Friday, August 16, 2013

First Week: well that was fun?!

Man I was excited this week to finally get back in the classroom with the kids. I still am actually. The week has been full of work. I've only gone in at night to work 8 times now in the past 3 years-ish. Three of the 8 were this week and honestly I have so much to do I oughta go back in tonight. But bag that. It's a friday night and the mood is right for sitting at home doing nothing but dishes and cutting some herbs from my garden.
We have a new principal who is a great guy. I was one of the teachers who interviewed him and I think he's doing great things. He requires more work though, like teachers submitting lesson plans with standards attached and he's supposedly going to compare the standards taught with the ones on the state test to make sure we're preparing them. He's demanding and strict compared to what we had before, and I welcome that with open arms.
Right now I'm running a 5th grade band of 27, a 6th grade band of 24, a Middle School band of 26 and a High School band of 25 plus a guitar ensemble of 14. Not too bad for a K-12 district of only 300 kids.
I know the kids are not yet adjusted to sitting and behaving in a school setting. I'm not either. Yet despite the added work load from the new bossman, despite the excessive talking. I'm genuinely happy to be back in the room. I'm feeling the stress, but I really feel like I was made for this.
Ohhhh so story: This girl. Lets call her Suzie Que. Ok, so Suzie takes summer lessons from me at school every year. She's a flutist and honestly pretty decent considering all the social, emotional, and intellectual barriers she has. Ok so her mom calls and says that Suzie got mad and bent her flute. I was all like 'whats that even mean' but mom apologized and swore up and down they'd make it right. I gave them the addresses of the shops I approve and they supposedly got it all fixed. I'm not sure what "bent" really meant, but they were fixing it right. So today she's getting her flute out and I was like, wow I should look at that sometime. So after class I got it from her. The following is a photo I just took of the flute AFTER FIXING.
Close up of the scarring
To be honest, the repair guy I love could've probably done a better repair job, it's still kinda folded up there. But seriously, what did this girl do? There is also a pretty good ding on the plate so I think she like whacked the headjoint against a counter or something while it was in the body because the barrel part is great and the scarring from it being folded is right outside the barrel. Below is my fantastic artist's rending...
Perfect rendition of the flute headjoint

So yah, that was fun...
It's one of those 1960's or 70's Artley 18-0's. (1969 according to a quick serial number search) Basically made out of steel. These old Artley student models ain't pretty but still.

Anyway. So that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Pre-semester thoughts

I've spent a significant amount of time pondering the sociological influences on traditions in my little town.
See there is no extracurricular sport or activity which experiences success thus far in the school district. At least not since the '70s. Three years ago our athletics had a winning-less year across all sports.
The problem with no success is that is brings a complacency, an attitude of "it ain't gonna work anyways."
I read in a music ed journal about motivation a few months ago an article by Frank Kick ( about motivation. We had a special band officer's meeting to discuss the cycle of work-success-fun and my HS band camp was a whole different world of attitude this year. They worked hard and accomplished a massive amount in two days. It was an emotional high for me to finally have some success and we shared a lot of fun times...
Then I had two kids show up for the MS band camp. It was a massive snap back to reality.
I'm not tired of the students and certainly not the peer teachers and administration. I love them dearly.
I'd just love to not lose so many to scheduling problems and activity conflicts and...
These kids are good kids and like many at small schools, they're stretched so thin with all the demands we put on them.

School starts next thursday. We'll see how things go. I'm excited to see them again and not be doing janitorial work :)

When someone invents the ability to pick up a school district and move it closer to family please let me know.

BTW- My little one is 2 years old today! Happy Birthday Lyds!!! te amo

Thursday, August 1, 2013

You've got to ac-cent-chu-ate the positive

So I was reading old blogs and felt the need to expound on the positives that have happened and are continuing to. I hope my last blog didn't come across as the angry ramblings of a disillusioned man.
Rather, it has been a very positive experience thus far. I'd like to publicly share the positive nature of my experience teaching here thus far.

