Friday, December 30, 2011

It's A Jolly Holiday With Buffy

Christmas 2009
Growing up Christmas was a time when my family got together, exchanged gifts and shared a nice meal. We aren't Christian so this holiday lacked any significant spiritual meaning. As I got older Christmas meant less and less in my family but that’s okay. We have our own traditions and great times that we spend together outside of this holiday.

When I married Diana the question of whom we would spend Christmas with was an easy one to answer. Where my family didn’t hold too much importance in this day, Diana’s family did. So we would spend a day, sometime before Christmas with Diana’s dad’s extended family and then on the day itself we went to church and spent the afternoon with my mother-in-law’s extended family.

Christmas 2010
Over the years, the holiday and the traditions associated with it have begun to make more sense. While at first, I felt like an outsider when it came to Christmas I now feel fully included in this holiday and look forward to it every year and a lot of that has to do with Buffy.

Buffy is part of all of our Christmas traditions. She comes with us to pick out the tree that we cut down by hand every year. She sits under the tree waiting patiently for Santa to come. Of course when Santa does finally comes she excitedly greets him.

Of course Buffy gets presents,

Some of which like Christmas sweaters she’s not a fan of. . .

Buffy comes along with us to Diana’s family celebrations and proceeds to chase around Diana’s little cousin’s and give Grandma a hearty lick hello. It’s cute how Diana’s relatives not only check to see if Buffy will come but expect her to be there and often greet her first when we arrive.

Christmas 2011
Buffy brings excitement and awe to all of the parts of Christmas. She doesn’t care how cheesy things are or the silliness of cutting down your own tree in sub-zero weather. Buffy doesn’t have a clue about any tension or drama between family members, she’s just happy everyone is there.

The shopping, the commercialism and the stress of this time of year can kind of put a damper on Christmas cheer but I’m quickly reminded of what Christmas really is about when I watch Buffy run and down the aisle of Christmas trees and strain against her leash to enter Grandma’s house.

More than anything in the world, Buffy simply wants to be around the people she loves and share with them the adventures of life.  For me, that’s the greatest about Christmas and Buffy is a beautiful reminder of the magic of this holiday.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Foolish Games by Jewel

Yeah, it's been weeks and I'm still listening to Adele's "Someone Like You" and it still sound fresh. Today as I listened to this song for the fifth time in the row, Jewel's "Foolish Games" came to mind.

Is this as good as Adele?  Maybe, all I know is that when she sings "breaking my heart" towards the end it touches a similar place that Adele reaches. This folky feeling of Jewel someone reminds me of Roy Orbison's "Crying."

ah man. . . this is getting brutal. I need something happier. How about the theme song to my favorite new TV show this fall?

 . . . though I could really go for some Adele right about now . . .

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Road Less Traveled: Looking Back At The Beginning 9 Years Later

There are many important dates that we remember in our lives. When I think about my wife Diana of course July 12th, 2008 jumps out as the day we got married. This was a beautiful day and the memories from that event I will always cherish but the day date that means the most to me when I think about Diana is December 26th, 2002 the day that Diana and I began our relationships as boyfriend and girlfriend.

After meeting earlier in that fall and fast becoming friends we came to that point in all relationships between men and woman when they have to choose which road to go down: Road A-the going out direction or Road B-the friend path.

With almost all of my female friends we went down Road B. Most of the time there really wasn’t a discussion needed, we just kind of got a friend vibe and we built off of that.  However for some reason I wanted something different with Diana.

As we got closer to Winter Break, we were talking every day and hanging out, not really defining our relationship as one thing or another. Then the night before Winter Break when I was going to fly back to Seattle we kissed for the first time.

I still remember the magic of that moment. There was a singularity of being, a mutual expression and a shared moment that felt so pure and so right. Instead of clarifying our relationship it only made things more complicated and as I left for home the next morning my mind was in a whirl about what this all meant.

During that Winter Break, from December 14th to January 4th, Diana and I e-mailed each other every day. I have all of these e-mailed saved on a single 71-page document (38,818 words). The e-mails are cute to read and really aren’t that different than the conversations we have now.  Most of it is sharing daily events and pondering random things, not really talking about our relationship until an e-mail I sent Diana on December 15th, subject: the road less traveled. . .

After three pages commented on the idea of perfection and the different types of friends we had, I laid out my feelings about the direction of our relationship:
You are not going to lose me as a friend through this.

If you say "Kingsley, I like you a lot, I care about you, but going down Road B is not what I need right now, and I'd rather just stay friends." then I'll be ok, I'll need some time to get over it but after that things will be just how they are now. Things will be fine.

Let's just get Road A out on the table and what that means to me. If we decided that being together, going out, is what we really need right now, I see that as a close friendship where the emotional closeness is reflected is physical intimacy. I believe the physical intimacy allows for a level of emotional intimacy as well. People, who I've never been physically intimate with I've been very close to emotionally but there is a kind of barrier.

If we go down Road A, there's a lot to gain but there are some risks, and yes, Road B is kind of a steadier road. . .I'm ready for Road A, right now. I just feel like I'm in that point in my life at the moment. I'm not sure of a lot of things, but I'm ready to take the chance.

I feel grateful that you took a chance with me and opened yourself up to me, and I hope I made you feel that the chance was worth taking.

Whatever happens to us in the future, it won't change we shared for the last quarter at all. That will always be there. If last quarter was all I got to experience of Diana Oleszczuk, I'd be very sad, but I'd also be very happy and very grateful for the time I had to share what I got to share with you.
After further e-mailing and phone calls Diana on December 26th, she decided to take a chance with me.

Why I did I want Road A with Diana when I had been okay with just being “friends” with other girls?  Well, there was something different about Diana.  There always has been.  I wanted to love her, to share everything with her.  She used to more colorful clothing and I found that as a reflection of her inner strength and passion.  Diana loves what she loves without apologies no matter what other people think and I admire that about her.

People say that couple start looking alike the longer they are together, which if you know Diana and I is a hilarious thought.  The biggest change in me in the past nine years of knowing Diana is how I embrace the things that I love.  I don't know if I knew Diana was going to be the one to teach me that nine years ago, but I sensed something about how I knew she would be a positive force in my life.

Diana wasn't attracted to me because of the jokes I made or the fact I was a composition major.  She saw in me the man that I'm still becoming and that's I liked about me and I knew I needed to hold her as close to me as possible.

It's hard for me to articulate how I felt nine years ago.  Maybe it's just my memory or maybe it's the fact that like the most important moments in life, words fail to articulate the depth of the human heart.

Diana, I know it wasn't easy to take a chance on a relationship with me, and I thank you for believing in me and our future together.  So much has changed in the past nine years of our lives and I can honestly say that I love you more than I ever have.
Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.
-Hamlet: Act 2, Scene 2

Friday, December 23, 2011

Year 2: Winter Break-On Not Being A Teacher

One of the most liberating feelings is walking through a store and seeing a kid misbehave and do absolutely nothing.

When I walk through the halls of my school and I see a student misbehaving it’s my responsibility to intervene even if that student isn’t one that I teach. It’s part of the being a member of a educational community and creating solidarity with other teachers so that students understand expectations in a consistent way.

When I’m not at school it’s a completely different story. Not only is it not required of me to intervene when some kid throwing a fit in the store, it’s inappropriate and fantastic. Why? Because sometimes it’s nice to not wear my teacher hat.

I am very proud of being a teacher but that’s simply part of who I am and I would like to think that if you talked to me outside of a professional context that it would not be completely obvious that I’m a teacher. It’s not that I don’t want people to know it’s that I'm a teacher, rather I would like to think there’s more dimensions to me than my profession.

