Wow.

November 15, 2016

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Soooo…it’s been quite a week. Anybody else make the mistake of taking their daughter voting last week? “Nevermind! Turns out the country is a lot more sexist that we thought.” Whew! Glad I’m not the only one who screwed that up.

My 9 year-old cried bewildered tears Wednesday. This was a very black and white issue for her, and she is a sensitive soul. Naturally, I felt like crap for having exposed her to needless sadness. I just really, really thought she would value being able to tell her kids that she was there, for this important day. She pushed the button. Yes, I’m that idealistic. Wednesday morning we explained that, though it seems like people liked the bully more than the smart girl, there are many other things going on, and she was safe. I wish every mom could have been able to say that, Wednesday morning.

Policy, anti-establishment sentiment, those damn emails – these were all cited as justifications to vote for Donald Trump. Unfortunately, the multitudes cared more about those justifications than about saying “NO” to racism, sexism and a whole host of other crap we shouldn’t allow out of basic human decency. The prevalence of that mindset was not something I could previously conceive of in my NPR-listening, blue state-living, white, middle-class, privileged bubble. I didn’t realize that so many people actually thought policy was more important than people. Holy crap, America.

Thinking as a parent, since this is a parenting blog (most of the time), I’m offering the following: No, Clinton was not an ideal candidate with an ideal track record. There are NONE OF THOSE. They don’t exist. Ok, maybe Justin Trudeau. #dreamy The problem is that in this election we have journeyed past politics. We are now disassembling basic morality for our children. Think about what we teach kids: You treat people the way you want to be treated. You take care of people. You welcome new friends. Your body is yours alone, it is a good thing, and it should be respected. How about the one preschool teachers keep on repeat, all day: “Keep your hands to yourself!” Dear Donald, “grabbing” means you are doing it wrong. 

Not to mention the tired old slogan, “Girls can do anything boys can do.” *sigh* Hang on, girls. Change comes slow, but it does come. Look at where we started.

Speaking of girls, as Clinton was on Wednesday: “And — and to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.” Forget the sadness that we have to state that at all. “Valuable” is my favorite word, here. I’m still more of a believer in the social commentary and symbolism of this election than in specifically electing Hillary Clinton – remember, I just wanted a girl to win, for once. I just thought this was immensely cool to hear. They knew, she knew, that little girls had serious stock in this election. And she asked them to hang on, too.

You know what else was cool? A friend of a friend of mine made a beautiful design of the above quote, and posted it on Facebook. I shared it, and the designer was kind enough to send me the high resolution version. I grabbed a frame, and this actually cheered my kid up. She moved a My Little Pony art project off the wall to make room for this! This was important stuff!!

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Thank you to Nataliemcguiredesign.com for this lovely print. You do good work, girl!

Moving forward, I’m choosing to be hopeful and expect the best from people, including President-Elect Trump and his future cabinet appointees. I’m going to repeat the closing of my previous post. I’m praying it’s still true, though now it refers to a different “someone”. We’ve done enough of tearing people down. It’s my fervent hope as a mom and teacher that tomorrow our nation will raise up someone who will makes it their job to raise up others.

Also, I’m posting a link to a wonderful article containing the names of non-profits. If you liked this post, chances are you will find one whose ideals you agree with. If you’re feeling powerless in the wake of last week, and looking for something to do to feel more empowered, donating to any of these amazing charities is a great way to feel like you, too, are valuable.

Click here for the list of charities. Thank you.

 

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How To Do Your Homework

July 30, 2015

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Preface: I am a grad student during the summer, working on a Master’s in Music Education with a concentration in French horn performance. This is less glamorous than it sounds. It sounds like I’m spending a ton of money on something I should have done 10 years ago? Yeah, that’s how I hear it, too. I love horn, but I have not played lately because of health issues. All classes in the Master’s program are considered “accelerated”, cramming the usual semester into 4-5 weeks. They emphasize this ahead of time, so you forfeit your right to whine about the workload. Boo. While it’s been fun, it’s also been…”fun”. But it’s getting done. I am dead set on balancing this endeavor with the need to experience a lovely, rejuvenating summer with my family and friends. So naturally, I leave class work until the due date and do it all at the last minute.  #responsibleadult

As the expert, I will now share the important process of:

“How To Do Your Homework”

