Friday, December 31, 2010

Being Lost In Love

The greatest part of sharing your life with someone you love is also one of the hardest parts.

Whenever Diana has any great accomplishments like this experience she had recently being a volunteer tutor, I get to experience it with her. Diana also gets to share in my successes hearing from me about lessons that have gone well with my students.

The incredible thing about sharing our lives with each other is that I get to feel the payoff of Diana’s hard work without doing the work myself. I feel a rush of positive emotions from living life well through Diana doing without contributing directly to that success.

The challenging thing about sharing our lives is when we share the challenging times. When Diana or I have a hard day, the other person experiences those emotions.  And just like with sharing the good things in life often neither of us has any influence of made that day difficult; we just deal with the consequences.

Now getting something good that you didn’t work for is a nice surprise, a great feeling. However dealing with something negative in life that you had no input in is frustrating. Here’s the thing, there are times when I will have a bad day that is completely out of my control but there are also times that the reason that I am full of frustrated is because of choices I made and Diana has to deal with it. It’s like being a passenger in a car with no input on what the driver is doing as he makes bad choices and gets lost, and all you can do is sit there are go along for the ride.

It's a given that if you really love someone it’s not only about sharing the good times but also the bad. However that's a lot a lot easier said then done when you realize that sharing life is about accepting the consequences of our loved ones choices.

Letting going, and being able to accept all that it means to share someone’s life is hard but it’s important. Love is a lot of things and one of the most important things about love is letting go and trusting others to make choices.

You may be in the car with your partner and they may make a wrong turn in the road while they are driving and you may know exactly the right way to go and sometimes you get lost with them.

You may end up stuck in a place and it’s not your fault at all. That is frustrating, this is what you get for letting go. In these moments don't forget, having a partner, not being alone on this journey in life is worth getting lost occasionally, because you really are never lost when you are with someone you love.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Knock-Off Christmas Carolers

My favorite is "Silent Night," I mean "Jingle Bells."

I totally want to do this with my students for Holiday program next year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Smooth by Santana ft. Rob Thomas

Winter has come to Chicago and that means that it is cold. How cold? Well, this morning when I walked Buffy is was 18 degrees. It’s warmer in Moscow, Russia at 25 degrees. Seriously, it’s warmer in RUSSIA than in Chicago. And last week, it was warmer at the North Pole than it was in the Windy City.

After living in Chicago for 10 years I’ve  tried many different approaches to dealing with the cold weather. Some people think you need to “thicken your blood” and spend time outside without tons of layers to get used to it. Yeah, that doesn’t work. There’s eating winter foods like stews which I enjoy.  While that makes you feel better when you come inside you are still really cold when you are outside. My current strategy is to simply bundle up like crazy. Basically if the temperature goes below 30, I break out the snow pants, fleece, winter jacket, scarf, hat, gloves AND turn the car heater on full blast.

This other day sitting in my car praying it would warm up quicker I came up with a new idea: listen to the hottest song I could think of and the first song that came to mind was “Smooth.”

Satana’s Supernatural album, transformed him from the legendary guitarist who performed at the original Woodstock to a present and active musical force. This album full of duets with various artists reintroduced Santana into mainstream American culture. “Smooth” which featured Rob Thomas working off of Matchbox 20 fame exploded reminding us of the astonishing skill of Santana but how unbelievably powerful Latin inspired music could be.

“Smooth” is evidence of my thesis that no synthesized groove can feel as good as capturing live performers. The rhythm section combined with the bass line and horns create a relaxed, saucy and slightly sinful groove. The feel perfectly captures the feeling of a hot summer day, I’m not quite sure how but it’s undeniable.

Rob Thomas uses the dark edges of his voice to caress the lyrics. There is attitude, desperation and longing that is slathered throughout the vocals as Thomas describes an irresistible woman.

Then there’s Carlos Santana who really turns up the heat. As impressive as the fast notes he plays are it’s the way he sustains his notes that is awe-inspiring. The guitar is an instrument which has a tone that defined by an attack and a quick decay in the sound. Yeah, Satana’s long notes, don’t really do that. They magically melt away and then grow. Great guitar solos aren’t so much about what you play but how you play it and Carlos Santana could play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and I swear it would be the most amazing thing you had ever heard.

Did listening to “Smooth” make me feel warmer? Well it did get me to dance in my car on the way to work and for a couple minutes it didn't seem so cold.  Though that was probably due to the car heating up and the fact that I was still wearing all my winter gear. . .

Friday, December 24, 2010

What It Means To Give (and more importantly receive)

This year more than any other year I’ve been wrestling with my own gift giving philosophy. I enjoy giving gifts and of course I enjoy getting gifts but within the whirlwind of the Christmas holiday it become a lot more complicated.

There's multiple approaches to giving gifts.  First there's the idea of getting gifts off of people’s lists. This is much more pragmatic and allows people to get things that they actually want or need. However if two people are spending the same amount of money on each other, what’s really the difference between this and buying gifts for themselves (which an awful lot of people do doing the holiday season which is a whole different issue)?

Well, there is effort put into going out and shopping.  Being involved in buying something probably in a store that you would not normally go to yourself can mean a lot however personally would rather go off the list.

When you think about the gifts that really mean something to you, what do you think of? I don’t really remember the gifts I got off a list. I think of a picture frame my friend Morgan made for me with little construction paper cut-outs of Diana and I. I think of a little teddy bear my mom gave me on the last day she was helping me move into college my freshmen year and I think of a thank you card Diana randomly wrote telling me how thankful she was to have me in her life.

Does this mean that other gifts I’ve gotten are less valid, or less worthy? It appears that way but not really.

Not every present can deeply meaningful and that doesn't mean they aren't worth giving. Some of the gifts I bought for people this year are more pragmatic, things that I know they want. Other things are stuff that they wouldn’t think to buy for themselves and one thing I’m giving this year didn’t cost me any money whatsoever but took more hours than I can count to put together.

Who knows, maybe the most pragmatic gift will be the most meaningful.  You never know.  Like the love of a song, what’s meaningful isn't always logical.  You can’t control how people receive the gifts you give but you can control how meaningful the gifts you receive are to you.

My parents aren’t big on celebrating on specific holiday. They feel that you shouldn’t have to wait for specific days in the year to celebrate sharing life with people you love.  The same things applies to giving.

We give to each other time, care and love throughout the year.  That is the true expression of giving, not a couple gifts bought during the holiday season.  What makes gifts meaningful is not the gift itself but the spirit of the person giving it.

When you are sharing gifts with each other this weekend think about the person giving it as much as the gift itself. Think about all of the things that person has given you in the past year.  If you keep this in mind, I promise no matter what you receive it will mean the world to you.  And just maybe whenever you look at the gift it will remind you of how that person makes your world a little brighter every day.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Glycerine by Bush

As grunge's most beautiful love song, "Glycerine" captures what is significant and meaningful about the music in this genre. It's dark, longing and sincere. It's a statement of defiance to the world and also a promise of commitment to the love of his life.

As you watch Gavin Rossdale defiantly performing against the forces of nature in the pouring rain "Glycerine" makes sense. There is something beautiful with his primal scream at the end of the song that reminds us not so much of who we want to be but who we are.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Daydream Believer by The Monkees

Hanging out with a couple friends last week the topic of Taylor Swift came up. One of my friends said that she didn’t like her because she was a corporate constructed pop singer. While this isn’t true at as Taylor is an independent artist from Big Machine Records a label that her family created before her because everyone else rejected her, the criticism of pop artists because they are created, molded and marketed is a common complaint.

I understand that some people are turned off from the business side of music. The idea of certain songs only being popular because of marketing can be frustrating and often the artists that certain companies construct are mediocre and can be quit annoying. I totally understand but that doesn’t mean all commercially created music lacks artistry, heart and soul.

