Friday, April 28, 2017

Year 7: Week 31 - Week In Review

Let’s attempt to summarize what happened this week.

Monday, we had a faculty meeting that focused on developments in modern parenting and how this has changed the dynamics of the parent-teacher relationship. It was an interesting presentation that was difficult for me to not take personally as a parent. Of course there are things that parents should think about and nuances to the relationship between parents and teachers that should be examined. I also know that this isn’t really about me, but at the same time, I feel a need to defend parents as a group, even those who over-parent and get in the way of their children’s’ growth.

Even though it felt like I was alone in my feelings of discomfort in the meeting, in the following days other teachers who were parents came up to me and said they had appreciated the question that I asked during the meeting that clearly expressed my concerns and discomfort with the conversation.

Tuesday, we had our evening instrumental concert. This concert featured our string groups and our high school band. The concert went well, but was challenging in length. We had everything from a 1st and 2nd grade violin ensemble to a concert band that had forty students in it. Also, the concert was long. As our music program grows, one of the challenges in creating performance opportunities. It’s time for some out of the box thinking because a concert that long on a school night isn’t right, especially with 1st graders involved. We need to do something different next year.

This leads into another piece that has been going on in my head. It is not even May but it is time to do critical work on the schedule for the next school year. I have five major performances ahead of me and I need to find a way to get my head into next school year. If I let this time pass, then we end up being locked into the same calendar, which needs to be examined. This piece of the puzzle is tricky, but people in my department are helping with this planning and making sure that we don’t let this critical planning window pass is by.

Next week, there is our big 5th grade performance, the major end of the year concert is in two and half weeks, we have a bunch of work to do on the 6th grade music presentation (which we are reimagining from last year). I made good progress on a project I’m doing with a donor, and my 3rd graders want to do a presentation for their SK buddies. I need to get that going. And there’s department chair evaluation work left to do.

Let’s see, did I leave anything out? Yup, there’s that other thing I can’t write about openly yet, the band room needs organizing, ugh and my email inbox.

I feel tired. However, I’m feeling pretty good about this week. All of this madness, all of these things that flood my mind disappear when I’m in the classroom with my kids. We had some fun moments this week. 6th grade band was a really hard class to teach, but we made some really good musical progress. My 8th graders were fantastic today. And I left my class of the day proud of the sounds my 3rd graders were playing on the recorder.

It never stops. But neither does the fun.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Monday, April 24, 2017

Parenthood: Week 201 - Tangerine

Slowly, Ollie pulls back the peels as I hold the tangerine. He carefully puts each piece of the peel in my other hand that I hold open for him. At times, I get a piece of peel started for Ollie but now that he is older he can mostly peel the fruit by himself. As good as he is getting at peeling a tangerine, he still needs my help to break into the peel to get it started.

Once the peel is off, Ollie hands me the fruit and I split it in half. I give half of the tangerine to him and he begins taking the sections apart.  Sitting side by side on the single step that goes down from our living room into our den, we eat the tangerine. After eating a couple pieces, Ollie takes one piece and pushes it up to my lips. I loudly chomp at his fingers and eat the section, and Ollie giggles in response. I thank Ollie for his generosity and offer Ollie a section of my half of the tangerine and he chomps at it with glee.  When we are done, Ollie takes the peels, and puts them in the kitchen garbage.

The first time I sat down on that step to share a tangerine with Ollie, he was just about a year old. He was able to comfortably sit up without support. His little fingers had a pincer grip but he couldn't grip for very long. While he could eat solid foods, he needed help managing pieces of food and getting it into his mouth.

I pulled apart the peel like petals of a flower. Ollie would grab one piece, sometimes miss and sometimes pull it the wrong direction, but he would manage to tear it off. I would take apart the tangerine for Ollie, and carefully bite a section in half and put it in Ollie's hand. Sometimes, he would get the piece into his mouth, often he would miss, but he would try, eager to get the fruit into his mouth. At times, I would place a piece at his lips and he would smile at me as he took a bite. Then he would reach for another piece and try to feed me. Often he would miss, but he enjoyed switch roles.

Sharing a tangerine has been one of these rituals that me and Ollie has enjoyed throughout the years. It has evolved and changed with Ollie's development, though the core meaning of this experience hasn't changed. It's about sharing time together, and giving to each other.

