This has been an interesting/frustrating/exciting week.

Story #1

My district conducts Instruction Practices Inventories (aka IPI) on a semi-regular basis.  Their purpose is to measure student engagement. After the IPI we have a debrief. Results are broken down by core classes, non-core classes, and then the overall. Monday, we had a debrief with a former administrator who’s part of our school improvement team. About halfway through the debrief…

Me: What do you consider to be non-core?

Him: You’re non-core.

Me: SAY WHAT??? “Actually, under NCLB, the arts are defined as being core classes.

Him: No it’s not. You’re wrong.

Me: ARE YOU *BADWORD*ING KIDDING ME???  “No, I’m not wrong.”

Him: We can argue this all day, but I’m right. I know I’m right so there’s no need to discuss it anymore.

(Now, for those of you who may not know this…I don’t mind being wrong. I’m wrong a lot and I will freely admit it when I’m presented with the facts. However, DO NOT *badword*ing dismiss me in front of a group of people and definitely don’t do it when it’s easy to find out the info.)

Excuse my language, but I was pissed.

I printed out the appropriate pages from the NCLB Teacher Toolkit that addresses what is considered a core academic class. When I found him later, I shared it with him.

Him: Yes, but our state doesn’t define it as a core class so I’m still right.


Me: Feds say it is. Even if you’re right (which you’re not) that would trump state policy, right?

Him: No, but WV doesn’t define it as a core class. (See, NCLB leaves the definition of “the arts” up to individual states.)

Me: Can we talk about this tomorrow?

Him: Sure can! *smile/wave*

I took it to the Twitter.

For those of you who may not know the awesomeness that is Jack Deskins…he’s the arts coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Education.  He’s one hell of a good thinker. You should be following him. It’s just a smart move. Trust me on this.

(No, he didn’t pay me to type that. However, if Jack is reading this, we agreed on small, unmarked bills.)

Knowing where to track down the exact wording and policy, I printed and highlighted…jump to this afternoon.

Me: Hey! Guess what!

Him: What?

Me: You’re wrong! (recites policy numbers and exact wording from memory with a flair that would make any theatre teacher proud. Well, if we had one he or she would have been proud.)

Him: Well, our county doesn’t consider it to be a core class.

Folks, at this point I’m ready to stab him with my pen. I think at this point I shook my hands in the air with a “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME” expression on my face.

Him: For the purposes of the IPI, we don’t consider you to be a core academic class.

REALLY? He couldn’t just tell me that in the first place?

Whether my district considers the arts to be core or not, they should. Let’s redo that IPI form. If they don’t, they’re pretty much paying lip service to state and federal policy, don’t you think?

Story #2

My music appreciation class has been working on protest music this week. We’ve focused on different events in American history and the music surrounding those events. We’ve analyzed different song lyrics and determine if it was a protest song. If it was, what’s being protested? What makes you believe it’s a protest song? Etc…

The final project for the unit is for them to write their own protest song.

Last week, I previewed the unit we’d be working on this week. I told them the events we’d be looking at with the suggestion that they should look up some info on their own. (What the heck was I thinking?)

They knew we’d be discussing the Occupy Wall Street protests today. Friday, Monday, AND Tuesday I told them to turn on the news and see what they could find out. Today, I asked them to take markers and write everything they knew about #OWS on the board.

Crickets Chirp

After some coaxing, I got “New York” and “Banks” #ugh

I shared this article with them.

I questioned them. “What are some reasons there’s no good protest songs for this movement?”

*Insert picture of me pulling teeth trying to find someone that would make even a feeble attempt at answering.*

“Well, what about the Tea Party? Did they have the same issues? Do they have an anthem?

One of my darlings answered, “Tea party? Like with dolls and cups?”

To sum up the next 15 minutes of the class, I lost it on them. I ranted and raved about how dangerous it is to be ignorant.

“How can you write a protest song when you have no idea that you’re even supposed to be mad? Do you not get what’s going on in this country? Your rights are being stripped away and your potential livelihood threatened and you don’t even have a clue!”

(I’m not sure exactly what I said to them during my little speech. However, when I was finished, several of them were ready to march on Washington. I guess that means something got through?)

At the end of class each student could articulate a topic they were passionate about and knew the angle they’re going to take when writing their songs.

Tying It All Together

My college music ed program cranked out band directors. That was their focus. I was convinced I wanted to be a band director. My first job was a band job. I didn’t last long for several different reasons.

