Archive for the ‘Creative Writing’ Category

Writing Assignment

goats

My students had to do a short writing assignment today in which they simply had to answer the question, “What is the most challenging thing you have ever done?” Of the numerous answers given, two stood out.

The first one, from a 7th grader, included a little bit of small-town, farming philosophy: “I would say that showing my goats is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. It’s sometimes hard to show goats because goats do what goats want to do.”

The other answer was memorable because of a typo. A 6th grader wrote, “The most challenging thing I’ve ever done is help rebuild a toilet. I was leaky.” And so I laughed and laughed.

Unexpected Personal Day

 

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.”

“What?”

“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.”

Covers

BooksSummer 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?

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.

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.

What If…?

News Flash!

The Backpack Community School Corporation announced today that with its first round draft pick it has selected Mr. Brian Tyner as its new 7th grade English teacher.  He will take the place of Backpack Middle School teacher Mr. Joseph Franklin, whose contract was not renegotiated when he became an unrestricted free agent.

“I’m really excited to be joining the Backpack school system.  Go Bulldogs!” said Tyner, who is leaving Hoosier University early to join BMS.  He is one of the first to benefit from the new Snag-a-Teacher program designed to identify the most promising talent, get them teaching early, and give them college credit for time spent in the classroom.

Some have criticized Sn.a.T., saying it will lead to a “one and done” system that discourages future teachers from finishing college.  BCSC officials dismiss this, however, saying teachers like Tyner will be under the direct supervision of experienced teacher/coaches, will teach a lighter load for their first two years, will continue taking college classes, and will receive credit for time spent in the classroom.

BCSC positioned itself to select Tyner by trading a science teacher and a second round draft pick, but officials are confident it was a good decision.

“Mr. Tyner has enormous potential,” said BCSC school board president Mrs. Becky Purdue.  “With this selection, we are making a significant investment in our students.”  Tyner has reportedly been offered a five year/$500,000 contract.

Superintendent James Donahue said, “He’s a franchise teacher.  With time we are confident Mr. Tyner will step into a leadership role on the 7th grade team.  He showed us some great stuff during the Pro Day workouts.  He is quick-witted, organized, and compassionate.  And his hallway presence between classes was imposing.  In short, this level of maturity is a rare find in one so young.  We couldn’t afford to pass him up.”

When asked about the effect Mr. Tyner’s celebrity will have among the more experienced faculty, Principal Dave Welby responded, “Our staff members are all professionals.  I don’t expect any drama in the teachers’ lounge.”

Tyner will be reporting to summer training camp in July, provided contract terms can be settled.

My Mysterious Malfunctioning Podium

My podium malfunctioned again today.  You know the box a conductor stands on to direct the band?  Mine stopped working, which means I was unable to speak.  If this sounds odd, remember… no, never mind.  But let me explain.

Normally, my podium does just what you would expect it to do:  it gives me about six extra inches so the students in the back row can see me better, and more importantly, so I can see what they are up to.

But occasionally it malfunctions and interferes with my ability to speak, which of course complicates our rehearsal a great deal.

For instance, today we were in the middle of a rather ho-hum rehearsal – students not really watching or listening to me – when suddenly, I lost my voice.  I had just stopped the Band to offer a bit of brilliant musical advice, but nothing came out.

Needless to say, the students were baffled.  I stepped off the podium, got my voice back, and explained,

“This is not the first time I’ve had this problem.  Occasionally, one of the wires in my podium shorts out, causing some sort of interference with my voice that renders me temporarily mute.”

“Your box is wired?” asked a skeptical drummer.

“Yes.  How else would it work?  Now please listen.  A podium technician inspected it, but he was unable to track down the offending wire.  He did note, however, that the malfunction seems to occur most often during rehearsals in which students are not watching or listening to me.

“You mean,” asked a trumpeter a little too eagerly, “when you step back up on the podium you won’t be able to tell us what to do?”

“Uh… while I will still be able to see you,” I replied cautiously, “it’s true – I won’t be able to speak to you.  So I will have to use hand gestures and perhaps whisper a little.  If things get really bad, I will step off the podium to get my voice back.  But one thing is for certain, we are not stopping our rehearsal for this.  We will just have to figure out a way to communicate without words.  So pay attention.”

With that, I stepped up on the podium and used my fingers to signal for the band to begin at measure 9.  A student in the front row whispered, “Measure 9,” to the person behind her, who then passed it on, as if the people in back could not see me.  Then I raised my baton and began.

Very soon we came to a place in the music where I wanted to add a crescendo (to get gradually louder).  I directed one, but nothing happened, so I gave a cutoff to stop the band.  However, quite a few students played on for several measures because they hadn’t been watching, which, of course, was the problem to begin with.  Jumping up and down and waving my arms, I finally got their attention, and I heard another student say, “He stopped us.  You guys need to watch.”  Pointing to that student, I made a show of awarding him with a bonus point.

Now for the hard part.  I needed to get the class to understand about the crescendo.  Imagine a game of charades.  Using my fingers, I got someone to say, “Measure 26.”  Then responding to my various gestures, students asked questions like,

“We’re supposed to get taller?  Should we stand up?”

I rolled my eyes and motioned for him to sit back down.

“Are we supposed to get fatter?”

I scowled at the boy.

“Do you want us to get louder?”

Another bonus point was awarded.

So this student whispered to her neighbor, “He wants up to get louder at measure 26.”  Then two or three other students whispered it to their neighbors, and so on until the message had traveled around the room.  The funny part of all this was how the students, without my saying so, assumed that my inability to speak meant they had to whisper everything.  It turned out to be an exceptionally quiet rehearsal.

It was also one of our most productive rehearsals.  The class had to pay close attention to everything I did, which meant they were watching me more than usual.  They also had to do a lot of thinking as they deciphered my clues.  And it was great to see them working together.

At the end of the rehearsal, they seemed drained, as though the effort of learning had taken every last ounce they had to offer.  But on her way out of class, one of my clarinet players asked,

“Can we do that again tomorrow?”

I smiled and said, “Who knows?  I really can’t control when my podium malfunctions.  Besides, I’m hoping it will be fixed by then.”