seems likely that I will be a substitute for this school district, particularly for music classes.

The Pedagogic Verses are not over (mostly because it would be a waste of such a great blog title)!  From this point forward, however, I will not be making daily posts.  I will continue to make regular updates (though it's hard to predict at exactly what rate), and the focus will continue to be on reflections of important/strange/unexpected educationally related events, news, storytelling, and music sharing.  I may occasionally rant about something only tangentially related to education, but I'll include my perspective as a teacher where it applies.

Readers, friends, thank you for your support and input.  I hope that you'll continue to visit (perhaps a slower rate of posting will make it easier to keep up)!

Nanie, Op. 82 (Johannes Brahms) - Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Suzie - Boy Kill Boy
Scarlet Fever - Cee Lo Green
1, 2, 3 of Op. 48, Dichterliebe (Robert Schumann) - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Linus and Lucy - Vince Guaraldi Trio
Six Chansons (Paul Hindemith) - Westminster Choir

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Today was mostly spent saying goodbye to students and faculty.  Tomorrow I'll be on a trip with the show choir right after Choir and Theory.

I played a bunch of Simon & Garfunkel for Theory today, since they were insufficiently familiar with the iconic duo.  Instead of posting links to all of those at the bottom of today's post, you'll find a link to a song I played for General Music.

The middle school kids all wished me well, and wrote quite a collection of goodbye notes on the white board.  In saying goodbye to the faculty, and mentioning to some of them that I'm applying to be a sub for them in the spring, they seemed to all want me back.  I'm happy with the impression I made.

To dutifully include some pedagogical thought in this post, I noticed that the insane GM class was slightly less insane today than on average.  Yet, as I stood in the back and observed Mrs. D take over the teaching, I couldn't help but feel a touch of relief that it wasn't just me that they acted crazy for, it was Mrs. D, too.  These kids are bonkers.

Bright Lights Bigger City - Cee Lo Green

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I sort of bombarded Theory today with a fair amount of major/minor key identification within written music and then ended the class with something completely contrary to the guidelines I introduced; a twelve-tone piece by Webern!  They're treating the approach of my departure like most students treat the approach of the holiday break, even blatantly saying things like, "You're about to leave, don't bother trying to teach us new stuff!"  I have been anyway, but tomorrow won't be heavy material and Friday will just be a fun listen-to-music day.

General Music went really well.  A modified schedule today placed the crazy fury-inducing class first.  I set up the chairs in an outward-facing circle and put a sticky note on each desk (I'm kind of proud of this idea).  If they spoke once without permission, I would remove the sticky note.  If they spoke again and did not have a sticky note on their desk, they would receive a detention.  It turns out I was so clear with them that I didn't have to take away even a single sticky note.  Mrs. D was very happy about these results, as well.  I was even able to extend the effect to other classes by telling them about what made me mad and what I did about it, letting them know that I was still prone to boiling over.  They behaved, too.  Tomorrow, my last day with them, should be fun.

I think I get the difference now between being cruel and being authoritative.  With certain students, respect for the teacher is earned by demonstration of authority, and after that point is when it's most wise to let them learn to like the teacher too.  I don't yet have a perfect understanding of how to reconcile this with my other idealistic ideas about promoting self-regulation and mutual respect, but I've made a big step.

We held my final evaluation meeting today.  I turned in everything that I needed to turn in, received letters of recommendation, and was told that I'm being given a 4 in student teaching.  :)

Wie Bin Ich Froh (Anton Webern) - Christiane Oelze & Eric Schneider

Tuesday, December 14, 2010



I am fed up with that last General Music class of the day.  They've completely pushed me over the edge.  The behavior of almost every person was erratic and unquestionably unforgivable.  I couldn't hold their attention for more than two seconds (and there were paper airplanes (!!!) on the floor after class).  Clapping a one-measure rhythm pattern with a class of 7th-graders should never result in students banging on desks and wildly jumping out of their seats.

I once gave in and asked a question that shouldn't be asked; "I've seen you all in other classes and I know you can focus better than this.  What is it that other teachers do that I don't that makes you behave better for them?"  Their answer was uniformly, "They yell at us."

I'm trapped.  Modern pedagogical theory takes the stance that yelling is, most often, counterproductive, as a culture of expected submission is much less educationally valuable than one of mutual respect.  Well, I've pushed the respect approach as far as it can go.  I don't claim to be some sort of pedagogical paragon, but I realize now that I've been fighting against a culture that does not foster the kind of classroom management that I've been trained to provide.

We have to punish them.  Tomorrow we'll have them sit in an outward-facing circle and do individual work without speaking to any other students, or at all unless they raise their hand and are called on.

Hmph.  I think everything else was fine today.  I can't even think straight.

Monday, December 13, 2010


We had the choir perform all of their songs on kazoos (which were needed for my selection) today.  This was very funny, especially when solo/duet moments arrived.

General Music went fairly well, overall.  I ran a great class with a great lecture for the first two classes; one good enough to have been observed by an administrator (even though I...*ahem*...improvised the whole thing).  Unfortunately, I never realize soon enough that a lesson will be particularly good and observation-worthy, so I've never done as highly-recommended and invited a principal to observe me.  It's my last week and I'm starting to tag-team-teach with Mrs. D, so that chance has passed.  Oops.

The last class drives me crazy!  I can't do a simple activity with them without watching them all goof off in a fit of ridiculousness and immaturity!  I once said, "Great, I'm glad you can all clap a beat at the level of second-graders," and they got the point for, oh...about 3.7 seconds.  One of them was scheduled for a detention today (but fear of that did nothing to make her act better today, I moved her seat twice and Mrs. D yelled at her, too).  I had a chat with her that should make a difference.  I might be too optimistic.

I joined a group of teachers in a friendly competition against the Quiz Bowl team of the high school.  They destroyed us in the first round, but we beat them heartily in the second two.  I completely embarrassed myself once by not answering a question about which I was only 99% confident (it was, in short, "Who composed the opera 'Tosca'?" (the answer is Puccini)).  I redeemed myself later with a few other composer questions.  That was fun.

Op.23 Prelude #6 in G minor (S. Rachmaninoff) - Yuri Rozum

Sunday, December 12, 2010


We had the HS holiday concert today, and it went pretty smoothly.  When I'm not overanalyzing every detail and how each fits into educational philosophies, I can simply say that I was proud of the students.

I need to do that sometimes; step back, relax, and say, "good job."

Friday, December 10, 2010


The great thing about having small classes is that one can give fantastic attention to individual students.  The terrible thing is that when 2 students are missing, almost half of one's class is out!  That was the case today in Theory (and often is) but I had to start new material anyway.

A student was scheduled for a detention with me during lunch today, so I went to the cafeteria before he arrived to make sure he got his lunch early and didn't stall in some way.  While I was there — waiting by the doorway — a previous student waved to me and yelled, "Hi, Mr. Duval!"  I waved backed and others noticed, and in almost no time about half of the cafeteria was yelling my name and waving.  Talk about an ego boost.

This student's detention went as well as I think it could have.  He ate his lunch politely and then we spoke about why he was given detention.  He seemed to understand what it was all about and what behavior he needs to modify.

I've been getting the impression that among the students who are in need of a powerful student-teacher interaction, there is a sort of silent (and blind) auction for who will choose to connect with which needy student.  There is no way to measure this, and almost as little likelihood of being able to define it, but it seems to me the sort of thing where most teachers will recognize a student's need for extraordinary rapport with someone and then..."look the other way."  I put that in quotes because it's not quite the right phrase.  If you drive by a recent car accident, do you call the police just in case no one else has, or do you assume that someone else had surely done so by the time you got there?  It's a "someone else will connect with him/her" tendency.

