Friday, November 30, 2012

Year 3: Week 12 – Boundaries

On my first day of new teacher orientation at my first teaching job, the lawyer who worked for the district gave us a presentation about the legal issues related to teaching.

This was a sobering presentation, but a necessary one.

Being a teacher in our increasingly litigious society presents unique challenges. Like other aspects in life, extreme situations influence our everyday practice. Most of the time wearing a seatbelt is completely unnecessary when you ride in a car, but we wear them all of the time for those rare instances when we get into a car accident.

Most of the time when a teacher hugs a student, it’s a mutual expression of care, but there are the rare instances when a student feels uncomfortable or when the teacher initiates a hug in an inappropriate way. This makes us think twice as teachers when it comes to hugging a student.

I’ve heard teachers mourn the fact that we have to be more careful than they used to around students. I not really sure how to respond to this thought. I never taught in the “good old days.” I grew up hearing about Mary Kay Letourneau and other similar cases. And I came to be a teacher in a time where the trust that our society placed in adults who work with children was called into question.

Is it annoying that I have to be careful around my students? Not for me, because it’s how I’ve always operated as a teacher. I can see how this shift could be annoying for veteran teachers, but so was wearing a seat belt once upon a time. It’s worth it for that one car accident. It may be worth the precautions for that one student who is saved from a traumatic experience that could effect the rest of his or her own life.

I don’t doubt my own judgment, but that’s not what this is all about. This is about how other teachers view my interactions with students and the atmosphere that the choices we make about the boundaries we have with our students create.

I refuse to hug my students. It’s awkward sometimes but I’ve made that call not only because it could make a student uncomfortable but also because I’m not comfortable with that level of physical contact with a student. Does this mean I don’t care about my students or that I don’t develop meaningful teacher-students relationships? No. In the same way that capital punishment is an easy way out to correct a student’s behavior, hugging students can be the easy way out to show affection.

Our practices as a teacher have to reflect societies changes and concerns.  Some of these restrictions can be annoying but they also challenge us to be more thoughtful about the relationships we have with students.  I'm not any less invested in my students than teachers who taught generations before.  I simply express my care in different ways.

Teachers, we need to be careful out there.  If you're not sure about the legal boundaries and liabilities related to being a teacher, education yourself.  That knowledge will liberate you the same way classroom rules make students feel more comfortable. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thunder Road - Part 2: What else can we do now?

Sometimes life answers our prayers in ways that we don’t expect.

Yes, Mary can hide from the world, throw down the gift of roses and push away the boys that have tried to comfort her. She can wait for some figure, some savior to appear. What Mary doesn’t realize is that the person she is looking for is right in front of her.

He knows he’s no hero. The only way he can bring her “redemption,” bring meaning to her sins and her heartache is ride out into the open road, to escape and find freedom.

He can’t offer her the world but he can help her find it. In the simple joy of feeling the wind in her hair, and the possibility of the open road there is liberation. There’s a sense that anything can happen. With uncertainty mixed with excitement, they’ve got one more chance to strip their wings, the angelic visions of their dreams, for the reality of these wheels that can drive them to everything and anywhere. It’s a transformation from the dreams you’ve prayed for to the blessings you’ve never imagined.

The name “Thunder Road,” an allusion to a Robert Mitchum film brings images of romance, the unknown and mystery. Like a “killer in the sun,” a criminal with no where to hide they can make it to this magical place, their own personal promised land, if they run.

What does he really have to offer her? In a moment of childlike excitement he describes his guitar. There’s a sense that he is trying to impress her but then he quickly pulls back. He knows that it truly is a long walk from her front porch to his front seat. He explains that the ride isn’t free because he knows that there are things that he is asking her to sacrifice.

There are words that she longs to hear from him that he can't speak.  It’s in this acknowledgement that we realize that this is not the end of a journey but the beginning of one.  He will eventually say these words she needs to hear as he promises that he can provide her freedom.

This part of the song is all about the things that we hope for coming true in ways that we never expect. Life doesn’t always have a sense of urgency because it all seems infinite but it’s not.

We need to trade in our illusions, face the possibilities in our life and take whatever path will make our dreams come true.

