Thursday, March 1, 2018

To shoot or not to shoot... That is the question...

So here we are again, back after a hiatus. 

And this time I'm really not pleased.

Can we all agree that the question of more/less guns is a symptom?  That the idea of gun control or gun laws or reduction of gun control or reduction of gun laws is more like a band-aid?  We seem to have this problem a lot in this country.  We'll instantly come up with a thousand ways to treat the symptom, but ignore the overall cause.

"Hey doc, my mouth hurts when I go like this!"

"Well, stop doing that!"

Ok, great, but what's causing the pain in the first place?  Is there an underlying condition?  Lack of care?  Lack of proper structure to begin with?  Some foreign object/body?  Lots of questions to clarify what's really going on.

But instead of asking questions, the answer seems to be more along the lines of "Take two of these and we'll bill your insurance in the morning."

School shootings have become a thing that is on our collective conscience more and more of late.  They are becoming regular enough to not be big news until the body count gets high enough.

I find this unacceptable.

I find this offensive.

I find the only thing that makes these worse is the idea that the "Solution" is to bring more guns to the table.

I'm also bothered by the idea that the "Solution" is to vilify and ban guns entirely.

This is a case of reality not fitting neatly with one particular approach/dogma/belief.

Personally, I own no guns.  There are zero guns in my house aside from an airsoft gun that is a throwback to when my stepson and I would goof around in the yard plinking targets.  However, I am not opposed to gun ownership.  I don't own a gun primarily because the cost is high enough that it isn't on the table right now.  Notice this has nothing to do with school shootings directly, or my belief as to whether or not to bring more guns into school settings.

The "Solution" to this problem that we're having, in my opinion, has nothing to do with guns.  In fact, it has so little to do with guns as to be virtually unrelated.

Also, if you're looking for the declaration that God is missing from schools and that's the real problem, you're reading the wrong blog.

The problem, as I see it, is a lack of involvement in daily life.  In all facets.  In all situations.  From all sides.

Parents are disengaged from their kids.  Kids are disengaged from their families.  Schools are disengaged from teaching all of the intangibles that used to be taken for granted as part of the school experience to worship at the altar of the almighty Test.  We, as a society, are always looking for what's next.  When it's over.  Are we there yet. How much longer. 

I say enough is enough.  Focus on the now. Experience life as you're living it, and stop looking at the clock. 

Parents, act like it.  Be a parent.  Be involved.  Be engaged.  Come up with a way to meet your child's needs without forgetting that long term needs and immediate needs may be in conflict.  Yes, your kid may be upset right now.  Maybe even making a scene.  But is it really better to get them to be quiet while simultaneously teaching them that they're the most IMPORTANT BEING IN THE UNIVERSE AND THEIR WANTS/DESIRES/DEMANDS MUST BE MET RIGHT NOW?????  I would like to see parents using effective strategies to teach their children patience, delayed gratification, and a sense of being a part of a community rather than being a wailing monster that has to get what it wants every time and right now.

Kids, live in the moment.  As children we are naturally equipped to have not a care in the world.  But through various forces we have been training kids more and more to watch the clock and look for the escape.  A student in the midst of an activity shouldn't feel compelled to ask when it's over, hopefully they're so engaged and enthralled with the experience that they don't even think to ponder the passage of time.  I would like to see kids being able to experience life to the fullest.  And I'd like to see them do it without relying on screens and technology.  The flashy, hyperactive pace of digital entertainment isn't doing anyone any favors.  Be in the now, and enjoy the now that you're in.

Schools (and by extension, those who make laws concerning schools) should be in the business of helping students become the most well-rounded, interested, interesting, thoughtful, kind, empathetic, passionate, motivated people they can.  We've strayed too far away from the path of treating each child like an individual rather than a number on a testing form.  We need to seek something closer to a path of enlightenment.  Something that helps kids learn to appreciate learning in whatever form it presents itself.  Teach kids that learning is an active process that they are in control of.  Learning isn't something that happens in school.  Learning is literally the entire world around all of us, and if we aren't paying attention we'll miss it and have it pass us by.  Learning is a lifelong process that never ends, and we're doing our level best as a society to make sure people are trying to cram that infinite process into a box that can be packaged and sold at a premium.

Why do we have so many problems with mass shootings? 

Because people are always willing to destroy what they don't value.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Thoughts that run through an elementary music teacher's head during the course of a day

Why does that child have a teddy bear in school?

Please don't put your fingers in your mouth/nose/ears.