Now I sound like I'm berating fellow teachers (and now I'm also rambling).  I'm not, because this attitude is, to a degree, necessary.  It's simply not possible to have the kind of focused attention I'm talking about applied by every teacher to every student.  If I had even attempted to do so with every one of my (in MS only) 80+ students, I would be so overwhelmed that my effectiveness with the students would be diminished.  Ultimately, I mean to say that my experience with the boy who had detention today is approaching the borderline between ordinary student-teacher rapport, and the extraordinary.

A teacher's impact on their students' lives is constant and unpredictable; profound and immeasurable; tenuous and memorable.

Op.23 Prelude #5 in G minor (S. Rachmaninoff) - Yuri Rozum

Thursday, December 9, 2010


The trip with the show choir was essentially a success, and a good time was had by all.  We performed at 3 locations and went to a mall for lunch.  I spent most of the day downing cough drops, and I learned a few things...

Always bring a keyboard.  Our contacts at one location said to us that they had a piano we could use, but it turned out to be horrifically out of tune (seriously, think of the pianos you hear in horror films) and in a bad location.  Fortunately, we had an electronic keyboard with us (that we did need for another location) and were able to use that.

Try not to let the students sing on the bus.  Mrs. D is very relaxed about these sorts of things, but I'm convinced that the noise of a bus engine and its movement on a highway are so significant (yet subtle) that anyone who sings, over-sings (unavoidably).  It tires out voices, and I could sort of tell by the last performance (some singers were tending flat at lower pitches than previously).

I'm not sure what kind of "lesson" I gleaned here, but I had an interesting experience with one piece.  One of my selections is their most difficult, and I hadn't quite finished teaching it to them.  After the first performance, during which they did not sing this piece, we had time for me to teach them the rest.  So we had a crash course and they did pretty well, but we didn't have the kind of repetition that one gets in real rehearsals to even identify every issue.  Both performances of this piece later in the day were adequate; there were great moments, and there were moments that they barely got through.  Oddly, I was pleased, but if I were performing with my HS select choir and we did equally well, I would be downright embarrassed, even angry.  These are good singers — they deserve to have more rehearsals (and those who come to every one deserve to have ensemble-mates that do the same).

We got back to the school in time for the detention that I had scheduled.  The damn kid didn't show up.  Now he has an office referral and a fuming teacher; one who will find him wherever he is held (ISS or some other detention, I don't yet know) and give him the same talk that I had planned to give him today. Also, I picked up shards of broken PEN from the MS room's floor today, not just of a pencil!  I collected that and other trash to use as fodder for a lecture on respect.

We also returned to the HS to find that the Theory kids had drawn funny/weird things all over the board in the choir room.  I was quite amused.  I'm also really looking forward to showing them some musical demos that I have for them tomorrow.  I hope to post those links tomorrow :)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I'm still sick, and though I managed to make it through yesterday, I didn't make it past 2nd period today when Mrs. D told me that I should go home.

The timing is bearable; the General Music classes are just watching a movie (they all selected West Side Story, by the way).  I was also able to get through a morning observation (my final one) just fine.

We had a HS choir rehearsal that [intentionally] extended into the next class period today, which meant that I couldn't do much with Theory.  It extended further than I expected though — I ended up with no time at all for Theory.  This, too, is bearable, but less fortunate when the context of tomorrow is considered.  I will be going with the show choir on an all-day trip, and we'll have a sub at the school.  There will be 3/5 Theory students there (2 are coming on the trip) and several variables have conspired to make it ridiculous for me to include anything in the lesson plan for the sub that really has to do with Theory.  We think that a neighboring music teacher will have something for them to do, otherwise they'll have a study hall.  Hm.  C'est la vie.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

12/7 - War and Peace

The MS choir has been driving us a little crazy.  When, in our last rehearsal before performing, they look at us like we're crazy when we ask them who sings a section of a song first and who joins later, we worry.

We performed for the school at an assembly today...and were embarrassed.  Mrs. D had to tell students on stage to stop talking, then she had to start a song over because of a non-functional beginning.  Soon enough, the assistant principal had to remove three girls from our choir (from stage) because they were talking so much.

The assistant principal, Mrs. D, and I all spoke to each of those girls, one at a time, after the assembly.  On a tangential note, the assistant principal tore into the students with wording that was slightly beyond the harshness that I expected, or that I was entirely in agreement with.  I'm either still a softie or he was in a really bad mood.  Maybe both.

We had another complete rehearsal with the choir at the end of school, which allowed us to prepare for the public concert this evening.  The singers told us that other students said they "sucked," and we just looked blankly at them.  Mrs. D lectured to them about how being disruptive is not cute (a phrase inspired by a boy whose cuteness gets him a pass on misbehavior) and how they didn't "show up to sing."  I added on to this by providing two solutions for the issues brought up.  First, as students who've been in my classes know I like to do, I told them that they need to give an honest effort, and that would solve the musical symptoms of not showing up to sing.  Second, I told them to relax and be confident, and that would resolve the musical symptoms of being anxious.  I know it's easier said than done, but I had to.

After all of that, we started to sing.  Mrs. D gave the pitches for the first song, and WOW!  It all came together!  I didn't know these students could sing so well.  It was confident, in tune, and focused.  We were amazed.  This ended up being a stunning rehearsal.

The concert went better than the assembly, though not quite as good as the rehearsal.  Overall, they stepped up and I was proud of them.  Mrs. D had warned me that middle school choir is like a box of chocolates.  You never—

Monday, December 6, 2010

12/6 - Sick Day

I'm sick and stayed home today.

I did get the pleasure of tearing myself out of bed to e-mail the day's plans to Mrs. D.  I'm lucky that right now my "sub" is my own teacher, and didn't need to be given extremely detailed instructions.  I know for the next time I might have to take a sick day that it would be most wise to write out plans the night before, so that they'd only need to be sent on the morning of.

I just got a very amusing call from Mrs. D during the show choir rehearsal to ask me something about my selection.  It was fun to hear the students yell to me.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Mrs. D went with the show choir on a trip today, but I joined them in the morning for a rehearsal.  Many things are coming together, and we even did some work on my selection (which they're not yet performing) and I was able to address fancy things like articulation and attack.  That was nice.

The rest of the day was filled with guitar quizzes.  I did consciously choose to approach them in a way that allowed the students a lot of socializing time.  This allowed me to observe who can control themselves when given some freedom and who can't.  Well, I learned confirmed that the entirety (save one) of the last class of the day cannot handle themselves.  The substitute that joined me today and I had an interesting discussion about the teams in this school before these kids arrived, and I warned her that this group sees music class as a recess.  I ended up giving a detention to a girl who REALLY needs one.

Regarding the one exception to rowdiness in that class: this girl confuses me.  She's the goth type, and I've never given it much of a thought until today.  I see her sit in class and methodically drape her hair to shade her face from the world as it dangles from her slouched head and neck (I've also seen her write dark poetry (that needs work, but seems like a nice outlet) on the back of papers that are handed in).  Sometimes she participates in discussion; once she was insightful, but since then her thoughts have been tepid.  Today, during our one-on-one guitar quiz, she seemed, perhaps, depressed, but it was extremely hard to distinguish possible mental anguish from simple lower-functioning capacity of applying knowledge than I expected (she could barely understand that a melody I wanted her to play had more than three notes in it).  I'll ask Mrs. D tomorrow what she thinks; I can't figure out if I should be worried or if I should just roll my eyes.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

12/2 - Concerning Those Things That Can Be Called Into Doubt

I have mixed feelings about Descartes.  One on hand, the Cartesian coordinate system is wonderful; on the other, his existentialist "proofs" are flawed (but he tried really hard! — "cogito, ergo sum" is pretty great, but he messes up after that).  I find myself often thinking of him, however, when I realize how much of my settled thoughts on a subject I try to strip away before being convinced that I can approach a question in an adequately philosophical way.  Convincing oneself that "there is nothing in the world — no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies," is (I'm convinced) the best way to begin philosophizing about existence: one must reach a mental "rock bottom" in order to build appropriately.

