I had to take a personal day yesterday, but not for any reason I would have chosen. When I went out to my car at 6:30 am, I found that the windshield had been smashed in on the passenger’s side by a tire that must have come off someone’s trailer. There was glass everywhere, and the tire was lying about 35 feet away in my neighbor’s yard. So, without transportation to school, I phoned in that I would have to take a personal day to get my car fixed, which I was able to do.
Returning to school today, I had several students ask me why I had been absent. So I decided to answer their questions all at once by taking just a couple minutes at the beginning of class.
“You want to know what happened?” I asked.
“Yes,” they answered. “Were you attacked by pirates?”
“No,” I said, “but it was almost as good.”
Moving to the chalkboard, I continued. “I live on a state road with a lot of traffic.” I drew a two-lane divided road.
“My house is just off to the side of the road.” I drew a castle.
“You live in a castle?” several students asked.
“Yes,” I said, “with a moat, and a dragon.” Continuing, I drew a small, sad looking house next to my castle. “My neighbors live in a grass hut.” Everyone laughed.
“My carriage was parked out front in the courtyard last night when the attacking hoard from the East came down the road. Evidently, one of their chariots lost a wheel which, with great speed, flew right into the front of my carriage, breaking the glass asunder.”
There were several gasps of surprise.
A student raised his hand and asked, “Did you get it fixed already?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“How? Were you able to drive it?”
“Yes, but slowly, through the countryside,” I explained. “I had to keep the speed down to keep the wind from blowing all the glass dust everywhere. It took a lot longer than normal to make the trip. On the plus side, I got to do something I never thought I would have the chance to do.”
“What was that?” they asked.
“Well, when the gum I was chewing got stale, I leaned forward as I was driving and spat it out the front window.”
There were a lot of laughs.
“Also, there’s one more thing I’m glad for.”
“I’m glad my unicorn was in the garage last night.”
Again, lots of laughs and comments.
“You know I’m kidding, right?” I asked, with a big smile on my face. “I don’t really have a garage.”
Summer Band. In BandLand that means it’s time to plant a new crop of beginning band students. For two weeks in June each year I spend my days sowing seeds that I pray will one day yield a bountiful musical harvest.
Today is the last day of this year’s Summer Band, which has flown by. We are on our way to Indiana Beach for a day at the amusement park, a Backpack Middle School tradition that dates back to 1973. It gives the kids a fun way to wrap up our time together, and it gives me the opportunity to get to know them better outside the classroom. Take Brittany, for instance, who is sitting across the aisle from me on our school bus. When she came to her first lesson two weeks ago she was quiet and nervous. Eager to please, she listened intently every day and has already made great progress on her clarinet, as have all the girls in her section. Now, she is relaxed, talking freely, and asking a lot of questions.
“Is it supposed rain today?”
“How long ‘til we get there?”
“What if I get lost while I’m at Indiana Beach?”
Some students seem to be an open book. What you see is what you get. Others have to be read more deeply. First impressions can be misleading. My first impression of Brady left me thinking he would never learn to play the saxophone. He was late to the first rehearsal, and to most of the practices since; he seemed scattered, unfocused, and distracted, so that I thought he might be one of our special education students; and to top it all off, he has significant dental issues that made me wonder if he should be a drummer, instead. But near the end of our first lesson I asked a math-related question (I don’t remember why). With only a slight hesitation, and while everyone else was still thinking, or not thinking, Brady answered, “22,” and he was right.
“You’re pretty good at math, aren’t you, Brady?” I commented. He sort of smiled, but didn’t say anything. Every day since then I’ve seen further evidence of his abilities. He may be one of the smartest kids in the class. Though he has difficulty following directions and focusing, for which he takes medication, he is one of the fastest in his class at naming notes and playing them on his saxophone, and at counting rhythms. Clearly, my first impression was incorrect.
Suzie, on the other hand, is sweetness defined. Slim and blond, she is a pretty girl you instantly like and trust. She just seems good, and actually, she is. She pays attention, follows directions, and she is quiet in class, hardly saying five words in two weeks. But, far from being unfriendly, she is always ready with a smile. Like I said, she is a sweet girl, which is why her answer to my question below caught me off guard.
Yesterday I took a few minutes to go over some rules and reminders for our trip today, one of which is that students are not to be alone at the park, but should be in groups of two or more at all times.
“So,” I asked the class, “Suppose you are with three others, and they want to go on a ride that you are scared to go on. What are your options?”
Much to my surprise and great delight, Suzie said, “Suck it up and get on the ride.”