Monday, November 26, 2012

8th Grade Playlist: 6. Dynamite by Taio Cruz

I don’t really like this song.

When one of my 8th graders submitted this song to me as one of his favorites, I groaned a little on the inside. Sometimes when things go “viral,” my reactions is negative. I still have a little of the “when something gets incredibly popular, I don’t want to go with the crowd,” thing in me. ( I didn’t actually watch Titanic until this last fall).

Honestly, I don’t really know this song that well and I don’t know a lot about Taio Cruz beyond what’s in his Wikipedia. As I listened to this song repeatedly on the way to work, I just didn’t find something in this song that I found that interesting. And then I watched this:

. . .and it reminded a lot of this:

I’m not saying that “Hungry Hearts,” is comparable to “Dynamite” on a musical level. They are very different songs, but both of them have inspired something similar, something truly amazing about music.

When you have an entire stadium full of people singing a song with complete joy, something is right about the music, something is really working. There’s objective arguments that one can make about the quality of a song but that’s not really relevant when you look at the way a whole crowd enjoys a song.

“Dynamite” is hooking into the singular theme that is present throughout all rock music: liberation. Rock and American pop music continues to inspire people through almost six decades, and each generation has different ways to express this idea feeling of liberation. For Taio Cruz, its going to a club and dancing, which really isn’t all that different than what the Beatles were singing about in “Twist and Shout.”

“Dynamite” doesn’t connect with me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important, significant and meaningful to other people. It’s hard sometimes when you look at another generation’s music to make sense of it, but that’s okay. It doesn’t have to “work” for you. In the same way that younger people don’t get the music I love, I’m not going to love all of the music my students bring to me. What’s important is not that we convince each other of the quality of the music we like but rather what the music means to us. That’s where we find common ground.

The love of music is a beautiful thing.  If you really love music, then rejoice in people’s love of music, even if that love is directed towards a song you don't like.  This is something we should all celebrate as we live our lives, and if you are of a certain age, while singing “A-Yo.”

Friday, November 23, 2012

Year 3: Week 11 - Teacher Marathon

Most of the time I’m a teacher from 7am-4pm. Sometimes when there’s a concert, my day can last longer like from 7am-9pm. The longer days are tiring but they don’t happen very often so it’s not a big deal.

The times when I’m a teacher I have to be more careful about what I say and what I do. When I’m at school I’m constantly watching to see what kids are up to so I can jump in if an issue comes up. So even when I’m not “teaching,” I still “on” and I have a responsibility to be a role model and take care of students in my school.

A couple weeks ago we took our fifth graders on an outdoor education retreat. We brought about 55 kids and 13 adults on a three-night/four-day adventure. This is a great trip that allow us to work with kids outside of the context of the school and challenge them with unique and meaningful activities. Instead of sitting back and letting the staff at this place take control, we take an active role in the teaching and lead most of the activities.

Teaching students, eating with them and sharing a cabin with them at night, meant that I was a teacher from 7am-midnight. Even when I was sleeping, I still had responsibilities, if a kid needed anything in the middle of the night.

Needless to say, this was exhausting.

It’s kind of like a “teacher-marathon.” The sleep deprivation and the depletion of patience places teachers is a challenging place. This is the kind of situation that separates the amateurs from the pros. Either you go crazy and say something to a student that you will later regret or you figure out ways to deal.

For example, after spending a night with the six boys in my sleep group, eating breakfast at a table of all girls is refreshing. Making jokes about situations with other teachers helps a lot and there’s nothing like a mini-rant to let off some steam. Then there’s simply balling up your jacket placing it on a table and burying your face in it (screaming is optional).

The thing is that it is totally worth it.  The kind of experiences that we provide for our kids at this trip are profound.  It takes so much out of the teachers but the kids get more than we will ever know out of our efforts.  How do I know this?  Well, the same way that I know I'm making a different every day as at teacher: faith.

So go on a retreat or a lock-in or some kind of situation when you have to spend long periods of time as a teacher.  While I am glad that there is only one of these trips a year, I'm looking forward to next year's trip and running this marathon again. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thunder Road - Part 1: Magic In The Night

To celebrate my 300th post on this blog I presented “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen.  I felt that post did this song justice embracing all of what this song meant to me by letting the song speak for itself.