(Get to the point, Luc!)

Well, parts of my educational philosophy are approaching rock bottom, which sounds like a bad thing, but is in a strong way also good; it should enable me to build as pure and logical of a philosophy as possible.  I feel like my teaching is going well, but I find myself unable to, for example, firmly prioritize what should be taught (and what should be evaluated (and what should be rewarded (and what should be punished))).  Consider these educational goals, and list in order which is most important:

Learning Subject Matter
Being a Good Person
Learning How to Learn

Was that easy?  Well, it isn't for me.  I'll argue vehemently that they all must be balanced (among other goals as well), but when situations arise that pit one against the other, which is most justifiably chosen over the other?  It gets worse — how should students be evaluated/graded?  Consider this finding:
"About 10 percent of the students who earned A’s and B’s in school stumbled during end-of-the-year exams. By contrast, about 10 percent of students who scraped along with C’s, D’s and even F’s — students who turned in homework late, never raised their hands and generally seemed turned off by school — did better than their eager-to-please B+ classmates." (From a rather good NY Times article.)
To muddy the waters more, I once read a very strong argument (from a neurologist, I think, but I can't find the article) for focusing learning on cramming facts and memorization (and giving up on the idea that 7th grade students will remember how to play a D7 chord in 10 years), thus emphasizing learning how to learn so that in later years, when our studies are focused in a desired area of expertise, we can benefit enormously from the ability to memorize what we need to know.  That reminds me! — should we be guiding younger students (I'm thinking middle school) toward focused study in a field/skill at which they excel instead of trying (desperately (hopelessly?)) to bring everybody to the same level in the same subjects (read between the lines there to sense my frustration with NCLB)?

Tomorrow I'm going to give a playing quiz on guitar.  Today I had to baby them into playing things that they have no trouble doing.  Should the better grades go to the students who tried the hardest, improved the most, acted most appropriately, or performed the best?  Or should they all get good grades as long as they go through the motions so that their overall grades can be boosted up from some not-so-good quizzes so that everybody can pass the class (and so that I don't have to find the time to have IEP students retake a guitar quiz)?

I have short-term answers to those questions that will get me through the day...I'm just not sure if I agree with myself.

Bend and Break - Keane

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I'm a little sad that it took me so long to figure out how to establish rapport with this choir (humor), but I think I'm moderately succeeding at this point.  I think they'll be able to accomplish everything they need to to succeed with the piece I'm directing.

On the other hand, I've developed such a comfortable rapport with Theory that they're starting to joke around more than I would like.  They wasted class time today by constantly chatting (Mrs. D even chimed in on occasion, surely to help me realize that I'm losing my sway), but part of the reason they continued is because they want material presented to them faster.  Since that last test (that they bombed!), I've slowed down dramatically to allow them to catch up to the skill level I expected.  My struggle now is that 4/5 students want to move along faster, while one is still falling behind.  I think I'm going to offer tutoring sessions for him and then increase the pace of class by a little.

Today's guitar lesson went well with the first class, fine with the second class, and terribly with the third.  During the third, I even vaguely mentioned that I've started giving detentions and that I am no longer "Mr. Nice Guy," and one of the boys that I was going to give a slip to (though he didn't know it yet) said "detentions don't work."  I said, "I suppose I'll find out," and when I gave him his slip at the end of class, he barely looked at it, mumbled some sort of "ok" and walked away.  Weird.  I've also acknowledged to them that I will treat them like 3rd graders, as that's how they're acting, and have been writing names and checkmarks on the board.  Every educator-professor I've had has said that students don't like seeing their names up on a board, but these kids practically enjoyed it.  They like the attention and I could barely get the technique to be effective.  These detentions should theoretically impact the whole class, but I have my doubts.  It seems I'm going to have to get really creative in order to keep them under control and still not resort to anything educationally counterproductive.

Long Outstretched Pier With Its Shadows - Xuefei Yang

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I must be brief, I need sleep.

The song that I'm conducting in HS Choir requires the use of kazoos, which we handed out today.  That was a riot.  We have very few rehearsals left until our concert, and we still have a lot to do.

I brought out guitars today.  Oy.

I also wrote out my first and second detention slips today (to be delivered to students tomorrow).  Mrs. D was proud, and I really needed the opportunity and guts to deliver such a punishment.  This "teacher detention" is more old-fashioned than I thought schools tried to be.  In a week, each of these students will stay after school in my classroom and I get to tell them what to do (within reasonable and legal limits, of course).  One student left a mess on the floor and is also consistently disruptive; I plan on having him pick up floor trash and then (maybe) have him write a note to the janitorial staff...or just sit.  The other one seriously owes himself some time to reflect on his uncontrolled and bullying behavior, so I will provide him that time.  Of course, I still have a week to think about this.  I really dislike punishing kids, but in these cases I slightly enjoy the "that oughta teach 'em a lesson!" feeling.

Immigrant Song - Led Zeppelin
Communication Breakdown - Led Zeppelin

Friday, November 26, 2010

Critique of Impure Reason

In 1892, the following statement was written with the purpose of bolstering sales for a magazine around Columbus Day: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

In 1942, after a few revisions, the following statement was added to the Flag Code by Congress: "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

In 1954, anti-communist sentiment enabled the Knights of Columbus to persuade Congress to further modify the statement, which now reads: "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

In 2010, every one of my teaching mornings begins with an intercom call for "The Pledge of Allegiance," and 80-120 choir members (I don't think anyone ever refrains) recite it.  This is what I hear: "I pledge allegiance (which is a big deal) to a symbol of a nation of which I am [most likely] a citizen by default, and to the form of government for which it stands, one nation (that's redundant) under something unknowable that we decided to claim as our own decades ago in political response to another nation's philosophies, indivisible (which is a stab at those guys who started the civil war that I'll pretend we didn't have), with liberty and justice for all (except for gays, women, minorities, the impoverished, atheists, and others).

To maintain a low profile, I keep my lips moving with these words (from this poem) by Langston Hughes:
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


In the last General Music class there is a boy and a girl in the back that sit by each other (by complete random chance of my seating chart creation) who have an interesting relationship.  They have been accused of "totally liking" each other by their classmates and deny it vehemently.  At one point, I read some notes on the back of their quizzes that seemed to be declarations of love.  I mentioned them to the girl and she loudly yelled, "I don't like [boy A], I like [boy B]!" and then was embarrassed about the public announcement.  She explained to me in a convincing way why these love notes were written (she was explaining an acronym to the boy).  Today, we watched a movie and I noticed that their legs were as close as they could possibly be to each other without physically touching.  I thought that was humorous enough, but then they decided to hold hands!  These two kids are just adorable.  When I turned the lights on they ceased contact immediately.  They totally like each other.

I recently finished grading some quizzes that had been re-taken by students with IEP's under the supervision of a learning support teacher, who is an expert at following their plans' demands.  I love the work that these learning support teachers do, but some of it makes me ask, "Are the assistive requirements this student gets far too lenient, or is this learning support teacher otherwise an educational genius?"  One of these students received a perfect 0% on their initial quiz and a perfect 110% on their re-take.  Others were almost as drastic, while others still improved their scores by trifling degrees.  Educationally philosophical red flags pop up in my mind, but so do the pressures to pass students [almost] no matter what.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Luc annoyed!  Luc frustrated!  Luc smash!  Well...almost.