Why can't you follow directions?

This meeting has nothing to do with me, can I please leave?

I'd rather be practicing.

Six years of college, two teaching degrees, ten years of experience, and I have to justify my program's existence why?

No really, this meeting could have been an email.

Why am I out of coffee?

I'm out of coffee, someone might die today.

Will I get fired for the faces I make when I haven't had enough coffee?

Please don't put that in your mouth.

Why is that in your mouth?

No, you cannot go to the principal's office to tell her something really important.

Why would you need to leave my class?

Because I said so, that's why.

Will I get fired for telling students my job is harder than their parents' jobs?

No really, reply all is not a good choice.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Only Y Chromosome.....

This year is different.  In some ways better, in some ways worse, but different nonetheless.

I am the only male teacher in my building.

Let that sink in for a moment -

the only one.

Does it effect my teaching?


Should it?

Don't think so.

Do people think it has some kind of significance?

Strangely, yes.

I don't know why, but people seem stuck on that.  Being the only male teacher in an elementary school is apparently newsworthy to some folks.  And I suppose at first that makes sense.  You're the only one of your kind, that is enough to be a big deal in some ways.

But let's back up.

What else am I that makes me the only one?

Music teacher.

I am the only music teacher in my building, and have been the entire time I've been at this school.

I am one of three teachers in my district who have this particular feature.  The interesting thing is that nobody seems to notice or care most of the time.  And let's be honest, this is a WAY bigger challenge than gender.  I'm the only man?  So what?  I can talk to my colleagues about all kinds of things, some school related and some not.

Want to talk music?  No way.  I am the only musician in my building with credentials beyond "I used to play..."  And in discussing things with other teachers, it's easy to spot the look of incomprehensible fear that I'm going to start talking about things they don't know anything about.

Kind of like me sitting in a staff meeting, really.

The biggest challenge as part of this?

I am the only one to fight for my program.

I've been spoiled, most of the time I've had a principal who was a musician herself, so she would go to bat for all kinds of things that I never had to deal with directly.  It was great - I didn't have to explain or justify or beg or demand or deflect.  She took care of me.

Now, I have a principal with absolutely zero arts background, and it's a bit more difficult. I find myself fighting battles over things that she doesn't readily understand due largely to a lack of awareness.  I'm taking it upon myself to educate and explain and garner support every chance that I get.

The interesting thing?  I think it's possible to bring my non-arts principal around to seeing a lot of things from my perspective.

Try doing that with seeing things from my perspective as the only male teacher at my school.

(And yes, I managed to make this entire entry without a joke about leaving the toilet seat up.  Except that one. Darn.)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Don't die on me, d*mmit!

So this past school year (and the second half of the year before) I decided that blogging wasn't really going to be my thing anymore.  Clearly I couldn't keep up with it, and clearly I was lagging in making updates and writing interesting and witty things.

Fast forward to today.

It occurs to me that if nothing else I need a space to explain some things that are available for the greater good.  My Teachers Pay Teachers store needs to be expounded upon, as does some of the ideas I have for my classroom, and if nothing else I'd like to have some sort of space to think out loud and see my ideas from another perspective.  So that's what I'm going to be doing.

In many ways, this is nothing new - I've been somewhat using this blog for those purposes all along.  In other ways, I'll be curious to see what (if any) sparks of inspiration can be gained from what seems to be a blog without readership.

If there's anyone out there, care to leave a comment?


Also, look back here soon to see an explanation of my brand spanking new 2107-2018 Planner of Awesome!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Midyear check in!

Oh, you sad, neglected blog.

At the beginning of this year, I posted my professional goals.  I intended to use that as a springboard to document the various things I did this year to meet those goals.  This implies that I would be posting more frequently.  Sadly, this has not been the case.  Something about working 4 jobs and always having to be somewhere does not lend itself to writing blog posts.  Such is life.

Back to those professional goals, though.  I've actually done some things with them.

First of all, I tackled my file cabinet as intended.  I now have my one functional file drawer organized in a useful manner. The first section is for emergency sub plans and procedures, with a laminated set of class lists, just in case.  The great thing about this is that if something comes up and I am not able to be at school unexpectedly (which means something along the lines of... a bear attack, I suppose?), there are enough plans and activities in that drawer (and in the office) to keep my classes busy for several days (while my limbs are reattached, I suppose).  I also tossed the old paperwork that was serving no purpose. Honestly, I don't know why it took 5 years to scrap the fundraising paperwork from 2009, but apparently it did.  I also organized my IEP/504/Medical Alert folders so they were clear and consistent and easier to access, put my copy masters together, and rearranged a few other categories as well.