My music ed program (which did what they did really well) did me a disservice. By being so focused on training band directors, it gave the impression that band was the most important thing. Those other classes were just things you had to do until you could get the band program you wanted.  I bought into the idea that band directors weren’t teachers like everyone else. Elementary music classes were good, but they were most important because they gave the “real” teachers a planning time.

None of my college professors actually said this. It’s what they didn’t say that led me to believe these things.

It wasn’t until I landed my current job that I got it. It was a long road that left me feeling frustrated more often than not. I was swimming against the current. My heart knew what was true even though my brain was trained to believe differently.

What I teach is important.

What I teach has value.

What I teach makes a difference.

I teach music.

Better than that, I get to teach stuff other than band 🙂

I don’t need NCLB or Policy 2510 to tell me that students need music. I don’t need some guy in an IPI debrief to tell me I’m right.

At our football game on Friday, the band directors and their assistants (that’s me) from the 2 schools were chatting. We were discussing an upcoming conference geared toward teachers who teach non-performance based music classes. The director from the other school said, “I’m not a music teacher. I’m a band director. I don’t care about that other 80% BS. I’m here to build a band program.” (Wow, sounded like me right out of college.)

I literally bit my tongue…for about 5 seconds.

Okay, I actually didn’t say much beyond, “I respectfully disagree with your position regarding music education.” However, I was cursing a blue streak at him on the inside.

I was really annoyed with that guy Friday night, but tried to not think about it once we left the game. I was reminded of it today while I was mid-rant with my music appreciation class.

Both my students and that guy have the same problem. They’re short-sighted and ignorant. Also, they don’t realize that they’re short-sighted and ignorant. My students had no clue what was going on in the world around them. They didn’t know that they don’t know and they really didn’t care to learn. After my little speech (which has been building for a while) they opened their eyes a bit.

Band director guy is very happy in his band director world, taking the easy road of cranking out a product and not having to work to reach the kids that aren’t self-motivated like his band kids are.

I bet that band director thinks his job is more important than mine because he puts out a performance each week. I bet our higher-ups would agree with him. Just like my students needed me to get mad at them so they’d stop and think and figure out what gets them fired up…to find out what they’re passionate about, I needed band director guy to get me angry so I’d remember how strongly I feel about what I do.

Does this mean that I think all directors are like this guy? Of course I don’t. But, I will say that this guy teaches at another school in my district. Pair that with the conversation in story #1 and you might get an idea of how music ed is viewed here. We’ve got it better than some, but we still have a way to go.

I’m gonna bust my ass to make sure we get to where we need to be.





For the last couple of weeks I’ve been slowly making my way through  The Book of Learning and Forgetting by Frank Smith. It was a reading suggestion from Jack Deskins, who is the Arts Coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Education.  It’s been one of those books that I start highlighting from the first sentence because it just goes with my thinking so well.

Today was one of those fun days at school when 1,000 things are going on and kids are being called out of class for various things. My 2nd block class ended up with about 25% of the students left in the room when all was said and done.  Grant was one of the 6 left behind.

My first year teaching at my current school I had Grant in my beginning guitar class.  He drove me a bit insane. He’s one of those kids that’s too smart for his own good…the kind that makes teachers crazy because they can’t really teach him anything in the regular classroom. His thinking just surpasses what the “normal” teen has going on in his or her brain. (Or at least my perception of what they’ve got going on.)

Skip two years and I have Grant again in Music Appreciation.  We regularly talk about issues in education in this class. We’ve watched a Ken Robinson TED Talk. We read articles about high-stakes testing.  I encourage them to take charge of their learning and to not let it be something that just happens to them between the hours of 7 and 3.  I decided to share the book with Grant.

I let him read the preface. He latched on to the last line.

“But if you relax and simply read the book for interest, you’ll probably enjoy it more, learn more than you expect, and be less likely to forget points that are most relevant to you.”

Makes sense doesn’t it

It did to Grant. It’s pretty exhilarating to see a student get worked up over education…to see him go off about reading choice and other ed issues.  “Ms. E, the girls over there couldn’t tell you what was in the chapter Ms So and So assigned them to read for a test, but every one of them could tell you that Edward has his shirt off on page 254 of Twilight. You know why? That’s what they WANT to read. It means something to them!”

 “We’re not even being educated for today or tomorrow. We’re being educated for the past. This makes me angry. The sad part is it won’t make any of them (gestures to the other students) angry.”