Remember when I was getting meaner and succeeding in reigning in some out-of-control students?  Since then, I've somewhat reverted back to my overly patient/tolerant/forgiving self.  I have recently been letting students get away with far too many disruptions and today I should have given out about 12 detentions.  Seriously.  The General Music students were so immature today that, in the last class, I resorted to putting names on the board with check marks next to them, promising a detention at 3 marks (which is too many, I didn't give any detentions).  I even told them I would have to treat them like 3rd-graders if they kept acting like 3rd-graders.  They did, so I did.  I'm scared to discipline (partly due to my naive educational ideas about making kids care more about teachers being disappointed in them than in threats of punishment), and I need to get over it.  We're going to watch a movie tomorrow after I tell them that I will be giving detentions when I have to and that after break, I'm dropping the hammer.

I forgot to complain a couple days ago about how I was preparing to show that movie in Theory and noticed that our projector (on a cart in the choir room) was missing.  Nobody knew where it was and I borrowed one from the library.  I've continued borrowing because the projector is still missing and nobody in the HS knows where it is.

My final frustration for today: this week is a waste.  The week prior to any major break from school is a waste; students have left early either physically or mentally.  My solution to this would be to make no pre-break week any longer than Monday and Tuesday (with an early dismissal).  I think that the week before the winter break is a complete M-F, and I'm pretty sure most classes won't be able to accomplish anything worth those 5 days.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I'm not sure how such a fundamentally uneventful day turned out to be so frustrating.  Nothing spectacularly bad or good happened at any time today.

However, I'm a little bit overwhelmed with where the choirs stand on certain pieces of music, the approach of a job application deadline, working after school, empathizing with upcoming budget issues, writing a paper for a class, writing another paper for another class, and keeping track of the schedule around here.

A student had a dream that I was in.  It didn't turn out to be awkward; she was willing to tell it to a crowd of people.  It was pretty funny.  (I'm experiencing one of those moments in which I can't decide how much information qualifies as too much (with anonymity in mind).  Sorry.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010


We started a viewing of Les Choristes in Theory today.

We watched Michel Lauzière in General Music.

I also submitted my first discipline referral at the end of the day.  I was presented with more bullying activity today than all previous days combined.  In one class, a boy bullied two people with some incredibly harsh words and intimidation, while in another class a boy incites class laughter directed at a classmate (the one who tends to do unusual things for a variety of reasons).  The first received the referral, the second one got a personal lecture from me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Recall two things:
1. The Theory class jokes with me about big words.
2. I love to expand on unrelated subject matter [when appropriate].
Then share my joy in showing to them.

Some weird things happened in my last General Music class.  There's one student who is, frankly, weird.  He doesn't respond to social cues as others do and has his own brand of nervous humor.  He spends a lot of time with a guidance counselor and gets bullied.  It is extremely difficult to keep the class from shamelessly laughing at him during an embarrassing moment, as well as to keep him from intentionally doing strange things to get their attention.  I spoke with the counselor that the boy works with and got an interesting background story on the boy and some of his relationships.

I very often find myself saying, "Gee, I wish I had been informed of that earlier!"  There are some very relevant details about some students that don't get passed on (I don't know if this is always the case or if it's because I teach a "special").  Enough, in fact, that I have to be very cautious to not approach or discipline a student for something that they may feasibly have some explanation for (this extends beyond discipline, too; I recently had a student cry when moved to sit next to somebody that she is apparently very uncomfortable near (this has been addressed)).  However, as I already talk about being overwhelmed with IEP's, a system of passing on this type of information may also be overwhelming.  I'm just tired of chasing down learning support teachers and guidance counselors to get answers.  At least the ones I know are helpful (mostly — I recently had a girl act out who has a behavioral plan, so I sent an e-mail and never heard back, only to find out through the grapevine that her learning support teacher spoke to her, but he never told me and I easily could have given her a double-dose of reproach.)

In Theory:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I was very glad to have Mrs. D back today for choir, as a pianist and consultant.

After Theory, Mrs. D pointed out to me that one student has been getting more disrespectful toward me.  I hadn't noticed, which seems like a pretty disappointing oversight of mine considering the mere five students in the class.

Have you ever tried to explain ledger lines to a 12-year old with a learning disability?  How about 28 at once?  Such a feat isn't rocket's harder.

Hourglass Nebula
I forgot to mention a great teaching moment from yesterday.  We have many posters up in our room, and one of them is of the hourglass nebula.  It came up in conversation and the students asked me what a nebula is.  Well, I explained it, as well as answered other tangential questions, and managed to keep the conversation under five minutes while still getting their minds spinning.  I love those moments.

I can't seem to find a previously blogged explanation of a significant part of my educational philosophy as it relates to moments like that (Edit: Found it, 9/1).  I find it extremely valuable for students to see their teacher as more than a container of knowledge on one subject, but instead as a more complete person who knows about other things, too.  The best manifestation of this is when I'm able to connect something from another subject to music, but times when I get to briefly teach them about something completely unrelated are still very satisfying.

The Boxer - Carbon Leaf

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I don't want to talk about choir.  :)

I'm afraid terrified that I lost someone's Theory test!  I've had it on my mind all day and there's nothing else that I can do except find out tomorrow if I accidentally gave it to her.  There was a lot going on and I had too many piles of too many different papers — handing things to the students, receiving things from them, keeping completed tests from being viewed by a student taking the test...I really hope this girl has her test.

The first General Music class of the day finally exhibited their overall slowness.  I gave a very clear lecture on new information and made sure they wrote down all the right things, but they really struggled this time to apply it to a worksheet that I gave them.  They're still not behind the other classes, but that turning point may arrive soon.  It's very frustrating to have a few students in the class that catch on immediately and finish things quickly while 90% can't.

Two students in my last GM class have been getting more disruptive by the day.  I moved their seats a couple times today and they still cause trouble.  One of them giggles when I tell her that she is being rude and disruptive and the other one said at one point, "it doesn't matter where you seat me, I'll talk to anyone."  He was being more honest than difficult when he said that, but it's clear that he knows what behavior I want him to tame...and he won't...yet.  Mrs. D was gone today, so I found myself talking to the principal about which path of recourse to take if I need to in the future.  I kept coming so close to disciplining her...I just never couldn't decide how!

11/9 Addendum

In 11/9, I detail a dilemma that I encountered when I was confronted with anti-homosexual comments in a class.

In A Gay Teenager Stands Up for His Suspended Teacher, Hemant Mehta brings up a recent story about a teacher who did choose to address homophobia.

The overlaps and differences in our stories speak for themselves (and I have to finish this post and get to school), but I have one additional comment to make:  I don't think I would have asked a student to remove a confederate belt buckle, but I would have passed on to her a copy of the confederate constitution, with certain passages highlighted (including but not at all limited to the following, from Article IV, Section III, Paragraph 3).
In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress...
They weren't exactly an ethical group of people.

Monday, November 15, 2010


There's a newly hired  sheriff  administrator in town whose job covers the yet-dealt-with office referrals we've submitted.  Two of the girls were not in Choir today and things went better (they did get in a physical fights, after all).  I'm being optimistic...for now.

I conceded today that I am prone to making Theory tests/quizzes too difficult.  I try to keep them short, and in doing so choose to skip questions of medium difficulty and include a couple easy ones and many hard ones instead.  Related to this, I discussed with a friend today the exam that we had to take for state certification in music; it was very challenging, but we consider it to have been a well-made exam because it had enough foundational/easier questions to establish that understanding before using the difficult questions as the real measures of who is advanced and who is not.  I've constructed a moderately elaborate scheme to get these students' test grades up, including providing them with some much more extensive and repetitive skill-building exercises.  Practice is as vital to Theory as Math, and I haven't given them enough.

The General Music class that I expected to be the slowest to progress is keeping up quite well.  All of the classes did an excellent job absorbing my lecture and applying it to a worksheet that I made for them.  I'm a little bit proud of them, and hope that their understanding is demonstrated in the next quiz better than the last one (which had a 0% - 100% bell curve).

