Friday, September 23, 2016

Year 7: Week 5 - The Drum Lesson And The Lives That Matter

The feeling was bordering on panic. Plans started to fall apart before my eyes and I had to figure out how to make things work. There was equipment that I could not find, people I had to arrange and a lesson I had to teach that I hadn't prepared. We were finishing up our instrument introductions in 6th grade and I was going to see all of the girls to give them an introductory percussion lesson. I felt I could handle it but things did not feel right.

I stood there on stage without enough drum pads and barely enough sticks when the first girls came into the auditorium. I invited her up to the stage and we got to work. We worked on the grip, arm position and the single stroke and started making things happen.

Then we were off and immediately, all of the stress and previous worries disappeared and we were having a blast. The girls were learning, I was able to really teach them what work is like in the percussion world and even with the large class; I was able to provide a lot of individual feedback.

One of the things I love about teaching beginning band instruments is that there are so many opportunities to make that light bulb light up. Standing there across form one of the girls at the end of class, teaching her different drum strokes and watching her get it, I couldn’t help feel the same accomplishment for my own work that I saw in her eyes.


When she started her speech, she was clearly nervous. At the end of her presentation, she was crying emotional tears as we all gave her a standing ovation. Tears started welling up in my eyes as well and when I looked back at some of my fellow teachers I could see the emotion in their eyes as well.

She was one of the primary organizers of two Black Lives Matter student protests in Chicago last year. This work required bravery, determination, self-belief and a powerful sense of justice. For her to stand in front of her peers and teachers, the entire school and share her story required her to dip back into that well take a chance to share her story with the school.

In the applause of the audience and the questions that followed, I felt a strong sense of our school’s community, and our mission. We are a school that talks about social justice, fights for diversity and inclusion and values citizenship. Her work embodied what we strive for in our school.

Students continually called her a hero. It wasn’t because she focused on doing something for herself and won a trophy. She didn’t beat any one of a sports field; She was a hero because she fought for justice, for herself and others.  This is what my school values.  This is what I value.

He presentation was one of those special moments that strengthens my belief in my school.  The soul of a school is not found in textbooks or test scores.  It's found in moments likes these.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Monday, September 19, 2016

Parenthood: Week 170 – Drop-Off

I looked back up at the second story window and saw Ollie screaming and reaching out for me. I couldn’t hear him, but I knew the sound of his screams and sobs from moments before when he had begged for me to stay.

It was only the second day of school for Ollie. Diana took care of the first day. She had stayed around like the school requested in case of a major problem. The first day was only a half-day. The second day was different. It was a whole day and I wasn’t going to stick around.

Now that Ollie was in a 3-6 year old classroom, things were different. We had to pack a lunch for Ollie for the first time. He had different teachers and there was a different process for drop-off and pick-up. They gave us the same advice on how to drop him off with the least amount of drama. I looked at these suggestions, half-laughing while reflection on the year before.

Last year, some drop-offs were really easy. I simply walked him to his room, helped him hang up his stuff and change his shoes and he would run into the classroom. Some days, he even forgot to say goodbye to me. Other days, there were tears, and negotiations. There were endless one more hugs, needing me to walk him all the way into the classroom and the promises from the teachers about gerbils to feed and fun activities. There were more good drop-offs than bad ones and while I learned how to handle the more challenging drop-offs, they still stung.

Outside his new classroom, I tried the strategies that worked before: offering to carry him upside down into the classroom, giving him a hug for the an amount of seconds that Ollie determined, letting him know that there was breakfast, and pointing out exciting new activities. Nothing worked.

At first, he asked “daddy stay.” After I told him know and reminded him that I had to go to my school, “daddy stay,” became a declaration and then an angry demand. It was clear that things weren’t getting better, so the teacher, came and picked up Ollie and gave me "the look."  It’s a serious and direct look, that tells parents, “it’s okay, I got this, leave and let me do my job.”

As I started walking away, Ollie’s screams filled the hallway and I could hear his words “daddy stay,” in sharp staccato tones. The teacher asked, “Ollie, do you want to wave goodbye to daddy in the window?”

