Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Round 12: Beyonce Vs. Sir Mix-a-lot

Deep thoughts. . .

Is Beyonce too "Bootylicious" for Six Mix-a-lot?!?

I mean he does state his love, fascination and respect for ladies that have "back."

Can the Six Mix really handle Beyonce? I'm not sure if he's ready for her "jelly."

Pounder this important question today as you face the world and the challenges of your day.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Enabling Buffy

Sigh . . . it’s not that I mean to enable Buffy but it’s like. . . here’s the thing, Buffy is a very able dog, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t somehow get me to do things for her that she can probably do for herself.

For example: Buffy has never been a big eater. Dogs in the wild do not eat on a regular basis. This has resulted in domesticated dogs either gorging on food (which in nature is a logical move just case the next meal is far off) or in Buffy’s case, not eating very much food (an extension of the fact that dogs in nature aren't used to getting food regularly).

Now I am 100% confident that if I leave Buffy food and she doesn’t eat it, she’ll be fine. But of course I worried especially when she was a puppy when she would barely touch her food when we put it out. So now Buffy get wet dog food mixed in with her dry food and even that doesn’t always work. To remind Buffy sometimes I pick her up and stick her face in her food and then she begins to eat or I just bring her bowl over to her so she doesn’t have to walk over to eat. Am I enabling her picky eating habits? Yes.

Then there’s the bed and the couch: Buffy isn’t a jumper. Unlike terriers, Buffy can’t do vertical leaps twice her body length in height, but she is able to jump up on beds and couches. She regularly does this at my mother-in-laws house. At our condo, it’s a different story. When she wants to come up on the couch she will simply walk up to the couch and look up at us. Now I know that she can jump up on her own but looking at cute face, I inevitably pick her up.

The same thing happens with the bed. She can totally get up there by herself and at night when I don’t pick her up onto the bed she walks over to the side of the bed closes to me curls up in a ball and look eagerly up at me until I reach up and pick her up onto the bed.

Now my wife, Diana has been doing some NILIF (Nothing In Life Is Free) training with Buffy. This means that you make your dog work for everything. You have your dog sit or do treats to eat food, go outside, cross the street and basically anything that they dogs wants to do. This totally makes sense and it is important to remind your dog and yourself how much you are doing for her.

Am I doing a huge disservice to Buffy by enabling her? Eh, kind of, but not really. I mean it’s not like she gets to do whatever she wants. She has boundaries and things that I don’t let her do. Trust me, I almost never give her treats unless she does a trick and yes, I do a couple things that enable her but it’s as much for me as it is for her.

I like enabling Buffy. Even if it’s stuff she can do for herself it’s feels good to take care of her and do things. She is still a puppy and am I really doing that much harm? Nah, I don’t think so. Could a little bit more NILIF from me strengthen our relationship and engage her more?

Probably and I think I'm going to do more of that but sometimes it’s hard . . . I mean seriously look at her, how cute is she?  Buffy can totally pull of that scarf!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Week 24: Kids Being Kids?

So in my job, I give groups of about twenty 8 and 9 year olds plastic recorder and then I get annoyed when they play them when I'm talking. I also get irritated when they blow too hard into those "instruments" and make a screeching sound. The thing is about recorders is that the only way to make an acceptable musical sound is blow slowly and gently.

A couple days ago I had an especially pleasant class in which I spent a good amount of time helping students work on the recorder and finding myself being interrupted by the oh, so pleasant chirps of students playing out of turn. Apparently a couple of my students thought it would be fun to figure out how much of the recorder they could stick in their mouth and then try to make sounds by exhaling. And I can't forget the students who turned his recorder into a spit-ball launcher . . . SIGH.

Is it unreasonable to put a noise-maker into kids hands and expect them to sit quietly and not get distracted by them? If you have spent any amount of time with kids under the age of 10 you probably are thinking yes, especially when they are in groups. I would agree on some level.  If I'm teaching a class of students and none of them misbehave or get distracted at all than something is wrong with the class.

I'm not saying this because I think children are hopeless but it's simply a fact of child development.