Don’t forget The Beatles looked like a biker gang before Brian Epstein became their manager, made them get hair cuts to polish them into a more marketable look. Berry Gordy modeled Motown records after the assembly line that he used to work at to mold artists. Then there were the Monkees, a pop group created in response to the Beatles for a television show.

Inspired by The Beatles film, A Hard Day’s Night, The Monkees television show followed the life of a rock ‘n’ roll group (ala The Jonas Brothers). Originally only allowed to provide vocals the Monkees eventually gained creative control of their music and while never reached the creative heights of The Beatles or The Beach Boys, they  influenced musicians with their pop music style and cultural impact.

I love the Monkees. I watched this show when it used to be re-run on Nickelodeon. A Monkees greatest hits CDs was one of the first albums my family owned and one of my favorite songs continues to be “Daydream Believer.”

To this day, I have no clue what this song is really about. I mean the first verse is simply about waking up in the morning and then there’s a chorus about depressed homecoming queen. The second verse is doesn’t really connect with the rest of the song but it works all the same.

If you turn off your cynicism or skepticism and let yourself enjoy this song, you find that even though the creation of the Monkees doesn’t line up with any romanticized idea of the way music should be created, it’s still great. The song builds through the each chorus with glee and warmth. “Daydream Believer” sound like a reassuring smile and that’s a beautiful thing.

Music is great or mediocre, sometimes because and sometimes despite the circumstances of its creation. If you don’t like a song that’s fine, there’s no apologizing for taste. But turning off your ears to an artist because it’s an independent artists or a corporate created pop star is like stereotyping people by their race. And when you make assumptions about a song or person based on their circumstances as opposed to their content you are the one who is missing out.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Week 14: Do Not Worry Alone

One of the first pieces of advice I got at this school was, “do not worry alone.” On the surface, this advice seemed a little odd. I’m starting at a new job and I was being advised to share my “worry” with other people and show them how incompetent I was at this job up front.

Sharing my stress and vulnerability with other people seemed to go against own goals at this school to establish myself as a professional who knew what he was doing. How could sharing with other people my own insecurities impart them with any confidence that I could effectively do my job?

As the months passed I encountered problems that made me worry and often I would ask for help and get great advice, which helped me avoid unnecessary stress. Were there things that I was worried about that I shared with others? Yes, but they were things that I had a handle on, things that I had solutions to already.  It wasn't so much a sign of weakness in this context but a sharing of my ability to handle things.

Last week was a little bit different. One of my grades was preparing to perform in a Holiday pageant and things weren’t going as planned. It should have been evident to me working with them in their separate classes that things were not going to come together in the way that I predicted. My failing become painfully clear in our first of only two rehearsals before the performance.

My students couldn’t get through the song and it was all my fault. I didn’t account for the way the instruments sounded different on the stage. Rushing through the previous classes, I didn’t present the parts in a way that the students felt comfortable with and now here I was two days before a performance and I was getting really worried. The difference this time was that I had no idea how to fix this.

After that embarrassing rehearsal I went back to my office and another one of the music teachers who was at the rehearsal asked me what I was thinking. I told her what I felt wasn’t working and how I was trying to figure out what to do. She asked me if I was worried and I told her I was very worried and didn't quite know what to do.

For the next half an hour I met with two of the other music teachers. We hashed out multiple solutions, different plans and a variety of approaches to make this performance work. During this process, I realized by sharing my worry wasn't just about me. 

I love helping people with problems. Maybe I do more of that than let other people in to help me out. I have a sense of wanting to prove to others that I know what I’m doing, but frankly, I there's no need for that. I have done more “firsts” in the four months than I’ve done in the past four years. If I wasn’t “worried” there would be something wrong with me.

Sharing worry is not showing a weakness but a strength. Being worried is an expression of wanting to make something better and caring about other people. There’s never a need to hide this. It is in letting other people know that you share in these feelings that we learn not only how to help others but also to help ourselves.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Blasphemy by Robbie Williams

Bite your tongue, your torrid weapon
We could learn a useful lesson
What's so great about the great depression?
It’s not a blast for me,
It’s blasphemy.
With clever lyrics set to a beautiful melody, Williams breaks down his bravado to bring us closer to himself than ever before.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Buffy Being There For Me

Buffy is not the kind of dog that actively initiates physical contact.

Sometimes she does like when I get home from work, I’ll kneel down and she’ll run up and give me a lick on the face, but unlike other dogs I’ve met who will literally sit in your lap, Buffy waits for you to make the first move.

It’s not Buffy doesn’t like to be pet or snuggled. She is quite the cuddle bug.  When she's sleepy she is happy to have you sit close to her but when she's active it's a different story.  Buffy will make you chase her around the room for five minutes until you finally grab her fur and pull her towards you. Once you accomplish this, she will more often than not relax into your arms.  Whether standing or sitting unless you have a treat to offer her or a toy often she will to off if you reach to pet her.  This is a result of her favorite thing to do with other dogs which is to be chased by them.  

Knowing all of this makes what happened the other night that much more special.

Nothing really bad happened that evening I was just in a bad mood. One of the things I do when I’m feeling frustrated with things outside of my power is clean. It usually makes me feel better to take control of something in my life.

As I put things away Buffy came up and nudged a toy into my leg. Not really being in the mood to play I ignored her and continued to organize the room.

After about ten minutes I noticed that Buffy had left the room. I called out to her and there was no response. Usually this means that she is hiding in one her caves: underneath the coffee table or under the overhanging sheets at the bottom of our bed.

I checked under the coffee table and didn’t see her there as I turned towards the bedroom I saw her sitting up in the middle of the bedroom floor looking at me intently. I walked over to her and knelt down in front of her expecting her to dart way. Instead, she stayed right there.

I leaned forward and hugged her around her neck. I was no longer surprised at the fact that she was sitting so still. I just felt the frustrating melt out of myself. As I leaned back, she climbed gently into my lap she settled quietly in my arms.

It’s a funny thing when dogs do things like this, when they have these moments of friendship. You speculate and think about what they were thinking but you can never know for sure.

All I know is that Buffy decided for one moment to not make me chase her to be close to her and it was exactly what I needed at that moment to feel better.  

Thanks Buffy

Friday, December 10, 2010

Week 13: What It Means To Be Progressive

To say that my new school is based on the philosophy of progressive education is an understatement. The school was founded on the philosophy of progressive education and acknowledges this approach not only as a philosophy but also as an active practice.

So what is progressive education? Well, it’s an approach to educations that is focused on the student’s experience with the material where teachers do not instruct but rather facilitate learning through creativity and discovery.

Now it’s not like this is a brand new approach to learning. Socrates’ discussion based learning set a similar tone but in American it was educators like Dewey who looked at the state of education and felt that things needed to change.

In the early 20th century learning in school was mostly an act of imitation and regurgitation as opposed a process of active thinking and creative problem solving. The progressive movement sought to change this and American education has felt the influence of this movement ever sense.

How does this translate to the music classroom?  Well instead of teaching a percussion part, I have students compose their own percussion parts and discuss the results.  Trust me, it’s a lot faster for me to teach a percussion part to a song rather than have the students "explore" and it would save me a lot of headaches. But it’s worth the extra time to provide an avenue for a more meaningful educational experience.

Now, there are some things students need to learn by rote and not taught through a progressive approach. However, when we are teaching in a more “traditional” way the child-centered perspective of the progressive approach reminds us to teach the students not the subject.

We live in a time when our schools are put under scrutiny from all sides, from how they are run, how we teach, to what is taught. In the midst of test scores, teachers accountability discussions, charter schools and college entrance numbers we need to ask ourselves what kind of educational experience do we want for our children?

Would you rather be lectured to or participate in a discussion? Would you rather be directed how to do something or have time to figure it out yourself? Would your rather spend a school day reciting information or truly interacting with it?  All of your answers are probably the latter which are all progressive approaches. 