This does get a little tricky sometimes. Being a teacher is a job of passion and it’s hard to not talk about things that you are passionate about. When people start talking about issues dealing with schools in parties a lot of times I just bite my tongue. First off, most people aren’t bringing these things up to really have a discussion and anyways most people don’t appreciate in a social situation someone opening up a can of “deeper understanding of knowledge” to disprove something someone is casually talking about.

There are times when I can’t hold it in and I show my colors as a teacher because I do represent my field and it’s important that I advocate not only for my profession but the experience of my students.

Once in a while teacher things pop out. Sometimes I give someone a teacher look without thinking about it, which can be kind of awkward (especially when it’s to my wife). This almost always is followed by an apology. Then there’s times when I just start teaching.

Last weekend I had some friends over and we decided to play a board game that not everyone had played before. Someone asked me to explain the rules and without thinking about it the tone of my voice changed and I turned into “Mr. Tang.” It was kind of eerie because I immediately started with a “hook” and explained the rules in a way that related to a main point to focus on and back around to the “hook.”

I guess this is kind of like a mechanic who is with some friends when a car breaks down and fixes the car. I can “teach” in a second.

Am I a teacher all of the time? I guess so. I would like to think that I’m not but I see my life through the lens of a teacher and that’s not such a bad thing. When I meet people I think about ways that I can connect to them, when I face situations I think of what I can learn from them and when I reflect back on my day I consider how these past experiences can help me in my future.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Break Films To Watch

Ok, it's Winter Break, which means I've watched a couple films and thankfully, they've all been fantastic.  This is what I've seen in the last couple days:

Jackass 3D

This is exactly what you expect it to be.  It's disgusting, over the top and gross on many different levels.  And no it wasn't the guy covered in poo that was the hardest thing to watch, it was super-gluing a hand to someone's chest and ripping it off that was the most disturbing.

Missions Impossible: Ghost Protocol

So what happens when you have Brad Bird, famous for directing Pixar films do an action film?  You get  a delightfully funny, but not too silly actions movie with ridiculous action and a plot makes just enough sense to seem interesting but not distract from the action.

Reel Injun

This is one of those "what it means to be American" films.  It talks about how the stereotypes of Native Americans developed throughout film history.  It reminded me of the Celluloid Closet, which does a a similar thing with homosexuality.  This is really powerful stuff that is important for all Americans to think about.

Page One: Inside The New York Times

This film is not so much about the Newspaper industry but the revolution in all of media we are experiencing.  All of the founders of current media sources are brought together in this documentary to discuss the changes in the way that we consumes media.  We've all heard a lot of these conversations but it's fascinating to see them put in one film and presented so well.

The Best Worst Movie 

This film takes a look at Troll 2, considered by some as the worst film ever made, which has become a cult phenomenon. Like many great documentaries this film is about the human experiences and how people deal with events in their lives.  It's amazing how such a great film was made about such a bad one.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Gift Giving For The Opposite Sex

One of the challenges for men and women this time of year is buying gifts for the opposite sex.  This is one of those lists of tips to be applied generally. There are exceptions to every single one of these tips/rules for gift giving. In no way am I implying that I’m an expert in gender roles and the developing relationship between women and men in the 21st century. These are simply good guidelines that if you follow them, more likely than not you will observe a sincere smile when your gift is received.

1.  Avoid giving things that imply that your significant other needs to be more organized, like wallets, bags and organizers. You may think that he wants to replace that wallet which is currently more duct-tape than leather, but he doesn’t AND he doesn’t want you trying to “fix” this part of his life.

2.  Don’t get some kind of bobble or key chain that is really feminine that you expect him to carry and keep with us all the time. It’s a nice thought, but more likely than not other guys will make fun of him for the “I love you” dog tags you had made.

3. Unless you are 100% sure of the style and size of an article of clothing that he wants, don’t buy it for your man. One of the biggest fears guys have is of girls who try to “change” them. I agree, your man needs to actually learn how to dress for work but gifts aren’t the way to do it. Then we feel pressured to like the clothing and wear it and it’s a bad vibe. Go shopping with your man and show him a bunch of stuff he should wear, that’s fine, but don’t spring it on him on Christmas morning.

4.  Electronics.  This one is hard because most guys buy electronics they want and are very picky about things like video games and iPhone cases.  We're oddly particular about brands and specifications.  A lot of guys really like researching this stuff.  Maybe you can green-light one of these kinds of purchases, but don't do it yourself.

5. Some Good ideas:

  • CD box sets
  • Nerf Dart Gun
  • miscellaneous licensed products (i. e. Simpsons’ Duff Beer Can) from TV shows, movies and video games 
  • comic books: everything from Superman to Calvin & Hobbes
  • stand-up comic albums
  • humorous t-shirts featuring cultural references from his childhood
  • sports and film memorabilia
  • Food: Bacon, sausage, popcorn, beverages, potato chips, salsa, steak. Guys like food. Food as a gift is a great idea that is under-utilized. I’m not talking about cookies and chocolates, we get plenty of those during the holiday. Get your guy some real food.
  • Books: Guys actually do like to read. We just aren’t really into The Notebook. Do some research into what your man is into and find a fun, easy to read novel that reflects their interests. Don’t buy a book that is “good for us,” find a book that we would really like.

1. Don’t buy a girl a purse. This is a highly personal purchase. It’s just like how you are happy with your old wallet and you don’t want a girl to buy you a new one. Leave that one alone.

2. Unless you are 100% sure of a size and a style of clothing that she likes, don’t buy a girl clothing. What you buy sends inadvertent messages about what you think about her body, the kind of woman she is and the kind of woman that you want her to be. It’s thoughtful, I agree, but it’s a big roll of the dice. Maybe once your married think about doing the clothing thing, but before then, bad idea.

3. Woman don’t care about TV size, how many megapixels a digital camera has or the memory in a laptop. They want electronics that are functional, easy to use and are in cute colors.  If you are going to buy electronics for her, bring along another woman and really listen to the questions she asks the salespeople.

4. It’s a good rule of thumb to not buy things as gifts that remind woman of chores associated with being a housewife. Vacuum cleaners, dishtowels, pots, and irons, probably will not go over well. Cooking stuff can be a great gift, if she like to cook, otherwise, it sends of message of trying to get her to do something that she’s actually not that into.

5. Some good ideas:

  • Stuffed animals
  • Picture frame with a picture of you together
  • Photo album:especially in this day and of age of digital photos, getting some photos printed and put together means a lot
  • Calendar of cute puppies
  • Coupon not for 10 minutes of your “affection” but for you to do a certain chore that is usually her responsibly,
  • Jewelry (keep it simple)
  • A DVD of her favorite film that you might think is a “chick flic” and a promise that you will watch it with her.
  • My Little Pony
  • Potted plant: these last a lot longer than a bouquet of flowers

Men & Woman
Probably the best gift you can give this holiday seasons is a hand-written note.  You don't need fancy stationary, a piece of notebook paper will do.  Just speak from the heart.  Write about how grateful you are for all he or she has done in the past year.  Write about how much you cherish your partner as a person.  Tell about the meaning that their presence brings into your life and express how much you are looking forward to your future together.

You attach this note to any gift, even a toilet plunger and I promise you''ll see some tears welling up in your loved ones eyes.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Year 2: Week 15-The Best Of 8th Grade Girls

When people think of 8th grade girls more often then not they think of these young women at their worst: catty, self-absorbed, immature, irrational and melodramatic. While this age and gender group has the potential for all of these things, so do people in almost every stage of life.

Do 8th grade teenagers have stronger tendencies towards these negative traits? I guess so, but more of this has to do with their physical and emotional development far more then any mean-spiritedness. When these traits emerge they are annoying, but they don’t really bother me because their potential for good is so much greater.

