Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

My school is small. It’s not tiny, but small. With a student population in the 400-500 range it’s easy to know everyone fairly well. That’s a good thing. That’s also a bad thing.

What? How can it be bad to work in a school where you get to know all your students well?

It’s bad because you get to know all your students well.

I love my kids at school. I get happy for them when things are going good for them. I get sad for them when they’re going through hard times.

This week, my heart has been breaking for a few of them. The kids in this school are MY kids whether I have them in class or not. I’m thinking I shouldn’t feel that way.

I had a situation yesterday with a student and I reacted as April/parent and not as Ms. Estep. Because of the surprising nature of some news I received I also didn’t react with as much diplomacy/tact as I should have. The student’s parent called, spoke with one of my administrators, and I got called on it.

I was asked to apologize (which I had already planned to do) and told to be more careful in the future.

So, I’ll be more careful. I’ll still care about my kids. I’ll still tell them I love them and remind them to make good decisions as they leave my class. My heart will still break for them for as long as I decide to this job.

Honestly, I’m not sure how people retire from teaching. This week has drained me. This week…which has been 2 actual days of teaching…has been almost too much. I’m sure tomorrow will be better and I’m sure there will be good days to give me a lift. But, 10-something years into this gig and I’m just not sure how people deal with it all.

For the record, I’m not upset that the parent called or that my boss told me to apologize. I’m upset with myself for not knowing where that line is…how much caring is just enough and not too much? How much of a reaction is okay and how much is not okay? I’m just trying to figure it out.


Update: The WVDE eventually unblocked Twitter. However, we still can’t access


I’m pretty sure the West Virginia Department of Education would block me for inappropriate content. I like to say bad words…especially the really bad ones. I also read books with sex, nudity, murder, rape, profanity, etc. I even occasionally watch rated R movies.

Of course, I don’t do any of this on school time or around students.

My music appreciation class has used several times this semester. I’ve created playlists to share with them and they’ve created them to share with me. Last week, I booked time in our school library for our final project for the semester. On day one of the project, several students chose to use as a resource. On day two of the project, playlist was blocked. Thankfully, the WVDE provides an email address and you can request a review if you feel a site was mistakenly blocked. I sent in my request and this is the response I received.

Thank you for your request. 

We have recently received a request to have this site blocked due to profanity in the music and user submitted comments.

We filter websites in accordance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which states that we must filter for pornography, profanity, and content that is harmful to minors.   This site was found to be in violation of that criteria.

We hope you understand that while sites such as this offers many great educational resources, there is also unacceptable content as well.  At this time we will not be able to remove the blocking of this site in our filtering system.


I emailed back.

Who made the request?

If teachers are using the website in class and complaining about their students being exposed to profanity then I would question how well those students are being supervised.

I’ve used this site many times this semester to create playlists for my music classes with no problems. One class was even using it for part of their final project this semester, which is how we found out today that it’s now blocked.

I would ask that you reconsider having this site blocked.

Three days later…
I cannot provide information on the person who requested the page to be blocked.  The fact is that we review all requests to confirm that they do violate our filtering policies and this site was confirmed to do so.  We cannot unblock this site at this time.

*grumble grumble grumble*

Folks, I’m totally cool with filtering pornography. I personally don’t want my 7 year old to accidentally come across or when he’s supposed to be using the computers at his school. (Heck, I even have filtering software on my home computer…shh!) However, I really think the folks in charge are just being ridiculous. Do they really think we can block EVERYTHING that might be questionable? The BLOCK IT IT’S BAD mentality is crap. It doesn’t do what they want it to do and actually hurts the educational process. Teachers can no longer access Twitter. TWITTER???? Because someone might curse? Because kids could be exposed to profanity? Have these people never walked down a high school hallway? Just in case they haven’t, let me be clear: Kids don’t need Twitter to be exposed to profanity.  But hey, on the off chance some Amish kid who’s never heard an F-bomb hops on line and decides to tweet, let’s BLOCK IT!

As I write this I’m resisting the urge to sing the praises of Twitter for collaboration and professional development. I really could go on forever about the topic. I will say I’ve used Twitter with my students to bring professionals into our class. Author Scott Westerfeld tweeted a message to my students when I told him we were reading his book and creating a playlist to go along with it. Singer/songwriter Corey Smith weighed in on how the internet has changed the way musicians market themselves…yes, he did that using Twitter.  Even school reform guru Diane Ravitch read a blog post I wrote about school reform and sent a message to one of my students. How did this happen? You guessed it! Twitter. That connection to those people made my kids feel a little special and made what they were doing in class feel a little more real.

(But, Twitter’s bad…right? We have to protect the kids, right?)

Folks, we can’t block our way to safe childhoods. The internet is just like everything else. Instead of blocking everything that might be harmful, we should be educating our students and teachers about the appropriate uses of Twitter and Facebook. Instead of telling teachers they can’t be trusted to connect with students online, how about we educate kids on how to recognize inappropriate behavior and what to do if an adult approaches them online or in person? Am I crazy for thinking that’s a good idea?

Just a quick write about something that’s bugging me…


At the beginning of the school year I did two days of training to become a mentor teacher. I have a really awesome elementary music guy that I observe and meet with weekly. He’s doing really well, but I was a little weirded out by the way he was writing his lesson plans.

What I noticed with his was under “OBJECTIVES” he’d list what he wanted the students to know/do, but he’d also list his procedures. Am I wrong in thinking that’s wrong?