Once we realize that a progressive philosophy of education is what we want for our children then we need to make sure everything that surrounds what goes on the classroom from test scores to report cards reflect a progressive approach. We need to work from the classroom out and not the other way around.   Progressive education reminds us not to focus on the destinations but to value the journey.

We all die, it's how we live that makes life meaningful.  It's the time we spend everyday with our children that teaches them how to make that life meaningful.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Buffy Vs. Markley




Monday, December 6, 2010

Somebody’s Crying by Chris Isaak

It’s always easier to talk about “somebody” than it is to talk about ourselves. We’ve all had moments when we tell a story about ourselves and use the ambiguous “somebody.”

“Somebody I know got a parking ticket in that same spot that you did.”
“Somebody I know once ate a whole package of Thin Mints in one sitting.”
“Somebody I know thought that Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus were two different people.”

One of the most often uses of the “somebody” is in love. It’s the whole “hey, I hear somebody’s into you.” Then you gauge their reaction and you can either continue talked about how it’s you or back up when the girl relates that she has a husband. This isn’t really a strategy I would endorse.  I believe that being up front is always the best policy but for adolescents this whole “somebody” tactic is a way to talk to people without exposing themselves up and being vulnerable.

Chris Isaak in his 1995, hit “Somebody’s Crying” takes this idea as a way of telling a girl how much she has hurt him.

He opens singing about how “somebody” has been hurt and is crying. He’s trying to express his pain but cannot and like someone unable to look another straight in their eyes the only way he can talk about himself in through “somebody.”

At the chorus, Isaak let’s loose and cannot keep this ruse up. He asks directly for her love back. However at the end of the chorus he regains his composure stating “somebody’s lying” remembering the wrong she has done.

Isaak balances the different layers of emotion within a break-up effortlessly as his Elvis Presley-like voice draws us in. I can’t really speak to the sensual nature of his voice that people often discuss (he doesn’t really do that for me). What I can comment on is the range he sings with from a whisper to a flying falsetto and a deeper tenor.

There’s a very deliberate switch between the colors of his voice that work together seamlessly. Isaak carefully colors the conflicting emotions with different tones of his voice to create something that is intimate and immediate.

Somebody I know has been at the crossroads after a break-up and know exactly what Chris Isaak is expressing.

Somebody I know wishes that he could sing like Chris Isaak and thinks that it would instantly make him more appealing to woman.

Somebody I know when he was a teenager wished he could recreate Isaak's "Wicked Games" music video with a supermodel but on further consideration would rather not.  I mean the sand would get everywhere and it was probably really could and I wouldn't . . . I mean that um. . . somebody I know really wouldn't enjoy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Week 12: My Way

Over the summer as a I began to prepare myself for my first year at this school my general plan was to stick as close as I could to what the previous teacher did. The teacher before me was a veteran who had spent most of his career at this school and was respected by the students and the teaching community.

As a music teacher in a school that is steeped in tradition, much of what I do involves performances. Many of these have musical components that have been done a certain way according to tradition so following the plans set out by the processor made perfect sense.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Now that I’m nearing winter break, I’m been reflecting on what has been most successful in my teaching. What I found is that the things that I did in the way that the previous teacher has done have worked but haven’t been nearly as successful as the projects that I’ve re-imagined and done “my way.”

Everyone has been comfortable with me referring to the notes and material of my predecessor for guidance. Other teachers understand that I don’t really know the overall context of what I’m doing. What I’m finding is that what people really want to hear is what I think.  There’s an excitement that I feel when I begin taking what has been given to me and put my own spin on it.

I wasn’t hired to do the exact same thing as the teacher before me.  Even if that is what people wanted out of me, I couldn't do it.  The bottom line is that no matter how hard I try I can’t do what my predecessor did before me did and be successful because I’m not him. So for me to be successful, I simply have to be me.

What would you rather do? Be mediocre through following someone else’s plan or be spectacular following your own path? Of course we want to be spectacular but doing that means taking chances. With every chance comes the possibility of failure and maybe in the big performances in front of huge crowds I don’t take those chances. I wait until living through it once before making it my own. However with others things, well, there’s no reason not to make it my own right now.

It’s hard to know what people expect out of you when you’re new at a job. While I spend time worrying about how what I’m doing is perceived in the eyes of the people around me, I remind myself that all I can be in me. I can’t pretend to be anything else.  I would rather fail when being the teacher that I genuinely am, than succeed trying to be someone else.

I got a lot more of the year coming up and a lot of thing laid out for me by the previous teacher.  I'll work through it and keep the traditions going but I got to do it my way because that's the only way I know how.

They hired Kingsley Tang and that’s exactly who they are going to get.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Grow Old With Me by John Lennon

 Yoko included this song on her "John Lennon Playlist" recent issue of Rolling Stone
He [John Lennon] was saying it to me, but also to a whole generation: "Let's grow old together." After his passing, all I had was a cassette of it.  I had it in my handbag.  When i went to sleep, I had some bells on my door so if anyone came in, I'd hear it.  I didn't want people to take it from me. 

"Grow Old With Me" became an unfulfilled dream with the passing of John and through this hopeful song we feel Yoko's pain.  While we all have dreams for the future we never know what we have left so we can never take for granted the time we have in the present to share life with the ones we love.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Crush by The Dave Matthews Band

I’ve always loved music but I haven’t always loved my passion for music.

In high school as I discovered The Beatles, Motown and delved deep into my studies of classical music, I found that none of my classmates seemed to shared my enthusiasm and love for music.

It was “dorky,” that I liked 1960s music, “nerdy” that I loved classical music and incredibly “un-cool” that I admitted to enjoying the resurgence of pop music with the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears (which you know other people did, I mean look at the sales of this artists at that time). But there was one person who thought my love of music was cool, Vauhini.

One night after hanging out with a group of friends, she gave me a ride home. As she drove “Crush” by The Dave Matthews Band came on the radio. Vauhini was a big fan of Dave Matthews Band and it was “Crush” and its accompanying album, Before These Crowded Streets that really helped me realize the greatness of The Dave Matthews Band.

“Crush” melded DMB’s jam band sensibilities with Jazz creating a dark and emotional opus. Like the best of DMB’s songs “Crush” had a dramatic arc that made the music go somewhere significant. Something changes for the character in the music and us as listners also experience this as we are taken to somewhere we never expect.

In the soft glow of the instrument panels of Vauhini’s car, I described the magic between the notes. I talked about the way that DMB holds back allowing different layers of instruments to come through. I guided her through the long verse that gradually opens up to choruses full of elation and the unforgettably ending of this song.

Throughout “Crush,” DMB creates a feeling of something building, like someone barely able to hold in his joy. Each chorus gives us a little release but never leaves us fully satisfied. In the second to last chorus, it seems like we get there and as Dave Matthews pulls back the song takes a breath. Then the song builds back up as Matthews, almost growling builds to a final exclamation of joy. He changes the lyrics and the melody adding syncopated rhythms while the band to a climax in a way that is beautifully symphonic.

After the song ended, Vauhini smiled with a sense of joy you can only get from seeing someone describe something they love. I’ll never forget how free I felt at that moment to be exactly who I was, feeling no need to hide or be ashamed of how I felt about music.

I often think about that moment when writing about music because it reminds me that I’m not alone. Yes, most of the people in high school didn’t understand me but Vauhini did and that gave me hope that there are other people in the world who would like me for my passions. Now I have a whole family of friends and who do just that.

Thanks Vauhini
It's crazy, I'm thinking just as long as you're around.
I'm here I'll be dancing on the ground.
Am I right side up or upside down?
To each other, we’ll be facing.

Vauhini Vara is reporter at the Wall Street Journal and a fiction writer with work with published or forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Epoch, and Black Warrior Review. Check out her work at

Friday, November 26, 2010

Week 11: Simple Gifts

Teachers often talk about how much they learn from students. Sometimes this “learning” comes from research that goes into preparing lessons and other times the students literally teach teachers things.  And it was my students who taught me the meaning of "Simple Gifts."