I started peeling tangerines with Ollie on a whim and it has continued over time. We don't do it every day. It had almost been a month since we did this last week. I offered him an tangerine and he immediately sat down at the step and wanted to share this moment with me.

There will be a time when Ollie doesn't need my help to eat a tangerine.  He might forget the many times we sat on that step and ate together, but I will not.  When I think about who Ollie is, I think about him trying to figure out how to peel a piece of fruit and not giving up, I think about Ollie enjoying the simple pleasure of fruit and I think about him trying to feed me, eager to share and see the joy that comes from this expression of care.

That's my boy.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Year 7: Week 30 – Longer Chunks of Time

A couple months ago, I started noticing something with my 3rd graders. Almost every single activity I did, I ended before the students were done with the activity. Many of the music teaching method books and a lot of the teacher education out there recommends that you put three or four different activities or songs in one lesson. In general, I’ve followed this for the past couple years.

There is a feeling of accomplishment from the students and the teacher when you get through a lesson that has multiple activities. I would commend my students for keeping it together so that we could keep the flow of the lesson going. However, I started noticing that so much of the focus of the class was on transitions. It seemed like more and more, students were just getting into a project as I started talking to them about transitioning them to the next activity.

A lot of educational writing and research is recommending giving students longer periods of times on one activity in shorter range of time as opposed to splitting up the same amount of time over many classes. For example, instead of doing 20 minutes once a week in music class on recorder over four weeks (assuming music class meets twice a week for 40 minutes), you do two classes in one week where you do nothing but recorder.

There’s a lot to think about here. Certain skills need to be working on for short periods of time over longer unit of time to develop. For example, singing technique needs to be developed in short chunks of time over a time. You can’t sing for 40 minutes straight in one class and get as much benefit as doing 10 minutes of singing over four classes with younger students. However, there are other things like writing compositions, or turning a storybook into a musical, which my 3rd graders are currently doing, which kids can work on for an extended period of time effectively.

I’ve giving my 3rd graders entire classes to work on their storybook musical project, and they have worked the entire class length productively and effectively with no sign of needing something else to do to vary the class and keep their interest. I’ve planned on stopping the class to do a different activity, and asked the students what they wanted to do, and they all wanted to keep working. So I let them.

It’s important that students learn how to transition between activities and work on a variety of skills in music class, but I also think that we need to let students take deep dives into projects. I did this for my 5th graders recorder project earlier this year as well, when they chose a solo and worked on it individually preparing for a mini-concert. It’s kind of scary and unnerving to give away that control and let students have an entire class to do one thing. It’s uncomfortable, but like this storybook musical project, my 5th graders got into their recorder solos and worked for the entirety of those classes.

Focusing more on larger units is tricky to balance with consistent skill building, but I think it’s worth struggling with and trying to figure out. Longer periods of time give kids the opportunity to go deeper while stretching other students who aren’t used to longer chunks of time to think differently.

As a teacher the biggest change is that when students have a longer period of time to work, my teaching is more focused on their interests and their learning and less focused on teaching them how to transition. Here’s the interesting thing: When students have one activity they are doing in class, they are only doing two transitions, one to set-up and one to put things away. These transitions without the same amount of preparation and directions have been phenomenally better then the transitions that happen when they are multiple activities in a class. I’m not sure why, but I think they transition better, because they are more settled with the feeling of having gotten a solid amount of work done. They aren’t fighting the transition as much, wanting to do more work.

Longer chunks of time may not be the right for your students, but it might be worth trying. It hasn’t always been a success, but when it is, the students really benefit.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Monday, April 17, 2017

Parenthood: Week 200 – The Right Amount Of Time

You can spend too much time with your kid.

Yes, it’s true that often I spend the entire day with my family, but if I really think about it, there’s always part of that day when we may be in the same house, but we are separate from each other doing our own thing.

You can also spend too much time away from your child.

Days when I have to work late and have little to no time with Ollie are really rough. I feel out of whack and unsettled knowing that I’m not going to have much time with him. In college one of the signs that I knew that there was something special with Diana was that my day never seemed to really start until I saw Diana during lunch at the cafeteria. In the same way day doesn’t really feel lived without time with my boy.

