Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Teacher Sweater Explained

The other day I was eating dinner with several teachers from school. Somehow the topic of clothes came up and a few of us started giving giving Mrs. Sixth Grade a hard time about her outfits.

Previously, I had deduced that the teacher sweater must be a symptom of PTSD, or Post Teaching Stress Disorder. I thought once you go teacher sweater you are gone forever, your sanity lost to the trenches of education. However, I am here today to announce that I may be a teensy incorrect, or possibly totally wrong.

Mrs. Sixth Grade explained that she loves dressing up for school. It's not about looking cool or professional or nice or even comfortable.

"So what's it about?" I asked, thinking of her pencil earrings, holiday themed sweaters, #1 teacher brooches, and apple pendant necklaces.

"Well, I would never get to dress this way in real life. School is just a pretend world. Everything there is make believe! You can wear anything you want and all the fun stuff because it's totally just a costume. I would never dress that way in the real world, yuck! Haha. Yeah... I like wearing fun costumes to school. It's all pretend."

So there you have it folks. The teacher sweater: it's just make believe.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Spring Sing: Part 4, the performance

If you feel so inclined, check out the rest of my spring sing posts:

And that brings us to Part Four: The Performance. 

Last night a few of my friends were kind enough to watch the DVD of my spring sing with me. They even said nice things because they are contractually obligated to. As I was watching it I realized there was now proof of my first year of teaching and my first year of attempting something that I really had no idea how to do. I really did make a bunch of kids show up and sing songs and some of them even liked it and most of them really did learn a lot about music. 

When I first arrived at the high school where we were performing, I nearly turned around and left. All I saw were lockers and little cliques of teenagers hanging out after school and posters advertising prom tickets. I started to sweat and my heart rate skyrocket. Oh god, I'm in high school, oh god, they're looking at me, oh no, oh no eeesh what have I done? And the lockers were everywhere and the sound of them slamming echoed in my ears as I walked through the campus, awkwardly carrying my music stand and my bag of recorders. A few teachers popped their heads out their doors at the sound of my heels clicking down the halls and even then I felt like an idiot, but I just kept willing myself to keep walking, as if I could escape the mania of grades 9-12. 

Can you believe there are teachers out there who willing teach in such a place? Ugh! There will never be a day that I teach high school. That's a promise. 

Luckily once I found the amphitheater I relaxed. Soon enough kids and families and my principal showed up. The sound guy had everything taken care of, the video guys had their stuff done, I was meeting family after family, and the PTA was selling seats in the first three rows for $10 a pop. Can you believe Mrs. PTA President didn't even give me a commission on that? I figure at $10/seat x 60 seats we must have rolled in $600 bucks. And don't get me started on the sixth grade bake sale. I know I didn't get them a food sales permit for the concert! 

I suppose it's good to bring in money. I suppose the kids need it to do cool things, like hire a music teacher and art is cool too. I suppose. Hmph. 

The show started and I was grateful for my principal who MCed the whole thing. Each grade came on the stage and sang their bit. It was very simple. Children came onto the stage, sang their two songs with me in front modeling their motions and looking like a goon, and then the kids left while the new grade came on the stage. Kinders, then first, second, and before I knew it fifth was leaving the stage and sixth was up and we were almost done! Then I put the whole school on the stage for the finale and after 80 short minutes, my entire year was over. Just like that, my first year of teaching ended. I said goodbye to 500 kids with one giant wave and high-fives with the 6th graders. No one fell off the risers. No one backed out of singing their solo. Not one parent yelled at me (though some would have liked to.) My principal didn't forget my name. It didn't rain and nothing caught on fire. It was awesome. 

My first year teaching was everything that I hoped it would be. I don't know what my plans are for next year. But I do know that I'm ready to try again. Bring it. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Spring Sing: Part 3, song choice

Sorry for the delay! Life happens. Blogging gets put to the back burner. 

You can read part 1 here and part 2 here

Part 3: song choice

During my job interview, my principal asked me "How do you feel about pop music?"

I told her I thought it was great. I thought pop music was the way to keep music in our schools, and that keeping music relevant and connected to our kids would bridge the gap between real world learning and school learning. I told her I thought it was our place as educators to make careful choices about lyrics and artists such that we're choosing age appropriate pop, but ultimately I liked the idea of incorporating music kids were already listening to into the curriculum in addition to the various genres we already studied.

Was that the right answer? Who knows. It was my answer and it was in sync with how my principal felt so I got the job. It's also the attitude that had so many people talking about me and the songs I picked after the spring sing.

