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 savethewords.org 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 science...it'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 musictheory.net, 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.