Lately I’ve felt myself drawn to this song. It’s like I need this song in my life right now. Maybe it’s my grandmother dying, becoming comfortable being thirty, or the other changes in my life. I’m not sure. But I’m finding what I’m searching for in my life in this song now more than ever.

I have hesitated to write about this song because it so magical and I fear that I lack the skills to really articulate everything that this song is about. It’s time to not be afraid and to look deep within this song. To know what a song is about is to know what it means and it is within this meaning that we find ourselves.

It starts with an invitation, a guitar and piano ascending carefully, dancing and flowing in and out of each other. “Thunder Road’s” introduction is one of the most famous album openings. As the first track on Springsteen’s pivotal album Born To Run, “Thunder Road” was the entry point into a universe of characters that would encapsulate everything that is rock music.

With each line Springsteen paints a vivid picture. The sound of a screen door, the waving of a vision of grace as Mary comes into our world. Originally, this girl was Angelina and then Christina but in the end Springsteen settled on Mary. This name brings forth images of the innocent virgin carrying an unimaginable burden to the mother watching her only son suffer. These visions mix together with a girl standing nervously facing the road ahead.

One of the ways that you know that you are in love is when love songs begin to make sense. As our unnamed protagonist identifies with Orbison’s song for the lonely we know there is something immediate and powerful about his feelings. He begs for her not to leave him because he “can’t face myself alone again.” She’s turned him home and he’s tried to imagine his life without her that he can’t.

She has doubts. Maybe she’s not that young girl, the idea woman. He begs her to have faith and believe in him. When he says that she “ain’t a beauty,” he isn't saying that he doesn’t think she’s pretty. Instead he’s embracing what she is, not the woman she wishes she could be.

The song starts by setting a scene and switches perspectives through Orbison’s song to this man speaking to a girl. These words reveal a vulnerability and a passion. He’s trying to convince her to come with him because there is something that she brings to the way he sees himself that he can’t live without.  Also, he believes there is something that he can give her that no one else can.

In the opening of "Thunder Road," our main character embraces everything that this girl is, her doubts and her fears because he has faith.  He knows that there is something there between them and that there is magic in the night.

Monday, November 19, 2012

8th Grade Playlist: 5. Red by Taylor Swift

Define work . . . if you define works as: Can you get something out of it? Was it good for you? Was it good for them? Did you grow in this relationship? Do you look back at it with some fondness if it should end before your death or his death? Than yeah, it can work. . .
Dan Savage Savage Lovecast: Episode 226
The idea of a relationship for many people is a relationship that lasts 50 or 60 years. Sometimes in our struggle to find that relationship, we see the relationships that don’t last the long haul as not really “working.”

If you think about what Dan Savage is saying, a relationship that lasts 60 years and then ends because someone dies, may not have necessarily “worked.” And a relationship that lasted a year could have really worked for that period of time.  Just because it ended, as all relationships eventually do, doesn’t mean that it didn’t work.

“Red,” the title track from Taylor Swift’s most recent album is about a relationship that worked. It ended, but Taylor is able to look past this to celebrate what the relationship meant. I’m reminded of Springsteen’s “Bobby Jean,” which has a similar message. It’s not about trying to get back together, but rather its' about acknowledging how what was meaningful about a relationship.

Taylor goes into some great similes and metaphors, “Loving him is like trying to change your mind, Once you’re already flying through the free fall."  However I got to say though the opening line “Loving him is like driving a new Maserati down a dead end street,” is kind of hard to relate to for most of us. She takes us through different colors, expanded on the idea of feeling the “blues,” to feeling “grey,” and most powerfully: “red.”

Taylor effortlessly sings through this song and introduces some great musical touches that are heard throughout the album. Right after the bridge she sings the chorus in a slightly different way with more intensity and darkness. Also the line “and that’s why he’s spinning round in my head,” feels like its twirling. Taylor could have made an entire section of this song repeating this part but rather she leaves it undeveloped as a catchy and beautiful musical nugget.