Some of the artists we sang were:

The Beatles
Michael Jackson
Green Day
Natasha Bedingfield
Owl City

We sang the real versions of the songs done by the real artists. There were no "kiddie" versions dumbed down or rearranged. We rocked the house. I had third graders moonwalking across the stage and sixth graders belting out like they never felt self conscious in their lives (ok at least most of them).

My secret formula? Sing songs kids like and songs parents approve of. And that you like.

When I had three classes per grade level practicing each song two times each week for ten weeks, I listened to each song about forty-five times. Probably more when you count the recesses and lunches I spent working with soloists. So yeah, I picked songs I like.

Well songs I liked. I like them less now. A lot less. 

I fretted for weeks about what songs to sing. I worried about the lyrics and the key and the length and the rhythms and balance of female and male artists. In the end I had all my songs approved by the principal and I sent copies of the lyrics to each teacher (lest anyone have the chance to complain they "didn't know" we were singing that) and I still worried someone would say something.

It turns out people sure did have lots to say. Most of what they said to my face was good though!

They said "you sure picked fun songs" and "wow those are songs from the radio" and "hey wasn't that song on Glee" and "Isn't that from American Idol" and "my kid loves that song I can't get him to stop singing it" and "I don't really like Michael Jackson, I know what he did!" and "Is Natasha Bedingfield really Rock N Roll" and "my kids know these songs from playing Rock Band" and "I'm so glad you're singing real songs now."

Hey, at least I gave people something to talk about. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Awesome!!

Today is Mr. Awesome's birthday!!!

He's spending the day working on his dissertation, boo!

Happy Birthday, Mr. Awesome. May none of your future birthdays be this lame. Ever.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spring Sing: Part 2, my worries

You can read part 1 here

I really like to worry. I'm a professional. And boy, before the Spring Sing, did I ramp up my worrying. It was (like all worrying) completely wasteful.

About a week before the performance I made the call to "go green" and skip printing programs. Why waste 500 pieces of paper that would just end up on the ground, only to be picked up by unpaid staff at the end of the night? My pal (the principal) loved the idea. Save paper, save time, save backs. A few teachers warned me I would have angry parents about the lack of programs. I worried about this but no one complained.

I had also made the call to dress the kids in blue jeans and white tops. I knew we were performing outside and I knew families were feeling the recession as much as I was. Some people warned me that parents are used to their kids being more dressed up for the event. I worried. No one complained. Actually I got a lot of compliments on the outfits because "it was so easy and it looked so good." Of course in each grade I had a few green dresses and red shirts, but who cares? These are just little kids! Let the high school teachers be picky about uniforms. But still, right up until show time I worried about the outfits.

Now for me... I am the teacher who wears jeans every day. I stand on linoleum, not carpet so I also wear tennis shoes. I never, ever, wear skirts or dresses. I hate them. So of course for the Spring Sing I bought a super girly pink floral print dress with a black cardigan. I told all the kids who commented that it was because Spring Sing was a really special occasion. I had more than one little boy say shyly "Mrs. Awesome, you look really pretty." Oh dear. Watch out, Mr. Awesome. I think some of my heart went to the five year olds in room KA. Before the spring sing I had worried almost nightly about what I would wear and if it would be ok. Turns out I did just fine.

Coming up towards the big event I also wasn't sure how the sound was going to work. I have never really operated a sound board before nor could I see how I would run one while modeling hand motions and dance motions for the little guys on the stage. Also I didn't know if we would even have big speakers or electricity. I worried and worried and worried about this issue. I called and bugged and emailed until finally my principal made one magic phone call. It turns out we had a parent at our school who does sound stuff for his church and he came and saved the day. Whew. In the end I didn't even have to plug in anything.

I also worried about video. We let a professional company record our performance, then they make DVDs and sell them. It's a great fundraiser for our school. However I didn't know if I needed to schedule it, sign papers, write a contract... or?? But sure enough, two days before the performance, the guy calls me and everything is taken care of.

So basically, everything I worried about came together and, in the end, had viable solutions. How wasteful worrying seems after we find the solution, huh?

Next up... Song Choices (or why most contestants get kicked off American Idol)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Spring Sing: Part 1, background

It's been a week since the Spring Sing so I figure I am long overdue for a review. Before I can go into all of the details of the actual event though, I want to share some of the background because I think it is relevant. All of the following things are bits of info I've been able to piece together from what people were willing to share with me in the staff room.

For several years prior to this year, our school has had our Spring Sing in a big formal concert hall. We had a staff connection and were able to rent the hall for almost nothing. In this big formal concert hall, the story goes that families wore their Sunday best, children came on their best behavior, and there was standing room only by the time all 500 kids plus their extended families arrived.