It's almost 10:00 and time to go grade workbooks, create exercises, create worksheets, and create lesson plans for tomorrow.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Music Education (Part 2) and Supplementary Reflection

Continued from Part 1

It takes a village to raise a choir.  Sure, there are those who are motivated toward musical achievement without the encouragement of friends, family, and their community, but filling a choir with motivated singers does require broader support.  However, if I were to continue on that path of reasoning, my conclusions of "everyone just needs to be encouraged" would apply no differently to music than to any other subject.

Currently, the particular form of communal perception of music that I think is needed is esteem.  When students and communities admire musical accomplishments, a wealth of intrinsic motivation arrives.  You've read my stories about students who approach choir almost no different than study hall, and you've read about situations which diminish the potential of the ensemble but end with the blame falling on a director who is often unfairly powerless.  If students joined choir out of a respect for what can be done with the ensemble, these issues wouldn't be present.  In order for that to happen, a change in perception of the entire school community — students, parents, teachers, and administrators — needs to occur.

I do think that other teachers and administrators respect this choral program, but what we really need is a second choir.  Now, the show choir is already made up of motivated students, and they've built a reputation by performing locally, but we need another during-school choir.  The most successful choral programs that I've seen are built around setting "the bar" higher and higher.  There needs to be a beginning choir that includes music-reading education and establishes proper choral habits (beginning rehearsal on time, focusing on the music, warming up with purpose, etc.), and then an advanced/older choir that is prepared to be challenged into creating music that is deeply worth listening to.  That kind of achievement is the pinnacle of music education because it educates more than the students, but also the community.  Music teachers should see music as a cultural necessity and devote themselves to its development.  In order for them to most readily succeed in that goal, however, the support of esteem for music needs to be omnipresent.

Supplement to 11/12

During the first major incident, Mrs. D and I were told that "perception is an issue," and I conceded that the girls involved are all of the same ethnicity.  It's impossible at this point not to wonder if the lack of discipline is due to an avoidance of disciplining a group of students of minority ethnicity.  The worst part of this apparent reverse discrimination isn't, to me, the unfair treatment involved (though that itself is detestable), but that it ends up fueling racism in the student body.  It is mentally so easy (instinctive, perhaps) to allow the feeling of "Why are they getting preferential treatment?" to turn into a judgement of those are are benefiting from the reverse discrimination and the ethnic/religious/cultural group that they fit into.

While listening to a group of students talk about their frustration with this event, one perceptive student said, "It almost makes me feel racist," in reference to the illogical application of judgement that I just explained.  Reverse discrimination doesn't just manifest in unfair treatment, it also quite effectively reverses the progress we have made against the rampant discriminatory racism of the past.

Friday, November 12, 2010


I am so glad it's Friday.

All of those intra-group-fighting girls were in Choir today with absolutely no recourse taken for anything.  The other students are so frustrated that they passed around a petition (which Mrs. D saw and stopped) to the administration to deal with the persistent and pervasive disruptions.  We were able to rehearse, and then...well, I need to censor details here for the sake of anonymity...the administration wants to blame our classroom management instead of addressing the infractions already reported.  Just before we left the HS for the day we heard that one of the girls just about started a fight in a hall and had to be restrained by multiple adults.  Are they waiting for someone to get punched?

There is some serious reflection that I have regarding this issue, but I need to take a break before writing it out.  I'll include it as part of a "Music Education Pt. 2" post that I hereby promise to write this weekend.

I put an extra credit question on the Theory test for today that stated, "Draw something," and I got to see some funny illustrations (one of them had a picture of me yelling "Pupil!" which is funny if you remember that story).

I had some success in the General Music classes today (I taught the basic history of western notation), except the last class hadn't taken yesterday's quiz yet, so I had to try to get that out of the way.  Too bad for us that two minutes after I handed out the quiz, a fire drill began.  The drill took the rest of the class.  Now they're two days behind!  Sweet.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


We lost an entire freakin' choir rehearsal today because those disruptive girls were about to brawl (I tried to think of a way to write that sentence in a way that sounded appropriately seething, but I couldn't).  I'm seething (see?).  The story goes that there was almost a fight yesterday that didn't happen, so it apparently boiled over into this morning and choir began with these girls yelling colorful expletives so that everyone could hear them.  We spent the class with me monitoring the room while Mrs. D took certain participants to the office one-by-one.

That wasn't the worst part, though.  After all of the discipline write-ups Mrs. D did, they are still, according to the web-based discipline system, unread (in fact, so are the write-ups from the last significant incident)!  We have no idea (again) what to expect tomorrow.  I am being generous in saying that administrative action regarding these girls leaves something to be desired.

I was able to give 2/3 General Music classes a quiz today (the 3rd wasted too much time during our review session).  I read the quiz to them and allowed them to use their notes for the last 3 minutes of quiz-taking time, and many of them did terribly.  The learning support teachers present in these two classes were in support of my methods, and I will be working with them to make sure I only give bad grades to the students that deserve them for not giving an effort, and that I find a way to enable those who suffered due to disability a proper chance to succeed.

If anyone ever asks you to differentiate instruction for 26 special education students, run.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I gave a really great lesson for General Music today (my supervisor was straightforwardly impressed).  I taught them about monophonic, polyphonic, and homophonic texture (as well as about the organ) in shortened class periods.  I used a couple of great videos (of the same piece) as well as a few other audio examples (I had each class singing "Yellow Submarine" on the way out).

My favorite organ fugue played wonderfully and shot to demonstrate the organ well.

Polyphonic texture visualized.

We also had conferences this evening.  Mrs. D and I met with just one parent, who had a student with us that was attentive and a pleasure to have in class.  I did find out that the student enjoyed the guitar unit so much that the family is considering getting lessons.  Chalk one up for the rewards of teaching :)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

11/9 - I Don't Think People Should Use Ellipses

Today began with me expressing frustration about students wasting time in choir.  Mrs. D seemed to agree and announced some moderate rule changes.  I hope they work.

Theory surprised me today by sparking a stressful philosophical dilemma in my mind, though I should ultimately recognize my role in sparking the spark...

I played a video clip from Glee for them to discuss (with an emphasis on the song, of course).  One of the responses I received was, "I would have liked it better without the gay guy......because I don't think people should be gay."  Another student immediately said, "Nice, someone who agrees with me."  I was downright stupefied, and without another glance starting rambling about the production of the a capella tuning in the song.  My mind, however, immediately reached a conflict...

When does a subject become more political than ethical, thus rendering it inappropriate for classroom conversation or teacher input?  Where is the line between culturally standard ethical viewpoints (which teachers are expected to uphold) and something controversial enough to be either political or religious (which teachers are expected to avoid)?  I think I can elaborate by describing two short [and true] stories that have happened recently...

1. A student said, in a conversation with another, "That's retarded!"  I interjected with the requisite seriousness and explained that using a word that legitimately describes an inherent characteristic of certain people as an insult is very disrespectful and insulting towards those who the speaker didn't intend to target.  The student (and those nearby) seemed to understand what I was saying, and I didn't hear it from anyone in the class again.
2. A student said, in a conversation with another, "That's so gay!"  I interjected with the requisite seriousness and explained that using a word that legitimately describes an inherent characteristic of certain people as an insult is very disrespectful and insulting towards those who the speaker didn't intend to target.  The student (and those nearby) seemed to understand what I was saying, and I didn't hear it from anyone in the class again.