“Red” revels in the wide range of emotions that love can bring and celebrates the drama, the lack of control, the intensity and the true wonder that is love. We hear her struggle in the bridge trying to get over the relationship but part of her doesn’t want to because she remembers everything about the relationship that worked.

Sometimes we feel like the only way that we can get over a break-up is by convincing ourselves that the relationship never worked and that there was never anything worthwhile in the relationship. Well, if there wasn’t anything of value even for five minutes then the relationship would have never happened.

Yes it’s hard to get over the end of a relationship.  However this process isn’t always about burning photos, bad mouthing the other person with friends and being bitter.

After Ellie dies in Up!, Charles struggles to move on with his life.  The way he accomplishes this is by cherishing the time they spent together, which helps him realize the value of the relationship he develops with Russell.

If you go out with a guy for a month and it doesn’t work out, am I saying you should strap some balloons to your house and go to South America? No, but don’t let the way it ended cloud the beautiful colors of the memories of when it worked.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Year 3: Week 10 – Working Through The Crazy

Okay, I’ll be honest, this week was a little crazy.

My 5th graders had a presentation this last Thursday and my 3rd graders are preparing for their Thanksgiving assembly next week. Both of these grades have to prepare for a Holiday program in December. Also, today, the Middle School orchestra, which I conduct, performed at an assembly.  And then I have my middle school band kids who I still need to attend to.

I didn’t schedule all of this stuff to come together in these couple weeks. What happens is that the different grades and musical groups schedule these performances reflecting their own needs. They don’t really think about the fact that I may have multiple performances in one week. Honestly, they shouldn’t.  It’s my job to manage all of this.

Sometimes the way the difference grades’ schedules line up make my life at school a little crazy, but it’s also what I’m trained to do. I don’t remember the first time I performed in front of an audience because I was so young. It’s something I’ve done my entire life and it’s part of my job to be involved in kids' performances and have the ability to balance all of these things out.

Yes, I have to somehow get groups of fifty kids to perform on stage, but I don’t have to grade essays. I don’t have math test to write. I’m not outside early in the morning coaching a sports team. I don’t have to prepare food to feed the entire school. I’m not responsible for helping kids get into college and I don't have to nurse 1st graders who fall down at recess.

It’s easy to forget when things get tough that other people in the school have just as challenging jobs as you do. Just because a teacher never has to put on an assembly doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t working as hard as a drama teacher.

Let’s say for a minute that this is not true and that there are some teachers who have harder jobs than others. Does focusing on this fact really get you anywhere in the day?  This kind of thinking just leads to bitterness and pull your focus away from your students.

One of the things that keeps a positive school climate is maintaining a community of teachers that truly respects and admires each other.  One of the joys of being in a K-12 school like mine is that every teacher can look at what another teacher is doing and reflect, “there is no way that I could EVER do what they are doing.” That’s a really good feeling because while it makes us feel proud of our work, it also humbles us at the same time.

My next couple weeks are going to be a little insane, but it’s all good. Its what I signed up for. Yes, I may have the challenge of putting together musical programs but the feeling of watching these performances makes it totally worth it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Letters From 5th Graders

During the 5th grade camping trip, I am responsible for the wake-up call.  I sing a song and accompany myself on the guitar.  On the last night, some of the boys wrote anonymous letters of request for the following morning's wake-up call (all of them are written by boys).  Here they are: 

Monday, November 12, 2012

8th Grade Playlist: #4. Lonely Boy by The Black Keys

Music is a conversation. One artist says something through a song and then a different artist responds with his or her own song. Sometimes the response brings in a fresh idea and other times the response is a restatement, an elaboration on the first idea.

When I state that “Lonely Boy” is the one of the greatest modern Rolling Stones' songs, it’s meant as a complement. The blues inspired rock of the Rolling Stones with their profound lyrics are a statement that has been screamed down the decades of pop music and that continue to engender responses. The Black Keys did an amazing job doing just that, elaborating on what the Rolling Stones said while bring a fresh perspective.

It starts with a riff, a short musical idea that is repeated. This three-note pattern gives way to another riff, with contrasting musical colors and an upbeat groove. Each layers that is added has a grit, a dirtiness, reminiscent of “Rocks Off.” Alone these elements would be a musical train wreck, but the fact that they are tied together with a tight an infectious grooves makes something that should feel so wrong, feel so right.