Essentially, I feel like I started using a file cabinet like a grown-up.  Now if only I had a hanging frame for more than one drawer....

What you can't see is the frustration caused by trying to file things that have no place to be filed.  Argh.
The two middle drawers still have my pool noodle rhythm pieces, I need to find a time to use those again soon.

The bottom drawer is mostly sound-related stuff - microphones, cables, microphone boxes, etc. Some day I will go back through this and make sure everything in that drawer is organized, too.  But not today.

Second goal - organization of my table/desk space and mailboxes!

I am not going to show a picture of these.  They're currently a big jumbled mess.  This is partly due to just having a concert last night, and partly due to me being a mess when it comes to organization.  In some ways the switch to a smaller table has helped.  It frees up a little space in the room, and limits the surface area that is able to be cluttered.  In other ways, it didn't make a difference.  I still find myself with piles, I still end up perching things precariously next to my laptop, and sometimes that is a recipe for disaster.  However, thanks to the laws of physics, those piles are a bit smaller than they had been.

Yes, please.  But not the chair. It looks uncomfortable.

The mailboxes have worked great so far, especially since I have not done my usual routine with student folders.  I need to get on those folders, since my mailboxes are pretty much filled with student work.  I also have some things stacked on top of those boxes, but not as badly as it has been in the past.  Baby steps, I suppose.

Also, I ended up taking a large shipping label, measuring and marking out the small pieces I needed, and cutting them out and attaching them to the small binder clips to make labels for each class.  I think it looks pretty darn good, especially since my handwriting is a bit suspect at times.

Third - the hot rod music cart!  So having a PVC tube with drum sticks in it has been useful.  The problem I have run into is that zip ties and smooth PVC aren't exactly the most secure means of attachment.  What has happened is that one zip tie has slid off, which caused the whole thing to tilt.  The good news is that makes the opening point toward me when I stand at the cart.  The bad news is it also flops around and sticks out kind of awkwardly.  What I think I will do is drill a couple small holes in the side of the pipe, then lag bolt it to the cart to hold it in position at a slight angle.  Every now and then when I (or a student) move the cart those sticks will catch on something.  Not a huge problem, but fairly annoying.  Also, I don't like my slick cart looking kind of ghetto.

Fourth - greater student independence.  This is definitely a work in progress, but I have in many ways increased the things I have students do on their own exponentially.  Sometimes I still have to spell things out in ridiculously literal terms, but most of the time I can give a direction and set the kids to it.  It usually works out as planned, but not always.  One of the most helpful things in this area is definitely the use of band and strings students as helpers in general music. These are the kids who spend the most time in my room, so they are the most familiar with things.  They're also less likely to do silly things that they shouldn't, so I am able to trust them with more responsibility.  One more reason parents should encourage their kids to learn an instrument.

I have a confession to make.  It's terrible, yet funny all at the same time.

Thankfully, this is not my confession.

Funny.  But not mine.
One of my ongoing goals is to become more organized, to keep ahead of messes, to avoid creating piles, etc.

I had a student a few days ago ask why my room was so messy.

I kind of hung my head and mumbled "...I know..."

The good news is that I had it mostly sorted out with a couple days.  The bad news is that the struggle is very real and continues.  However, for my two remaining professional development credits I plan on taking a course on practical classroom organization strategies.  Hopefully if the course is structured like I understand it to be it will be a better resource than looking at music ed blogs and Pinterest.  If not, I'll at least have two credits out of it and my room won't be any worse organizationally.

If you have a great organization system, would you be so kind as to share it?  I feel that all teachers can benefit from the ideas of others, especially in our own personal area of weakness.

Until next time, keep up that good work, folks!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Professional Goals For This Year

Happy New School Year!

I am currently waiting to begin our open house in a few hours.  We will get to meet new families, see new faces, and see families and students that we have known for years.  I am excited to get a new, fresh start to the year, and there are a lot of things I will try to improve from previous years.

First and foremost, my main goal for this year is to finally be organized for more than the first few weeks of the year.  Sometime this week I will tackle my file cabinet.  I am dreading that, as it hasn't been cleaned out since I started at this school.