In both of the above situations, someone made a comment that is, by my understanding of our culture, ethically incorrect, and as a teacher I was completely within my responsibilities to point this out and thus help the student develop into a more upstanding citizen.  However, as in today's event, when a student makes a direct statement about not liking homosexuality, I am caught in a position where I am expected not to address the comment since the student's perspective is religiously (and perhaps politically) motivated.  That almost seems like a logical place to "draw the line", but, quite seriously, what if the student had said, "I would have liked it better without the retarded guy......because I don't think people should be retarded," instead?

I know, I can hear the arguments, the most likely being, "That analogy is no good because no one thinks that retarded people choose to be retarded, whereas some people do think that people can choose to be gay."  My rebuttal: it doesn't matter what group of people I used as analogous to homosexuals, the speaker is still declaring an illogical and insulting attitude toward a group of people, and isn't that something that our educators should battle against?

I have learned to be even more careful in my selection of materials, because, evidently, some high school students are prohibited by their parents from watching such things as Glee (on the other hand, these students have also told me about the controversial readings they've done in English class (is controversial material only fair game for English teachers?)).  I have also learned that the "line" that I'm looking for is a squiggly one.  My ethics hurt.

We worked with just the boys in MS choir today.  Not all of them showed up, and the ones that did were so constantly distracted that it was more difficult to keep them quiet than my rowdiest class.

(Since I would typically link to my Theory selection here, I'll tell you instead that revealing the exact clip that I played for theory would distract from everything above, so I'm keeping it secret.)


What if I were gay?  I'd have to keep my mouth shut, at least in this district.  As a student teacher, schools have no legal pressure to keep me around.  Also important, however, is that before tenure, schools cannot dismiss teachers in discriminatory ways, but they also don't have to provide a reason for not offering a teacher a new contract after their current one ends.  As a non-tenured teacher in this area, I would probably have to silently endure comments like that (even tenured teachers often keep silent, because there are indirect ways to lose one's job for having a characteristic that a community disapproves of).  If I were open to everyone else about my orientation, the school in which I teach would be the final place of necessary secrecy.

I know of no one who feels the need to flaunt their orientation (except for some extreme homophobes), because nobody should care — but the idea that one would (and many do) have to resist standing up for themselves in order to keep their job is appalling.

Monday, November 8, 2010


I know I'm new to this, but I'm no stranger to fundamental blogging etiquette.  Last weekend, Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist made a post specifically about my "Are you Christian or Catholic?" story, and linked to me.  So I shall link to him and wish a belated welcome to the plethora of visitors from his site (and the occasional others that picked up the link).  A rather productive conversation has been had in the comment thread of that post regarding what and how topics like this should be approached in various educational settings.  This is a valuable conversation for members of every community to have, and I'm honored to have played a part.

It's almost too bad that the student who asked this will never know (or at least not for a long time) the effect she had.

Continuing with my daily reflections and updates, we completed the first major step of learning my HS Choir selection; we've introduced each voice part to their notes throughout the entire piece.  Soon I'll find out how well they can hold onto their pitches without the support of the piano.  It is, after all, an a capella piece.

I tried to present something from a computer in Theory today but didn't bring the adapter that I needed with me, so I said "get out your workbooks" instead.  After looking at the workbook, however, I decided that it didn't have the right kind of exercises, so I made up my own on the board, passed out staff paper, and had them work on those for the rest of class (with other things mixed in).  I recovered from two planning mishaps, and plan C worked well :)

I got the General Music classes lined up!  Yes!  Now the chaos of conference week (with early dismissals) will be easier to bear.

I did some successful work on my selection with the sopranos of the MS choir this afternoon.  I hope they remember at least half of what they learned today by the time they rehearse again next week.

I also introduced the HS Show Choir to my selection for them.  They seem to like it, but the piece is a definite challenge.  I wish that we could meet more than once a week...ah, well.

Up To Me - Jethro Tull

Friday, November 5, 2010


My piece in Choir is coming along, though there's this one section with tricky (and humorous) rhythm that completely threw off the guys (the only ones with music written during this part)...especially the tenors.

I'm starting to get fairly out of sync with my three GM classes.  In previous weeks, when something slightly different occurred in one class, I could easily remember it the next day and adapt.  Now, though, I find myself asking the class what they have written down from the day before, because they're all in different places.  Much of this isn't my fault (repeating fire drill procedures, unexpected code red drills, wildly differing capabilities and behaviors...), so I'm saying, "C'est la vie," but hoping to do better...soon.

I finally got to go over that difficult quiz with the theory student who was absent when we finished doing so in class.  He is struggling, so it turned into quite a tutoring session.  I'm trying not to baby him, because he is definitely motivated, but he guesses when I ask him questions that the other students began to consider rudimentary weeks ago.  I'm hoping that with the right exercises, some tutoring time, and clear encouragement to spend some time on, he'll pass comfortably.

The Cave - Mumford & Sons

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I'm starting to be understood by the choir, I think.  Starting to.

I'm making some pretty significant departures from the workbook we're using in Theory.  Its sequencing has students learning about dominant 7th chords before learning to distinguish major and minor triads.  That's just silly.

In the last GM class, a class discussion led from languages into questions about where I'm from, and a student decided to ask me, "Are you Christian or Catholic?"  I managed to resist addressing the glaring semantic issues of the question and answer, "I'm not comfortable  answering questions about religion."  Many in the class were shocked but I moved on quickly.  How many other teachers would have answered without hesitation?  In this school, I think many would.  Should they feel comfortable answering such questions?  I think we all should be, but there's absolutely no way that a person with a response outside of the mainstream wouldn't be at great risk of backlash.

In fact, I'm so nervous about exposing an answer to questions of my religion that I avoided (and once deleted in the paragraph above) an admission of where I stand out of fear that some day someone from this district (except Mrs. D) would read this blog.  Well, I'm an atheist, and I say so to take one very small step toward the freedom to admit who one is in a classroom setting.  Now I'm just hoping this doesn't come back to bite me before tenure protects me from discrimination someday.

At today's faculty meeting we watched an old video dramatizing a story about a cipher (not a concealed message, but a student who is left behind as meaningless) who dies, and whose death awakens the perspective of one of his past teachers to realizing that it is abhorrent to set a role for a student and then treat them according to it for years on end, effectively ignoring their development and needs.  Well, I think the school district in which I work does an excellent job of avoiding allowing students to become ciphers.  Usually this is a result of things outside of school that can't be controlled, but the in-school approach of the faculty seems quite effective.  There are a couple of students that come to mind when considering those who not only don't have a network of friends, but are also considered slow by teachers and often have frightening out-of-school personal histories.  I think we're doing the best job that we can.

When considering such a topic, I come to consider this as well: not only are educators expected to be guides toward success for students who self-motivate, but we are also expected to cover the other end of the spectrum — we are to be the safety net for students who are left behind by their family and community.  Don't think for a moment that I'm whining; I am proud to take on both of these responsibilities (and everything in between).  I just want non-educators to know that it's a lot of weight.

Too Late Now - Yonder Mountain String Band


I was observed while directing the choir today.  I did better than yesterday (with my new understandings), and am beginning to convince myself to feel optimistic (though I know that phrasing makes me sound bitter...give me a break, it's late).

I finally got to play another discussion-worthy piece for Theory today.  It's from one of my favorite movies, Les Choristes, so we ended up talking about that a little bit, too.  It was also an exciting lesson because I introduced them to triads.  I just get giddy thinking about how they're catching a glimpse of approaching theory as if it were a ship approaching from the horizon — they can make out its general shape and purpose, but have no idea of the detail and grandeur that will eventually arrive.

The 1st GM class of the day is essentially a full day ahead of the rest.  Tomorrow, however, I will begin lecturing on the first unit, and am preparing myself for a slowing of pace.  The last class of the day $&#*ed up our practice fire drill.  They talked and goofed off and one even rudely imitated me calling her name when going through the roster outside.  I was mad, and I think they caught on when I told them that they were so disrespectful that we'll do it again tomorrow.