  1. Make coffee, do morning things, hug & kiss Hubby goodbye.
  2. Instruct children to please pick up their rooms and go play, because Mommy is working.
  3. Go into kitchen to get coffee mug first. Become concerned that the pile of dishes in the sink will attract ants. Do dishes.
  4. Head downstairs (split level) to office, with coffee. Scroll through Twitter, check Facebook, read The Skimm, play Crossy Road and Brain Dots on phone, because ‘all work and no play’…
  5. Break up argument between children in the laundry room. Notice that laundry needs “flipped over”. Do that.
  6. Upon returning from laundry room, look longingly at the lovely curled form of the horn on its stand, in the office. No. Not right now. Decide that it’s time to work.
  7. Play horn anyway. Marvel just a little that high C still comes out fine, after months off.  Gloat a tiny bit. Feel very happy and almost decide to text brass-people friends, but try to rein self back in and get to work. Actually open a text book.
  8. Discover that there are actually no less than five separate assignments due. Re-evaluate whether a Master’s degree is really that important.
  9. Untie, open, peel, and fix something for each kid, a minimum of 3-4 times.
  10. Realize that the correct Spotify station is essential for concentration, child noise-coverage, and ambiance. Spend 10 minutes deciding on which list and another 10 trying to find the one pair of earbuds left in the house that works.
  11. Sit down. Get back to work. Wait, where is coffee? Go find mug.
  12. Focus and complete the first of five assignments, like a boss.
  13. Play with hair. Wonder if French braiding own hair is still in personal skill set. Braid own hair, enjoying the fact that ‘dos like the popular girls at that 1992 Girl Scout camp are now finally within grasp.
  14. Swivel aimlessly in desk chair while playing with hair. See horn. Think of playing again but turn around to get back to work.
  15. Realize that coffee is cold. Realize that this whole routine has been going on for quite a while and only one out of five assignments are complete. Realize this is not ok.
  16. Respond to texts from Hubby, friend, and sister, and play new Monument Valley levels.
  17. Decide that now it’s very seriously time to do the other four assignments. But first, coffee.
  18. Heat up coffee in kitchen where the dog has found a My Little Pony toy to chew to bits. Clean that up.
  19. With coffee, half a grapefuit because breakfast never actually happened, and a new mindset to be productive, go back downstairs. Sit down, resolved to knock out those other four assignments. Right. Now.
  20. Blog about the process instead.
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$%@# my students say about cardiomyopathy

February 28, 2015

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So I’ve had the surprisingly enjoyable task of  explaining the whole “Where Was Mrs. D” thing to my students. I basically told them 5 things:

1.  I was really sick and I didn’t know it. Always tell your parents and go to the doctor when you feel like you can’t breathe right.

2. My heart doesn’t pump very well right now. (My phrase for this is “wussy heart syndrome”. They eat that up.)  It might get better and it might not, but either way there’s no reason to think I won’t be ok. I am tough.

3. I have to take medicines that  will hopefully help my heart get stronger. But, they make me very tired sometimes, and dizzy. If anyone ever faints, we do NOT touch them. We find the nearest adult to help. This is not likely to happen to me at all, so relax.

4. I have to wear a special undershirt that has little circle things in it to check how my heart beats, day and night. It’s connected by a wire to this box I’m wearing like a purse. If my heart stops pumping right (“wusses out”), the special shirt will zap me with electricity so my heart will work again. The black box might ‘ding’ sometimes when the shirt isn’t working right. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong.

5. This is not something that is likely to happen to you, or anybody else you love.

This has been a nice time to sit down and just talk to my 500+ kiddos. Their concern has been real and their questions and responses have been a little too real.

But hey, if you can’t laugh at cardiomyopathy, what can you laugh at, right?

So these are questions and responses I have gotten from my 5 – 11 year old students when I explain the above list to them. I started writing them down to share, because I love these little nutjobs.  My responses are italicized.

“Will your heart tell you when it’s fixed?” No, they will take pictures again, but that would be cool.

“Do they let you keep the pictures?” I doubt it but if it’s good I’ll frame it.

“My grandpop had a heart attack because he ate too much red food. Did you do that?” You mean did I eat too much red meat? No, I –  “No! Meat is brown.”

“Did it hurt when you died?” Um…No. I’m good.

“Will it hurt if it zaps you?” No. I would have probably fainted by then. “But it will zap us if we’re touching you?” Possibly, but you’re not going to touch me or anyone who has fainted, you just get an adult. “Will it reach out and like lightening, and zap us?” NO. You’re picturing Return of the Jedi.