Later, I offered to let him borrow the book once I finished. He said, “I don’t know if I can read that book. That’s the kind of book that will motivate me to do something and then it’ll make me angry when I realize I can’t do anything.”

So, what would you tell Grant? How can we justify giving him, and all the other students we see, an education that isn’t what they need to be successful? An education that doesn’t teach them to think critically or to question what they’re doing and why?

More than that, what do we do about those other students who are walking along being blissfully ignorant of the fact they’re getting shortchanged because we’re forced to teach to the test in the name of accountability?

(I did ask Grant if he minded me blogging about our conversation. He gave permission. Also, the quotes from Grant are his words. I took notes while we chatted.)

Steve Jobs has passed away.

When I saw the news posted on Facebook I had the expected “Wow, that’s really sad” moment. I love my iPhone. I even recently tweeted to someone that I’d give up my iPhone when they PRIED IT FROM MY COLD, DEAD HANDS! However, aside from that and my iPod from work, I don’t have any Apple products.

Imagine my surprise to realize I was crying. It was the Apple homepage that was the trigger. A simple picture with his name and dates and I’m sobbing like a baby. I didn’t expect to feel so much for someone I didn’t know personally. Maybe I felt it more because I experienced it with my online community. Maybe I felt it more because this was a man who lived his life and made a difference…a man whose work impacted millions of lives. The world truly is a better place because of his vision and his passion.

Isn’t that what we all want? To matter? To leave a legacy? To make the world a better place?

Anyone who knows me knows that I love quotes, so here are some of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs…

“And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.”

“Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Over the summer I was very interested in and followed the story involving Missouri educators’ use of social media to communicate with their students. You can read about it here and here.  While the law’s purpose was to protect students from inappropriate contact from adults, a judge issued a temporary injunction halting it’s implementation.

Last night while watching the news a story aired from Ohio. Dayton Public Schools have put a similar policy in effect. I was annoyed but not alarmed until I heard something to the effect of Ohio was getting ahead of the game by banning contact between students and teachers through social media.

JAW DROP (I wish I could find a clip of the story to get the exact wording.)

How is banning something that’s a way of life for most of us getting ahead of the game? Barring a total collapse of the world as we know it (think a Stephen King-esque super flu or zombie apocalypse) social media isn’t going anywhere.

I get what these districts are trying to do, but they’re doing it the wrong way.

You can’t ban your way to safety. You can’t tell kids (and adults) “don’t do that” and expect them to behave the way you want them to.

Let’s face it, if someone wants to take advantage of a child they can do it without social media. Predators have done it probably since the beginning of time. They don’t need Facebook.

We need to be proactive and smart. Let’s teach adults the right ways to use social media with their students. Let’s teach our children how to recognize inappropriate contact and ways to deal with it…ways that will better serve them than a ban.

At least they’re not dull!

Posted: September 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

My kids are insane. I’m really not sure how they come up with the things they do. My 11 year old is particularly hilarious. Here are a few highlights from our evening out…had to pick up her new glasses…as well as a few from the last week.

“In science, I don’t think about cells. I think about taping 2 turtles together. I think they’d be unstoppable.”

“Murder convictions don’t look good on college applications.”

“Edward Cullen is nothing but a stalker…a creepy, 100+ year old stalker…who goes to high school. Really? I mean…really?”

“Andy, I love you. You’re an idiot most of the time, but I love you.”(To her 9 year old brother.)

“Bella. No. Just no.”

“Do you have any idea how difficult it is to be the lone Potter fan in a sea of Twi-hards?”

“Stephanie Myers…can she write a character that isn’t annoying? ‘Cause so far she hasn’t managed it!”

“I’m not really going to kill anyone. I’m 11. At best, I could kill their dreams like I did yours, mom. Haha, not really!”

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING??? Andy, look at her! Is she (dramatic pause) DANCING?!?!? (I was dancing a bit in my seat. She was horrified.)

“When I turn 14 you can write a 3. in icing in front of the 1-4 number candles so my cake will be pi! (Pause) I’m a pretty messed up kid, aren’t I?”

“I need to play the oboe to complete the nerd circle.

“That show reminds me of my childhood. Well, my early childhood. I’m pretty sure I’m still a kid. I didn’t suddenly become an adult in the last 20 minutes, did I? DID I???