I knew that there was no way that Ollie was calm down by the time that I was outside the building, but I hoped. When I turned around and saw him crying in the window, I felt my heart hurt, forced myself to smile at him and kept walking.

The whole day, I couldn’t concentrate. All I could think about was the look on Ollie’s face in that window as I walked away. When I finally got home that evening, I rushed over to Ollie and gave him a hug. He was content, watching the television. He scooted next to me and sat quietly on my lap. Then for what felt like the first time since I dropped Ollie off that morning, I exhaled.

The next day was better and the day after that there was no problem at all. Then this past Monday, I walked briskly down the hallway away from Ollie as he crawled after me and the teacher attempted to get him back into the classroom. The rest of the days I dropped him off went fine.

A colleague told me that dropping off his child to college was just as hard. While I felt better knowing that I wasn’t alone in my challenge, the thought that this never got easier made me feel sad.

The strange thing is that as bad as drop-offs are sometimes, I would never give them up. I only get to do them two mornings a week and this process is one way that I can be part of Ollie’s life at  school.  It's a roller-coaster ride and some parts of this ride, I don't really enjoy, but I riding it with my boy.  As hard as some parts of the ride are, we are moving forward and we are making it happen, together.

Today, as we walked to school, I asked Ollie how many hugs he wanted before he went into his classroom.  "TWENTY!" he enthusiastically responded.  Outside the classroom, we counted twenty small hugs and after the last one, he said goodbye and happily ran into the classroom.  I walked away proud of my son.  I couldn't see him through that second story window as I left, but I smiled knowing that he was going to have a great day.    

Friday, September 16, 2016

Year 7: Week 4 – Another Way

Me: Let’s look into the lyrics. Can anyone pick out any reference or connections to other things you have learned about?
Student 1: The title of the song is “Orion.” The singer must be referring to the constellation, or he might be thinking about the Greek myth as well.

Me: Exactly, two really good connections. One question for you. Is the narrator a man?

Student 1: I’m not sure. 
Me: That’s okay, I’m not mad, I just want us all to think deeply. Can anyone find anything in the lyrics of this song that indicated the gender of the narrator?

[three students raise their hands and then slowly lower them]
Me: Sometimes it really matters how an author, singer or narrator identifies, whether it’s gender or race. Sometimes, facets of an artist’s identity can influence how we examine the perspective of artists, and the art itself, but other times it doesn’t matter. Let’s not make assumptions.

After class, I talked to that 5th grader to make sure that he understood that I was appreciative of his observation and that his response led to some very important questions. He explained that he wasn’t making the assumption that it was a guy who was the narrator, it just came out and I assured him that I knew that he had no negative intention.

I’m not one of those teachers who correct students when they ask, “Can I go to the bathroom?” and make them repeat the question starting with “May I.” In general, I let students role their eyes at me, because I believe that most of the time it’s harmless and that there are more important battles to fight. While I try to set good habits with my students when they sing, if a student is not sitting up perfectly straight (especially with my younger students), but they are working really well, I’ll let it go. However, I don’t let comments about race and gender that are ill informed, based on assumptions or offensive go by without addressing them.

It’s a crazy world out there but that doesn’t mean that my classroom has to be crazy. I don’t shudder when my students to bring in statements that expose bias, racism and sexism into my classroom. I lean in and use these missteps as teachable. If our students don’t learn how to think about these comments, thoughts and perspectives critically, they will only add to the maelstrom of social issues in our society.

I didn’t start teaching thinking that I would be addressing social issues, but now I can’t help it. At this point in my life, I don’t think that I could do a job, which didn’t allow me to speak out against prejudice and point out micro-aggressions.

I can’t change the world, but I can show my students that there is another way.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Monday, September 12, 2016

Parenthood: Week 169 – The Extremely Cute Moments Of Toddlerhood

Loving a three year-old is enjoying the extremes of human expression. Ollie as an older toddler will do things like give me unsolicited hugs and say “I love you.” On the flip side the tantrums and meltdowns are incredibly epic. The bad gets worse at this age, but the good stuff gets even better. As a parent of a older toddler, you can’t let the bad stuff overshadow the great stuff. When you take a step back the good stuff outweighs the bad, but in the moment of a crying child who seems completely irrational, it’s easy to forget the good stuff. In that spirit, this post will feature some of the great stuff that makes parenting a three year-old awesome.