Children are constantly in a state of redefining their relationships with the people and the world around them. Children need to test and find limits so that they can function. Babies need cribs not only so they don't roll onto the floor into the middle of the night but to feel enclosed, safe and secure. It's like how most of us would rather sleep in a bedroom of a normal size than one the size of a gymnasium.

As children get older instead of a crib they rely on different kinds of structure in there lives  and until they are able to construct and maintain these structures independently they need parents and teachers (which for the vast majority of people doesn't happen until they are in college or beyond). Some people never get to this point which is why we have police.

So should I get so annoyed when children are doing exactly what they are  suppose to be doing and testing their boundaries? Logically no and of course I shouldn't become personally offended, but c'mon I AM human and children need to learn that even though it is natural and understandable that they are trying to define their boundaries that it does sometimes lead to negative reactions.

While I understand it's hard for a student to not play an instrument that is in their hands, with some work and focus they can fight that temptation. It's hard, but it's not impossible. Teaching is a balance between understanding and embracing children's need reach out and feel the walls in their lives and pushing them beyond that stage to help them grow as young adults.

I could play it safe and not have them play recorders, drums and other instruments and there would be a lot fewer issues with them playing them out of turn but that would be a disservice to them. As much as it is an opportunity for children to be silly, push boundaries and create unspeakable noises, it’s also an opportunity for students to grow, learn how to express themselves and have meaningful educational experiences.

Sometimes, well, most of the time it’s worth the annoyance.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Round 11: Buffy Vs. The Hand

Buffy Tang, the fierce Shetland Sheep dog is almost two years old.  At a slim 12 pounds she is able to chase down pigeons and even sheep.

 Also she is one of the cutest puppies on the planet.


The Hand is many things.  Even thought it is The Hand that feeds her it also moves around faster than Buffy can often keep track of it.  With an opposable thumb and four other digits, The Hand can be everything from a flat moving target to a jaw biting at Buffy.

The Winner:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spiritual by Spain/Johnny Cash

“What do you believe?”

When someone asks you this question, do you tell them what you want to believe or what you actually believe?  I would love to believe that there is something out there, a being, a force that provides us comfort and companionship in times of darkness, but I'm not sure if that's what I truly believe.

“Spritual” by Spain is about this belief. I first encountered Johnny Cash’s version of this song on his first album he did with producer Rick Rubin, Unchained, which marked his comeback at the end of his life.

The voice in this song is a man in pain praying to Jesus. He knows that he has sinned but seeks comfort regardless. This is a man who is desperate. All his troubles and all his pains are coming back at this moment and all he wants is to not go through it alone. Deliberate and almost uncomfortably intense to listen to, this song expresses an honesty and sorrow that few songs dare approach.

Is this what believing in Jesus is really about? Not wanting to be alone in life?  I want to believe that in all my troubles we will never be alone.  It's a comforting thought but it's just that, a thought . . . but maybe that’s enough.  Maybe we never really know what we believe because it’s too closely tied to what we want.

Most of the pain humans inject on each other are a manifestations of feeling lonely and regret. Calling to Jesus is an expression of a belief that someone is always out there and this idea of companionship may be the most powerful solution to our world's troubles. 

In this way, music is religion for me. It reminds me other people are out there, feeling the same emotions that I am and through music I know that whatever challenges I go through in life are shared with others.

Darkness doesn’t ties us together, rather it is what binds.

The need to be with others and seek companionship during pangs of loneliness are what binds us because.  In these moments we realize the strength that we find in ourselves, each other, Jesus or whatever force that fills your heart with faith. Faith that the sun will rise up tomorrow and that nothing is more powerful in the world than love.

That is what I know I believe.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Week 23: Trust

I was talking to a parent of one of my students today and she ended her conversation saying, “well, let us know if there is anything we can do to help, we completely trust you.” While this was a great thing to hear from a parent it was a reminder of one of the most challenging parts about being a teacher.
I’m not parent and all I know about what it means to be one is through my life experiences and what I’ve witnessed is pretty amazing. Parents put their hopes and their dream into their children. Children are often most important and precious parts of many people’s lives. There are things that people do for their children that they would never do for anybody else.

