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