Over and over, my 8th grade girls have shown me great maturity and understanding as young adults, like this last week when three of my them visited my 3rd grade music class.

Because of a change in schedule my 8th grade Band met at the same time as one of my 3rd grade classes (I teach 3rd & 5th grade general music and 6th and 8th grade band). I saw some of my 8th grade girls earlier in the day and I mentioned this conflict to them and how they were going to have a substitute in band. They asked if they could come to 3rd grade music instead of band. I hesitated because the 3rd graders were preparing for their holiday performance. At the same time, I figured this might be fun, so I told them to come join me with the 3rd graders.

My school is a JK-12 school. There’s a Big Brothers and Big Sisters program which assigns high school seniors to different classrooms as a community building activity. This is fun and both the younger students and the seniors do really well with this and I was hoping that my 8th grade girls would bring that same positive energy to my 3rd graders and they really did.

When my 8th graders came in, my 3rd graders were very excited and they all wanted these guests to sit with them. We did a couple activities. One in which we went around the circle and had to come up with an animal and food as a call and response exercise. We practiced some instrument parts and went through the song for the upcoming performance.

Throughout all of the activities the 8th graders participated happily and engaged in a positive and appropriate way with my other students. They listened carefully to things the 3rd graders were saying, they didn’t any level of “I’m too cool for this” and showed a genuine interest in not only the class but the 3rd graders as people.

The 3rd graders were absolutely adorable as they tried to teach the 8th graders how to play and sing the songs. They were very interested in explaining how things in the class worked and their desire to involve the 8th graders showed a positive instinct include others and share what they knew.

Looking at my 8th graders interacting with my 3rd graders, I felt very proud.  Every time I looked at one of my 8th graders working with some 3rd graders I couldn't help but smile.  It wasn't just at the cute-ness of the situation it was the fact that these girls got it.  They understood what this opportunity could mean for the 3rd graders and their instincts were to connect and be positive.

I'm not claiming that I understand 8th grade girls, but I do know that there's something special about this group and if you look at them with open eyes expecting the best, sometimes you'll be amazed at what you see.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Seven Nation Army by White Stripes

How to teach "Seven Nation Army" to your beginning band.

Step 1:  Transpose the bass line to concert D minor.  The baseline conveniently fits within the first 6 notes almost all band method books teach.

Step 2:  Teach the base line to the band with some simply thumping percussion.

Step 3:  Teach some countermelodies.  Focus on using the notes in the bass-line.  For example they can play off beats on concert F.

Step 4:  Have the students try to figure out a rhythmic ostinato that works over the baseline.

Step 5:  Go crazy have different students play the bass-line and then layering countermelodies and student composed ostinatos.

Good times.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Area Codes by Ludacris featuring Nate Dogg

Sometimes music is meaningful because it speaks emotions that we feel deep inside in a way that no other form of human expression can. “Area Codes” is not one of those songs. It’s meaningful because our reaction to it tells us about ourselves.

Ludacris’ chauvinistic dedication to the many “hoes” that find him irresistible around the country provides a reflections, a kind of Rorschach test. Our reaction to this song reveals our own views on promiscuity, romance and the illusions that unfortunately too many of us have about the meaning of sexuality.

Ludacris isn’t the first artist to write a song boasting about his conquests. The earliest one that comes to mind is “Travelin’ Man” by Ricky Nelson.

Nelson in this early 1960s hit sings about five different girls who he is in love with. While this song has a more romantic spin it doesn’t feel great. He talks about owning girls hearts and uses cultural allusions to characterize these woman.

Ludacris takes this approach further describing forty different women he is involved with.

Forty. Let that sink in for a second, forty different women.  Maybe a list of all the area codes will help you imagine what we're talking about here.

770 - Atlanta, Georgia
404 - Atlanta, Georgia
718 - New York, New York
202 - Washington D.C.
901 - Memphis, Tennessee
305 - Miami, Florida
312 - Chicago, Illinois
313 - Detroit, Michigan
215 - Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
803 - Columbia, S. Carolina
757 - Tidewater, Virginia
410 - Baltimore, Maryland
504 - New Orleans, Louisiana
972 - Dallas, Texas
713 - Houston, Texas
314 - St. Louis Missouri
201 - Jersey City, New Jersey
916 - Sacramento, Califonia
415 - San Francisco, California
704 - Charlotte, N. Carolina
206 - Seattle, Washington
808 - Hawaii
216 - Cleveland Ohio
702 - Las Vegas, Nevada
414 - Milwaukee, Wiscounsin
317 - Indianapolis, Indiana
214 - Dallas, Texas
281 - Houston, Texas
334 - Montgomery, Alabama
205 - Birmingham, Alabama
318 - Monroe, Louisiana
601 - Meridian, Mississippi
203 - New Haven, Connecticut
804 - Richmond, Virginia
402 - Omaha, Nebraska
301 - Silver Spring, Maryland
904 - Jacksonville, Florida
407 - Orlando, Florida
850 - Tallahassee, Florida
708 - Northern Alberta, Canada

While Ricky Nelson gave each girl a couple lines, Ludacris limits the references most of these women to simply a number. Ludacris describes a sense of innocence about his circumstance like a guy in an Axe Body Spray commercial. As Nate Dogg sings, these woman just won’t let Ludacris be, what is he suppose to do about this?

I don’t full understand the cultural etymology of the use of the word “ho” to describe women. All I know is that in my circle of friend that’s not really a term we use to describe woman, ever. We’ll use prostitute to describe well, someone who actually is one, but “ho” eh. . . no. The different that Ludacris uses this word adding it on as a prefix is kind of entertaining, I’ll give him that much. My personal favorite “hor-derves.” Are these like snacks that area really easy to make or something? I don’t know, and I guess that's what makes this song so . . . ludicrous.

No one could possibly take this song seriously. Actually let me try that again. No one should ever take this song seriously. If you think that you will travel to different cities and find woman who drawn to you without you doing anything you clearly have never interacted with a woman. And while it may be “okay” to carry on with forty different woman when if it’s clear to all these woman your intentions to treat them like a “ho” and they are ok with it, it’s still disgusting. C’mon, people that’s unbelievably gross. I understand guys bragging about their sexual conquests. Once upon a time I was a teenager, but there’s limits.

Is “Area Codes” offensive? Taken seriously, yes. To describe a woman by a number and imply a level of sexual servitude is a statement not only about the woman who is a “ho” but also a statement about our mothers, grandmothers, aunts and daughters. If you think about think this song seriously and get that out of that reflection. Good for you.  If you don’t and feel a level of respect for Ludacris and enjoy the fantasy of his conquests and are over the age of 16, you seriously need to seek some psychological help.

Taken as a novelty song, "Area Codes" has some clever lyrics, but even as a joke, it still makes us questions the way we feel our own sexuality and what it really means to share one of the most meaningful parts of ourselves with just one person, or more.

Our reaction to art sometimes reveals things we are proud of and other times feelings that necessitate reexamination.

What does your reaction to "Area Codes" say about you?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Year 2: Week 14-Positive Capital

“Y’know, I ask this particular students to be quiet when we’re walking in a line and then he’s quiet for like a minute and the he starts talking again and I tell him to be quiet again. This seems to happen every day.”

One of my teaching colleagues told me about this student she was working with and her issues as you can see above with getting a student to follow directions. What I told her had to do as much with what she was doing but also what she wasn’t.

Being told to do a correct a behavior repeatedly is like being yelled at constantly. It’s really easy to tune it out. How do you get someone to really listen to? You talk really quietly and vary your tone and loudness. The same goes for positive and negative interactions. If the only interactions you have a student are negative he or she eventually tune it out. If you hear mostly positive things through interactions with people and then once a while a negative comment is said, it has a much deeper impact.