For the past month, I’ve been preparing for our Thanksgiving Assembly. This program is like a school play involving students acting out stories telling about the origins of Thanksgiving and Native American folklore. My part involved teaching my third graders “Simple Gifts” with an Orff accompaniment (those xylophone instruments). Closing the assembly with “Simple Gifts” is a much-loved tradition in this school and I was more than happy to teach this song.

“Simple Gifts” is a song composed by the Shakers, a religious organization formally known as the United Society Of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. They were most active in the early 1800s and lived in communal communities.  This group got the nickname “Shakers” because of the way they danced. Music and dancing was central to the Shakers spiritual experience and “Simple Gifts” like many of their songs is a dance tune.

Aaron Copland popularized this song including it in the music he composed for the ballet, Appalachian Springs.

An arrangement of this song was also performed at the inauguration of President Obama.

That is pretty much where my knowledge of this song stopped.

Last week ten minutes before I was going to teach a class, I found out I was going to teach a different class. Without a lesson plan I hurriedly created a worksheet about the song “Simple Gifts.” The first two pages were a fill in the blank lyric activity and on the last page I asked my students to write down their three favorite “simple gifts” from the song and to come up with three “simple gifts” that were not in the song.

The worksheet did a nice job of filling up most of the lesson and at the end I brought the class together to discuss what they had written down. After going through the worksheet, I asked my students to define a “simple gift.”

They told me that “simple gifts” are not things that you can out put in a box. One of my students articulated that a simple gifts is something that you do for each other. When I asked them what wasn’t a "simple gift," they gave me examples like video games and televisions and when I asked them to come up with “simple gifts” they responded with the idea of sharing and being kind.

Thanks to my third graders now I understand why “Simple Gifts” is a fitting song for Thanksgiving. The most important gifts in life, the things that we are thankful for are not things that you can put a price tag on. They are things that we do for each other and with each other. In thinking about the gifts that we are thankful for it encourages us to pass on those gifts to the ones we loves transforming the act of thanksgiving to an act of giving.
‘Tis the gift to be loving,
‘Tis the best gift of all,
Like a warm spring rain bringing beauty when it falls,
And as we use this gift we may come to believe,
It is better to give than it is to receive.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Harry Potter And Somebody's Missing A Nose

I had a great time seeing Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows last weekend. It is without a doubt the best Harry Potter film out of the seven and the first since the first two that didn't feel rushed. Even without having read any of the books (I know I'll get on it), I could feel that things were left out in the other films but not in this one.

I love the slower pace and it really makes me wish they did each book as a full season television show. The atmosphere and the mood were great and I continue to be impressed with the actors especially the leads.  I also continue to be annoyed with the look of Voldemort. I know that he is suppose to have the look of a snake but sometimes things don't translate from the page from the screen.  Grandpre (the illustrator for the Harry Potter series) got it right with the angular face and big red eyes.   

Conan knows what I mean:

[note how all of this footage is from Part II!]

And to the girl a couple seats down from me who freaked out a end of the film "Oh My GOD!!! I can't believe I have to wait months to see what happens!!!" go buy the book or at least read the wiki summary . . . like I did.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hey Jude by The Beatles

Imagine you are going to visit a 5 year old whoes parents are getting a divorce. Now imagine that the child’s father is one of the most famous people in the world that has been absent for most of this child’s life and cheated on his wife.

This is what Paul McCartney faced in as he went to visit Julian Lennon, John Lennon’s son with his first wife Cynthia. In 1968, John met Yoko Ono and had an affair with her that resulted in a divorce leaving young Julian at the center of it all. Paul sat down to write down his thoughts to Julian and what these comforting words became was one of Beatles most enduring classics “Hey Jude.”

This song shattered pop music’s song forms as one of the longest songs ever to be a number 1 hit but what makes this song uniquely meaningful is what this song is at its heart: a song of comfort and reassurance.

Amidst love songs, protest music and psychedelic rock, Paul is singing to comfort us all balancing an ambiguous subject with emotional clarity, the Beatles created a universal song of comfort and reassurance that has stood the test of time.

The song begins giving advice about how to approach a girl.
Hey Jude, don’t be afraid,
You were made to go out and get her.
The minute you her under your skin,
Then you begin to make it better.
In the refrains where Paul digs deeper the situation with Julian helping him understand that the divorce is not his fault, “don’t carry the world your shoulder.” Then there is the most touching line in the song in the last refrain when Paul reassures Julian that he is worth something and that all he needs is within himself.
So let it out and let it in, hey Jude, begin,
You’re waiting for is one to perform with.
And don’t you know that it’s just you, hey Jude, you’ll do,
The movement you need is on your shoulder.
Paul wraps up all of these thoughts and feelings in an extended ending sections, a sing-a-long of sorts with a chorus of na’s repeated for the last half of this seven minute song. What is going on here? It’s repetitive, lyrically non-sense and up until this point in pop music was something that was never heard before.  Even though this sections seems illogical something about it works.

The ending of “Hey Jude” provides space to reflect on the song. It frames all of the emotions and give focuses us on one of the main points of the song, making one’s life better.  It is not the words that we speak that we comfort each other in times of need.  The words are merely an expression of being there with someone in a time of need that makes them meaningful.

Hearing a chorus of people singing inviting us as an audience to sing along creates the ultimate feeling of comfort as a chorus of voice beyond is saying that things will be okay. It is not just one person’s belief that things will improve, it’s our shared humanity, our shared hope that this ending expresses which is what gets us through the darkest moments in our lives.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Week 10: My First Campfire

On a crisp fall night, I stood in front of a campfire surrounded by almost sixty 5th graders. I felt the cold steel under my fingertips as my left hand formed a chord around the neck of my guitar. I flicked my pick between my fingertips of my right hand trying to summon the courage to play. Turning away form the onlookers I looked into fire, slowly exhaled and drew my right across my guitar and let the my guitar sing out into the night.

I’ve never led a campfire sing along or even participated in one. It’s not that I have anything against campfires, the opportunity just never came up. So I had some apprehension at the idea of leading a campfire.  All of that melted away as soon I started singing “Mbube,” better know as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

The cool night air, the smell of the smoke and the light of the fire mixed with the sound of the guitar making the tone of the instrument glow. Now there may be no scientific way that those factors could change the sound of a guitar but I swear it did.

Leading a campfire is like conducting but more intimate and immediate. There’s a beautiful feeling of letting go when you stand in the center surround by voices that is humbling and truly unforgettable.

We ended the sing along with a song that is traditional for all 5th graders to sing at my school, “Orion.” Before we began I told them this:
One of the many things I love about music is how music can make us feel. Sometimes that feeling comes from the subject, what the lyrics in a song are about, and sometimes it comes from somewhere else.
When I mentioned to my 8th grade students that I was going to this retreat with all of you, they started singing “Orion.” When I asked them what that song was about, instead of talking about the starts they told me about this moment, singing this song together around a campfire.
Music has the ability to transport us to different times and places. When you experience a song in a special moment such as this, the song becomes linked to that experience and every time you hear that song it will take you back to the that memory.
While the subject of a song is important what is personally meaningful is how music ties into our lives, our memories and our hearts.
Let’s shares this moment together. Make this memory special so when I see you in 8th grade and I mention that I’m taking my 5th graders to this retreat you come back to this movement and feel how special it is to share this time together.
I can’t wait until next year when I get to revisit my first campfire experience playing
"Orion" and create new memories for my future students as my current students created for me as we shared the magic of creating music.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Put Me Back Together by Weezer

Weezer singing to . . . um . . . children?

There's always been a layer of sadness behind the quirkiness of Rivers' music but in this song he lets the darkness come to the front.  This song is about gratitude and desperation all at the same time as he explains how much help he needs to be put back together.