This was so unexpected that I laughed out loud and said, “You say nothing for two weeks, then you say that?” Of course, she smiled. Clearly there is more to this young lady than first meets the eye.
If it is true that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, how much more so for these young novels that are still being written?
My student teacher, Mr. Z, played on the teachers’ team in this year’s Faculty/Student Basketball game during our final pep session of the year. He is fast, tenacious, and, most importantly, young, which means he can keep up with the 8th graders on the court.
Sad to say, but our teachers lost this year. We were beaten for the first time ever by an 8th grade team lucky enough to hit two three-pointers. Even so, with the clock running down, the score was 6-5 and the teachers had the ball with every reason to think we could pull off a come-from-behind victory. Mr. Z went to the left while Mr. D threw up a long three-point attempt that missed from the right. The rebound happened to go right into Mr. Z’s hands. But as soon he made a move toward the bucket for an easy lay-up and a win, Ashley, a member of the 8th grade girl’s team, flagrantly fouled him. And there was no whistle! Every student in the crowd knew what had happened, but it was too late. The clock ran down and the 8th graders flooded the court for a huge celebration. Our long string of victories was brought down by a blown call. Oh well… life goes on…
The next day Mr. Z called the 8th grade General Music class to attention.
“I hope you remembered that we have a quiz today,” he said. There was general acknowledgement, with only a few surprised looks.
“So, please take out a pencil and put away any notes you have out. And be sure to write your names on the papers I’m handing out.”
With that he began moving around the room distributing tests.
“Mr. Z, you forgot me,” said Ashley.
“What’s that,” Mr. Z asked, turning toward her.
“I didn’t get a quiz,” she said politely.
“Oh,” he replied, with a mock look of surprise. “I wasn’t sure you should get one. I mean, how do I know you won’t cheat on it, like you cheated in the game yesterday,” he asked with a hint of a grin.
Ashley looked stunned, and then put her head down and broke into a big smile.
“Here,” he said, handing her a paper. “But I’m watching you…”
Dear Heavenly Father,
By your grace I am a teacher. Thank you for placing me here at this school to make a difference in my students’ lives.
But I can’t do it on my own, so please help me.
Help me not to miss any details of things that need to be done, and help me not to be lazy.
Please help me be patient, kind, and wise; and help me handle discipline problems effectively, to be as gentle as possible, and as firm as necessary.
Help me be a friend to those who are lonely, and a father to those needing guidance.
And please help me provide the best band program possible for these students, because they need it. Help me always remember that the program is here to serve the students, and not the other way around.
In Jesus’ Name,
*You may also wish to read “A Band Director’s Prayer for His Students”
Derek was having a bad day. He was barely responding to my questions, and not following directions. When I asked him to make a change to the crash cymbal part he was playing, he moved very slowly to the back of the room to get his music. This, of course, irritated me because he was holding up the entire class and bringing our rehearsal to a grinding halt.
“Can you move more quickly, Derek?” I asked. “Why don’t you have your music at your music stand?”
“I’m sharing with Trenton,” he said.
“But,” I explained for what seemed like the hundredth time, “I’ve told you before to always have your own music out so you can make notes in it when needed. This kind of delay is costing you participation points,” I told him, feeling my frustration mounting.
“I don’t even want to be in Band!” he snapped.
“Why don’t you wait in the hallway? We have one too many drummers, anyway,” I popped off, instantly regretting it.
This wasn’t the first time in 20 years of teaching that I have spoken carelessly. And, sadly, it probably won’t be the last. But I have always had the policy that if I mess up like this in front of the Band, I will apologize in front of the Band. So…
“I’m sorry, Derek. That was inappropriate, and I shouldn’t have said it. Now, will you please wait for me in the hallway?” Derek headed for the door.
Turning to my student teacher, I asked, “Mr. Z., will you please lead rehearsal for a few minutes?” He came right to the podium and took over while I, too, headed for the door.
Once in the hallway, I asked in a quiet voice, “What’s going on today, Derek? I know you occasionally have an off day, but you aren’t usually like this. I don’t believe you want to quit Band after three years. Is there something you want to talk about?”
Derek’s attitude changed completely. Instead of being difficult or defiant, he was respectful.
“Me and my sister gotta go to CPS today to talk about our mom,” he said. I had to think for a moment, but I realized CPS means Child Protective Services.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“My mom’s been doin’ drugs, and now CPS wants to ask us about it ‘cause she’s been doin’ drugs in front of us.”
It’s still hard for me to believe there are kids – a lot of them – who have to grow up in these kinds of situations.