It’s a tricky balancing act. There’s this idea that we should always want to spend time with our children but the reality that’s not the case. It’s the cliché about absence making the heart grow fonder. An appropriate time away from your child allows you to bring more enthusiasm, interest, attention and energy to your child. Quality is better then quantity when it comes to sharing time, to a point. Two minutes of interacting with your kids with all of your care and attention, doesn’t immediately outweigh a couple hours with your kid, some of which you were zoning out on your phone.

This is a really hard balance to strike. Unfortunately many parents don’t have the privilege to be able to manage this balance. If you are working two jobs to make things happen financially, or have challenging child-care situations, you are more likely going to find this balance something that is untenable, yet you somehow have to make work.

The other problem is that sometimes when I carve the time out to spend with Ollie, he’s not really interesting in interacting with me. This goes both ways. For example, this morning Ollie climbed into bed with me at 5:15am and wanted to play with me. I was not in the mood to play with him at this time. This additional factor sometimes leads to frustration, but as the adult, the older person in the relationship, I feel it’s up to me to make the adjustment to make it work.

Sometimes we need to be pushed to spend more time with our children and sometimes we need to be pushed to take a break from our kids.  It's hard to know where we are and we need help from others to figure this out.  I'm grateful that Diana has suggested that I spend certain afternoons with Ollie and also has offered to give me breaks from him.  And I'm grateful that my little boy, always makes up for the times when he doesn't seem to want to play with me with the cutest smile as he pushed a book into my lap or when he runs up to me calls "daddy!"    

Friday, April 14, 2017

Year 7: Week 29 – The Insecurity of It All

I’ve never had any other job than being a teacher except for some musician gigs. While I do believe that other jobs are full of insecurities, there are unique things about being in a teacher in America that I’ve recently reflected on that reveals the insecurity at the core of many educators.

This thought about teacher insecurity came to me after I did this Presidents’ Day presentation. It was a great success and one of the most beloved things that I’ve ever done at this school. The weird thing is that even after many emails and people from all corners of the school giving me complements, I still felt under-appreciated for the work that I had done. It was a preposterous thought from a logical point of view, but I just couldn’t get over this feeling of not being recognized.

It's not a big surprise why I felt this way.

It's so pervasive that teachers spend their own money on school supplies that there is a special consideration in our taxes for teachers to ride off money they spend on their students in addition to normal work deductions. Can you imagine someone working in a law firm having to spend personal money on office supplies and gifts for clients?

We’ve gotten to the point in our society that a recent school shooting at San Bernardino, didn’t take over the national conversation. Yes, there are a lot of things happening in our society, but this lack of public attention about the safety of our children and the people who dedicate themselves to teaching them is disheartening.

Teaching unions get blamed for many issues in education. While not all teacher unions are created equal and some are less helpful then others, it is unions who fight for class sizes, budgets for classrooms, and other important resources for students. During teacher contract negotiations, in addition to advocating for pay, unions have to advocate for reasonable class sizes.  Isn't this something that administrators should be fighting for as a basic need for students?

Teachers are more often than not underpaid. They work to address societies failings and often receive the blame for not doing enough to address issues other people created. Achievement gap? Schools didn’t create this. Systemic racism, racially inequitable drug laws, forced migration and exploitive business practices led to this issue. Yet, teachers are on the front lines taking responsibility and trying to do something about this problem.

Teaching is not a prestigious job. In a society where job prestige is more tied to how much money you make more then how much good you do in the world, teachers don't climb to the top. Also, jobs that are traditionally held by women aren’t as well respected.

It trivializes our work when the secretary of education has no experience in public education, it hurts that people argue that we are overpaid (yup, people have told me this to my face), and it’s really hard to not feel discouraged about being a teacher after a difficult day at work, when you have to go home and spend an additional hour and a half doing work at home beyond the nine hours you spent at school. For some teachers, in addition to this work at home, they have a to go too a second job to just to keep them afloat.

When you consider all of these things, it’s kind of crazy that anyone chooses to be a teacher at all. Somehow we are here and we are doing it every day, bravely, and courageously. It is up to teachers to buoy each other up and our allies to spread the word of what it means to be a teacher in America.

I chose this job.  I'm proud to be a teacher.  However, part of this gig is doing what we do in the context of all of this negativity. That's something we work through and we deal with for the sake of the children in America.  If you want to help us out.  The first step is understanding the insecurity of it all.

The next step is listening to us.