Ollie’s awareness of Buffy and his desire to interact with her has continued to grow as he gets older. When we are in the basement, he will often get out one of Buffy’s toys and try to play with her. Ollie will softly pet Buffy when he’s watching television and when we call Buffy in from the back yard, Ollie will join us and help us by calling her name.

A couple days ago, Ollie was counting things around the house. He started by counting chairs and then he started counting the people in our family. Ollie proudly stated that there were four people in our family. When I asked him to show me, he pointed and spoke, “mommy, daddy, Ollie and Buffy!”

Over the past thee years, we’ve done a lot to help Ollie go to bed. There’s been swaddling, rocking, singing, talking, begging, and lately, telling stories in the dark and giving massages. I know giving a toddler a full body massage seems weird, but it works.

After going through all of these things and lying in bed with Ollie, I asked him if he could help me go to sleep. He attempted to tell me a story, gave me a short foot massage and then sang me a lullaby. Sometimes the effort is the most meaningful part of a gesture.

Ollie wants me to pay attention to him. He wants me to watch him, and he constantly asks me to follow him on playground and play with him around the house. He tells me about things that he sees and what he is thinking about. Ollie wants me to understand his thoughts and I love that he wants to share his world with me.

In addition to the present, Ollie now shares the past with me.  He told me a couple days ago, that he remembers enjoying riding a horse with him and that I was there with him.  We expect as a parent of a young child that most of his memories will fade which makes it even more powerful when some resonate and stay with our special little guy.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Year 7: Week 2 – The Work

It’s easy to forget what is the real work of a teacher.

At the beginning of the year my time is filled with a lot of department chair work. There’s purchases to take care of, meetings to set-up, projects to move forward and more emails to write than I care to count. Then there’s room preparation. I’m blessed with the fact that I haven’t ever moved a classroom (which is a ridiculous and a challenging prospect that deserves all of our greatest sympathies). There was work to be done in my rooms but it wasn’t too bad.

The other big part is lesson planning. This work is never-ending. Planning a lesson is like creating a piece of art or writing a story. It’s never done. You can always do more research, and the plan can never be perfect. A lesson plan is done, when I feel like the structure reflects a level of thought ties together the individual activities in the context of the lesson and the scope of the larger unit . . . or when I run out of time.

All of this work has overtaken my life for the past couple weeks, and filled my mind as I try to manage my work responsibilities with the multitude of tasks and stresses that come from my roles as a father, and a husband and an adult. Ugh, adulthood is the worst . . .

The thing is that all of that work really isn’t the “work” of being a teacher. This week I was reminded that the “work,” what I’m really here to do is what I do in front of my students. I don’t love the beginning of the year because it takes so much desk-work to get going, but I’ve really enjoyed the start of the year from a teaching perspective.

My 3rd graders have been delightful. They are new to me, so I’m getting to know them. My bag of tricks has a level of depth that it hasn’t had in years past. They don’t yet feel comfortable with me yet, which allows me to establish a working relationship that is respectful and fun. Every year I start with teaching me “Starfish & Coffee,” by Prince, which is hilarious fun, and this year I’m doing movement activities with Brandi Carlile’s “Dreams,” which is a blast.

My 8th grade band had their first full band rehearsal today. There was a great vibe in the room as we got down to work. The focus in the room felt right. While there is a lot of work to be done and summer rust to shake off, I finished the rehearsal feeling optimistic and proud.

The 6th grade students are trying out band instruments, which is a little crazy (and loud).  This process takes a lot of planning and preparation, however the moment when I make a small adjustment for a student and all of the sudden they produce a sound on an instrument and they get excited really is awesome.

And my 5th graders, oh those 5th graders.  This year, my 5th grade has a truly amazing vibe and they are really into music.  We are getting through lessons faster than I expected and learning music at a great pace.  They get "it" and the challenge of helping them go deeper and more is stretching me as a teacher is the best way possible.

The work really felt good this week.  I'm tired but more than that I'm excited and optimistic.