  1. Support staff: Our front office secretary has been a life saver countless times. She is a big help professionally. Our custodians are both big supporters of the program and willingly go out of their way to help me. 
  2. Student "D": This kid makes it all worth while. Last spring I caught her on facebook at school and saw she had the band's picture as her cover photo. I think she is the first "band kid" this school has experienced in years. She plays a pretty mean flute, takes on challenges, etcShe also happens to be our primary babysitter for lyds.
  3. Admin: I have 2 wonderful admins (3 soon but I barely know the new guy). Both are incredibly supportive and helpful. I'd go as far as to say I'm friends with my superintendent. They both are the most kind and helpful supervisors I've ever seen. They haven't always said yes, but they've always found a way to make things a more positive experience for the kids. They've helped me add a pops concert, a guitar and percussion class, a low brass trip to TUBAChristmas, a televised holiday concert, a...
  4. Young leaders: I have a handful of incoming freshman this year who are going to be great leaders very soon. Including a group of 4 who did several MS honor bands together and are constantly challenging amongst themselves to be better musicians. They're a great asset.
  5. The School Board: These guys have been wonderful. They've fought in my behalf on financial and logistical issues and without their support I wouldn't have made it this long. 
  6. My wonderful "assistant": while Karin holds no official title and receives no pay, she is right there with me. First in and last out and working the whole time. She has missed fewer pep bands than most students and has always been helpful. Until recently some of my kiddos actually thought she was a paid assistant band director. She even sub-conducted once (long story).
  7. The peer teachers: I mostly work with the four 5th and 6th grade teachers who have been incredibly supportive and will accommodate anything if it is at all possible. 
  8. me at Tuba Christmas 2012

    HS Band fall 2012
    Drum Majors 2013 and myself

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Learning the blues and keeping my head on straight.

so... ya, long time no blog eh.
Spring '12: got the HS band enrollment up to 21. Darn freakin' proud of it too. Thing is these kids have such a tradition of mediocrity it astounded me (still does). We have almost no success as a school in any athletics or activities. The school prides themselves on academics, which is probably a great thing. I left that spring hopeful. I felt like, although it would take a while, i was set up for something great.

Then this 2012-2013 year happened. I started out HS band with 27 kiddos, MS Band with 46, and my full 5th and 6th bands (elementary band is required here, straight up no lies. they have no option and haven't for a decade or more so almost no one complains). Then they changed my schedule. I ended up teaching 5th and 6th grade together in one 30 minute class. 59 beginners (ok the 6th graders had a year under their belts) in a 26'x40' class plus instruments. If the 13 drummers weren't going to kill me the rest would. It was disastrous. I know this isn't really standardized in music buy our AYP ground to a halt like a reed hitting my off-white cinder block walls. Seriously, we got no where. I eventually (after christmas break) convinced the classroom teachers to take the kids and have 5th grade on Mondays and Wednesdays and 6th grade on Tues/Thurs. I figured a twice-a-week effective class is better than a 4x-weekly chaos. I was right, but the damage had been done. See, in May 2012 my 5th graders completed Standard of Excellence Book 1 with time to spare. They could all play you know, like 1-year experienced students. By May 2013 the class, as a whole, was maybe 1/3 of the way through the book. 
The scheduling fiasco spread elsewhere. They split my MS band into a 7th and 8th grade band because "46 students is too many in one section" (uuuuhhhh... but the elementary... whatever mate). It wasn't as brutal as the elementary switch though. My MSers are the core of my pep band and the 7th graders end up flying on the coat tails of the 8th graders to get through the football season, not having them together except on friday nights made a lot of 7th graders get that whole deer-in-the-headlights "ohhhhh, this is how it's supposed to sound" look for the first few weeks. They eventually caught on. 
The HS did well though. I took 6 kids to a big college-hosted honor band and had a smattering of others also. My student leadership occasionally requested more responsibilities and were generally awesome. In late April things got weird. Several of my core leaders, both elected and not, began to show up late and put in less effort. Our district music competition (the biggest deal in our year) got snowed out in late April. During our spring elections at the end of the month for next years officers a lot of my strong leaders didn't accept nominations and I started to get scared. Next thing I know I get preregistration numbers in for the fall and I wanted to cry. 
Typically, in my few years here, my 8th grade to 9th grade retention has been 85-90%. I lost one senior (early and sadly do to family drama, long story) and had 19 8th graders so i figured 26-1=25 plus say 15 incoming freshman = 40 kids. A 40 kid band in a school of 70 student ain't bad at all! Well preregistration was at 21. An actual loss. I was terrified. The school board and admins made it clear they wanted to see the program grow when I started and they've been nothing but supportive thus far. I was afraid of their judgments I guess. 
I quickly compiled my lists and tracked down the not-enrolled. 
      1 had  a legitimate unavoidable schedule problem, great leader, good player, a loss
      9 had "class conflicts" that were avoidable, but even after explaining how to still take everything they wanted, refused to be in band
      2 had "class conflicts" and after going through the schedule were able to re-enroll
      2 dropped band for a second study hall or TA spot
      2 more (students B and C)... 
            Student A had a fake conflict (avoidable). Student B, who is very much romantically involved with A, won't be in band without her. Student C is best friends with B and... Thing is all 3 are multiple honor band participants, all 3 are very popular and influential around school and, with last names like theirs, even around town. I was really hoping A or C would be band president. C was already working on this next fall's all-state material.