However, the hall came at a price. People had to pay for parking. It was an administrative nightmare. Teachers were pulling their hair out trying to coordinate kids onstage. Transitions in between grade level performances took as long as ten minutes and the entire concert lasted as long as three hours. Performing at the concert hall was really cool, but many secretly hated it.

This year we no longer had the staff contact available to get us the concert hall for cheap. And with budgets being the way they are, paying anything extra for an already extravagant music program was out of the question. Our performance was scheduled to take place at the local high school in an outside amphitheater before I even interviewed for the position. It turns out this is where the school used to perform before the discovered "formal concert hall" anyways. It also turns out that everyone had something to say about the new location but me.

Another thing to keep in mind as you read about the Spring Sing is that I replaced "Mrs. Old Teacher" who was the music teacher at our school for many, many years. She was not a credentialed teacher but that didn't stop her from being an amazing music teacher. I knew big university buzz words like differentiation and assessment but she had decades of teaching experience and a choral background suited for teaching kids to sing. However, as she was 30 or 40 years older than me, she had a different style and chose different songs. She also had fallen into the pattern of doing some of the same lessons and songs every year.

The two most controversial things about the Spring Sing this year were its location (I had nothing to do with that) and the song choices (all me). I wish I could go back in time and tell my past self that so I would not have fretted about everything else. In the end, I could have saved myself a lot of grief. be continued.

Read Part 2 here

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Lie Revealed

First, I must apologize for my absence. My excuses are valid. It was Mother's Day, so I went to visit my parents. Mr. Awesome had some writing to do so I helped him proof read and edit. I had allergies so I couldn't think through the zyrtec fog. I was tired so I took a nap. The Amazing Race season finale was on. You know, good excuses.

But now it's back to business as usual. Remember last week when I posted about my favorite ice breaker game, three truths and a lie? It turns out that no one guessed correctly! Here's the run down and the lie revealed.

#1: True Story. I did it to prove a point to the most out of control class I've ever had, and I'm not sorry. I don't know why children thought it would be ok to run and shove and jump down four steps and scream and push and pull hair just because there is a new teacher in the room, but believe me, they never did it again. And I never raised my voice and I never told them they were bad kids. So maybe I'm not so much mean but effective.

#2: True Story. In Small Town, USA we really do have chamber orchestras who perform in elementary schools for free. And I am really am that much of a smart ass. And my pal, the principal, really is cool enough to like me better for it. Though I will admit that I am (and have been for about 10 years) working on learning to hold my tongue. This blog isn't helping because it's allowing me to embrace my inner snark.

#3: True Story. This tops my list of most embarrassing lesson moments ever. I'm still not sure what possessed me to think it was a good lesson plan. I do know that unlike some failed lessons, which just need to be retaught, this one will never happen again unless I'm at summer camp.

...which leaves #4.

#4: LIES. All LIES. I'm so proud of myself for tricking even the best of gamers. I must say though, you all must have a terrible idea of what full inclusion looks like here in Small Town, USA. We DO have 1:1 aides and interventions and special day classes and generally amazing special ed programs. If there ever was a child that had behaviors like I made up I'm sure we would be able to meet his educational needs. Also, at the school where I work, my teachers are all team players. If I ever said I had trouble with a kid, we would certainly work on it together. So #4 is actually entirely made up.


Has anyone ever played this game in a classroom? I think it would be a fun game to play either in the beginning of the year or at the end. It's fun to see what kids share about themselves. It would also make a great bus game for those long bus trips with fifth and sixth graders.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Spring Sing has been Sprung and Sung!

Just wanted to put up a quick note to say the Spring Sing last night went off fabulously! I'm so proud of all my kids! (all 500 of them, even the ones who picked their boogers on stage and the ones who stopped singing in the middle of the song to shhh! the person next to them....) My principal even offered me the position again for next year, should I still be in town and in need of something more than subbing. Always good to have a back up plan, I suppose!

I have a lot more to share about it later, but for now I'm off to enjoy so much needed rest!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tonight... we sing!

When I saw this a year ago, I never would have guessed that I would be teaching this song to 70 fifth graders (and pretending that I had a show choir instead of an entire elementary school full of wiggly kids.)

Glee - Don't Stop Believe - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

Tonight we perform. I'll be the first music teacher in years (decades, truthfully) to pick something other than "Sesame Street" or "Barney" songs for the Spring Sing. We're singing Journey, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Green Day, Elvis, Natasha Bedingfield... I haven't so much as rocked the boat as bought a new one.