Oh, fine.  I'll provide some pedagogical reflection.  I vacillate on my thoughts of the function of punishment in class.  It's very easy to mistakenly create a punishment out of something that shouldn't be viewed that way by a student.  Practicing a fire drill, for example...if they think of it as a punishment, am I risking having students think more about negative things than about safety when a real evacuation has to occur?  Furthermore, I strive to educate them on much more than just music; I would like them to understand the why of procedures like this.  If I don't see value in it, why should they?  Lastly, when I get angry, I inspire (or at least signal that I want to inspire) fear from them.  Fear = not educationally beneficial.  If, instead (and more likely suited to my personality), I am disappointed, I inspire guilt in them.  Guilt = not a feeling a student should have when entering a classroom.  Ultimately, I think Mrs. D would remind me how quickly students get over things like that, and that swift punishment is vital to preventing a disruptable/distractable environment.

La Nuit (from Les Choristes by Bruno Coulais)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I tried to introduce my piece to HS Choir this morning.  Even thought I'd been observing, essentially, for many weeks, I approached rehearsal by expecting a little bit of music-reading ability.  It turns out, as Mrs. D whispered to me and discussed more later, they don't really read music.  Therefore, I somewhat stumbled through my introduction and now intend to be more focused on learning parts practically by rote before addressing more complicated things.

We conquered a whole damn unit in Theory today!  Bam!

Then, at the MS, the first (and initially most dreaded) GM class arrived......and they were almost silent.  I was so nervous about the immaturity and attitude that I had been warned about that my expectation was of recklessness, and I had completely forgotten about the once-given explanation that these students "often don't really respond."  They were so quiet and seemingly attentive that I ran out of planned material.  I couldn't believe it.  During the listening journal (the last thing in my plan), I talked to Mrs. D and said, "What on earth do I do?"  She came to my rescue and said, "Fire drill procedure!"  That was just what I needed.  We did a fire drill and I stalled with humor when we returned, still ultimately ending class a minute early.  So, oddly enough, this class seems to be the fastest at absorbing introductions and administrivia, though, from what I'm told, they will be extremely slow with real material.  Currently, they're ahead of the other two classes (by a listening journal and a fire drill!), but I expect that trend to reverse after the first day of a real lesson (Thursday).

As much as I've settled into being comfortable in front of the classes I've known, the role of being a teacher  that students have never seen before is still jarring.  Mrs. D was entirely in charge of the initial classes with the last round of students, and I find that introducing myself to students on my own is quite nerve-racking.  By the end of the day I had succeeded in using my sense of humor to my advantage.  Overall, I'd say things went well, my evidence being that Mrs. D was bored out of her mind all day.  :)

The mostest awesomest part of the day was when I learned how to whistle.  Actually, I whistle just fine with my tongue, but since we watched that whistling documentary I've been trying to do a real pucker whistle.  Mrs. D's tips led to me making some whistles today.  This is about as exciting as when I finally figured out how to see those Magic Eye illusions a year ago.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Music Education (Part 1)

I teach because I get to make my passion for learning into a career, because I feel rewarded when I think I've made an impact on another's mind, because I must make profound connections with people to succeed, and because I get to see others grow and achieve.  I am a musician because I've found music to be a grand unifier; it has history, science (math, physics, neurology, biology, physiology, evolution), culture, linguistics, sociology, mystery, emotion, philosophy, psychology, creativity, malleability, poetry, dance, and surely more, all connected as roots of an immortal tree.

With this passion and this knowledge, I simply couldn't bear to let someone else have all the fun :)

When music education is given a chance, it accomplishes great things.  Students, communities, and educators can be inspired by well-performed artistic expression.  Students can be motivated to understand and find the infinite connections between music and other subjects.  They can also overcome certain fears, mature with self-discipline, find solace or an outlet, and connect with others on the deep level offered by ensemble.

Wow...that's a lot to strive for, isn't it?  To be a music teacher, one must be a little bit crazy...

That stated, we'd have a country full of passionate musicians if every music teacher produced all of those results with every student they have.  However, to be frank, none of us can...not alone, at least.

(As I've chosen to make this "Part 1," please enjoy the cliffhanger ending.  Also, feel welcome to comment with questions or stories of your own, as they may influence "Part 2."  Yes, I am trying to use my readers as muses, for I do my best thinking when considering the statements/thoughts/actions/perspectives of others.)


In-service day!  We began with a music department meeting (teachers from the whole district) as required by so-and-so in such-and-such a position.  We had to watch a video of a who-is-that? performing his duties as he-does-what? by telling the department more about this grand curriculum-mapping plan that he is having us implement.  Mrs. D and I were then able to return to our room.  She worked on mapping, I worked on seating charts/outlines/lessons, and we both distracted each other constantly.  It was a moderately productive day.

We went to lunch at a nearby mall and one of my Theory students saw us/me and yelled my name.  I was caught in a really weird moment of not knowing how to respond and the first thing my stupid brain thought was, "It's Monday, she should be in school!"  So...I said, "Oh, hi!  Wait, why aren't you— never mind, you have the day off!  Haha."  I will be laughed at for this tomorrow.

I had a mock interview today.  It went well, though I need to make my answers shorter and give more specific examples of things I've done.

I'm very nervous about tomorrow.  I will be introducing the HS Choir to my selection and I'll be hosting three new classes of GM.

In spite of all of this, I have decided, partially on request, that I should put my general thoughts on music education in a single post.  Since I'll be overwhelmed the rest of this week, I will attempt to write it tonight.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Yesterday was Halloween dress-up day.
I was Nathan Detroit (Guys and Dolls)
Mrs. D was Cruella Deville (101 Dalmations)
I was monitoring some students in in-school suspension and noticed that one of them was in there for the day because she does not participate in Halloween.  It reminds me that the school did not officially refer to Halloween for this spirit day, but instead (and in the theme of an anti-drug week) as "Say 'Boo!' to drugs day."  I need to find out if the full-time suspension monitor knows if that was a parental or student decision.  I'm not particularly inclined to rant about Halloween in schools — try to stifle your disappointment.

In GM, we watched "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" (because we can).  I haven't seen this video in such a long time that I got to enjoy a new discovery of how amazing it is.  Off the top of my head, it's the only kid-oriented story on film that I can think of that doesn't teach the lesson, "If you believe really hard in something, it will happen."  Linus firmly believes in the Great Pumpkin and waits for it all night and it never comes.  So instead of another "Hey kids, magic stuff is real — keep at it" movie, this is a movie that seems to say, "Hey kids, it's ok if something that you really wish for doesn't arrive, life goes on anyway, and deeper beauty and meaning exists (in friendship and in nature)."  I love it.

Imagery like this makes me happy.

I ended the day by attending a specialized meeting with representatives from different teams (Mrs. D represents the arts here) and the principal and VP.  It was...boring!  Yet, also informative.  Enough of that, I have another day to talk about...

Today was a clerical day post-marking-period.  We finalized grades and began preparation for the next marking period (we fortunately get another day, Monday, for this as well).  I worked on creating seating charts based on IEP and medical information (vision and hearing, for example).  In looking at my rosters, I know I'm going to have my hands full.  There are many ADHD students in these classes and many with IEP's, too.