“Can you use the box to save somebody else’s life? Like the school’s one? [Defibrillator]” Yes, I’m going to be the new super hero, Defibrillator Woman. Zap zap. Just kidding. But cool question.

“What are you gonna do if you can’t go swimming in the summer!?!?!?!” I will most likely be done wearing this, one way or another, by summer. Hopefully. Otherwise, I will cry.

“Um…it [the box] blinked red. Are you OK?” That just means it’s on. I’m good.

“What would happen if ALL the adults in the school fainted at the same time?” I’d say we would leave (extremely unlikely, quiet student) in charge.

“So, like, you can’t take it off? Are you not gonna shower?! For months?!!” Um… I take it off to shower. EW.

“What happens if you faint in the shower with the shirt thing off?” Well this is getting personal. It’s not likely that I’ll faint at all. But I guess then it would turn into taking a bath.

“What happens if you faint when you’re going to the bathroom?” Well that would be bad, but wouldn’t I have worse problems, at the time?

“What happens if you drop it [the monitor box] in the toilet?” Thanks, now I’m going to worry about that, too.

BUT the winner is:

“Did you know that the hospital is where they take babies out of your tush?” Yes. Yes I did.

 

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The Arts as an Antidote to Testing

February 25, 2015

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If it’s quiet in here, I’m doing it wrong.

I am sitting on the chilly windowsill with my legs dangling, kicking the bookcase below. The sound in my room is such that my clunky boots can’t be heard hitting the shelves right below me. Another teacher walks in – she may have knocked, who knows – and her eyes go wide. To be fair, the scene looks a bit chaotic if you’re used to seeing children at desks with books. I enjoy her facial expression, she puts some paper or another on my desk, and mouths to me “How do you not go crazy with all this noise?”

I clown pantomime that I can’t hear her.

Every few minutes one of the kids motions to me to come across the room and hear his group play something they just thought up. I remind them to make sure it’s written down in some way. Every few minutes a quieter kid looks up surreptitiously and scans the room to see where I am, just to make sure I’m not upset about all this sound. Then they go back to their playing. I swear several of them have the smirk of a 10 year old who thinks he’s getting away with something.

Because they are. Like I said, they’re at school, and they’re playing. 

****

Character Ed. is not dead.

While driving to school last Thursday, I decided that I am guilty of expecting too much of my students academically, because of residual idealism left over from my well-meaning but ridiculous Elementary Music Education classes. Worse, I’ve been expecting too little of them in the way of character.

Yes, my oldest students should know the difference between various types of keyboard percussion, the theory behind pitch and acoustics, and be able to read and write basic rhythmic and melodic notation.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, they should be able to play these instruments in a way that does no damage and respects others’ right to hear themselves think. They should regulate their own progress on a task and keep their time limit in mind. They should collaborate with a partner without much conflict. They should listen attentively and show respect when other people play for them. They should help clean up and store the instruments in a way that maintains order in the room and allows every student to use them for years to come. In short, there are many opportunities in a music room – or band room, or art room, or gym –  for kids to play, and practice how to not be a little jerk

****

Opting out of control.

So we know we fail as teachers the moment we get into the habit of doing a lesson the same way just because that’s the way we’ve always done it. If your tried-and-true lesson is working, every child is engaged, the curriculum is covered completely, and every need of every child in your classroom is met – then wake the Hell up because you’re dreaming.

I teach a modified Orff (basically, xylophones) unit every winter, mainly because it’s fun and a less-boring thing to come back to after Christmas break. We learn songs, talk about the pentatonic (5-note) scale, and do lots of echoing of the teacher and each other. I look forward to these classes. However, I’m pretty psychotic about you playing my instruments the right way. Don’t break it, and get the best sound. Watch it. We play together. Show me bicycle grip. Do we pick up the mallets when we rotate???! (Confession: As a college freshman, what I wanted to be when I grew up was a high school band director. I may have some marching band issues to resolve.) I hate to admit it, but there is definitely a right and wrong way to do stuff, in my xylophone lessons.

