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.