Positive interactions with students are like money in the bank. If you want to really have an effective conversation about correcting a behavior, it takes some positive interaction capital. My rule of thumb is that for every one negative interaction, I got have five good ones. What’s tricky here is that these positive interactions can’t be phony. They have to be real.

Often the students who get the most negative reactions from adults are not as likable as other students. Well, that just means you have to work harder to find something about that student that you like. And if you can’t after talking to that kid for 5 minutes then you hang out with that kid everyday as much as possible until you find something about that kid that you genuinely like.

This can get really hard, but if you really want your interactions to mean something to your students they need to feel that you like them and that responsibility is on the teacher, not the students.

And yes, teachers do like some students better than others. We’re human, but where the professional challenge starts is being able look past this and focus not on what the students is doing but he or she can do to be a positive member of the classroom community.

I believe that every student has something to contribute and wants to be a positive parts of the community. This may not be true, but if I doubt that at all, then it leads to giving up on students which is a road teachers should never go down.

Difficult students are a fact of life for teachers and you may think that if that kid wasn’t there the class would be SO much easier to teach. The funny thing is sometimes when that students is absent, some other students take his or her spot as the annoying student.  But sometimes there is a moment when that student isn't in class and even though the class is easier to teach you miss him or her.  If you get that place with that difficult kid in your life, then you really are doing your job as a teacher.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Iran So Far by Andy Samberg and Adam Levine

Is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad harboring a secret love affair with Andy Samberg?

Now there's an important distinction to make with this video.  Andy Samberg is not making fun of Ahmadinejad for being a homosexual.  The implication is not that Ahmadinejada is an inferior person because he's a homosexual.  What this song is saying is that Ahmadinejad is horrible human being because of his hypocrisy, the deplorable way he treats his people and the lies that he continues to spread.

By making fun of his sexuality Samberg is saying that Ahmadinejad is hiding something from us and is a coward.  He deserves our scorn because of his inability to acknowledge the most basic of human rights and sometimes the best way to deal with this anger is to laugh.

Monday, December 5, 2011

What It Means To Talk About Politics-Part II

It is often said that you should not talk about politics and religion at social gatherings. Why is that?

I’ve made wrote this other political discourse and what it means. This last post talked about how talking politics is of such importance that it should not be discussed the way sports are discussed because we are talking about people’s lives, not some inconsequential dramatic event for us to live vicariously through.

That’s just the first step.

Most political issues are not questions of absolute right and wrong. Take the economy for example. You can find experts in economics, people who spend their entire lives in the field who both support Obama’s economic policies and others who are against them. These people who understand the intricacies of our economy in ways that most of us can barely comprehend cannot come to a consensus, so how can we talk about this issues like we have it all figured it out? Are you really smarter about this issue then all of these people who disagree with you?

If you are holding an opinion about something that is highly debatable, then you really are holding an “opinion” which when discussed is a very different thing then arguing a “fact.”

The President Of The United States’ job is to make difficult and unpopular decisions. If something was a no-brainers and easy issue to address it would never reach the president’s desk. The decisions Obama has to make include information and subtleties that most people never understand, so is it fair to form opinions without knowing all of the facts?

Have you ever read a bill that that a president has signed? I got about two hundred pages into the No Child Left Behind Act before giving up. Try this sometimes, read a bill that you are passionate about and then you will really know what you're talking about.

I’m not saying that in order to have an opinion about a political issue you have to know everything about it and read all of the policy. What I’m saying is that when you discuss a political issue more often than not people who are smarter than disagree with you, you do not have all the facts and you probably haven’t actually read first hand what you’re even talking about. That’s ok, but what that means is that you can’t discuss a political issue with a “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality.

What about the other issues, the ones that are black and white? Let’s just say that you are actually have a Master’s in economics and have read the tax code. Or like me feel that the equal rights of homosexuals is about right and wrong. Well, just because someone is wrong doesn’t mean you get to be a jerk about it.

Are you discussing your opinion to help someone understand your side as being right or see their stance as being wrong? And yes, those are two different things.  Sometimes the best of us fall in the latter category and ti's really not a great place to be.

The strength of a political argument is in showing respect and understanding of the opposing position and starting with their perspective to help them understand yours.  Condescension does not change people's minds, but a willingness to listen and learn can change the world.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Year 2: Week 13 – To Be Liked

I’m not going to deny that I enjoy the fact that many of my students like me, but that’s really not the point of what I do.

It’s interesting. When I think back on the teachers who had the most impact on me some of them I liked a lot but some of them I didn’t. What was consistent was the fact that I respected their knowledge, their skill as a teacher and the fact that they respected me.

What teachers provide for students is not some kind of celebrity or idol, but rather a person who helps guide them and we often do not guide them in ways that they would like. No teenager is ever going to thank a teacher for providing them with structure and guidance but students often get frustrated with teachers who do not do this.

We work so hard for students and it gets frustrating sometimes when students express dislike about us. While these words can be pointed its important to keep in mind that they aren’t talking about us as people but as teachers.

Have you ever noticed when a student sees you outside of the school building they get kind of freaked out like they don’t expect that you could possibly exist outside of the school building? Even though you spend all this time getting to know your students, caring about them, working so that they can learn and be successful they do none of these things for you and in this way, this relationship when at its best really is not about being a friend or being liked.

I remember when I first started teaching I worried that I would teach students that I didn’t like. If I were to say that I liked all of my students equally that would be a lie. Remember, even though I’m a teacher, I’m human. But I’m very cautious about these feelings and for the kids I don’t connect immediately with I make a conscious effort to work with so that my feelings about certain kids don’t get in the way of me serving other students.  That being said, I have grown to care about all of my students no matter how they have treated me, because I simply choose to.

This is a hard thing to do especially when there are students who express disdain for you as a teachers but what’s important to keep in mind is that the fact that you have students who don’t like you mean that you are doing your job. Also, kids who seem to like you, don’t actually like you as a person so much the image of you as a teacher.

I can honestly say that I love it when my students are excited to see me in the hallways and want to tell me about their day. These kinds of interactions do help motivate me as a teacher but I can’t rely on them, because I know that they may dislike me in a minute when I give them a bad grade.  You have to be willing to give up any positive feelings they have for you to provide them with what they need.

Knowing that you did what was right for your students even if it means that they dislike you as a teacher may not make you smile but its the proof you need at the end of the day to know that you truly are a teacher.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Lumberjack Song

Everyone has a dream.

I'm not even that big a fan of Monty Python, but this thing is one of the best examples of musical humor.  He's just so earnest and his back-up singers are in such disbelief.  One of my goals in life are to perform this song with a group of guys.  I'm not sure if I'd rather be the lead singer who is proud of who he is or one of the back-up singers. . . hmm 

. . . still dreaming . . .

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bella Swan: Feminist Role Model?: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1

After six years, the penultimate Twilight film has hit the theaters and I’m more into this series then ever. (My views on Twilight are based 100% on the films, as I haven’t read a word of the books).

In this earlier blog post I defended Twilight. I discussed how people being critical of Twilight without experiencing the art are silly, the double standard of female-centric art being viewed as inferior, and why we should all be sensitive to art that we don’t like that others love.

While I thought that this was enough after searching “why Twilight sucks,” and reading through about twenty websites with articles and list of complaints about Twilight I feel it necessary to once again defend Twilight. (btw Twilight Haters, you have to really step up your game, complaining about Twilight fans themselves has nothing to do with the book or the film).

The two most coherent complaints have to do with the character of Bella being a bad role model and being anti-feminist.