Like the lyrics of “Under My Thumb,” there is a deeper story that is being told in this song. While the musical landscape of this song is aggressive and full of bravado, the lyrics reveal a sense of sorrow and insecurity.

The opening line is about a guy being “above” a girl. Despite the fact that he is so much better than her, he falls in love her anyways. She hurts him, but he says that “I don’t mind bleeding.”  If she was really that much below him than he wouldn’t be “bleeding,” and he definitely wouldn’t be waiting.

The second verse continues this insecurity as he insults her saying he should have left her like her dad did. This is a horribly mean thing to say but like the statement “Under My Thumb,” it is an overcompensating response. He has been hurt so badly by this girl that the only way he can try to save face is to go to extremes. This is not an abusive man but a scared, torn down soul.

There's heartbreak and a resignation by stating “I’m A Lonely Boy.” While he tries to embrace his reality but he is clearly in conflict. Even though there is a chorus of voices and a glorious rock sound, this is a break-up song. It’s a song about feeling tortured, and responding to these feeling through anger and bitterness while at the same time not being able to let go of love. This tension mirrors the messy riffs being held together tightly by the groove.

Why does this song make us feel so good? Because love, even when it drives people to dark places makes us feel alive.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Year 3: Week 9 – Letting Go of Being Let Go

People and their jobs separate for many different reasons. Sometimes it’s mutual, but other times it’s not. When I lost my first teaching job, which I discussed as one of the most important moments in the past 10 years of my life, I was dumped. My “contract was not renewed.”  I knew that the job wasn’t a good fit for me, but I didn’t have it in me to quit, so the school did what I didn’t have the courage to do and they let me go.

It’s still difficult to reflect on that whole situation. Diana and I were living in an area that we weren’t excited about and we both had challenging situations at our jobs. Coming fresh out of college you’re just excited about having any job, so this idea of what kind of job is a “good fit” is elusive, because the fear of not having a job looms large.

I was hired for that job after a two-hour interview, without a teaching demonstration. Before I started in the fall, I thought I would receive more preparation and instruction on what was expected out of me. But before I knew it, I was conducting two high school bands that had almost seventy students each. With limited prep time, little high school teaching experience, I struggled.

It seemed like everything I tried didn’t work and whenever I had an idea to try something different or do something innovative, my input didn’t seem valued. It felt like I was just barely able to keep my head above water as the school year progressed on like white water rapids, refusing to let me pause to take a breath.

I was assigned tasks that did not reflect to my strengths and I failed multiple times to come through when things were asked of me. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because I didn’t have enough experience but regardless, many situations at that school made me feel less confident as an educator and made me question my abilities as a teacher.

Now, it’s a different story. I feel comfortable and confident in my current school. I have great evaluations, my ideas and input are appreciated and I really love what I do. As I’ve prepared to go on the 5th grade camping trip for the third time, I was asked to take on more responsibilities. While I know I can handle this, I think of the failures of my first job and I worry.

I wish I could say that I’m over what happened in my first job and that I’ve come to terms with everything that happened. Like with any breakup, getting over these things takes time.

I love the teacher that I am, and if I had to go through all I did in that first job to get to where I am now, maybe it was worth it. But maybe I could have gotten to where I am without all of that pain. I’ll never know. 

The positive years I've had as a teacher now outweigh the negative years.  With every day that passes, the failures of the past feel more like they truly are part of my past.  It's not like I don't make mistakes any more, but now I don't fear failure, because I've been there.  I failed, I messed up so badly that I lost my job.  But y'know what?  I got through that.  I survived that.  So I know that no matter what happens I can get through it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

8th Grade Playlist: #3. West Coast by Coconut Records

When you think of great sing along songs, you think about songs of joy and hope. These are upbeat songs like “Sweet Caroline,” and “More Than A Feeling.” So when I heard Jason Schwartzman (yes, the actor) of Coconut Records urge us to sing-along to “West Coast” I wasn’t quite sure it made sense.