There is something fascinating about watching Rivers Cuomo singing this emotionally draining and intimate song in front of children in a playground.  I am sure that the meaning of this song is lost on the children in the audience but he tries anyways.  It is this attempt that makes this song that much more powerful as sings to anyone who will listen to his pain.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Buffy's Sense Of TIme

It is often said that dogs don’t have a sense of time. The argument is that if you leave a dog alone for 5 minutes it’s the same thing to a dog as if you were gone for 5 hours. Because of this it is thought that dogs live in the moment, not dwelling on the past or thinking about the future. After having Buffy in my life for the more than a year, I completely disagree with these ideas.

I think these ideas come more from dogs’ lack of ability to express and comprehend language connected the concept of time. I can communicate some things like commands with Buffy:

And there are the emotions that we share through looks in the eye or body language but time is something we simply do not have the language to articulate to each other. However just because there is not language to communicate a concept doesn’t mean that it isn’t understood. A baby feels happy or sad long before it has the words to express these emotions and Buffy definitely understands time.

Buffy’s enthusiasm to see me when I get home is directly proportional to the amount of time that I’ve been away from home (though if she just woke up form a nap it takes her second to greet me because she has to do her doggy stretches). If I’ve been away for an extended period of time she will through her body completely into me and give me face-licking like you would not believe.

Buffy also has a sense of the day and knows what’s coming up next. My girl dislikes waking up on Mondays when we get up after two days of sleeping in.  In the evening she joins us in the bedroom and attempts to help us get ready for bed, which mainly consists of her trying dry us off after a shower by licking our legs.

When Buffy’s routine is changes, there is no way for us to explains to Buffy what’s going on. On some level, I envy Buffy. Life must be a great adventure for her full of surprises every day, however I imagine how stressful life could be for her with so much uncertainly. How does Buffy get through the day without so many unknowns in her life every day?

For Buffy, what we have done since the first day we welcomed her into our family is be there for her and surround her with positive experiences so that uncertainly in her life is answered with love. What we created for Buffy’s life is the same thing we all need, the same hope that tells us that things are going to be okay even if we don’t know which way the road will turn.

Buffy has a sense of time and other things that she cannot express to us but what is magical is how she is able teach us what it means to be alive and experience life through the simple gift of time.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Week 9: The Plan

“I love it when a plan comes together.”

Nothing ever goes exactly as planned when you are a teacher.  Every week, I make lesson plans for the classes I teach and almost every single lesson I teach varies from the plans that I make.

Now it may seem like that I’m just really bad at planning but that’s not really the case and if you ask around the only teachers that you find that teach exactly as they prescribe in a lesson plan are people who aren’t very good teachers.

You can plan for a lot of things but you can’t plan for everything. You don’t know what students have happening at home, you don’t know what just happened the class before and you don’t know how exactly how your students are feeling. Even after I teach the same group of students for months, you can never predict what they are going to bring to the table, so if you are truly teaching them and being responsive to them, you have to willing to change your plans.

My plan was for my three fifth grade classes to learn two different songs. One class was going to compose percussion parts, one class would learn instrument parts and the other class would sing. The second song would have a similar arrangement but the classes would switch jobs.  After a couple weeks for all three classes would come together and put these parts together. This all sounds simple enough.

Well, a bunch things didn’t go as planned. Composing percussion parts worked great for one of the songs and for the other song, not so well. There were three attempts by that class to compose parts and it just didn’t work out. The instrumental parts for the first song had to be modified because they just weren’t gelling together and I had to cut a section out of the second piece because it wasn’t working with the instrumental parts.

What you just read probably made no sense, the point is though, I had make a lot of changes. Every single time I made a change it made the prospect of putting all the parts together seem more intimidating. I felt that every time I was changing part of the plan it was derailing the quality of the song when we put it together. That concern was compounded by the idea of having to teach 57 fifth graders in a room designed for 19 with two-thirds of the students having instruments in their hands.

The day before our the rehearsal I asked one of the fifth grade classes, “what is the point of our group rehearsal?” The first students said that it was to learn the other parts. The second student said it was to prepare for our performance and the third student said it was to have fun.”

I had made all of these plans but somewhere I lost sight of the overall goal to have students have positive interactions with music and through challenging musical development enjoy music on a deeper and more meaningful level which in fifth grade speak is “to have fun.”

I threw out my original plan for the group rehearsal and simply planned to have fun. With fifty-seven fifth graders crowded into the music room on a Friday afternoon, we made some beautiful music and shared a wonderful moment together.

I love it when a plan comes together, but sometimes I love it even more when it doesn’t.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Best Part Of The Day by Elton John & Leon Russel

My favorite track from Elton's new record, The Union her recorded with one of his heroes Leon Russel.

I'm still not quite sure what to make of this album, but this song is one of Elton's most heart warming and watching Elton geek out as he plays with one of his heroes reminds us that at heart, we are all fans.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mine by Taylor Swift

“People like to fixate on Taylor Swift’s youth, as if to say, yeah, she’s pretty good for her age. But that just begs a question: Where are all the older people who are supposedly making better pop records than Taylor Swift? There aren’t any.”

This opening from Rolling Stone’s four star review of Taylor Swift’s new album Speak Now pretty much sums up the reality of the situation. Her career has no parallel in popular music. Taylor Swift a country singer, on an independent label, recording music that she composes and at the age of 20 is one of most popular and critically acclaimed musicians of her time.

If you don’t like her music, it’s all good, there’s no apologizing for taste, but it is undeniable the incredible craft and skill she puts into her song writing. Is Taylor innovating like crazy? No, but what she is doing reflecting on her own life and beliefs in a genuine and intimate way that speaks directly from her soul to our hearts.

The lead single “Mine” is “Love Story” matured from an idealized fairy tale romance to realistic struggle of a couple. It follows a similar form providing background on a relationship building to a flipping perspective in the song which for “Love Story” is when he proposes to her (which is a moment that gets to me every time I listen to that song).

What is remarkable about this song is the way that Taylor packs in so much information in so few lines, painting a rich and deep emotional story in a subtle and unassuming way.

The first verse sets up the story as Taylor meets a college student. She describes her own insecurities “I was a flight risk, afraid of falling, wondering why we bother with love, if it never last” (man, that’s girl has a little Bob Dylan in her, wow) which sets up her emotional journey.

The chorus describes a critical memory which will come back to bring Taylor comfort as well as describing how she views herself, “you made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter.” This line not only sounds great but it speaks to the reality that girls often end up with guys like their father and while she views her dad as careless it is the same rebellion that this guy bring out of her, helping her embrace the parts of her father that are within herself.

The second verse describes the struggles in her relationship and how thinking back on a memory helps her get through the fights. The conflict is continues in the bridge as she feels that the relationship is “slipping right out of our hands” like she predicted in the first verse. Bracing herself of the worst her love interest responds not with an apology but a memory, the same memory that she holds so dear in her heart. Knowing that they feel the same way Taylor exclaims at the end that she “I can see it now,” the future they have together.

Relationships succeed or fail often because of the similarities or differences in the way people feel about each other. When you know in your heart that the person you love, loves you back with the same depth and passion that you feel instead of grasping at past glories as Taylor does in the first part of the song the future opens up with possibilities and wonder.

I love the memories I have of times I spent with my wife Diana but more than that it's the future that excites me. I don't know how Taylor Swift captured all of this so beautifully in her music. I just know that Taylor Swift reflects my belief in love and the beauty of life and for that I will forever hold her music close to my heart.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Week 8: What I Learned In Kindergarten

conversation between myself [T] and a class of Kindergarten students

T – Does anyone know how strings are on a guitar? It’s between 1 and 10 strings!
Student 1 – 7?
T – Good guess, but it’s closers, it’s between 1and 7.
Student 2 – 4?
T – Yes, that is between 1 and 7 but that’s not it. It’s between 4 and 7
Student 3 – 5?
T- Very close, not quite it’s between 5 and 7.
Student 4 – 8?
T – Not quite
Student 5 – [interrupting] 8!!!
T – No, it’s between 5 and 7 which is 6.
[blank expression across the entire class of students]

“I can’t imagine teaching students at this age,” is one the first comments teachers say when they observe grade levels they do not normally teach. Last week I spent time visiting three-kindergarten classroom and seriously, I would have NO idea what to do with those kids.