No, Bella is not a great role model, but is she suppose to be? No one complains the Hamlet, Juliet or Othello are bad role models. They are tragic heroes with a flaw and so is Bella, her flaw being her obsession with Edward. One of the more interesting and maybe more apt comparisons is the idea that Bella is not as good a role model as Buffy Summer, the vampire slayer.

While I agree whole-heartedly that Buffy is a far better character, she shares the same flaw as Bella with her quasi-abusive relationship with Spike. If you don’t believe ne all you have to do is watch episode 19, season 6, “Seeing Red.” Yes, Spike is totally at fault but, Buffy saw the signs and didn’t exactly distance herself from him the way she should have. . . not the greatest role model to girls in this situations, but that’s okay. That’s not what this is about.

Tragic heroes don’t serve us as role models but as reflections not of who we want to be but who we are. And if you don’t think that there are some teenage girls out there resembles Bella Swan at all, then you need to go hang out at a high school.

Stephanie Meyers defended Bella as feminist because she chooses her circumstances in life. Yes, Meyers is right. Feminism by its strictest definition is not the idea that all women should be working moms and go against traditional gender roles. It’s about equality of opportunity. If a woman chooses to be a businesswoman they should be able to do that without limitations put on by society and with social pressures to the contrary. Also if a woman chooses to be a housewife they should enjoy that same freedom to do that without discrimination. Equality isn’t about everyone doing the same thing but equal opportunities of choice.

Bella’s choice to be with Edward is her choice. Many of the things that Bella decides for herself go against Edward’s wishes and you may not like her choices like many people in the films do but she makes them anyways fighting for her right to self-determine her life. Isn’t that really what feminism is all about?  I'm not arguing that Bella is the paragon of feminism but to say she is anti-feministic because she makes choices you don't agree with well is kind of . . . anti-feminist.

By the way, I totally think Bella should have chosen Jacob, but the fact she chose Edward is far a more dramatic meditation on Bella’s heroic flaw.

I really enjoyed watching Breaking Dawn-Part 1. When you walk into a Twilight film you know you’re going to get some stiff lines, some fun actions, some more badly acted lines and some ridiculousness. Within all of this there is something highly entertaining and thoroughly engrossing.

One of my friends commented on facebook that I must be “one of the most open-minded male I know” for enjoying Breaking Dawn. While I do like to think I’m open-minded and I appreciate the compliment I don’t think understanding and enjoying Twilight is about being open-minded.  It’s about enjoying art for what it is, not complaining about it for what it’s not, putting aside expectations and to the guys out there it's about being a true feminist and not only watching but enjoying something that she wants to watch.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Year 2: Week 12 – Performance Nerves

Last week, a fellow teacher asked after an orchestra performance if I get nervous. I confidently told him no, which was totally a lie.

Before my students perform I have normal symptoms of nervousness but I work very hard to channel that into calm and positive energy. If you talked to me right before a performance you might think that I don’t care but it’s more that I don’t want my kids to freak out and well, I don’t want to freak out either.

I can’t remember the first time I went up on stage to perform. For as long as I can remember I’ve been on stage first playing violin, then piano, then in school ensembles, marching band and well now I spend a good part of my life up in front of people as a teacher.

Yes, there are things that make me nervous. Anyone who doesn’t feel a twinge of apprehension getting up in front of a full auditorium of about nine hundred people to lead the singing of “America The Beautiful” doesn’t understand the importance of what they are doing.

Part of being chill before a performance is perspective. If one of my students makes a mistake on stage, or sings a wrong lyric, it’s not a big deal. No one died, it’s just music. Yes, we should try to do the best we can and concentrate but we shouldn’t fear mistakes so much that if they accidently happen we can’t roll with it.

The other part of performing is remembering that the performance isn’t only part of what we do. I’m not in the business of producing polished musical performances, I’m in the business of helping students have meaningful experiences with music and while performance is a big part of it, the process of learning the song and exploring the music beforehand is also important.

I often tell my students before performances that I’m already proud of them and that the performance will not change the pride that I have in all the hard work they put in. You may disagree with this lack of pressured focus on a specific event but I don’t like living that way and making my students freak out never brings the best in them, probably because it never brings out the best in me.

I made a decision a couple years ago that my students would never seem me loose my temper of stress out especially in relation to performance. Expression of these feelings leads to kids being screamed at, feelings being hurt and missing the point of being a music teacher.

If you prepare a group of students for a performance and they are making significant mistakes the day before the performance that’s your fault as a teacher for not picking appropriate music and/or not teaching in a way that they can be successful. So the only person you can really get mad at is, well yourself.

So prepare your students and yourself, keep some perspective and embrace that nervous energy.  All being nervous means is that there is something exciting about to happen and at least with a well-prepared school music performances, the potential for a great experience far outweighs the potential for a bad performance.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turkey Tango

Anyone know any Thanksgiving songs?  This song is really underrepresented in popular music, but luckily the general music teachers have this covered: THE TURKEY TANGO!!!

Those kids were good but these ones are REALLY moving:

OMG, girls doing this in pairs!!

I'm not sure if they know who is leading.

The best part of this one is the fact that there is a dad who sings along with the song. I hope those kids are dressed up as turkeys, but I'm not sure, those skirts are kind of weird.

And yes, I have done this with my student and they love it.

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Take Me Or Leave Me (from Rent)

To have a character in a popular film who is a homosexual or transgender is no longer shocking. But once upon a time it was. In 1993, when Rent made it’s premiere off-Broadway, this show about young adults struggling to survive in the Manhattan’s Lower East Side brought important issues out into open.

Like the Jonathan Demme’s film Philadelphia that came out the same year, Rent has characters that are challenged the ideas of the America’s traditional views of sexuality and face head-on the effect of AIDs.

Both Rent and Philadelphia were monumentally important for portraying these characters not as stereotypes but giving these people souls that challenge people’s idea of what it meant to be a homosexual and how serious and devastating AIDs was to all of us.

What is left though when you take away what made Rent “important”? Watching Rent at Northwestern University I wasn’t shocked by the main character Roger dealing with the fact that his ex was now a lesbian. The prevalence of AIDs in the characters honestly made me think:

If you pull away the social issues what you are left with is a musical that is very much like the characters in the film who are full of energy, passion, immaturity, and focus more on the moment than the bigger picture. There are too many songs, many of which are too long, and too many plot threads, but there are also moments of musical and dramatic brilliance that leave you breathless.

For me the most polished and memorable song is “Take Me Or Leave Me.”

This song works far beyond the shock it once had of “Oh My God, it’s two Lesbians singing!!” It’s a great relationship exchange. There’s plenty examples in broadway of this kind of duet but most of the time it’s one sided like “Sue Me” from Guys and Dolls.”

This song is fun and quirky.  The characterizations come clear through the song and while the song is fight at its heart, there's a joy and pride in these characters who embracing there flaws with pride.  That is exactly what has made Rent one of the most popular musicals of all time.  If all this show was about was AIDs, it's influence would be limited.  What this show really is about is people embracing who they are and who they want to be.  There's a brilliant innocence in this show in the face of life's most serious trials and it's in this we find not only the dreams of these characters but our own.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Year 2: Week 11 - Recognition

What motivates you at your job?  Money?  Climbing the ladder?  Prestige? 

I once told my wife that I didn’t become a teacher to become famous or be in the newspaper.  Then she pointed out the hundreds of students I taught who know me and my feature in the Chicago Tribune

Maybe it's about recognition.  There's three levels of recognition I remember learning about in high school:

Level 1:  When you do something for someone you need them to acknoledge you for what you did directly and give you credit in order for you to feel satisfied.