In light of the increasing structure in children’s lives, I’m attempting to take a small step in the opposite direction.  One 5th grade class happens to be ahead of the other sections, because of my recent health fun and absence from school. So, I’m throwing out the structured Orff lessons and letting them loose. To sum it up, they’re getting free play time with anything they want in the Music room, the end goal being to compose some kind of music and write it down in some way. I’m giving them whatever instruments I have, a couple guidelines that are mostly about safety and stuff-music-teachers-say, and 40 minutes. Yes, the curriculum objectives are now completely changed from what is written in my lesson plans, in doing this. Ask me if I care. 

IMAG4444_1

Music is a more loosey-goosey subject, to begin with. There are protocols in other subject areas, pre-written lesson plans for everything. There is a curriculum, and we will test the daylights out of them on it, yearly. Twice a year, actually. Thank you, PARCC. It’s all nicely planned and controlled. However, because of the above-mentioned health fun, I am reminded lately that CONTROL IS AN ILLUSION.

*****

The arts as an antidote to testing.

During those 40 minutes I get a little glance from several kids that says “wait, you’re really ok with this?”  several times.  It’s not that big a deal, but they’re uneasy with it.  We have set out to do something with instruments before; play the rhythms, demonstrate this understanding or that, compositions with prescribed forms.  I still get looks from other teachers who wander in then, too. It’s still loud.

This time the class could write/do/play whatever. Some of them added lyrics or flourish-y dance moves, because they’re freakin’ adorable. Week 2 of this will include some kind of standard notation, because blah blah blah, curriculum. Also, these kids are very sharp and can bridge the gap between iconic and symbolic notation like they’re jumping over a puddle. I gave them no rules about notation – whatever, as long as they could look at it next week and still play it, it was cool. This is not revolutionary, just busy, musical chaos that totally looked like I was doing nothing in the way of teaching. However, the kids are responsible for their own progress. They knew that they have the privilege of playing these instruments so they only play them correctly. They were self-regulating, and writing some very cool little songs. I was pretty impressed with what happened when I let go.

This was my favorite so far:

CYMERA_20150224_143954

Also, a shout-out for my two manly men, M&M, who think they have invented music notation for jocks: “Basket-ball” is a short-short-long, or eighth-eighth-quarter pattern, “Football” is long-long is probably going to be half notes, all on bucket drums.

IMAG4446_1

And they sounded pretty good, too.

This thing where we give kids stuff to play with and say “go” is the basis the wonderful curriculum in my 5 year old’s Pre-K class. Somewhere after that it gets tossed. Because their lives now include lessons in how to take tests, that playtime really needs found again.  A child’s work is play.

I love this:

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In our attempt to be taken seriously as an area of academics, have we taken the play out of playing music?  We have our own standardized testing and huge curriculum binders, too. But the arts, and the tragically disappearing recess and Gym class, are sometimes all our kids have left in the way of play at school.

 So, for my part, here’s what I’m going to do about all this: My goal, in light of the ever-increasing need to structure and test, is going to be to make sure there is more actual PLAYING in my class.  When you walk in (sign in at the office first), you may think they’ve taken over and I’m tied to a chair somewhere. Don’t worry, they know there’s a filing cabinet of worksheets they could be doing instead. That usually keeps them in line. Wa ha ha. 

I’m looking forward to this. And, probably, to going deaf before my time. Because holy crap are they loud.

 

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Under New (Behavior) Management?

November 15, 2014

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So, I let the elder offspring give this letter to her teacher:

teacherletter (2)

Parents, teachers, and friends, I need you to tell me what you think of that move.

Here’s the background:

I have the feeling that my kid has been put in the ‘rough’ class several times now, probably because she can fend for herself academically and assertively.  Talking to parents whose children are in other classes in my daughter’s grade has confirmed it: They’re having a lot more fun. There’s always a ‘rough’ class. How do you know if your kid has landed there this year? Count the rings under her teacher’s eyes. 

But it’s a teacher conflict too. We all have a story about that teacher, who seemed miserable and possibly scared the #$%@ out of us in grade school. Mine had a foot-shaped hole in the tile floor where it was rumored she had screamed and stomped her foot so hard that it Broke. The. Floor. She supposedly left it that way as a grim reminder to future students that things could get UGLY. 

The elder offspring’s 2nd grade teacher has decided that whole-class punishment is her classroom management tactic. Several times now, all the kids have missed recess as punishment for bad behavior. Yes, like when we were in school. Although for me, that was the 80’s and I don’t remember much of this happening. 