The conversation we had about it went like this…if you put something under “OBJECTIVES” it should have a standard that goes with it. It just makes sense to me. Anything else would go under another section.

He changed it, hopefully not just to make me happy but because it made sense to him as well.

Fast forward a bit…

I’m toying with putting together a website to put out a professional “hey this is who I am as a teacher” kind of thing. To figure out what I want my site to look like, I’ve been searching out other music ed professionals to see what they’re putting out on their sites. Some include sample lesson plans.  Several newer teachers do the same thing the teacher I mentor does…they put what I consider to be procedures under objectives. It just feels SO WRONG to me, lol. Am I alone in thinking it’s wrong? Is that just a common new teacher mistake? (That’s assuming that it’s a mistake at all, of course.)

(In my district, our lesson plans must be evaluated twice each semester so every teacher (in theory) is writing lesson plans. I’m going to check around and see what others in my building are doing.)


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.

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.

Why I teach? Music?

Posted: August 30, 2011 in Thinking out loud
Tags: , ,

I have this in a pseudo-nice wooden frame for my work area at school.


I don’t teach you music because it’s a science.

I don’t teach it because it’s math.

I don’t teach it because it’s a foreign language, and

I don’t teach it because it’s history.

I don’t teach you music because it’s physical education.

I don’t teach it for any of those reasons.

I teach it because it’s an art.

It allows a human being to take dry and boring things and create an emotion.

That’s one thing the computer still can’t do. It can’t create emotion.

I don’t teach you music because I expect you to go out and major in music.

I don’t teach it to you because I expect you to play or sing all your life, although I’d like you to.

I don’t teach it to you so you can relax and have fun either.

I teach it to you so you’ll be human.

…So you’ll recognize beauty…

…So you’ll be sensitive…

…So you’ll be closer to an infinite beyond this world…

…So you’ll have something to cling to…

…So you’ll have more love, and more compassion, and more gentleness…

In short, so you’ll have some more life.

Of what value is it going to be to you to make a prosperous living unless you’ve learned how to live?

That’s why I teach music.

The thing is, I don’t know that I want to teach music anymore.

I love music. I think it has the power to change lives. It gives me something I couldn’t find anywhere else.

But do I want to teach it? I’m not sure. It’s not like I want to teach some other discipline…it’s a question of staying in the classroom or not.

The question then becomes what would I do if I didn’t teach. I’m one of those “I’m a teacher, what the heck else could I be qualified to do???” kind of thinkers. While intellectually I know teaching gives me a ton of employable skills, the thought of actually applying those somewhere else is a bit intimidating.

I do love education. Even if I was out of the classroom, I’d like to stay in education. I’m incredibly interested in creating meaningful professional development…and of course the tech side of things always gets my juices flowing.

This blog entry has been one big ramble…just thinking through my fingers. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

The title says it all. I’m a nerd.  A quick check in at gives us this definition of the word:

“boring or unpopular person, esp one obsessed with something specific”

Yep, that sounds about right.

My something specific these days has been teaching. I’m not sure when this happened to me. When I first started teaching, I used to not think about my job all the time. I left work at work. I actually had a summer vacation. It was nice.

Of course I was a crappy teacher.

(For the record, I’m not saying you’re a crappy teacher if you don’t think about your job 24/7 or anything like that. I’m just saying that *I* happened to be a less than wonderful teacher at the time. Please don’t think I’m speaking about anyone other than myself, K?)

I can’t pinpoint when the switch flipped for me. It took a little longer than it probably should have. Looking back, a combination of sub jobs, changing counties, and child birth probably prolonged my transformation into nerd girl. It started simply…a book here…an extra PD there…Next think I knew I had twice the number of PD hours than the next highest person at my school. #oops!

I can however pinpoint the event that was the “no going back” thing that made me accept my nerd moniker. In 2009, I attended my first summer institute for the National Writing Project. It was there that I heard the term “PD whore” and knew it fit me. I was among folks that were just as nerdy as I was…if not nerdier. For the last 3 summers, my home in June has been at that summer institute. It’s a big time investment, but I love it 🙂

This summer has been the pinnacle of teacher nerd girl.

June-3 week summer institute with NWP, district tech conference.

July-2 weeks off, a week of majorette camp, and a week long Teacher Leadership Institute.

(FYI, during those 2 weeks “off” I was constantly planning and jotting down ideas to use in my classes.)

August-band camp and assorted PD sessions offered by my county.

I’ve also been reading like a mad woman. I’ve plowed through books by Sir Ken Robinson, Kelly Gallagher. I’ve started google docs for a collaboration project I hope gets off the ground. I’ve talked to one of our new teachers (fresh out of college) about assessment in his PE classes. I’ve gotten into some heated discussions on Twitter…the most recent one centered around MSNBC’s Making The Grade, which aired live yesterday. I can’t stop myself from looking for books/texts to bring into my music class to help boost my kids’ reading comprehension. I search for new music to hook them.

I just immerse myself in my practice.

Maybe I should get a life?

This is one of those things that’s in the back of my mind. Will I be that teacher? You know the one that’s ALWAYS at school…the one always working the gate at athletic events and always chaperones EVERY dance. The one with seemingly no home life? I don’t want to be that teacher.

(Not that there’s anything wrong with being that teacher either, I swear.)

I just need to find a balance. Right now, it’s easy to be obsessive about the work. With small kids at home, I try to limit my childcare need to work-related activities and my occasional Corey Smith stalking trips. I think, once my crew is older and can be left to their own devices, I’ll be a little less nerdy. Well, a little less obsessive 😉