This is a song about a man missing someone in his life. We’re not sure whether it’s a girlfriend, friend or family member. The circumstances of the distance between them isn’t made clear. It could be a break-up or someone making a career move.  It’s not clear who is to blame for the situation.

Does this sound like the kind of a song that works as a sing along? I wasn’t quite sure until I saw this video of Coconut Records performing live:

“West Coast” is a beautiful and intriguing song. It reminds me of “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire. Coconut Records has an indie rock flair mixed with a sense of story telling. “West Coast” is a song that takes us on a journey and brings us to a place we don't quite expect.

The song begins simple enough with a keyboard line, and then immediately draws us in with hints of a larger story told through fragments of thoughts. The verse is in 7/4, with the beat organized in a group of three and then a group of four. This metric pattern creates a subtle feeling of being unsettled as the melody doesn’t quite play out like you expect. The meter doesn’t bring attention to itself, rather it enforces the emotions of loss and longing in the lyrics.

After the second chorus, Jason calls to everybody to sing a soaring line that is sung over the verse music. There is a feeling of unity and freedom, almost a sense of flying as the words of the verse enter layering underneath. This section continues to build and then suddenly pulls back with the words “I miss you."

Music is about feeling comforted by knowing that there are other people in the world who share our emotions. When we sing along with a song we connect our own emotions with that song in an immediate and very real way. Sometimes those emotions are happy but other times they are not. “West Coast,” is a sad song but it reminds us that the feeling of missing someone is bittersweet. The only reason you miss someone is because of how great that person makes you feel and that is exactly what that soaring melody line is all about.

If you feel like singing along, than just sing along. It’s not about whether the song is happy or sad, it’s about the connection you feel with the artist.  In that moment you are sharing an emotional world that transcends time and space that only music can create.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election 2012: The Land Of Hopes And Dreams

When George W. Bush was reelected as President in 2004 some of my friends who were Democrats were quite upset. By that time President Bush’s leadership he demonstrated after 9/11 had faded in people’s minds and many liberals expressed significant issues with his leadership. It wasn’t just my friends were angry with Bush being re-elected. A lot of people were spreading doomsday scenarios resulting from four more years of President Bush.

But we survived and none of my friends who said they would, actually moved to Canada.

Now the tables are turned. The same liberal negativity towards President Bush is coming from extreme conservative voices towards President Obama. The doomsdays scenarios and the criticisms are just as crazy as the far left liberal complaints about President Bush.

Is there a lot at stake in this election? Yes, but it reaches far beyond just the president. While the Electoral College renders some people’s voices moot, local elections and referendums count on every single vote, every single voice. So please do your research and vote.

I vote because even with Politics, I’m an optimist. Are their corrupt self-serving politicians out there? Of course. There’s corrupt self-serving people in every part of our society, from schools to churches, from books clubs to waiters. But we still go to these places. We don’t’ just give up on institutions because they have problems.

We are the American government. It’s not some alien entity, the government is a reflection of who we are, with all of our great traits and some features we’d rather not think about sometimes. It is the collective expression of all our greed and selfishness, but it is also an expression of our greatest hopes and dreams.

A couple months after President Obama was elected someone I knew who was conservative asked me how that “hope and dream stuff” was working out for me.

After four years it’s still working out great. I still believe in President Obama.

I don’t believe Mr. Romney is a horrible person or that he’d lead our country into an apocalyptic zombie wasteland of capitalism run wild. In many ways he would be a very similar president to President Obama. To accomplish his goals he would have to move towards the center with many of his views like President Obama had to. Any major changes he would try to make would take time to implement.

Am I worried about the economy? Yes, am I sure either Mr. Romney or President Obama have significantly better plans to fix it? Not really. It’s not like the President can literally make jobs. I don’t think President Clinton doesn't deserve the credit for the surplus, and President Bush doesn't the blame for the recession. The consequences of economic policies are passed down to latter presidents. It’s difficult to place blame or credit for something as immensely complex as the economy on one person. I trust that there are smarter people then me trying to figure this stuff out on both sides of the aisle.  Regardless of who will be elected, our economy will continue to improve, not because of one man but because of our collective will.  