“Well,” I offered, “there probably isn’t much I can do, but if there is, please let me know, even if you just want to come by and talk.”
“In the meantime,” I continued, “you can stay out here in the hallway if you want to. I would understand. But I’ll bet you would rather rejoin the rehearsal. Let’s get your mind on learning this music and doing your best. It will help you get this other stuff out of your head for a little bit.”
He nodded again.
“And, Derek, I really am sorry for my comment.”
“It’s o.k.,” he told me. “I’m sorry for what I said, too.”
“No problem. Let’s go back to class.”
My friend Wayne pointed out that if you rearrange the letters of the word “Listen” you get the word “Silent,” which is what you need to be in order to listen. Excellent advice. Here is some of what I have heard at Backpack Middle School lately.
After a BandLand rehearsal a few days ago two girls were having a lively conversation in which they kept finishing each other’s sentences. Amazed, one of them turned to me and said, “Wow, Mr. Shaver. It’s like we can read each other’s minds. We must be psychotic or something!”
During another rehearsal, I was feeling frustrated with my 6th graders because they wouldn’t respond to my conducting.
“You need to watch me more,” I said. “I’ve been conducting with really big gestures, but I’m hearing only the slightest differences in your playing. It’s sort of like driving my first car – a VW diesel station wagon. Even when I pressed the pedal all the way to the floor, the engine only went “putter, putter, putter,” like it didn’t have any fuel in the tank. So, come on – get some gas in your tanks and be more like sports cars!”
To which Violet smiled and said, “I have lots of gas.”
Two boys in my 7th grade music class kept making wisecracks, trying to get people to laugh. After they had ignored several of my warnings to settle down and get quiet, I asked them to wait for me in the hallway. A few minutes later, I joined them for a talk.
“Look, Gentlemen, I know you were just trying to be funny. And, actually, some of your comments almost made me laugh,” I said, and they both kind of grinned.
“But, every comedian knows that timing is everything, and this just isn’t the right time,” I continued. Upon hearing the word ‘comedian,’ Robbie brightened right up with a big smile on his face.
“When I grow up I want to be a comedian!” he said, but seeing the look on my face, the smile quickly vanished as he softly added, “…but not today.”
Another of my music students could have been listening more closely when I told the class about Amy Beach, one of the few women composers of the 1800s. He came up a little short on the next quiz when he wrote “Sandy Beach.”
Jon, an 8th grade trombonist, was invited to last month’s school board meeting to receive a certificate of honor for making this year’s Jr. All-State Band. This was a big deal for a student from a small country school like ours.
His father, being a county sheriff’s deputy, was on duty that night, but managed to come by the meeting to watch. While waiting in the audience, his cell phone rang with what sounded very much like the theme song from the old TV show, “The Dukes of Hazzard,” to which someone wryly remarked, “Must be official police business.”
Two boys were doing some friendly trash talking in the hallway when one said to the other, “Don’t mess with me, man. I know where you live. And my parents own your house!”
“Where’s the new banner, Mr. Shaver?” asked Caleb. He had seen me working on a banner the day before that said, “DON’T BE LAZY!” Now he was looking around the room to see where I had hung it.
“Oh,” I grinned, “I didn’t feel like putting it up…”
“Ah…” he said, raising his eyebrows and smiling. “I get it!”
Finally today comes this story from my student teacher (see “Mr. Z” at http://wp.me/p2fXmE-cm), as he told it to some BandLand students:
“Bummer,” said a student.
“Yes,” replied Mr. Z. “Anyway, I do have a microwave, so I used my phone to Google, “Boiling Eggs in a Microwave,” and followed the directions. I put an egg in a bowl of water and set the timer for eight minutes. At about the five minute mark I bent down and looked through the window to check the egg’s progress, but just as I did this, the egg exploded! And I don’t mean that it just went “poof” inside the microwave. The force broke the glass tray under the bowl, and actually blew the door open in my face, sending broken glass, boiling water, and bits of boiling egg everywhere around the room!”
Pulling his sleeves up a little, he showed the students a couple burn marks where the egg had stuck to his skin.
“I even have a little burn on my eye lid,” he told them. “And since I was barefooted, I got a small cut on my foot when I stepped on a piece of broken glass while I was jumping around the room!”
“What did you do?” someone asked.
“I spent the next 30 minutes cleaning up the kitchen. There was even egg on the wall behind the microwave. Then I took a shower to clean myself up.”
“Mr. Z?” asked Caleb, “Don’t you know that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet?”