Level 2:  When you do something for someone you don't need them to acknowledge your gesture, you simply want to see their happiness due to your actions.  

Level 3:  When you do something you are satisfied with you actions without them knowing it came from you.  Also you don't need to witness the joy your actions engendered.

I would say that most of the time I'm in level 2, sometimes I lean into level 1 and every so often I feel level 3. 

I'm not going to claim that I don't do things in my job to get recognition.  This is only my second year here and I feel it's important for me to let people know what I do.  At the same time I do consider myself a humble person.

My job is one of service.  I do what I can for my students so that they can be successful.  My greatest joys in teaching come not from me leading a group of students in performing a song but being able to sit back and watch a group work independently.  While I care about what people think, what outweighs that more often than not is the experiences my students have.

My motivation to do things around the school is about wanting a challenge, having pride in what I do and knowing at the end of the day I'm a good teacher.  I'm not in the business of "Kingsley Tang," which I guess is an ironic statement as I'm writing this on my blog. 

I think anyone who says they don't care about what people think is lying.  I care, but I guess, I don't care enough to let it rule my decisions on a daily basis.  I never think, "wow, I if I do this, people will think I'm awesome."  I think "wow, this would be a lot of fun for my students," and I guess that's really where it's all at: service.

I have not found a greater joy in life then in serving and taking care of others and while I like recognition, but I don't need.  I feel squarely in level 2 the more I think about it.  I just want to see others enjoy life on a deeper level and if I can help them get there, just a little bit, that makes all of the hard work worth it.

One of my co-worked told me that I need to think less about "me" and the more I think about it, the more I disagree.  So much of what I do, most of what I do does not bring me recognition.  No one is going to give me a medal for correcting homework or cleaning up the band room.  No one is going to throw me a parade for me for answering my e-mails every morning.  But I do these things every day, because I care about my students.  I love it when they thank me, but I don't need that to get through my day, I know I'm making a difference.

If you don't believe me and you think I'm full of it, that's ok, because your thinking that isn't going to change a thing that I do.

I'm Kingsley Tang.  I'm a teacher.  As a teacher I'm proud to serve my students every day.  My job is not take the spotlight, but to help my students shine.  All I need to keep going every day is to feel a little bit of the light that comes from my students through my service.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Things I Learned At School Today

1.  54 fifth graders crammed in a classroom are in fact capable of having a constructive discussion.

2.  3rd graders find making "sound effects" far more exciting then playing songs.

3.  Apparently I'm an "agressive teacher" because I would like my 8th grade band to play an arrangement of "Also Sprach Zarathustra."

4. Making a label that says "poo" and encouraging a 6th grade girl to put it on a classmates back will come back to you.

5.  Just because you put a lot of work into planning a lessons doesn't mean the lesson will go well.  However sometimes kid sense how hard you are trying and give you a break.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Someone Like You by Adele

This is how a lot of us feel about this song (including Coldplay). The weird thing is that my fifth graders on the bus ride back from a retreat sang this song as if it was a happy sing along song. At first I thought they were completely off base, but right now I’m not so sure.  Is this song as song as it seems?

Adele’s performance of “Someone Like You” at the this years MTV VMAs this questions in a way that the studio recording doesn't.

As the first chorus comes to a close you see a tear start welling up in the corner of Adele's eye. There’s a deep sadness that is expressed.  When she sings the second verse it’s like the words are spontaneously coming out of her soul, not a rehearsed performance. Instead of ending this verse with sadness there’s a little sense of bitterness as she sores into the second chorus.

There is a sense of anger in the second chorus as we begin to understand that this song is more then an expression of a moment but a journey of emotions as this woman works through the feelings of heartache and regret.

After Adele sings “ . . . bittersweet, this would taste,” she pauses for moment and you aren’t sure what’s going to happen next. How is she going to come out of this? Will it be through the sadness of the beginning of the song or the anger of the second chorus?

What emerges is something completely different: strength, resilience and determination. When she sings “never mind, I’ll find someone like you,” it’s not a word of self-comfort as it is in previous verses, it’s a statement of belief. While she wishes again that this other person finds love, what she emphasizes is how “she begged” stating it not out of desperation but a promise to herself that she will never beg again.

Yes, sometimes love lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.  What Adele teaches us is that sometimes the times it hurts leads to strength.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Year 2: Week 10 - The Edge Of Glory

This week I spent at a four-day, three-night outdoor education retreat with my fifth graders, all 54 of them. This trip is an extension of the fifth grade curriculum and focuses on perspective and reflection. I went on this trip last year for the first time and wrote about in it this previous post discussing my first experience leading a campfire sing along.

There was a lot of things different about this year’s retreat but the one that comes most directly to mind was the weather. Last year we were blessed with clear sunny weather that hovered in the high forties to the high fifties. Only late at night was there ever a hint of being cold.

Well, this year, we had rain and not just the light mist stuff, we’re talking side-ways rain. Then there was the sleet, which turned into snow, and then there was more rain. Even though we moved a lot of activities inside we still spent a lot of time outside. In the same way that the warmth of the sun reenergizes your body, the cold and wetness of rain and snow drains away not only your energy but also your spirit.

On the second day of the trip after being outside in the freezing rain we collected all of the students inside one the cabins before transitioning to dinner. One of the other teachers looked over at me and made a guitar motion, I nodded and got out my guitar.

Everyone in the room was cold, wet and tired. As formed I my hands around the neck of my guitar I realized how cold my fingers tips were as I felt the pain of the strings on my fingers. I also found it difficult to hold my guitar pick in my other hand feeling it slip around in my wet fingers.

Looking out of my students I saw their tired faced and I felt immediately the right song of the situation. I said: "We had snow today! The reason this is exciting is because we have people we care about to share this with. Having people around makes things like the cold, rain and snow glorious."

I then I told them repeat the phrase “tonight, yeah baby,” after me. Though there was some confusion on what I was doing, I eventually got all 54 of the kids to sing this back to me and then I stared playing Lady Gaga’s “Edge Of Glory" (which I wrote about in this earlier post).

As I sang the first line, it just made sense, “There ain’t no reason you and me should be alone.”

Singing through the verses I heard a couple kids sing along and everybody scream back “tonight, yeah baby.” But when chorus hit, the room erupted and I looked up to see all of the kids in the rooming singing along and smiling. You would have never known how tired, wet and miserable these kids were only 10 minutes earlier watching them sing together.

Yes, “Edge Of Glory” is not about feeling great on a rainy day but the spirit of the song and that moment made it about just that.  Music education is about the soul and spirit as much as it is about the mind.  It's powerful and it's magical.

By the time the song was over, it was like the whole room was a different color.  There was energy and life where there was once none.  In that moment I really understood what it meant to be at the edge of glory.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Green Grass Grows All Around

This post is coming up as I'm spending time at a four day retreat with 54 fifth graders our "soft" camping in the woods.  One of my jobs is to lead this songs so I spent WAY too long last weekend learning this particular one.

Ok let's see if I got this . . .

hole --> tree --> limb --> nest --> egg --> bird --> feather --> bug

I can find something better then that:

hole --> tree --> limb --> nest --> egg -->bird --> heart --> blood --> T-Cels?!?

Ok, maybe not.

Ok, well, clearly this is a song that lends itself to many different interpretations.  I decided I need to makes this as long as possible so here's my path . .

hole --> tree --> limb --> branch --> nest --> egg --> bird --> feather --> bug --> PARAMECIUM!!!

good times.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Just A Friend by Biz Markie

“Just A Friend” is one of most memorable raps songs of all time. It was one of those songs that you felt like you knew even if you only listened to part of it. I don’t remember the first time I heard this song and I can’t remember a time that I didn’t know this song.