When parents bring their children to school, they are entrusting another person to take care of their child and play a significant role in helping them grow. That’s a huge amount and of trust and faith that a parent is putting into the teacher. While this is something that I never forget, sometimes it is overshadowed by the everyday bustle of being a teacher and the fact that teachers like myself have almost two hundred students.

You can never let a classroom become a see of faces. Behind each students is family member who is rooting for them, believing in them and often believing in you as a teacher and that you see their child as being just as special and just as important that they do. Is that unreasonable? No, it’s not, because every child deserves to be seen and treated as an individual.  And the bottom line is that I’m not a music teacher. I don’t teach music, I teach children music.

After talking to that parent this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was a parent of one of my students would I be satisfied with the care and attention the received? In most cases, I would say yes, but in some cases, I'm not sure.

I’m not doubting myself because I feel that I am acting carelessly, it’s just that I think I can do better to be there, really and truly be there for all of my students. How? I’m not sure right now. I feel pretty exhausted at the end of the week as I feel right now. Physically I’m tired but also my heart, the muscle of the care and love feels a little tired as well.

I don’t have answers but I’m trying and the fact that this weight of the trust that parents put in me motivates me to work harder and reflect on how I can be a better teacher is a sign that I am on the right path to one day becoming a great teacher.

To the parent I talked to this morning and all of the parents who have put their trust in me: Thank you. I feel blessed and honored to have had the privilege to work with your children. While I love the study of education, it would all be meaningless with the students. The meaning and joy that my students bring not only to my professional life but also my personal life is indescribable.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Round 10: Ben E. King Vs. John Lennon

Ben E. King recorded one of the most unforgettable songs in popular music "Stand By Me" in 1961. 

Powerful, soulful and beautifully recorded it's no wonder that John Lennon knew this song by heart, like so many of us who have experienced this song.


Lennon recorded "Stand By Me" in 1975 for his album Rock 'n' Roll.  With a different driving beat and a vocal styles uniquely Lennon's, this song stands as one of Lennon's most popular solo works.

The Winner:
This is a tough one.  Both songs are touching and unique in very different ways.  While I like the rawness of Lennon's recording, the cleanness and clarity of Ben E. King's recorded showcases his amazing vocals which express the profound meaning of longing and hope in this song. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Back To December by Taylor Swift

I’ve been waiting for “Back To December” ever since I first heard “Love Story.”

Taylor Swift’s breakout single “Love Story” and my first exposure to her stands as one of Swift's greatest achievements as an artist.  The lead single from Speak Now “Mine” which I praised in this earlier post is a beautifully crafted song, which tells a touching and powerful story. However, “Mine” doesn’t take any dramatic and musical chances. It’s a display of incredible skill but in many ways it’s similar to “Love Story” in its turn around in the middle of the song and its general musical construction.

While this is impressive, it’s in “Back To December” that we find Swift taking musical and dramatic chances, and creating an achievement as a true successor to “Love Story.”

“Back To December” is the third track on Speak Now after two tracks that would have fit perfectly well in Swift’s previous album. So when you hear the shimmer of the guitar and the string instruments flow in gently at the beginning of “Back To December” it’s almost a little jarring.

There’s something so different about the tone of the introduction with slowly falling guitar lines like leaves failing in a forest. The slow ascending turn at the end of the guitar brings a sense of hope but as the guitar ripples it blends back into the texture. The introduction is beautiful but it’s also cold and as the song unfolds we understand why.

Taylor Swift’s songs are statements of power and independence. On initial listening, her first song that is an apology seems to go against these themes. In the first verse she starts a conversation and then takes a step back reflecting on its awkwardness. An emotional wave hits as the chorus opens and we realize that this song is about Taylor asking for forgiveness. Swift delivers one of her most powerful lines “freedom ain’t nothing but missing you,” juxtaposing the freedom she thought would make her happy with consequences of her error: her feelings of regret.

The lyrics in this song don’t provide us any revelations beyond what you understand in the first verse and the chorus however she adds layers of depth to her emotion. Swift does what she does best, telling a love story, but from a different angle and the beauty of this story makes this song all that much more powerful.

