Mr. Z

medalsThe past three weeks have been about as busy as any I can recall.  Before Christmas break, I felt like I had everything under control; the job even seemed easy.  Since the break I have been scrambling just to hold it all together from day to day.

Primarily, we have been in a mad rush to prepare for the annual Solo and Ensemble Festival in which students earn medals by performing individually and in small groups in front of judges.  Preparations include daily after-school practices, which are done before plans are made for the next day’s classes.  This means my school days are much longer than normal this time of year, so it has been tiresome, to say the least.  However, all the extra time with the students is well worth it as this is the month of the year when they make the greatest progress on their instruments.  The festival was last Saturday, and overall the students did a fantastic job.  For starters, this is the first year I can remember when everyone showed up.  No one even got sick.  Secondly, the number of Gold awards we received far outnumbered the Silvers.  So all in all, it was a good effort.

Our success this year was due in part to the extra help I’ve received from my new student teacher, who the students call Mr. Z, since his last name starts with a Z, which they think is cool.  I always wanted a nickname.  Occasionally, a student calls me Mr. S, but it has never really caught on.  One year the high school band students were getting sweatshirts with their names on the back, so they got me one that said, “Mr. S.”  I thought it was great, until a student commented that from a distance it looked like my sweatshirt said “Mrs.”  Since this was decidedly not cool, I stopped wearing it.  But I digress…

As I was saying, Mr. Z has already made a significant contribution.  We were able to divide up the after school rehearsals and give the students a lot more attention than I could have given them myself, so most of the groups were well prepared for yesterday’s performances.

Mr. Z has also been a big help in my general music classes teaching rhythm counting, note naming, and guitar playing.  The students there have taken a quick liking to him, as well.  Each day after 6th period he and I have to walk from the Band room to the General Music room.  Since it takes a couple minutes to make the switch, the 7th period students have to wait in the hallway outside the music room until we arrive.  Lately they have taken to forming a tunnel through which Mr. Z can walk to unlock the door.

Normally, I would be concerned that a student teacher who is so well liked is going to have trouble controlling his classes, but that hasn’t yet been the case.  He seems able so far to maintain a rapport with the students while also earning their respect.   Case in point:  a couple days ago Mr. Z was teaching the 8th grade music students a new chord on the guitar (by the way, he is quite a good guitarist, which they also think is cool…).

“Here is how you play a simple G chord,” Mr. Z told the class.”  Just place your third finger on the third fret of the first string and play the first three strings, like so…”  At this, he demonstrated playing a G chord.

“Now, everyone strum a G chord one time together so I can see if you’ve got it,” he continued.

At this point, the students proceeded to play numerous G chords, producing a predictably chaotic mess of sound.

“Whoa.  Stop,” he said.  “Not good.  ‘Strum once,’ means you play one time.  So… if you’re counting, you go… ‘One,’” he demonstrated with a single strum and a deadpan delivery.

I thought this was hilarious, and told him so later.  He told me that he had felt quite frustrated at the time he said this.  If so, he covered it up very well.  Instead, it came across to me as a perfectly appropriate use of humorous sarcasm that made the point.  The next time the students tried playing the chord, they played it one time.  They had gotten the point without losing their respect for him.

It has only been three weeks, but yes, I think Mr. Z is going to work out just fine.  And I’m thinking of taking guitar lessons…

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