One of the things people credit country music with is its ability to tell stories. Well, rap music does a pretty good job of this as well and “Just A Friend” is prime example.

Biz Markie - Just A Friend by rikma

This song is a cautionary tale, warning that if a girl tells you that another man in her life is “just a friend,” don’t trust her. Chances are, she’s just leading you on and probably cheating on this other guy with you.

In-between the verses which tells this tragic love story Biz Markie “sings” the chorus. Yes, the word sings is in quotes because like someone posted on youtube about Biz Markie, he is a cross between “Biggie and Tracy Morgan.” The singing part is definitely Tracy Morgan.  After hearing him get through the verses of the song, well, he . . . um. . . . yeah, it’s one of the most hilariously awful vocal performances in pop music. The things is, that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

His delivery perfectly matches the tone of this song. Yes, this story is something that could make some sad and upset, but Biz’s reactions like the chorus is one of humor. He’s looking at this frustration circumstance and you can just imagine him in his retelling of this story laughing about it.

“Just A Friend” is a beautiful example of an artists abilities matching up with a type of song that creates something amazing. Biz Markie would not be as successful doing a more serious song and a different rapper like Eminem couldn’t really pull of this song without Biz’s unique charm.

While Biz’s song can definitely from an objective point of view be of a low quality, his rapping is different story. No, he doesn’t have the spit-fire delivery of 2pac or the lyric fluidity of Jay-Z. However Biz Markie, is able to rap around the beats is a casual and unpretentious way. If you rap along with him you definitely notice moments when things don’t initially seem feel right but fall into place moment slater. While his skills are subtle, they are definitely there.

1989 was a very different time for rap music. It hadn’t gotten deep into Gangsta Rap and while there was a lot of socially conscious Rap music that was serious, some of it was light-hearted. Biz Markie looked at his life with humor and his ability through this song to remind us to not take ourselves too seriously has created a place for this song in the canon of popular music.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Year 2: Week 9 - The Other Kind of Bullying

There’s a lot of different kinds of bullying in schools. Most think of overt peer bullying, like when a group of people make fun of another student for being overweight. There’s also the behind the back kind of bullying like when a group makes disparaging remarks about a person through facebook.

Unfortunately there’s also teacher bullying. Sometimes adults in the position of power make fun of kids or pick on students in an inappropriate way, which can have a devastating effect on students.

A third kind of bullying I’ve dealt with this week is self-bullying. This is when self-talk reaches a level of negativity and meanness that we would find unacceptable if it was peer to peer. For example, earlier this week I had a student come into class and talk about how much he “sucked” at playing his instrument. I would never let someone else tell him that he was a bad musician so I didn’t let this students say these things about himself.

You may be thinking that they might be simply be trying to get attention like a person walking into a room complaining about how they feel overweight. While this can be annoying in both cases these people are looking for positive reinforcement and for others to help them feel better about themselves. With students, making them feel good about themselves is part of my job.

Self-talk can be one of the most positive and motivating factors in a person’s life. Hearing a voice in your head that tells you that you can do things, that you are loved and strong can help people withstand anything that life throws at them. However when self-talk gets negative it can destroy lives. Yes, hearing other people telling you that you are stupid is hard, but imagine if hearing that from yourself all the time, every day. This kind of negativity can lead people into unhappiness, depression and the unimaginable.

So how do we address this?

Well, my general strategy is to tell them why they are wrong about the things they are saying using very specific examples. I told that student I mentioned earlier that I had started over fifty students on his instrument and that he was improving at a great pace. I also told him that as the teacher I have an awareness of how he has been improving that he doesn’t and that he needed to trust me. Also, I told him that if he was in fact doing badly, I would tell him explicitly (and that is not a lie).

Now I’m not a child psychologist but I believe that self-talk develops from what people hear. If you are told you are strong enough times you start believing that and telling yourself that you are strong. If we want to build students up to their full potential, they really need to believe in themselves.  The only way for this to develop in people is for them to be told that someone else believes in them in a genuine and honest way.

We are all very conscious of peer bullying, but we need to raise our awareness of self-bullying through negative self-talk.  If someone constantly putting themselves down there’s no limit to how far down that person can sink, however if that same voice is positive and strong, no amount of peer bullying can take them down.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Buffy's Whale Of A Halloween!

Buffy's first costume:

Her costume last year . . .

and this year . . .

And no she's not a shark, she's an Orca Whale.

I know Buffy . . . I know . . .

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mo Money Mo Problems by The Notorious B.I.G. (feat. Mase & Puff Daddy)

Yes, Mase’s rapping skills were suspect, yes, Puff Daddy comes across as a shameless
self-promoter but man this song was fun.

“Mo Money Mo Problems” was the second single off the Notorious B.I.G.’s second and final album Life After Death. Released posthumously after his murder, this song was a huge success topping the Billboard charts for two weeks and saturating MTV and radio stations.

This song comes from a quote from Notorious B.I.G. stating that with more money came more problems in life. And while this song warns of this adage the many of the lyrics and the sample feel more like celebration then a warning.

The sample which comes from 1980 Diana Ross hit “I’m Coming Out,” which features the greatest (and one of the only) trombone solos in popular music history.

Let’s not talk about that jacket she’s wearing . . .

This song really could not have been more perfect for a rap song sample and Puff Daddy arranged it so well that people hardly cared about the skill or the content of the raps in this song. I know I didn’t when I was listening to this song as a teenager.

Listening to this song, the beat is infectious but the variation of the rapping styles comes across very clearly, illustrating how great the Notorious B.I.G. was a rap artist. Mace just barely gets through his verse. I could deal with his monotone and unaffected delivery if he rhythms of his rap were so monotonous. Every phrase has the same cadence and his lack of momentum and energy juxtaposed over the sample is pretty painful.

Puffy does bring it with his verse. There’s variations in the phrase lengths, he sues alliteration and check out how he flows when he starts “team much stronger than yours . . . “ (2:40). He works through the beat placing accents against the what you expect before landing back down later in the verse.

Then Biggie comes in and blows both Mase and Puffy away. From the initial spell-out of his name, his superior skills are immediately clear. There is a rhythmic energy and punctuation with every syllable he says. His words are by-far the most meaningful illustrating the theme of the song and the struggles that come with wealth. What’s interesting is that it doesn’t really come across as bragging so much as an honest expression of insecurities.

Puff Daddy makes a great choice to clear the top layer of the instrumentals to let Biggie rap over the base line. It not only provides a great moment of space in the song but really highlights what Biggie is doing with his verse and how he uses his rhymes to create momentum in the song.

"Mo Money Mo Problems," while not coming across as the deepest song is a fascinating reflection about the life and times of the Notorious B.I.G.  This song is a party song but on another layer, it's a statement about the flaws and the misconceptions of having lots of wealth.  I can't help but wonder if it's these problems that led to the death of Biggie, one greatest rappers of all time.  With every positive thing in life, there's a potential for something bad to happen.  Like this song the good feelings can't last forever and eventually with have to deal with out lives.

Unfortunately for the Notorious B.I.G. when the party stopped so did his life.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Year 2: Week 8 - The Medicated Child

One of the most touching things a student can do is to give you an unsolicited, genuine and host apology.

I’ll never forget the day at my old school when after a music class one of my students came up and apologized for his behavior in class. After pointing out the things he felt he could do better he told me that he was off his medication. I suspected this after teaching him and dealing with his outbursts during class, but now that he told me it all came together.

I had worked with this student all year and had seen the ups and down in relation to the medication he was taking for his ADHD. And it absolutely broke my heart watching him struggle through class and trying to keep it together and not being able to.