Yes, it is not admirable to be full of regret and to apologize to someone who doesn’t deserve an apology. However, it takes great strength to tell someone that you have wronged and try to make amends. This isn’t a weak girl breaking down in front of guy, it’s a girl standing up and admitting a mistake fighting for the love that she has lost.

Watching her perform this we worry about what the result of this situations and Taylor’s shocked response from the standing ovation reminds us that after all of this she is okay.

Yes, it's just a song, but with a song this great you can't help but wonder.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Week 22: The Leader and The Professional

It’s been a rough couple weeks for teachers in America and it hasn’t eased off.  I’ve been struggling how to react to the news this week. My initial reaction was full of sadness, disappointment and frustration. As much as I would like to react with these emotions, I’m committed to respond with positivity as I have for the past two weeks with my post about unions and last week's post about how it is important how we talk about teachers.

In the same way that only love, not hate can defeat hatred.  I will not react to the critics of teachers, unions and public education with venom, spite or anger.  Instead, I chose to celebrate two fellow teachers I have met this year who inspire me on a daily basis and make me proud to be a teacher.

The Leader
Gandhi said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” In a school, its faculty is measured by how it treats its newest teachers. Monica has proved through the way that she has welcomed me into this school that this faculty is truly an amazing group of people.

Monica has a full plate teaching seventh grade English, raising her daughters and being the president of our faculty association. I would completely understand if she didn’t have time to help me out with my random questions and geek-out with me about Shakespeare, but she always has the time. For a teacher who is just now starting to not get lost around the school on a weekly basis, this is a big deal.

Monica is a leader in the school not through force by through service.  She has gained authority through her experience, her honesty and her love for her students. My wife commented to me that even though she only met Monica once, she’s one Diana’s favorite people at my school, and if you met her you would immediately understand why.

The Professional
The longer you teach the more lessons you have stored up that you can pull up at a moments notice which is really helpful when you don’t have enough time to prepare for a class. So when you’ve been teaching longer that I’ve been alive, like Kelly, you could easily slide by.  Kelly never does that. She doesn’t see teaching as a job but as a professional practice. Everyday, she’s in early and stays late researching materials and developing lesson plans to best suit her students. 

Kelly is fascinated by her students and displays an eagerness to truly understand them.  These aren't "students," they are people with thoughts, feelings and concerns.  She understands these emotions may not be based on things that we as adults feel are relevant, however the emotions themselves are just as valid as anything we feel.  In this way Kelly truly understands what it means to teach but what it means to be a teacher.   

I make sure to talk to Kelly every single day. Because when I talk to her she makes me feel that I’m important. She listens with her eyes and her heart.  When I recently met someone who had Kelly as a teacher twenty years ago and we talked about her I saw the same light in her eyes and smile on her face that I feel every time I talk to Kelly.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Round 9: Jefferson Airplane Vs. Jefferson Starship

Jefferson Airplane defined the 1960s psychedelic rock genre.  Formed in 1965, they performed in the most important cultural events of their generation including Woodstock.  They are most known for their 1967 hit "Somebody To Love," an intense and passionate remake of the folk classic by Great Society.


Many of the original members of Jefferson Airplane joined back together after breaking up as Jefferson Starship in 1974.  This band later evolved to Starship (whoes only member who was originally in Jefferson Airplane was lead singer Grace Slick) and scored their biggest hit with "We Built This City."  This song reached number 1 on the charts when it was released.  Seriously I'm not joking. 

The Winner: 
Wow, this one isn't even close.  It is mind-boggling that the same person sang lead on both of theses songs.  I mean "Somebody To Love" is one the greatest rock songs EVER and "We Built This City" is a joke of a song that often appears on lists of the worst rocks song.  The only reason I haven't devoted an entire week of posts on how "We Built This City" is one of the worst songs ever is because I promised myself that this would be a positive blog. . . but sometimes it's really tempting. . . 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Buffy Doesn't Sleep In Our Bed . . . kind of . . .