It's on.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Three truths and a lie

There is an ice breaker called "three truths and lie" that I have played countless times in various leadership retreats, sleep away camps, staff training, and other similar events warranting a group get-to-know you event with generally amiable people. Of all the ice breakers out there, three truths and a lie is one I love to hate. I hate trying to come up with things both outlandish and awesome but I love hearing what crazy things other people come up with. I always want to be the one that stumps everyone but inevitably I am the easiest to call.

If you've never played, here's how it works. In a group of newly acquainted people, each person takes a turn telling four "facts" about themselves. One fact is supposed to be a lie and the other three completely true. The group then tries to guess which outlandish fact is a lie.

In honor of my contract being up this week, I bring you three truths and a lie about my job this year. Your task is to guess which anecdote about the last 20 work weeks is a lie. Even if you know me in real life, feel free to play along. I've saved up some of my stories for this game. Of course, everything on my blog is made up anyways, but, you know. Play along.

1) One time I made an entire first grade class practice walking from the door to the stage and back again over and over until they could do it without running and screaming and jumping and being completely physically out of control. We walked with the whole class. The boys watched the girls walk. The girls watched the boys walk. We counted off and the 1s watched the 2s and then the 2s watched the 1s. It took 10 minutes of a 30 minute class. I never had management issues with that class again. I am a mean teacher. Probably the meanest they've ever had.

2) Sometimes we have assemblies scheduled in the MPR when I am supposed to be teaching music. Usually I reschedule my music classes and then do prep work in the lounge or else go to the assembly. On one particular occasion, we had a chamber orchestra scheduled to come so I made sure to be in the MPR. However, they were late. My principal said to me "well, we might need you to do something with these guys" and I said seriously "sure, we can practice our finale song." She stared at me like I had said "sure, I'll cut off my hand." I think her jaw dropped to floor. Finally she said "you would really do that with no notice? you would just stand up here and practice with all of these guys all at once without any notice at all?" and I said "of course, isn't that what you just suggested? besides, what else are we gonna do?" and she said "well..." and so I said "I think you underestimate me. I am very willing to try things and I'm not shy. If we have time, I'll jump on that stage and go for it." My principal was still staring at me like she'd never seen me before when the chamber orchestra walked in. 

3) One time I played a game where I made everyone sing a different song, such as "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or "The Farmer in The Dell." Students were told to either keep singing the song they were assigned or, if convinced via singing, sing what someone else was singing. The idea was that in the end, the whole class would come down to two or three groups competing for singers. This was, believe it or not, a game from a book of lesson ideas I found in my music closet and one of the worst ideas I have ever had. The game got so loud my principal came into the MPR to check on us. I poured my rainstick (my quiet signal) and the class was instantly quiet. I was mortified that the principal came over. The principal was shocked that I went from loud to silent in two pours. Needless to say I never played that game again, but I heart my rainstick. 

4) Early in the year I did a few lessons that required kids to use pencil/paper. I handed one kid a pencil and he growled at me. Apparently I was supposed to hand him a pen. All of the other kids in his class quickly explained that he only uses pens. It's "his deal". The growling child squatted down and started hopping around. Apparently this is some kind of anime inspired game they play on the playground. Can I just say that if you ever have this happen like I did, you will feel like your classes on full inclusion special ed were a complete waste of time because no one helped you think of what to do when a kid growls and hops around on his knees because you didn't give him a pen instead of a pencil. After class I told him he had to bring his own pen. And I told his teacher that the next time she brings her class to a new teacher, she needs to give a fair warning that one of her students has a propensity for growling and hopping when not given the proper writing apparatus. She told me she had no idea what I was talking about and she had no such student. 

Well, there you have it! Four things that may or may not have happened this year. How'd I do coming up with things both outlandish and awesome? Anyone want to take a guess at what the lie is?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The End. (is near)

Have you ever heard that call and response song that starts "The other day... I met a bear..."? Well the end goes like this:

The end the end.
The end the end.
The end the end, the end the end!
The end the end the end the end!

This is 20th week of my 20 week contract. Thursday night is our big Spring Sing and I'll spend Friday doing a big inventory of the music closet. And after that, it's just me and the wide open job hunt.

For the last week or so I have kind of been in denial about the fact that my job really is ending. I have been lucky to be surrounded by a wonderful staff who have helped me learn to do a job I never prepared or planned to do in teacher ed. I kind of thought I would be excited to have my contract be over because this job hasn't exactly been what I bargained for. Writing music curriculum and managing a new class every 30 minutes is a long way away from guided reading or classroom inventories or even (gasp) test prep. I wanted 20 kids, not 500. I thought I would be writing IEPs, not guessing which kids had behavior contracts and which kids were just pissing me off to see how mean the new music teacher was.