My wife tried to keep me calm. It hurt though. Those close to me kept saying not to take it personal, but how else should I take it. My HS group had already planned a marching show for the fall, we already had experienced so much forward momentum. I expected the momentum to slow, but sliding backwards hurt. More than the numbers it hurt to lose 7 of the 9 students who attended honor bands and have 3 of my 5 band officers quit. Brutal, man. Brutal.

My new leaders are mostly young. But very involved (3 sport athletes, etc) and have already shown they can't dedicate the same level of dedication. My new band president is an on-again off-again behavioral problem...

My new MS group for the fall is only 21 students in both 7th and 8th grades. I only brought up 5 new 7th graders. Who can blame them, they had a horrible 6th grade band experience. I didn't get to see them in the 4th quarter at all and before that the schedule was a bust.

A job opened up, ideal location and size, I applied. No interview or anything. Fail.

My goal for this next year is to relax and have fun. Maybe I pushed to hard, maybe my very-goal oriented strategies from last year drove away the kids who wanted more fun, less heavy work. My relax and have fun goal is as much a curricular theme as a coping skill. I've got to relax and not take these bumps as personally. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Welcome to the Gesundheit Institute for Musical Developement

This is a portion of my new film, Patch Adams: Band Director
note: this is not a portion of my new film. I lied. It's a slightly altered portion of the real Patch Adams movie. Duhr. Enjoy

"Sir, Would you define practice for me?"
"Yes, practice would be defined as the care of a student seeking musical attention."
"Everyone who comes to the rehearsal is a student, yes. And every person who comes to the rehearsal is also a teacher."
"I'm sorry?"
"Every person who comes to the rehearsal is in need of some form of physical, mental, or musical help. They're students. But also every person who comes to the rehearsal is in charge of taking care of someone else... that makes them teachers. I use that term broadly, but is not a teacher someone who helps someone else? When did the term 'teacher' get treated with such reverence... At what point in history did a teacher become more than a trusted and learned friend who visited and taught the learning..."
"What if one of your concerts had failed?"
"What's wrong with failing sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can't we treat failure with a certain amount of humanity and dignity and decency and, God forbid, maybe even humor? Failure isn't the enemy gentlemen. If we are going to fight a disease why don't we fight one of the most terrible diseases of all: Indifference. Now I've sat in your schools and heard you lecture of transference and professional distance. Transference is inevitable sir. Every human being has an impact on another. Why don't we want that in a student/teacher relationship?... A teacher's mission is not just to prevent failure, but also to improve the quality of life. Thats why when you teach a student you win, you lose. You teach a person, I guarantee you, you win, no matter what the outcome... Don't let them anesthetize you. Don't let them numb you out to the miracle of music... Always live in awe of the glorious mechanisms of the musical body. Let that be the focus of your classroom and not a quest for grades which give no idea of what kind of people they will become. Start your communicating skills now. Sing with strangers. Sing with your friends. Sing to wrong numbers. Sing to everyone. And cultivate musical friendships with those amazing people at your back.... Sir, want to be a teacher with all my heart. I wanted to become a teacher so I could serve others and because of that I lose everything and gain everything. I've shared the lives of students and staff at the school. I've laughed with them. I've cried with them. This is what I want to do with my life. And as God is my witness... I will still become the best damn teacher the world has ever seen. You can't keep my from learning. You can't keep me from studying."
"Is that all?"
"I hope not sir."

NOTE: I have had the distinct pleasure this semester of not only seeing the interpersonal and humanistic growth of many students, but (and the wording of this is crucial) as a side effect of the personal growth I have been blessed to experience a musical miracle of growth also. While the homesickness and loneliness of living in the backwoods just south of the Middle in the county of Nowhere makes me long for civilization and old friends. I wouldn't trade this for the world. My students are not yet the best musicians in the world, but most of them now care. They have something they live and breath for. We are few, but not indifferent or lazy. I thank my God for the chance to be here and do what I do with my amazing wife and daughter by my side. While I am not truly friends with my students I am enjoying them and I love them. Radical as that may be in the industrialized mechanism of modern teaching. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pulling the Lion's Tooth

Today I pulled a few rotten teeth from the mouth of the Lion.
The Lion bit me in anger so I hit it with 7 detentions.

I don't know what it is with this place. I give homework. Like a worksheet or something ONCE a semester. This time I gave them 4 pages of worksheets with the answers on top in a reading section and the questions below. I gave them 3 days of class time to finish. Today was the two week anniversary of the assignment's due date and I had 33 not turned in by class time.

