Archive for September, 2012

Zombies and Student Discipline

This drawing was done by a student in my general music class.  The inscription says:  “Mr. Shaver  (HaHa, Not really – I just randomly drew this so here)”

It doesn’t look anything like me.  For one thing, I almost never wear a tie, or a top hat.  And I don’t have a mustache or a monocle.  But I do have hands.  How else would I hold my conductor’s baton when I direct the band…?  Just saying…

I guess it was the thought that counts.

This picture was drawn while we were listening to a portion of “The Planets” by Gustav Holst in music class.  I have found that if I let students doodle when I ask them to listen to a music sample they are much better able to control their restlessness and stay out of trouble.

On the other hand, one recent day while I was leading a class discussion on some fascinating aspect of Bach’s life I had to ask a student to stop drawing a map of his house explaining where the zombies’ entrances and exits were.  Not that it is wrong to be prepared, but his timing was inappropriate.

It probably seems obvious, but I will say it anyway:  classroom management and student discipline are the most challenging parts of a teacher’s job.  Consider, for instance, the recent Chicago teachers’ strike.  As my dad pointed out, you have to be impressed that while the students were out of school the police department put a bunch of extra cops on the streets to make sure kids were staying out of trouble.  Just think, teachers are expected to handle these young people in their classrooms every day – unarmed.

Just yesterday a 7th grade boy we will call Jack came to my music class wearing a pink breast cancer awareness bracelet on which was a slang term for a part of a girl’s body (I am trying to describe this delicately for the sake of any young kids who might read this).  Believing that this was surely a violation of our school’s dress and behavior code, I asked the student to remove the bracelet and give it to me, but he refused.  I asked a second time to make certain he had understood, and again he refused to comply.

I picked up the phone and dialed the assistant principal’s office.  As I did so, Jack angrily took the bracelet off and threw it across my desk, so I told him to wait for me in the hallway.  On his way out of the room he made a nasty comment about our school that included words like stupid, redneck, and another name for a donkey (again, I’m trying to be sensitive here).  When the assistant principal arrived I explained the situation and pointed out that Jack’s actions amounted to disrespect, which is itself considered a major discipline offense.  Throw in foul language and and insubordination, and the case is solid.  Jack received a one day suspension.

Please don’t think this sort of behavior is the norm at Backpack Middle School; most of the time things go along quite smoothly with only minor interruptions which are handled easily enough. For instance, when Calvin was using his pen cap to make a very realistic cricket chirping sound during band rehearsal, I expressed my appreciation for his skills and politely asked him to stop.  He then said he could also make the sound of a boiling witch, but he thought I wouldn’t like it.  I commended him for his judgment and continued with class.

Sadly, though, encounters with students like Jack are increasing.  Perhaps I will have to type up another entry speculating on the possible reasons for this.


The Pork Festival

This is my 13th year teaching in the Backpack school system, so today I will march with the Backpack High School Band in my 26th Pork Festival parade.  We kicked off this annual festival two days ago with a small Thursday evening parade, and today at 2:00 the band will take part in the Pork Festival Grand Parade.


For a small Hoosier town this is a big deal.  The fire trucks always lead the way with sirens blaring.  Floats with beauty queens, cheerleaders, sports teams, church groups and politicians – including this year’s candidates for governor – will be interspersed with a half dozen high school marching bands.  Shriners on tricycle motorbikes will thrill the large crowds with daring maneuvers, and the local library staff pushing their decorated book carts will weave back and forth in a choreographed routine that is just as entertaining, and almost as thrilling.

In Indiana you can spend almost every weekend from late August to November at a small town festival.  For instance, there is the Elwood Glass Festival, the Atlanta New Earth Festival, and the Fairmount James Dean Festival (the town where “cool” was born, and Garfield cartoonist Jim Davis, too).  You can visit Frankton for Heritage Days, and Alexandria, whose celebration is actually called the Smalltown Festival.  Or you can go to Martinsville to watch the Fall Foliage Parade, and even New Castle for a Christmas parade in November.  But the Pork Festival boasts the most visitors and biggest parade of them all.