One of my goals as a new teachers in the school is to get out of my bubble and observe other classrooms to get a sense of the school and how what I do fits in within the larger educational community. Mostly I’ve been visiting other teachers who teach the grades that I teach but last week I decided to venture outside of my comfort zone and enter the worlds of four and five year olds.

As teachers, we purposely make students feel discombobulated. Working through confusion and discomfort in a safe and structured way is an important way for students to grow. Even though I strive to help my students feel more comfortable with being uncomfortable, I don’t often put myself in these situations purposely but entering these kindergartners was an exception.

I observed students learning how to draw the letter “D.” There was snack time in which the students struggled to open their snack packs of vegetables and of course needed my help to open. Free playtime was great as students tugged at my pants to show me around the room. The most fascinating part was watching these students have conversations with each other, which made no sense to me at all but seemed work for them.

Then there were the teachers. I have a limited amount of “elementary school affect” that I use with my third graders. It’s when the pitch of my voice gets a little higher, I talk softer and slower, and express a calmness and comfort completely devoid of the sarcastic edge which is characteristic of my voice. These teachers had this affect to spare laced with patience and understanding that was remarkable and awe-inspiring.

At moments in our lives when we are at our most uncomfortable we search for familiarity to makes us feel at ease, and what comforted me in these classrooms was the same educational values that made me feel like I was speaking the same language even though I was visiting an alien world.

What connected these teachers to the way I teach my eighth graders was they way they talked to the students. When you think about talking to young kids sometimes you think about dumming things down but the teachers did the exact opposite. They challenged the kids, consistently asked follow up question and forced the students to talk up to the teachers talking expressing respect, dignity and belief in the students.

It doesn’t what age a student is, you can always challenge them and push them to be better. Of course you don’t present material that is beyond their comprehension but that’s not what I’m talking about and that’s really not the central point of education.

That's what my time in kindergarten reminded me. We’re don’t teach subjects, we teach people. The time we spend with students is about helping them be the best people they can be. That is something that is so in the forefront of the kindergarten classrooms and sometimes get lost in the bustle of older graders.

Kindergarten is a completely different world but it's a beautiful place to visit and even though they can't count, it's incredibly cute and touching how excited they are to try.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Guest Blog: Honky Tonk Women by The Rolling Stones

Last Saturday the Northwestern Wildcats faced the Indiana Hoosiers winning by three points in Big Ten football action. One of my favorite blogs, Two Penny Opera is written by a Indiana fan. The author Ian and I decided we would guest post on each other's blog to honor of our teams.

We both wrote about "Honky Tonk Women" by The Rolling Stones, bellow are Ian's thoughts on this classic.

As the probable prologue to this post indicates, this article is the spoils of the first ever Purple Reaction/Two Penny Opera Trophy game. As you know, Kingsley is a Northwestern alumnus and I attended Indiana University. On Saturday, the Northwestern Wildcats beat my Indiana Hoosiers, 20-17 in my adopted hometown, Bloomington. It’s not as if this will be an annual game anymore, as the new Big “10” alignment will have this game happen about once every three or four years.
About a month ago, we agreed that the alum of the losing school would write about “Honky Tonk Woman” by the Rolling Stones.

In a way, it’s almost fitting that this song was chosen, as it has a lot in common with my Indiana Hoosiers. The team that IU has is a middle of the pack team in a talented conference. If this team were in the MAC or any other mid major, they would be conference champions. But they have to play Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern.

If another band had written and produced “Honky Tonk Woman”, it would be the best song that band would have done. With a portfolio containing “Paint it Black”, “Satisfaction”, “Gimme Shelter” and “Sympathy for the Devil”. In fact, “Honky Tonk Woman” wasn’t even the best song from the single (the B-Side was “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”). Plus the song will always have the distinction of being Brian Jones’s swan song. He died the day before it was released in the UK.
The song spins a tale about the sexual adventures of a guy who likes to find drunk and vulnerable women. Ranging from a gin-soaked barfly in Memphis to a divorcee in New York, the storyteller is trying to get over a woman who had wronged him. He tries to imply that he is unwilling to lay down with these women in both stories, but he seems to be all about the honky tonk women.

The song certainly lacks the depth of meaning that most of the early Stones songs had, but it’s one of the more fun and upbeat songs that they created. They went from social commentators that talked about manipulative advertising (“Satisfaction”), drug usage (“Mother’s Little Helpers”) and mourning the loss of a loved one (“Paint it Black”) to party band that’s really into inconsequential sex. “Honky Tonk Woman” is all flash, but has very little substance and isn’t to be taken seriously.
Just like the Hoosiers.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why I Still Believe In The Power Of Voting

Tomorrow across our country, Americans go to vote and I am as proud to be an American and participate in our government as I have ever been in my life.

How am I hopeful and optimistic about our governments when there’s so darkness in our political discourse right now? Because I simply don’t accept the negativity that people preach and I don’t believe it’s productive for our political process.

There’s no need to put down the other side to build you up. It’s not informative, it doesn’t really say much about what actions people will actually take and it transforms an election from a choice of hope to a choice of fear.

I refuse to accept that as how I make my choices in life.

Both the Republicans and the Democrats have had times in recent history when they had not only the Presidency but also power in the House Of Representatives and Congress. During these times, neither side convinced the population that this was the one true, “right” approach to government for the entire country. What this tells us is that there is not a “right” way of governing but rather a difference of opinion that reflects more individual’s philosophies than what is truly most pragmatic.

I refuse to accept that there is one side that has all the answers.

Lately some crazy people from both sides have gotten a lot of coverage in the press. These people are unreasonable, unrealistic and simply, as Jon Stewart pointed, have too much free time. They do not represent the majority of American they should be ignored. You cannot reason with unreasonable people so don’t bother trying.

I refuse to accept “crazies” in my mind when I think about politics.

If you put aside the negativity, the idea of one side being “right” and all of the insane people who speak louder than the rest of us, what are you left with? You are left with people who are trying to make a difference.

Governor Crist of Florida has made some incredible steps to improve education in Florida. He has acted independent of his party (to the point that now he is running as an independent) to fight for what he thinks is right and you can assume he’s just doing this to get teachers' votes but I think he’s honestly trying help future generations.

President Obama has made a lot choices that aren’t popular. Some people have claim he has ignored the will of the American people and is simply feeding his own agenda. Well, what is agenda as with any other first term president? Getting reelected and right now with his approval ratings he’s clearly not making the choices he is for that reason.

Either you can look at the glass as half empty and think that he is trying to get public opinion by pushing his agenda and just failing pathetically or you can look at the glass half-full and believe that he is truly trying to make a difference for all Americans.

Please vote.  Get people in office that you believe can make our country a better place.  Don't vote by fear, by party or through extremist, vote through hope and optimism.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Week 7: Sympathy For The Middle School Teacher?

A typical first conversation between myself (K) and a new acquaintance (N).

N – So What do you do?
K – I’m a music teacher.
N – Cool, what grades do you teach?
K – 3rd grade . . .
N – [bright smile]
K – 5th grade . . .
N – [smile has melted into concern]
K – 6th grade . . .
N – [concerns has become sympathy]
K – 7th grade . . .
N – [sympathy has transformed into terror]
K – and 8th grade.
N – [look of utter disbelief and confusion] . . . oh well . . . that sounds . . . um . . . so you chose to teach these grade?!?