Last spring I gave 2 days of class time for a one-pager and had 13 not turn it in at all. They took zeros.
In talking with teachers around here it seems like these kids just simply don't do their homework. Ever. Our modern society demands that we don't accept zeros in schools. I'm lucky that my superintendent says they can't NOT do the work, but I can give them a zero if it takes way too long.

This is BULLS###

My parents would have found the biggest stick and beat the living daylight out of me if I had just blatantly refused to do homework. You just didn't not do your homework.

I nagged to get a bunch more done and turned in by the end of the day and had reduced my naughty list to 7. Impressive nagging skills come from my mother's side. Five of the seven say they aren't going to do it. Ever. No matter what.
So they'll finish it in detention or suspension, whichever comes first.

See detention is a problem around here. Kid's don't take it seriously. Teachers almost never do it because the students don't show up for detentions. Teachers have to create verbal contact with parents to carry out a detention so parents can arrange for transportation. So detentions are often several days after the event which earned the detention.

Again, bullfeces.

You don't NOT show up for a detention. And if my kid got a detention and had to miss the bus that would be fine. Walk your delinquent butt home.

For each detention you skip you get two more. Get more than 5 detentions stacked up and you get an in school suspension. Statistically (according to my administration) about 80% of detentions end up in ISS.

They will do their homework. Someday either now, or in detention/suspension. But it will happen.

"In my day" we didn't even think of not doing homework, or not showing up for detention...

I hope this is a cultural thing around here and not a social construct of the current generation.

Because if my children.... so help me God there will not be a stick big enough...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Self-induced misery and the gurus who got me here

I recently had a discussion with my sister about the nearly predictable lull in teaching careers. Usually somewhere around year 5 most teachers second-guess their career choice.
Now I am no where near year 5, nor am I second-guessing my career.

I should probably rephrase myself and clarify that I feel myself entering a plateau. And not the picturesque plateaus... Let me explain this metaphorically. Here you see a beautiful plateau, an area that reminds me a lot of my years in the Mojave. It isn't perfect, but there is a sense of awe and an omnipresent sense of peace. I've been in that world, nothing was perfect... but it has felt just right to be teaching were I am.

What you don't see is that this plateau is in an area called Hamm, Ethiopia. More popularly known for this type of image. I am starting to notice what is behind the serene...

Now, before anyone gets all up in this metaphor. NO I do not live in a war zone and haven't since I left the San Bernardino area. But the thrill of each day is wearing a little to comfortable. It's feeling more like a routine and less like a dream come true.

Some of my sense of mediocrity has come from the lack of spice. We've been doing the same gosh darn things for a while now. I remember many times as a band student when I swore if I had to play X again someone was going to get a lead pipe jabbed in their face. I'm feeling that as a director. I keep finding things to fix and stuff but I'm kind of in the zone in a bad way.
Another part of this comes from personal struggles. I don't know if my emotional or financial life is worse right now. Neither one is particularly stable. This week started on a downer. A 7th grade student of mine OD'd on methanphetamines and was life-flighted our over the weekend. The kid is still not doing well. I wish I could say I didn't see it coming. The kids parents are worse.  One of my seniors is pregnant and got kicked out of her house and is still MIA. It is amazing how much your students affect you.

So lately I've been thinking on those people that I call my gurus. Two directors I grew up with who specifically inspired me to be who all I am. I think about how they coped and survived. I wonder how they became so impressively successful in my eyes. I admire them. P and Z are their names.

P was the first man to inspire me to play music. I completely and totally loathed my elementary music directors and suffered their torture with the singular goal of getting to 7th grade and playing for P. Needless to say he passed on tragically the summer before my 7th grade year. But I'll never forget his excitement and the way my older sisters adored the man.
His replacement, Z, was my director for the next 12.5 years in various settings. He was the only educator to ever give me a detention. But he also taught through thick and thin. I remember the pain the band felt when two of our own died in car crashes, and the support he gave my sister and I through our own excruciating childhood.

I don't know the answers yet.

But I do know I see flashes in the eyes of the kids I teach. I saw them today for the first time in weeks. I cannot describe what these flashes are, some awkward combination of hope, joy, passion, excitement,... But when I see them I don't doubt why I teach. Even when I feel stuck in a rut.

So, yah. Been kinda in the dumps lately.
Wishing I could move my school and all my students closer to civilization.
Wishing I could be a better father, husband, and educator.

But this is right. It just feels like where I need to be for a while. Even though at times it sucks.