A couple weeks before we got Buffy one of our best friends Morgan, asked Diana and I if Buffy was going to sleep in our bed. Without hesitation, I told her “of course not.”  The idea of a dog sleeping in our bed just seemed weird. I figured that dogs are kind of dirty and hairy and I felt it necessary that Diana and I maintain our bed as our space. Morgan, laughed at my response and made a bet. She said that within six months of having Buffy, she would end up sleeping in our bed and if she didn’t, she would buy Diana and I dinner.

We totally won the bet . . . kind of.

We crate trained Buffy. It worked really well to help house-train her. Buffy took to her crate quickly as you can see in this early video.

It didn’t even occur to me that Buffy would sleep somewhere else until we started taking naps together.

Puppies sleep a lot and within the first couple week of having Buffy she started taking naps with us. Between the hourly visits outside to house-train her, we would play with her and especially during the day take naps with her.

When we first started thinking about getting a puppy I wanted a dog I could play with and Diana wanted a puppy she could cuddle with. I honestly didn’t really understand the appeal of cuddling with a dog until Buffy started to relax with me and fall asleep in my arms.

We are at our most venerable when we are sleeping. It takes a enormous amount of trust to feel safe being asleep with someone else. For Buffy to feel that safe with Diana and I was an important step.  This connection of trust and love with another being warms your heart in a way that nothing else really does.

Once Diana and I felt that Buffy was pretty well potty trained we bought Buffy a bed and started having her sleep in our bedroom.

At first it seemed that Buffy was more into sleeping underneath our covers on the floor at the foot of the bed.

Eventually she  took to her bed and every morning I find her lying there sometimes upside down and sometimes half-off the bed in some seemingly awkward contortion.

I go to sleep earlier than Diana and sometimes I feel a little lonely going to sleep by myself so one evening I picked up Buffy and put her on top of the covers with me. Even though Diana was just in the other room it just made me feel more at ease feeling Buffy’s presence on the bed.  Later when Diana came to bed she picked up Buffy and put her down in her bed where she slept for the rest of the night.  Gradually this became a pattern.

One morning while getting ready for work I though that Buffy might help Diana wake up in the morning, so I picked her up and put her in the bed with Diana. Buffy walked around the bed, sniffed Diana’s face and then curled up in a ball right next to her and went back to sleep. Though my plan to help Diana get up in the morning failed, I regularly do this in the morning so Diana and Buffy can have some quality time in the morning.

No, Buffy doesn’t really sleep on our bed, at least through the night, but I guess she might as well.

When Buffy is near me and she is sleeping it feels right.  It's impossibly cute and strengthens a bond between us that I can't really describe.  When I see Diana and Buffy sleeping together it's a different but equally amazing feeling.  There is a peace that you can experiences with others.  Diana and Buffy bring this contentment to each other when they are sleeping together.

It's truly one of most beautiful things I have ever seen. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Week 21: How We Talk About Teachers

Yesterday on my drive home from work, I almost emotionally broke down.

It was a hard day at school. Nothing bad happened; it was just a day at school in which I worked really hard every moment I was teaching and between classes. Some things didn’t go how I wish they could have, despite my best effort.

It’s not unusual for me to have days like this, but what made the drive home difficult yesterday was that fact that echoing in my head were the voices of people criticizing the way that teachers are compensated in American and the quality of teachers.

With all of the controversy over teacher unions and budgets in states like Wisconsin, commentators in some parts of the media have expressed critical views over teachers and their unions.  While I am open to reasonable and fact-based debates, unreasonable people making unfounded and over-generalized statements about teachers is infuriating and offensive, and it hurts.

Even with John Stewart’s defense these words still stung.

While I appreciate Stewart’s defense of teachers, I disagree with his action of comparing teachers with  bankers and people who work on Wall Street. My brother-in-law works for Goldman & Sachs and he has had plenty of experience with people unfairly venting their frustrations with the economy and him and his company.  I feel the same way about people who over-generalize about teachers.