The main reason I voted for President Obama is that I believe he along with the Democratic party is on the right side of history when it comes to LGBT rights and women’s rights.

Democrat Stephen A. Douglas was on the wrong side of history when it came the issue of slavery when he lost to President Lincoln.  Southern Democrats as well as some Republicans were wrong fighting against the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act.

While slavery and Civil Rights were extremely contentious issues of their time, no reasonable person in our society now would argue that our country did not move into the proper direction of protecting more people’s rights.

We are now at a similar impasse. The Supreme Court is deciding which case to hear this year about the issue of Gay Marriage. Women’s rights have once again come to the fore as a political issue. At this critical time, more than ever, we need a President who can lead on these issues, fighting to expand rights to all citizens.

Can President Obama make these changes all by himself? No, but his voice, on these issues brings comfort to those who feel disenfranchised and reminds us of the compassion within us that we sometimes forget. This is the part of us that puts aside stereotypes, and insecurities and acknowledges the basic human rights that we all deserve. Right now, every single voice that fights against hate and bigotry is literally saving lives.

I am 100% confident that future Republican candidates and Republican platforms will have very different things to say about LGBT Rights and Women’s Rights. It will take some time and there will be people like the ones whose insecurities resulted in the need for National Guard Members to escort students to school in Little Rock. But we will get through this, and America will continue to expand rights to all of its citizens.

So vote. Vote with the best inside of you. Don’t vote for a “lesser evil.” Put aside the gaffs, the jokes, and the headlines.  Think about who represents the best inside of you, the best inside of all of us. Believe in our system as we believe in ourselves. Place hope in politicians through your vote. If you don’t believe in anything or anybody, you will never be disappointed, but then again you will never know what its like to feel the glory of a dream fulfilled.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Year 3: Week 8 - The Buffers

They are called “buffers.”

These are the students, most of whom are girls, that teachers sit between the most disruptive students, most of whom are boys. A lot of the science of making an effective seating chart for a classroom is the careful placement of buffers.

You probably know someone who was used as a “buffer” by a teacher. I married one. Growing up, Diana was an attentive and cooperative student and because of this, she was sat next to the more disruptive students in her class. Logically, Diana’s teacher should have rewarded her good behavior by letting her sit next to one of her friends. Instead she was used like so many students as a “buffer.”

Seating charts have positive motivations too. Sometimes you sit students next to other students who they work well with but more often than not, seating charts are created to discourage inappropriate behavior.

“Buffers” may help the class and the more disruptive students but it’s not really fair to students who are putting in the best work. It’s a necessary evil, that I don’t really like, which is one reason I felt compelled earlier this week to have a talk with my “buffers.”

This class was a little rough. I’m not sure why. It could have been my lesson plan, or the specter of Halloween. Either way, it was a class where enough of the students were disruptive enough that I had to give a couple stern warnings and some harsh lectures.

Usually when students are being disruptive in class I hold them back after the other students have left and have a private conversation with them about their behavior. I was mentally preparing myself for this when I looked into the eyes of one of my students, one of my “buffers,” looking tired and a little sad.

Instead of holding back the half of the class that was causing issues, I asked the teacher to take those students and leave me to talk with the students in the class who consistently did amazing work and demosntrated great behavior in class.

I told them that I was sorry that the class had to get so harsh and that I wanted to make sure that they knew that the lectures I gave were not about them. I told them that I understood that it was frustrating to be in a class and have a teacher get mad at a class when they had done nothing wrong. I told them that it was important to me that they understood these things and that this angry song they heard wasn’t about them.

One of the reasons I did this was because I was so frustrated with some of the students in the class that I wasn’t able to talk to them in a reasonable way (a teacher should never talk to a student when he or she is truly angry). Also, I just felt bad for the other students.

Of course you have to put out the biggest fire in the room and yes that is the disruptive students, but you can’t take the quiet, attentive ones for granted. They need to know that they are appreciated, that you care about them and that they matter. These students are more than “buffers” that allow the class to keep going, they are what is working in your class.  For every time you need to redirect a students behavior, you need to complement and build up the students who are doing great things.

If you do this enough, you may just find that you don't need kids to be buffers any more.