One class in particular is going to be the adventure of a lifetime.  Mrs. D and I have been warned THREE TIMES about this group of students, with phrases like, "this is the kind of class that could make someone run away screaming from education."  We met with a teacher who works with these students (though not all at once, is my understanding) to figure out who to avoid sitting next to whom.  He did help with this, and he also informed us (almost one by one) about the very low-performing faculties of these students and their behavioral...let's say "quirks."  He also said to us, and I quote directly, "This is honestly the lowest set of students that I've seen."  28/30 of these students have IEP's, by the way.  Fortunately, their learning support teacher will be with us during each class.  Mrs. D will be trying to let me be entirely in control of the class but will, when needed, be a valuable presence and extra set of eyes — perhaps also an enforcer if I don't cut it some day.  My expectations for this class will, and need to be, completely different than that of others; I'll be progressing in the curriculum at a dramatically slower pace.  Some of these students read at a 2nd grade level.  I get the impression that if I can make it through teaching this class, there is absolutely nothing pedagogical that would keep me from certification.

Please forgive my late-night lazy storytelling, but I need to wrap this up.  The last memorable event of the day was hearing about a situation in which some HS seniors were found to be expecting Mrs. D to drive them between two music events on a weekend without ever having asked her.  Furthermore, she had to drive them around today due to their poor planning.  SENIORS!  WAKE UP!

The Oldest Established (Guys and Dolls)

Thursday, October 28, 2010


so tired...will post tomorrow...clerical day...zzzzz...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


My favorite thing to do in the morning is resist responding to political ravings from a full-time and more-important-than-me co-worker.  Lucky me, I got to do that today.

I love my Theory kids, and they like me too.  Otherwise, they wouldn't yell (without hesitation), "Who talks like that?!?!" after hearing me say something like, "Some points of confusion were..."  When, in response, I told them that my peers also make fun of me for how I talk, they laughed uproariously at my decision to use the word "peer."  There is always some snickering when I use big/uncommon words (they learned "penultimate" today), but today was the most dramatic.  It was all very funny.

During the next marking period I will approach this GM composition idea from a different angle.  I played most of them today and had to BS my way through many that completely didn't follow the guidelines that I gave.

We had some visitors at the MS today; actors and authors from a recent movie about bullying.  The leading lady played a girl who was 13-16, but she is actually 21.  I heard that there was a pretty lady close to my age visiting (the boys were freaking out about her), so I went to visit her in the cafeteria.  She really looked 14 though, so I just felt too weird trying to strike up a conversation with her in school, and didn't.

Oh, right, this is a blog about pedagogy, not date-ology.  The real take-away from this is that all of the students were very distracted by the event, but there seems to be great potential for anti-bullying benefit from all that went on.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

10/26 - Uh...which way is up?

The HS had a topsy-turvy schedule today, and Mrs. D was gone.  Due to this, I began at the MS and during the third class the sub went to the HS for Choir and Theory, and then I joined for the HS remediation period (Theory kids come back for this by default).

I'm trying this two-day lesson in GM for which the students compose a 5-measure melody.  I give them guidelines and specific notes to choose from for each measure, and this turned out to be very difficult.  Tomorrow I intend to play all of them, which shall be interesting.

All of the Theory quizzes are finished now.  Mr. High-and-Mighty (though he's been better lately) did extremely well and everyone else did extremely not well.  Going over it tomorrow will be tons of fun.

Monday, October 25, 2010


I am persistently trying to come up with ideas for how to establish a choral environment that would make students think it ridiculous to work on their homework during rehearsal.  Mrs. D is able to approach choir with the patience for this, and produces good results too, but I don't think I would be able to handle that.  This, of course, comes from a naïve pre-teacher.  Perhaps I'll discover that this is the kind of allowance necessary to balance the "you can't kick students out of choir" administrative approach with classroom discipline.  Also, if/when Mrs. D reads this, she'll be thinking, "Ha!  He isn't mean enough."  We'll see, I suppose.

I ended up with 3.5/5 (one was rather tardy) students in Theory today and gave the quiz anyway.  I began grading them and WOW — they bombed it.  I'm really glad that this happened though, because now I have a really good understanding of what they're missing.  I'll be turning this into one of those procedures where I mark their work, hand it back, go over it in class, and have them return it with corrections.  Scales, keys, and intervals are kind of a big deal.

I recall enjoying GM today, and we're finally done with the movie, but most of what I remember are things that frustrated me.  The first [and one non-frustrating] memory is that the bickering girls are friends again.  Loud friends.  Three cheers, eh?  The second is of the students who refuse to contribute; when asked a simple question like, "What was your favorite part of the musical?", they'll answer "Nothing.  I didn't like any of it," and I have to drag some sort of answer out of them.  The third memory flat-out pisses me off.  I spent the beginning of each class sternly lecturing about a terrible mess that all three classes left last week.  Scraps of paper, candy wrappers, and broken pieces from pencils were all over the floor!  Everyone seemed to get a healthy dose of guilt.  The third class was the most interested in this — they asked why it's bad since there are people who are supposed to clean the building each day.  Fine.  Great.  I answered and they understood (I think — they all had understanding looks) about the disrespect involved.  Oh...but then...after that class left...there was half of a broken pencil waiting for me on the floor.  REALLY, KID? REALLY?  I OUGHTA &$%#%^@$%# and *&^@!@&^#& your @$$!!!

Wait!  I'm not done!  After MS choir, I was back in our room (where Mrs. D had rehearsed with the boys) and there was a piece of gum, shoddily wrapped, ground into the floor!  Unbelievable!

On a brighter note, I ended the day by doing more singing than usual, as I was needed to add some substance to the anemic one-person-against-too-many-others bass section.  I don't get to sing as often as I would like, so I enjoyed this greatly.  There was, however, the proverbial dark lining to that silver cloud (wait...that's not quite right...oh, well); part way through the rehearsal about 8 members got up and left to go to a rehearsal for the musical.  Well, Mrs. D had only heard about this 30 minutes prior and...the details aren't worth it.  We wound up with 14/26 members (and no bass section after the one left) for most of the rehearsal.  Is "obligation" in their vocabulary?

Friday, October 22, 2010


I had to postpone a Theory quiz because of [expected] absences today.  I also played them a song that I thought they would like but they completely didn't.  Hm.

The MS was an adventure today.  It was Picture Day!  This meant that for one of our classes we didn't have even most of the students back until class was half over; a bummer when trying to finish a movie.  There was also some crazy girl drama that they tried to rope us into today.  Girl A and B are super bff's, but they've been bitter about each other lately.  Today, girl A told a teacher that boy A was saying very mean things about boy B.  Girl B reports that this boy was falsely accused and that girl A has "an attitude."  We'll be keeping an eye out to see who ends up in trouble for the alleged meanness.

In the faculty room at lunch a couple days ago there was this disgusting smell coming from someone's lunch.  There was a teacher with sardines who was blamed for this — it was kind of funny.  Today, however, the woman who sits next to him divulged that it was actually her fish that created the smell, and she hid it away and let everyone blame the guy.  This story was very funny, so we had a riotous faculty lunch.

There have been some rampant computer issues.  This is not the post where I'll discuss the technology environment in detail, though.  In short, the computer I use needed to be re-imaged yesterday and now today something happened with the internet filter that is causing everyone to be blocked from sites they could previously access.  That was pretty annoying.

Crash Years - The New Pornographers

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I was so confused this morning...just before real rehearsal began in choir, a small mystery something flew into my side and I swatted it away.  Mrs. D then yelled toward the disruptive corner of the ensemble, "Did you just throw a stinkbug at Mr. Duval?"  The one who apparently did this looked genuinely surprised that it hit someone, because she apparently was aimlessly swatting it away from herself.  At this point, I didn't know what to think.  I already struggle to hold on to any respect in this room, and this troublemaker definitely has none.  She and her friend started laughing and making snide jokes that I couldn't hear while I kept looking at them with a "did you really just throw something at me?" look.  I was mentally mixed up with a conflict of annoyance, shock, patience, helplessness, and amusement.  I still don't know what to think.


The Thrill is Gone - B.B. King and Tracy Chapman

P.S. I just added yesterday's Theory song to the post.  It was an interesting one.