Now I try really hard every single day to ignore and insulate myself from unreasonable people who spread unnecessary negativity.  I know there’s people out there who speak words of hate and ignorance all of the time, and I try as hard I can to not let it get to me. Hey, if you are racist, whatever, go ahead, it’s your God-given right to stereotype, but something about these current discussions about teachers have broken through my wall of optimism and positivity.

I didn’t chose to be a teacher to be a hero or to prove that I’m a better person than anyone else. I believe teaching is an important job but so is being a janitor.  Both deserve respect, because if they didn’t do their jobs for one night or one day, entire cities would shut down.

So what do teachers deserve?

Summer break? Well, I think everyone deserves that. We would a lot happier as a society with a little bit more free time.

A workday that ends at 3? Lots of people have weird hours and keep in mind most of these teachers who get off at 3 start at 7am so it’s pretty much a 9 to 5. Also, most teachers, including me, do lesson planning and correct papers in the evenings and on weekends. So the school day does not end at 3.

$50,000 salary? I don’t know. Does an athlete deserve a million dollar salary? Yes, no, maybe?  I’m sure there’s some economic businesspeople out there who can make sense of why certain jobs get paid what they do and why it’s logical.  But I don't really get it. 

What teachers do deserve is to be talked about and discussed with the same amount of respect that you would afford any other profession. It is unacceptable to over-generalize about politicians, business people, and public servants. To criticize without specific examples or statistics is an expression of ignorance.

The thing that we often forget when we discuss issues in our society is that we are talking about human beings.  When you say that all Republicans are against same-sex marriage or that all Democrats are tree-huggers you are making stereotypes about people that are just as bad as racial ones.

Here’s the thing. Chances are someone you care about or someone you love belongs to one of these groups. And when you misspeak about them in this way you are hurting them. 

I know this because statements about teachers that have been said by people in my life have hurt me. Hearing these people on television echo these sentiments reminds me of that pain.  Maybe I should speak up more and argue, but most of the time I just feel sad.  

After I got home, I talked to my wife, Diana and she helped me build that wall back up.  She reminded me of all the people in this world who support teachers. Even though I tell myself that it doesn't matter what others think, it does and it's okay.  She said that most Americans believe in teachers and what they do for their kids and their constitutional right to be part of a union -- and she's right.

You can't let the vocal minority overshadow the reasonable majority, and you can't let yourself talk about issues in our society without the utmost respect for the people involved.

Never forget everyone is someone's father, mother, son or daughter.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Round 8: Buffy Vs. Angel

Five years after the his disappointing experience with the film version of his beloved creation, Joss Whedon premiered Buffy The Vampire Slayer as a television show in 1997. This show went on to become one of the most important and influential television shows of all time.

To lead his show off, Whedon chose a theme by the Nerf Herders.

This punk and surf rock influenced guitar anthem perfectly introduced the show and the main character of Buffy Summers. Youthful and full of attitude, this theme barrels forward building to an intense explosion of drum hits and screaming guitars exciting new viewers of the show and reminding old viewers of the sheer awesomeness that is Buffy.


Before he was Booth an FBI agent on Bones, David Boreanaz was Angel. After appearing in numerous episodes of Buffy, Whedon spun Angel off into his own series in 1999, placing Angel in Los Angeles. This series developed a solid fan base and expanded the “Buffy-verse” with new characters and adventures.

Darling Violetta who provided music for earlier Buffy episodes created the opening theme for Angel.

This slower more brooding theme uniquely combines a solo cello playing the melody with a rock band background. It sets the tone for inner conflict in the main character, Angel.  Instead of with a bang, the theme ends with a question mark leading the viewer into the mystery and suspense of the show.

The Winner:
Buffy all the way.

Compared to the Buffy theme, the Angel theme in lacks energy, purpose and direction.  Angel is not as dark and brooding as the theme suggest (though there were a lot "Angel brooding" moments especially in the first season).  What is powerful about Angel as a show is how the characters triumphs over their own inner demons and the theme fails to remind us of this.

Buffy's theme is a celebration and it brings forth the sense of optimism and strength that permeates the show.  It represents the meaning of the characters in a more genuine way than the Angel theme and Nerf Herder is simply a cooler band name. 

Nerf Herders:

Darling Violetta