People are excited, almost envious when they hear that I work with third gradets but as the grades creep into middle school people start to become concerned about the choices I made in my life. So it might sound weird to a lot of you that one of the highlights of my week was my sixth grade music class.

They were great. I presented “This Land Is Your Land” by Woodie Guthrie. I outlined how to explicate the lyrics going from the literal to the figurative meaning combining emotions and historical context to gain a personal understanding of the song. I broke them up into groups to analyze an assigned verse and then presented what they found to the class.

My sixth graders worked really hard. They delved deep into the text and came up with some awesome interpretations of the lyrics I had never thought about. It was a great experience exploring music as a group and I walked away from the class excited for the next lesson.

(You may be thinking I’m crazy for doing such a “elementary school” song with sixth graders but the reality of Guthrie’s most famous work is that it is a protest song. The final verses that are rarely performed describe the effects of the dust bowl and question “if” this land was made for you and me).

Now I understand why people think I’m crazy for having chosen to work with middle school students. Most of us think back at our own middle school experiences and do not think too favorably about them, and I’m part of that group. It was an awkward stage in my life when other kids seemed really mean, I didn’t really fit in anywhere and I felt clueless on what I was suppose to do to be “cool.”

Why do we remember middle school as such an awful time? I don’t know maybe it has to do with the way we perceived the world at that stage or it has to do with how other parts of our lives were so much better by comparison. I’m sure there’s someone who has done research on this subject and can give an answer why for so many of us middle school is remembered as the worst time in out lives.

Regardless, projecting our own feelings on students who are that age clouds us from the reality of being a middle school students. These children are developing the ability think outside of themselves and analyze the world around them in deeper and more significant ways. They are exploring the social norms and figuring out how they fit within their own subcultures and how that reflects the wider culture as a whole. Moreover, while they have the potential to create havoc and spread negativity throughout a school they also have the potential to look beyond the surface and celebrate what is awesome about the people around them.

I started the year with all of my middle schools students with this challenge:

"Look, people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that I teach middle school students and they think I’m insane when I tell them that I love it. People out there think that kids your age are mean, inconsiderate and unable to create meaningful and significant work. I tell them, they are wrong. Prove me right, and prove them wrong."

So far, they have.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Angel Standing By by Jewel

I still remember watching this live when I was in high school:

The studio version doesn't even compare to the intimacy and pure expression Jewel displays. Yes, she was a phenomenon of the 1990s but like her angelic voice, this song transcends it's time in my memory as one of the most beautiful performances I've ever seen.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Take It Easy by The Eagles

The older I get the more chill I am about problems that arise in life. It’s not that I don’t take my life or my job seriously. If just that I’ve found that rarely are problems that I face truly dire or worth me freaking out about. Things happen, we do the best we can to deal with them and then we move on with our lives. How do you maintain this kind of attitude: A healthy dose of perspective. I’m not in Pakistan, homeless because of flood waters and I’m not in North Korea starving while my “great leader” has food flown in from all around the world.

The Eagles first single “Take It Easy” and possibly their most famous song is about getting that perspective, enjoying life and realizing what’s important in life. With later masterpieces like “Hotel California” and “Wasted Time,’ The Eagles contemplate darker edges of the American experience but with “Take It Easy” it’s pure sunlight.

The Eagles created a combination of a country and rock defining the Southwest rock sound for the 1970s. Coming out of the haze of 1960s psychedelic rock and high conceptual music of the bands like the Beatles, artists like the Eagles turned their focus inward to examine the American experience. Their first single “Take It Easy” was the perfect overture for their career with layers of guitar, insightful but straightforward lyrics and a sound could only be defined as American.

The first verse present the problem of having seven women in ones life, “four that want to own me, two that want to stone me, and one says she’s a friend of mine.” The response in the chorus is to just “take it easy” relax. Don’t over think the issue, figure out what you want to do (“take a stand”).

The second verse about seeing a beautiful girl in a Ford on the surface is simply a pick up line.

Come on, baby, don't say maybe
I got to know if your sweet love is
Going to save me
We may lose and we may win though
We will never be here again
So open up, I'm climbin' in,
so take it easy...

On a deeper level it’s talking about being within the moment, making the best of it and letting yourself enjoy life.

The last verse presents another problem with a woman and what becomes clear at this point of the song is that the main theme, “take it easy” is not so much in the words but in the music itself. Through the guitar solos and the “oohs” towards the end, we are drawn into a band rocking out, having a great time with a sense of relaxation as the band lays back into a groove.

What The Eagles are really telling us is how good life can be and when you listen to this song you can’t help but feel how amazing it is to be alive. The smile you get from listening to this song is the most persuasive argument for the song’s conclusion “we got it easy, we ought to take it easy.”

The next time you get worked up about something, listen to "Take It Easy," breathe and thank God that you don't have four women out there who want to stone you.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Week 6: Being A Party Of Yes

My friends who are teachers sometimes joke about what it would be like to go back to the days of teaching when corporal punishment reigned supreme as the primary way of disciplining students. It's only a generation ago that this stuff was still going on. My father-in-law who went to a Catholic school recollects being rapped on the knuckles with rulers by the nuns.

Blues Brothers - Penguin
Uploaded by MattyP20071. - Watch more comedy videos and sitcoms.

 . . . kind of what I imagine . . .

After Dr. Spock taught a generation how to express love to their children and educational thought progressed to a child-centered approach educators like me are left with . . . um . . . stickers?

Honestly, I could  never strike a child. I can’t even yell at children. Don’t get wrong, I’ve been frustrated at my students, but that’s usually expressed through a low, held-back, almost whisper-like tone. Instead of threatening students with physical pain or yelling at them what we I do is talk.

I tell students who are speaking out without raising their hands that I have who are younger then them have no problem with that concept. I show that I am offended when students are being rude to each other.  And I’ve asked students who are disruptive if their selfish actions are worth wasting the time of 23 other people in the class.

However, everything I say that is negative has the underlining positive belief that they can do better. The reason I point out that younger students can do what they are doing is because I they can. I don’t let students be rude to each other because they know how to be polite and being selfish is not acceptable because I regularly observe my students being selfless.

However if all you do is call people out, things don’t progress.  You’ve got be a “party of yes.” If you are in front of a group of students and you thank one student for being ready for the lesson with his or her book and pencil out, I guarantee almost every other student who is not ready will dive into their desk as fast as they can to get a piece of praise too. This is as true for 1st graders as it is for high school seniors.

Most places in our culture don’t work as hard as schools do to take a positive approach to behavior and motivating people. Many sports coaches yell and use expletives, some people work in fear of losing their jobs because of negative bosses and many parents regularly yell at their children. So why do schools work so hard to be different?  Because our children and in turn our school are an expression of our idealism.

Schools do not reflect who we are but rather who we want to be.  Even though there are things in our society that are not as positive as schools the fact that we believe that schools should be the way they are shows our hope that society should be different.   

Fear, pain, negativity: these are all things that challenge the light in our souls from the outside. And when we are the ones producing these feelings in other people it starts at the center of us and grows like a cancer.

You cannot genuinely teach what you do not practice.  Students can see through lies and phoniness.   While we are educating our students, we are challenging ourselves as people to be better people.  This provides the greatest thing that we can learn in life, how to live life through love, with love and sharing love.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Return Of Conan

I can't wait.

When all the stuff happened with Conan and Leno I wrote this open letter to Conan.  The way he left NBS was inspiring saying on his last show:

"All I ask is one thing, this is, I'm asking this particularly of young people that watch. Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record it's my least favorite quality, it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what the thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind amazing things will happen . . . it's just true."