The sky is looking dark outside. College football is on the TV. It’s annoyingly hot and muggy, and I won’t be surprised if I lose power. My internet is out so I’m typing this out on Word. Hopefully I’ll transfer it over to WordPress later. Obviously I did or you wouldn’t be reading it, right?

We’ve finished up week 2 of school. The 2nd week was definitely better than the first. Most of the bugs were worked out of schedules and we could settle down and get to work.

A couple things happened during the week that have stuck with me…things I need to deal with or plan for. I also had a few “wow” moments.

My school has two music teachers. We have a band director who only teaches band. He goes out to the elementary schools in addition to the junior high and high school groups. I currently teach guitar (don’t laugh) and music appreciation at the high school, and junior high general music and choir. I’m also the majorette sponsor/assistant director.

Through some miracle, we have a workable junior high band and choir rotation. In recent years it’s not been the most user-friendly schedule. The high school schedule still needs work, but we have great administrators this year. I think we’ll be able to add choir to our HS schedule 2nd semester. (Keep those fingers crossed!)

So, the 1st thing in my head….my 7th grade choir is about 60% boys. This is an unusual experience for me. (Aside from this year, my groups are usually around 90% girls.) Also, many of these students are coming from a less than ideal elementary music situation…2 teachers, 4 schools…900 kids to serve. There’s no way those kids are getting the music time they need. (Those same 4 schools have 3 PE teachers, and 1 art teacher #canwefixthis?) But, back to my 7th graders…they can sing. They’re awkward and goofy and immature, but they can sing. One young man in particular stunned me. He opened his mouth and it was a total Susan Boyle kind of moment.

Folks, I can’t screw this up.

I’m seriously worried that I’ll screw it up. There’s a whole lot of talent in that room. I’m the first daily music experience these kids have had. I have to make it a good one. I know it’s unlikely that I can keep them all in choir, but I really want to.

Moving on to the instrumental side of things…our band had its first half-time performance on Friday. These kids have worked HARD. We have a new director. Because he’s not the old director we’ve lost quite a few of our upper classmen. Our band is mostly beginners. We not so jokingly say that if we survive this year, we can survive anything. (However, we almost didn’t survive the trip to the game. Hopefully next time we can avoid the crazy bus driver and awful GPS directions.)

We only played 2 songs and did our drum feature at halftime: Open Arms, then our percussion showcase, and finally our school song.   We marched back to the sidelines and stood at attention to watch the other band play. They performed in t-shirts and shorts while we were in full uniform. Our kids were hot and miserable. As I stood there with our kids I noticed they were smiling. Yes, they were hot. Yes, the trip there was stressful. But, they saw that their hard work paid off. They knew they looked good. They knew they marched like champions.  They were proud of themselves for what they accomplished.

It made me stop and reflect.

Does what I do in my classroom give students something to be proud of? Do they feel accomplished? Am I giving them a reason to come to school every day or a reason to hit the snooze and check in after lunch? They’re not out in the public performing. I’m their audience. Am I doing what I need to do for them?

I like to think my classes are good…that they’re challenging, but not inaccessible…but I think it’s important to keep a constant vigil. I don’t want my class to be a dark storm cloud hanging over their heads each morning like I see outside my window now.

An image that sticks with me from half time is of one of our 8th graders. He stood on the sidelines watching the other band and was practically vibrating with joy. He looked out at the field and quietly said to himself, “I love this. I LOVE this.”  It’s an awesome responsibility. This young man has found something he’s passionate about…something he’s willing to work hard for…and we have to make sure we nurture that and not screw it up.

Wednesday Round-up

Posted: August 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

This is my 3rd attempt at blogging today. Draft #1 was deleted. Draft #2 has just been saved as a draft. They just didn’t feel right. I’m just going to go with a Listography-inspired post about my day.

My children can be very loud.

I don’t mind them being loud as long as they’re not fighting.

My kids are scifi nerds.

I refuse to call it syfy or scyfy or whatever that channel changed it’s name to.

I have incredibly awesome co-workers.

If every junior high choir class goes as well as today I’m going to be a very happy camper.

There’s no way every day will go that well.

I’m not entirely convinced my 2nd block class isn’t planning on creating an eHarmony account for me.

(They think I need a boyfriend based on my music choices in class.)

I’m both amused and horrified at the idea.

I’m excited for work.

My dogs need to stop chasing each other. Don’t they know it’s bedtime?

I don’t know that it’s bedtime.

I’m guessing it’s about now.