When I tell people I’m a teacher one of the common things people ask me about is this idea that we are over-medicating our children. Often this discussion includes some statistics from some article or news show and about the possible harm that these drugs may cause. What is interesting to me is that most people who talk to me about this are coming from the viewpoint that children are indeed over-medicated, and if parents simply did a better job then we wouldn’t have as many issues with kids with ADD or ADHD as there was when they were kids.

First off, kids have always had attention issues; it wasn’t labeled until the past twenty or so years. The treatment for these children who we would now diagnose as having attention disorders was akin to torture for them. I know this for a fact because one of my closest friends grew up with ADHD in the 1960s and being sent of the class and punished because your senses are hyper-sensitive to stimulus really is torture.

When I teach a student and it seems clear to me that they could benefit from some level of medication for their attention disorders I don’t think this because I want to stop them from talking and blurting out in class. Well, would you open a door for a person in a wheelchair so they could get into a building? Of course you would.

I view a child with an attention disorder the same way. If there is a way that they can manage the stimulus and their impulses with the help of medication so that they can be happier and more successful it would be cruel to not provide those resources for that child.

I’ve never met a parent who didn’t hesitate and struggle with the idea of putting their child on medication. However, I’m sure that there are parents as well as doctors who are responsible for over-medicating and wrongfully medicating children.  However I’ve never encountered this in my life and no amount of statistics can outweigh the look in the eyes of students struggling to manage the barrage of outside stimulus and their own impulses.

Our society does have a lot of questions to ask about the issue of medicating children with all kinds of disorders, but we can't let this discussion hinder the positive uses of these medications.  This isn't about making children better students, it's about allowing them to live better lives.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When Will My Life Begin (from Tangled)

E-mail from one of my 8th grade students:
Hi Mr. Tang,
Here is your daily and friendly reminder to stop reading this email and go watch Tangled.It will be a great family activity for you, your wife, and buffy! So put down the camera (filming buffy again?) and GO WATCH TANGLED!or else Megan and I will sing more princess songs on wednesday.
Look forward to tomorrows email!!!  
~Kate (and Megan in spirit)
I was totally skeptical and regretting telling my students that I would watch this film, but Mandy Moore lends her voice to one of the most endearing Disney' Princesses.  I love how right after she gets out of the tower she is "at war with herself."

Ah, SO cute, but what I really have to highlight is the opening song.

I love how optimistic music is tied with the monotony of her life.

If you have ever liked Disney animated films in the past, this is a great and beautiful film to experience.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Somewhere Out There (from An American Tail)

Towards the beginning of my freshmen year of college I told my mom that I had a cold. She then proceeded to call me every day, multiple times a day checking up on me. I remember getting really annoyed at my mom and slightly frustrated. I felt like I was an adult and that she didn’t need to worry about me.

Then one time she called worrying about something that I felt was irrational and I got frustrated with her and told her that I didn’t need her to worry about me and she responded “Of course I worry about you, it’s my job.”

Your mom worrying about you is one of the greatest blessing you will ever have your life. Whether you realize it or not, the knowledge that she is out there thinking about you and loving you is what gives connects you to your mom and the world knowing that you are never alone.

“Somewhere Out There” from the 1986, Spielberg produced film is about this feeling.

An American Tail - Somewhere Out There from kojihoon on Vimeo.

During a time when Disney’s animated features were mediocre, Spielberg took a shot at created an animated feature and the result was an immigration story that spoke to the hopes and struggles of the immigrant experience of the 1880s.

The film follows the Mousekewitzes, a family of Russian Jews who immigrate to American. During the journey, the son Fievel becomes separated from the family.  The film follows the families' struggle to find each other while surviving in a new country.

“Somewhere Out There” is a duet between Fievel and his sister Tanya, in which they sing about their hopes of finding each other. It features the “somewhere” motif, the leaping melodic shape on that word also featured in “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” which expresses a longing before the melody gently descendes.

One of the strengths of this film is that the voice actors for the kids songs like, well, kids and this is also true for the singing of ‘Somewhere Out There.” Yeah, it’s a little rough but it's cute and feels more real then singing it with perfect technique and clarity.

Fievel is lost in New York City. Think about that for a second. That would be scary today as an adult, now imagine that as a kid in the 1880s. But he’s hopeful because as the song reminds him, “someone’s thinking of me and loving me tonight.”

When things are going fine, you may not think you need to be reminded your mom is out there worrying about you.  But when you have a moment in your life when you feel lost and lonely knowing that your mom is out there really makes the worlds seem not as scary.  As Fievel sings “it helps to think we’re sleeping underneath the same big sky.

Nagging phone calls and e-mails are more than worth enduring to be reminded of how much your mom cares about you. Don’t try to argue that she’s being silly or irrational and don’t give her some sarcastic remark, she’s not trying to make your life harder or more inconvenient, she just cares.

So next time your mom calls you and expresses concern about something going on in your life, just say “thank you for thinking of me” and ensure her that you’ll be careful no matter how irrational her worry may be.

She’s just doing her job.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Year 2: Week 7 - Taking It Personally

The relationship between a teacher and a student has changed throughout history and varies quite a bit depending on the school and the level of teaching.  There’s the traditional idea of the teacher as an authority figure.  Then there’s the more fluid idea of a teacher who does not so much instruct but guides students through learning experiences.

Most teachers are somewhere in-between.  What comes along with this relationship is that things students do affect teachers’ feelings.  When a student starts talking when I’m instructing is it a personal sign of disrespect?  Is this something that I should feel offended about?  Well, probably not but feigning a level of offense does help students understand the consequences of their behavior.  The things is, I can’t take things students do in class personally because I’d probably just go insane if I did.

Children and teens (and many adults) do not fully understand the consequences of their actions.  Do you get offended at a seven year-old who makes a racist joke when they honestly don’t know the implication of what they said?  Not really, a serious conversation needs to happen but you taking it personally doesn’t really help the situation.

I tell my kids that people who don’t know you can’t really hurt your feelings.  If someone makes fun of you who has never met you, they aren’t reacting to who you are as a human being, they are just throwing a random comment at you that is not based in any meaningful interactions.  On the contrary if someone who has known you for all your life insults you they are speaking from the experience of knowing you personally and that can hurt.

My students don’t know me.  I mean they do, but “Mr. Tang” isn’t a full human being in their minds.  It’s why whenever one of my students sees me out side of school they are shocked to learn that I exist outside of the school building.

I guess I’m pondering this topic because sometimes it’s hard to separate the way students behave with my own personal feelings.  The reality is that sometimes negative student behavior is in fact based in a lack of respect for the teacher.

Thinking back to my first couple years of teaching I can see clearly times when students acted out in class because they didn’t respect me.  While that rarely seems to happen now, I can’t help but wonder when a student behaves in a way that is disrespectful to me how much is this about who I am as a person. 

This week has had some amazing and positive interactions with students and some pretty rough ones.  Is it crazy to take the positive ones as personal success and brush off the negative ones as things that shouldn’t affect my feelings?

I wish I could but I don’t think that the way things should be.  Because you can’t take positive things as personal victories and not take all the feelings that go along with negative situations. 

At the end of the day I guess what’s important to remembers is that the song is not about the teachers.  If things go really well in class, yeah the teachers deserves some credit but it’s the students who made it happen and when things go bad in class, the teacher probably contributed to that situation a bit but no one forced the kids to act like jerks, they chose that path themselves. 

When you invest time and energy into other people, in my case 196 students, you can’t help but become emotionally involved.  Because it’s that emotional connection that makes you care enough to do all the work to make that students have a positive experience in your class.  Like most things in life, I guess it's just a balancing act in which you have to make sure you wear enough armor that the stabs that you have to bear from your students don't damage the heart that you have to teach with every day.