Archive for August, 2012

Generation Gaps

My 8th grade band students played the Star Spangled Banner and the school song with the high school band at the football game Friday night.  They did a great job, too.  It was their first experience out on the field in front of the home town crowd.  More than one parent recorded the event for posterity.

One student had not been able to make it to the event due to a family emergency, but she called me on my cell phone to let me know.  I didn’t recognize her number, so when we hung up I saved it to my contacts folder so my phone would identify her in the future.  As it turned out, she called me two more times with updates, but my phone didn’t display her name either time because she was using different phones.

“How many cell phones do you have?” I asked her.

“Oh.  Well, the first time I used my mom’s phone.  Then, I used my dad’s.  This time I’m calling on my sister’s phone,” she explained.

“I give up,” I said.  “I can’t keep up.”

After the pregame performance the band sat up in the stands to watch the game and play pep tunes.  It was a beautiful evening; the setting sun was painting bright reds and pinks and oranges on the wispy clouds.  I pointed this out to one of my students, who agreed that it was a spectacular sight.

“Wow.  I wish I had my phone,” he said.

I wondered why.  Was he going to call someone and tell them to check out the sunset?  Then I realized, of course, that he wanted to take a picture with his camera phone.  I use my phone for making calls.  My students use their phones for texting, checking the weather, taking pictures, listening to music, and much more.  They only make phone calls when the person on the other end doesn’t text (like me).

Later, while sitting with the band in the stands, I caught the smell of barbecue coming from the concession stand.  Austin got a whiff of it, too.

“Mr. Shaver, do you smell like pulled pork?” he asked me.

“What?  What would make you ask such a question?  Besides, I was going more for a scrambled eggs effect…”

“No,” he laughed, “Can’t you smell, you know, like, the pulled pork in the air?”

“Oh!  Holy cow!  You have got to be more careful how you use the word ‘like’!”

Earlier this week a student asked me how old I am.

“How old do you think I am?” I responded.

“I’ll bet you are in your twenties,” he guessed.

I nearly choked.  Then I gave him some BandLand bonus points.

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Back to School

Summer break is over, so it’s back to school and back to BandLand.  Backpack Middle School has been in session for one week now, and all things considered, it went pretty well.

The start of a new year is always challenging:  new students, new classes, new schedule, hectic pace.  And it is early to bed, early to rise.  During the school year my day starts a little before 6:00 am, which I know is not that early.  It just seems early because it can be difficult to get to sleep early the night before.  And I go home the first few days of each new year with a tired, sore, or strained voice.  It takes a few days to get my “teacher” voice back.

This was the start of my 20th school year, and it went unusually smoothly.  But there have been many changes to my job, and it hasn’t been easy to adjust to all of them.  For one thing, our school lost two more staff positions this summer.  Rather than replacing two retiring teachers, our administrators reduced our school day from eight periods to seven and lengthened the classes accordingly.  With the change came the loss of one band class as the two Cadet Band classes were combined into one.  So I now teach three band classes and three general music classes each day.

The schedule change also means I will no longer be able to group 6th and 7th grade band students by ability, but only by grade level.  In other words, a struggling 7th grader will be put in the Concert Band whether or not he or she is ready; conversely, high achieving 6th graders will be placed in the Cadet Band with beginners even if they are capable of advanced work.

There are a lot of changes coming regarding our teacher evaluation system and the institution of a new merit pay system.  Since many questions remain unanswered, I feel a cloud of uncertainty hanging on as I wait to see what will come.

On the bright side, the band enrollment numbers are up a little over last year, with both bands showing great potential.  And the students of my general music classes seem to be generally respectful and cooperative, though I did have to remove two disruptive students from class this week.  Once they had tested their boundaries and found the limits, however, their behavior improved.

There were mornings this week when I was less than excited about the work load facing me, but I was also reminded many times why I love to teach.  For instance, there was Ashley, who has obviously been practicing her flute this summer.  And there was R.J., who seemed completely disinterested in music class – until we started learning how to play guitars.  And there was Melissa who welcomed me back to school with a hug and high five.

And on Friday, James came over to my desk to show me the scrape on his shoulder.

“How did that happen?” I asked him.  “And make it a good story,” I added.

“Well,” he began, “I was playing basketball with some friends…”

“You were involved in a high speed chase,” I paraphrased.

“And when I jumped for a rebound…” he continued unfazed.

“You mean… when you cornered some Russian spies,” I reinterpreted.

“I fell down and hurt my shoulder,” he finished with a grin.

“One of them shot at you, and the bullet grazed your shoulder,” I finished.

“Something like that,” he said, grinning.  “I just wanted you to know in case I have trouble holding my trumpet in band today.”

“Don’t worry.  As far as I’m concerned, you are a national hero.  Thank you for your service to our country.”