Looks so peaceful and inoffensive from the outside....
EEEEEEEEK!  So... much... unnecessary.... junk..........
 Last year I switched from  my teacher desk to a round table in the hopes that I could keep that better organized.  That ended up proving to be hopeless.  This year I have switched from the round table to a trapezoid table that is about half the size.  Less surface area means less clutter, right?  I plan on using my mailbox organizer to better effect throughout the school year, using it to stage copies for each class rather than hold random sets of papers that may or may not ever be needed again.  I've even added binder clips to the front of each slot to use for labels.  Now I just have to find tiny labels that will fit the tiny binder clips.

My hot rod music cart is still in service, and continues to evolve.  This year's evolution involves zip-tying my PVC drumstick caddy on one leg.  I am hopeful that keeping those sticks close will encourage my percussionists to stop losing them.

I have rearranged my word wall, though it still needs some tweaking.  Now everything is visible from anywhere in the room, and I hope to be able to use the various word wall categories to greater effect.  It's bugging me that a couple of them are a  little crooked, so I know what I'll be doing shortly.
So here it is. My classroom in all its almost-organized glory.  You can see where my girlfriend made her mark on the chalkboards, and the old piano waiting to be taken away, you might even be able to see the leak stains on the ceiling if you look closely.

Another of my professional goals for the year is to foster greater student independence.  I have pencils and other writing items set where students can easily get them.  I have placed my classroom rhythm instruments in open bins at the front of the room to make them easier to get to.  I plan on assigning students to be passer-outers for these items to help free me up and foster smoother transitions.  I am hopeful that anything I can do to encourage students to be more procedurally independent will lend itself to them being more independent in other areas as well.  Which as a music teacher really means I'm trying one more sneaky way to encourage kids to practice at home.

We all have our cross to bear.

My third goal for the year is to be more open to spontaneous performance opportunities and to schedule more opportunities for students to perform for each other and for me.  My girlfriend gave me a small lectern and folding chair, so I have them set up in the corner to use as a performance spot. I'm thinking that I will give students the chance at least once a month to perform something for their classmates, whether it is singing, playing an instrument, or some other kind of performance.  I think I may finally be getting past my feeling of not having enough time for that or not wanting kids to get up in front of their classmates and waste our time with a "performance" that is really just a chance to be in the spotlight doing nothing.  I'm still working out the logistics on this, so I would love to hear ideas and suggestions.

So that's it for now!  I am entering my 8th year of teaching this year, and feel like every year gets easier in some ways and more difficult in others.  I plan to be the best music teacher I can be this year, and do the best I can for all of my students.  That's really all we as educators can do, so here we go!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Teacher Appreciation Week and Teachers Pay Teachers Sale!

Today marks the beginning of May.  For some, that means that Spring is in full swing, the birds and bees are out doing their thing, the weather is nice, plants are starting to peek their leaves out, and the pollen is in full force.  For me, it means that I am coming ever closer to the end of the school year and all of the work that brings with it.  I have grades to enter, assessments to give, paperwork to file, certificates to create, 5th grade promotion to run, one more concert to put on, etc. etc. etc.  The end of the school year always becomes a mad dash to the finish to try and squeeze everything in.

One of the best parts, though, is that the beginning of May also brings Teacher Appreciation Week.  This is a fantastic time around my school, as the PTA comes up with a lot of very thoughtful ways to show how much they appreciate the teachers in our building.  Usually we have lunch provided (and sometimes breakfast) most of the week, a few odds and ends that show up in our mailboxes, and the occasional note from a student or several.  These are all fantastic ways to re-energize to the end of the school year.

It's always good to feel appreciated.  Especially at the end of state-mandated testing (which may prove to be the death of me).

On top of the Teacher Appreciation activities at individual schools around the country, TeachersPayTeachers is offering a site-wide sale!  This is always a good thing.  On top of their discount, I will be offering every item in my store at a 20% discount.  That means you can get anything in my store for a combined total of 28% off!

What could be better than that?

Well, in celebration of a milestone for me (I just checked, and I have 40 products available!), I am going to offer an extra day of sale immediately following the TpT sale.  The official site-wide sale will run May 5-6.  My sale will by May 7, and will be a 20% off sale on the entire store.

I highly recommend if you've been looking for Boomwhacker activities that you check out my Boomwhacker Bundle, this will be a fantastic chance to get it at a great price.  Also, if you purchase it now and I update it to include more in the future, you'll get all of the new material for FREE!

I don't know about you, but I like free.

Ok, that's enough of the sales pitch.  I hope you have a fantastic conclusion to your school year, and I'll be back with actual educational writing soon!