While I expect the crowds to be a little smaller today due to the cool, windy weather and cloudy skies, there will still be several thousand people lining the parade route.  I always enjoy walking alongside the band students and waving to familiar faces in the crowd.  Of course, I didn’t recognize anyone my first year, but today I will see a number of current and former students, parents and friends.  And when the band plays the Backpack school song, I can always tell the natives from the visitors because the outsiders don’t know the traditional clapping pattern that goes along with the song.

Last year’s parade took place in hot, muggy conditions.  As you might expect, some of the band members were pretty worn out by the end.  Thankfully, Pizza Shack, which is at the end of the route, always serves up cups of ice water and soda in their parking lot for the band kids from all the various schools.  Even so, one of our saxophone players, I’ll call her Sandy, felt overcome with the heat.  Personally, I was a bit skeptical since she had a history of feeling overcome by the heat after almost every activity, but there she was, lying on the ground complaining that she felt faint.

So, after conferring with our high school band director Mr. Fletcher, I pulled out my cell phone and called 911.

“9-1-1.  State the nature of your emergency.”  At this, I briefly explained the situation, and asked for an EMT to come assess Sandy’s condition.

“What is your location?” the operator asked.

“Well, I don’t know the exact address,” I began, wondering what I was going to tell this anonymous operator who could be in a far off city for all I knew.  “But, I’m in the Pizza Shack parking lot, which is…”

“Very good.  I will dispatch a unit immediately,” she interrupted.

“Oh – Thank you,” I answered.  “That was easy.”

A moment later, I heard a clanging alarm from nearby.  Looking across the street I saw three medics run out of the firehouse, jump in an ambulance, turn on their siren, and come directly across the street right to where Sandy and I were.

“I love small towns,” I said out loud to myself.

While the EMTs examined Sandy, Mr. Fletcher led the rest of the band back toward the high school, with a stop at the town park on the way.  While there, the band played several pep tunes to entertain the crowd at the car show. Meanwhile, the medics took Sandy to the emergency room, which is across the street from the high school.  I caught up with the band at the park just as they were finishing and walked back to the band room with them.  Arriving at almost the same time, Sandy came in to pack up her instrument and put away her uniform.  She was obviously feeling much better.  Whether her recovery was due to some medicine or to the attention she had received, I couldn’t say, but thankfully, it had been nothing serious after all.

Got to go.  The parade is going to start in just a couple hours.

Lutes and Flowers

In 8th grade General Music class this week, Tyler asked, “Mr. Shaver, who invented the guitar?”

“Interesting story,” I replied.  “It was named after its inventor, James Q. Guitar.”

“Really?  That’s cool,” said Tyler.

“No, not really.  I don’t actually know who invented the guitar.  Does anyone else?”

“Wasn’t there another stringed instrument that was popular before the guitar?” asked Keagan, who loves history and is way smarter than most people realize.

“Actually, yes.  It was the lute,” I answered, “which was sort of a predecessor to the guitar.  It was very popular during the Renaissance, and was invented by Pierre P. Lute.”


“No, not really.  While the lute was very popular, I don’t know who invented it.  But imagine being named Pierre P. Lute…”

Several kids laughed.  Some people might say a teacher shouldn’t make up stuff like this.  On the other hand, the students were paying attention, no one went away actually thinking my fictitious characters were real, and they all learned a little about the lute.

When it comes to using humor with students, I have found that they often give as good as they get.  For instance, I was standing in the hallway between classes on Friday, which was picture day, when Orianna walked by.  She had dressed up nicely for pictures; she even had a flower blossom in her hair.  The blossom wasn’t real, but it was pretty, so I told her so.

“How did you get that to grow there?” I asked, thinking she would just laugh about it.

“I swallowed a flower seed,” she said, smiling.

“Really?  Then you just washed your hair and the flower grew?”

“Oh, yeah, it was easy.  Of course, it helps if you go outside in the sunshine to let your hair dry,” she explained.  Then she went on to class.

“Wow.  That’s cool,” I told her as she walked away.  I love how teachers can learn as much from our students as they learn from us.