Conan thanks for coming back to us.  We need your humor, silliness, and optimism now more than ever.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Buffy's Poo

Twice a day, Buffy sniffs around the sidewalk and heads towards bush. She goes up close to the branches, underneath if it’s possible, does quick spin and squats in her poo posture. She looks up, concentrating and then after about 20 seconds, staying in that same posture she waddles a couple steps, coming out of the bush sometimes into the middle of the sidewalk and stops to try again. Sometime she drops poo after a couple steps sometimes not and repeats this process until she is done. Buffy’s record for a "poo walking" is halfway down a city block. We’re talking like 20 feet of poo waddling leaving a trail of little drops of poo for me to pick up along the way.

I love how she makes so much effort to find a secluded place to poo but then ends up in the middle of the sidewalk.

One of things that happens when you get a dog is that you start talking about poo. Especially in the first year of having Buffy we would often discuss not only the timing of her poo but the consistently and color of her poo. We’re concerned owners and frankly poo is one is a clear sign of a dog’s health. And you don’t really notice the extent at which you talk about poo until you and your spouse causally bring up the latest poo update about the dog at a nice dinner out with friends who are not dog owners.

I always pick up Buffy’s poo. Twice I didn’t because I ran out of bags but I later came back to those same spots later in the day and picked it up.  I’ve noticed more now that I have a dog  the amount of people who do not pick up after their dog.

If not you’re willing to pick up your dog’s poo and dispose of it twice a day, every single day for 12 years, do not get a dog. You really need to think about this. Size does make a difference. A dog that weighs 120 pounds poos as much as a human that weights the same amount. Luckily Buffy weighs about 12 pounds and poos about a hot dog’s worth which really isn’t that much of a pain to pick up.

I have no tolerance for dog owners who do not pick up their dogs poo. No one forced you to get a dog. Picking up poo is part of the deal. And I know this sounds harsh, but part of me thinks that if you are caught not picking up your dogs poo your dog should be confiscated.

I'm not seriously suggested we implement that rule but I REALLY I hate stepping in dog poo. It is disgusting. The worst part is that you often do not notice that you stepped in it when you do.  It’s ten minutes later when you are in your car that the smell creeps up to you as you realize that you do not have anything in your car that you can use to wipe it off, save a leaf or a parking meter tag.
It’s not a dog’s fault that his or her owner is  inconsiderate, selfish and thoughtless. There really aren’t bad dogs so much as bad owners. We domesticated dogs and  only way they can co-exist with us help them and take responsibility for them. I don’t really like picking up poo either, but hey I do it.  You can love your dog without loving everything about them, and I love my Buffy-bear even though I do not love her poo.

Hey at least she provides me some entertainment as she poo-waddles down the street.

(btw I used the word "poo" 23 times in this post, wait that's 24 right there!)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Week 5: Playing Whack-A-Mole

You can be an expert on a subject, have a wealth of teaching techniques and still be an awful teacher if you can’t get a class of students to stop talking to each other, pay attention and sit in their seats.  One of the hardest things for teachers to master at any level is “classroom management,” the educational term for the ability to get a class to engage in the material.  And if you are wondering why this is so hard, then you've never been in front of a classroom full of children. 

The year started out well. I explained my expectations to all my classes. We rehearsed my countdown hand sign that let them know when to be quiet. I corrected some students who were misbehaving immediately and things went great a couple classes. Then as if all my students planned it this way, they seemed to all forget EVERYTHING we discussed in that first week.

. . . sigh . . .

This caught me off guard in the beginning of the week. I didn’t want to stop my lesson to reinforce things that we had already gone over, but that only resulted in lack of productivity as students continued to act as if I was a brand new teacher. So I changed it up and I started classes later in the week with a review of expectations and those classes went a lot better.

In order to maintain expectations, reinforcement really is key. Sometimes it feel like I’m playing “whack-a-mole” as one teacher put it. You can’t ever let your expectations slide so sometimes it seems like you’re spending the entire lesson walking out the room reminding students on how to behave.

This includes utilizing phrases like: take off your hood, put your shoes back on, face forward, stop talking, put away those silly bandz, sit-up straight, now’s not the time to read, that’s not your desk, chairs are made for sitting, stay in your space, hands to yourself, we aren’t at a hair salon, stop tying your shoes to the desk, no one will be friends with you if you keep picking your nose (I’ve said ALL of these thing in the past week).

Are children “bad” when they forget expectations or “test” them? No, of course not. They either honestly forgot about or simply weren’t sure if the expectations I held at the beginning were going to continue. Rarely are children intentionally rude. Is this “testing” a bad thing? As exhausting and annoying as it can be, trying to find limits is a sign of students’ cognitive development. Limits create a sense of stability and predictability that we all desperately need to get through the chaos of life.

Getting students to pay attention is not about power.  I make sure every one of my students to pay attention because every one of them is important. A student may seem like she is happy when they are allowed to misbehave but what the message you are sending when you let an expectation go is: "I don't care."

Classroom management is not about figuring out ways that you can get students to stop talking. It’s about creating a space in which students feel valued.  Only in a classroom filled care and respect can teachers and students join together in the journey of education.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

John Lennon's Laugh

John Lennon would have turned 70 years old last weekend if he hadn't been assassinated in 1980.  There's no logic or sense in why someone who devoted his life to spreading peace, love and hope would been taken away from us in such a violent way.

Elton is right, the blues never fade away.

"And I miss John Lennon's laugh"

Monday, October 11, 2010

You Don’t Bring Me Flowers by Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand

I love Neil Diamond. That guy is the man. How can you hate on the guy who wrote “Sweet Caroline,” possibly the greatest sing along song in pop music history? I love his duet with Barbara Streisand “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” But man, I hate Barbara Streisand.

Okay, maybe hate is too strong a word. Part of my dislike comes from the insane way that people who are fans of Streisand worship her. In addition, her ridiculous diva attitude doesn’t make her the most likable performer but I can admit, at her peak she could really sing and her duet with Neil Diamond is one of the most beautiful and unforgettable songs you’ll ever hear.

Neil Diamond wrote "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" with several collaborators in 1977 and in the next year Streisand covered the song. Gary Guthrie, a disc jockey, took these two versions and edited them together as a going away present for his wife that he had just divorced. This version gained such interest that Diamond and Streisand recorded a studio version of the duet. It was this version that became a number one hit and led to one of the greatest Grammy performances of all time.

I mean what color is Barbara wearing? What is the deal with that pantsuit? Oh lord check out the size Neil’s lapels and man that bow tie is small. Laf, Neil is SO wearing old man paints that go above his belly button and . . . um. . . . oh my God, they are walking towards each other. Neil, why don’t “used to be’s” count any more?!? . . . then Barbara touches his hair and wow . . .

The presentation is SO 1980 and the production of the strings is not hip or modern but there is something beautiful about the performance and this song.

This is one of those few breakup songs that is completely devoid of anger.  Anger is not really an emotion itself. Rather it’s an expression of an emotion. Often when you are sad that is expressed through anger and the beauty of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” is that we get to true emotion at the heart of the situation, sadness.

“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” paints the picture of a beautiful relationship by showing us what isn’t anymore. If you transformed all the negatives into positives you would have one of the most romantic and beautiful love songs, instead we have a heartbreaking realization of what has been lost.

Diamond doesn’t try to out sing Streisand, instead he does what he’s best at, a more conversational style with a deep baritone letting Streisand soar above him and juice the passion and pain out of every single note. It’s a big contrast of styles but it works so well together.

The line, “you think I could learn to tell you goodbye” always gets to me because that truly is one of the hardest things to do in life because when you say the words and the person leaves, they are still with you. Feeling someone in your heart and not feeling their physical presence is one the most depressing things in life.

However while this song is sad, there is smile deep within.  It's like by going through journey these two people are reminded how beautiful love can be and even though they lost this love, there's hope in the future.  This is best explained by Butters Scotch:

“I love life . . I’m sad but at the same time I’m really happy that something can make me feel that sad. It’s like, it makes me feel alive. It makes me feel human. The only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt something really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good. So I guess what I’m feeling is like a beautiful sadness.”