But now the songs have been practiced, the soloists picked, the venue arranged, the sound system set, the video recording arranged, and all that is left to do is practice once more with each grade level before our performance. I'll even admit to thinking that the recorder performance might turn out half okay.

Sometimes kids still ask me what happened to the old music teacher. One conversation with a very young student went like this:

What happened to Mrs. Old Teacher?
Well, she retired.
What's retired?
When a person works for a very long time, they get to stop working because it's the end of their job. Then we say they are retired.
Oh. So she's not coming back?
She might come back to visit, but she's not coming back to teach.
That's why you teach us now!
Yup, you got it.
Oh no, are you gonna retire too?

I thought there was supposed to be some sort of built in auto-detacher to make saying goodbye to kids easier come May and June. I thought that I was supposed to stop giving a crap in May so that by June I could say goodbye and then it would come back in August so I was willing to go back to work again. I thought that by having 500 kids I would not get attached to anyone so much that it would kill me to leave them.

Now instead of 20 goodbyes I will have 500.

Thanks recession. Thanks.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Have you ever played BUNCO? Some of the teachers at my school host a BUNCO night and tonight was supposed to be my second time in attendance. Unfortunately it was cancelled but I'm sure we'll find another night to have it soon. I am not sure BUNCO needs to be in caps but when you play with my group of teachers, it does. Here is the long story of my first time at BUNCO and why it will forever be in caps in my mind.

Before the first time I played, I asked a few people what BUNCO was and if they thought I would like it. Someone suggested I look it up online and then decide. My summation of the online descriptions:

"Bunco is a mindless dice game that is really an excuse for drinking and gossip."

Well I didn't want them gossiping without or about me! So I was in. I signed up and offered to make cookies (a decision that while I don't regret, has designated me the cookie bringer ever since!)

BUNCO was supposed to start at 6:00. I was advised by several people, including the host, to arrive at 5:30 for dinner. Knowing that I live in an area where "fashionably late" is 15-20min late, I arrived at 5:50. I was the 4th person there. Everyone else arrived around 6:15. I was mortified. In a group that can tell the difference between a 13 minute lesson and a 15 minute lesson, timing is everything.

Luckily people started trickling in and drinking (though I should say guzzling) their wine. Before long the tables were set up and pencils were handed out. I still, mind you, had absolutely no idea how to play. By the luck of the draw, I got seated across from my pal, the principal. Also, even though everyone else was sloshed, I was not drinking anything because 1) I was driving and 2) I didn't want to embarrass myself on the very first time I hung out with coworkers outside of work.

Finally I decided I had better speak up. I called over to the host and said "um, Mrs. Host, I have never played before!" and then even though I was uncharacteristically nervous to shout out in a group, it turned out to be a good thing I did so. Because of the 20 people there, 16 others called out "YEAH, me neither!"

Oh good gracious. After much shouting and gesturing, someone finally stood on a chair and tried to give a lesson on how to play BUNCO. If you've ever played BUNCO you know the game is very simple but might be a little tricky to explain. Especially if everyone in the room (except the newbie who apparently only likes water and root beer) has had two or three glasses of wine.

Have you ever tried to give a lesson to a room full of teachers? If you have then you know that teachers are the worst students, and more so after a few glasses of grown up grape juice. We shout about how we want the lesson differentiated or we need individual learning plans before we can continue. Someone asks if this will be on the state test or if she is wasting instructional minutes. We interrupt without raising our hands, we talk with the people at our tables then ask questions that were just answered, and we tap our pencils and fidget our feet until someone notices us. In short, we regurgitate the behaviors of our students.

Eventually we figured it out though and the game got going. It turns out that you just have to roll the dice and shout a lot. There is lots of shouting. I can't emphasize this point enough. If you get lost just roll the dice and shout. And then when you roll the correct combo of dice, you shout BUNCO! And with this particular group, someone comes and puts a giant green cape around you which you have to wear until the next person shouts BUNCO.

We all shouted and rolled dice and shouted until some lost voices. Everyone else finished all the wine in the house and I drank water and people gave me a hard time for it. Finally the game ended, prizes were given out, and amused husbands arrived to take home their less-than-graceful spouses. I waited to make sure everyone had a safe ride home (I'm like that) then drove myself home, laughing a little at the thought of my principal shouting severely inappropriate curse words at the table when she didn't roll the right numbers.

Now, I have played my fair share of shouting games involving grown up drinks before. I did, after all, go to college. I have also been to Vegas and played craps which also employs the use of shouting and dice as well as people bringing me complimentary drinks. All I can say is those experiences have nothing on playing BUNCO sober with a bunch of inebriated teachers. That was awesome.