Although I (empty) threaten individual students with this consequence sometimes (actually quite effective), I disagree with this policy on several levels:

1. Though occasionally necessary, regularly punishing the whole group is unfair and bad for morale.

2. These are 7 year-olds. They need recess. If you make the mistake of keeping 7 year-olds from running outside and being crazy, you might as well feed Gremlins after midnight, because that’s what you’re gonna get. 

5

Cute before you make a giant mistake. Just like 2nd graders. It will be a loooong afternoon.

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Leave my 2nd grader alone, Arne Duncan

October 30, 2014

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Screenshot_2014-10-15-19-18-42_1

This quote and stunning portrait of Secretary Duncan popped up on social media last week. It’s from his speech during a 2009 visit to a Brooklyn elementary school. It is, of course, taken out of context here.  But that just means it’ll fit right in with every other quote on the internet, ever. Here’s a post about Mr. Duncan addressing the “educational crisis” in this speech.

He seems to be claiming that you can tell where kids will end up, higher education-wise, because of how they’re testing in second grade. Reading this on a friend’s wall, I actually said aloud,  “You leave my second grader ALONE, Arne!”  Yes, that’s a tad dramatic, but Arne is a fun name to say aloud.

Though well-meaning, this is some serious oversimplification, and rhetoric to sell the need to test small children.  I teach K-5 and let me tell you: By second grade, a couple of them haven’t even really mastered holding a #2 pencil yet, let alone having one help decide their future.  In second grade, they’re about 8 years old. Meaning that every bit of their little life has occurred in a shorter time than Seinfeld was on the air. Just let that sink in.

No, Arne, we should not.  I mean, I can totally pick out the future trophy wives by the time they’re leaving 5th grade, but that’s as cynical as I’ll allow myself to get as a teacher.

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I Love Louis

August 28, 2014

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A (smart) relative told me years ago that I’d love Louis C. K.

She was wrong at the time. I hated him.

At her suggestion, I checked out his TV special called “Hilarious” on Netflix, which was supposed to be pretty good. Hilarious, in fact.  It started out with a pudgier, red-haired guy ranting about the word “faggot”. When he was younger it didn’t mean what it means today. Why is it such an insult now? “Faggot” had nothing to do with a judgement of one’s sexual orientation; it meant your social behavior was annoying and you were being, well, a “faggot”.  And he went on like that.

Already I feel like apologizing for this ugly word, and I’m just quoting someone else.  I got tired of hearing that word pretty quickly then, too, and turned off the TV. I wouldn’t blame you if you already clicked off this post. You didn’t, did you? Still here? Well you did better than me. At the time, I completely missed the point in his opening bit: Though societal factors affect their connotation, words have only the power that we give them. I know, deep, right? I still turned it off. I just didn’t hear the message over voice expressing it; swearing like a sailor. Or a crabby, balding, 8th grade boy.

I recently gave him another chance when he came up on a comedy radio channel on Spotify (more about this addiction another day). I was driving through several states to see my sister, and there was Louis. He was explaining both sides of the spanking issue. Kids are tiny, barely-formed people who trust wholeheartedly and whose behavior is mostly our fault, and we’re BIGGER than them, yet we hit them as punishment…but on the other hand, parenting is a high pressure job that sucks you dry and he can completely understand life’s stressors contributing to someone lashing out – because he’s wanted to a billion times. Me too, buddy. Me too.

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The 4 Year-Old Curriculum

August 24, 2014

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The 4 year old starts Pre-K this year. In our public school district, Pre-K is free and lasts half the day, much like Kindergarten in days gone by. This is because Pre-K is the new Kindergarten. Kindergarten is the new First Grade. First is the new Second, and after that you’d better be ready to take the SAT’s, kid, cause it’s about that time.  Hopefully somewhere in there you find time to learn to tie your shoes.

Actually? When I was in Kindergarten I was the dead-last kid to learn to tie my shoes. This was humiliating. Nowadays, motor skills like these develop later. I presume this because it is not a standard skill among my first graders.  I have even had 8 year olds asking me to tie their shoes. Spoiler: I did not.  Now ask me if my 7 1/2 year-old is all that good at it…

This past summer I ran across a great blog post from the blog A Magical Childhood, and loved it. “What Should a 4 Year Old Know” was a calming reminder that, though my little one is not reading or writing like my big one was at this age, there are far more important things than a knowledge of the two sounds “G” makes.   I will admit to buying a Pre-K workbook for us to use when we ‘played school’ in the summer.  We cracked it once. Again, we had stuff to do.

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