Posts Tagged ‘Middle School’

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.

What Goes Around…

bballMy 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…”

Having a Bad Day

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.”

Derek nodded.

“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.”

Eggs & Gas

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.

39e3f_funny-pictures-kitten-hates-your-swearing“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:

250px-White_chicken_egg_square“I wanted to boil an egg for supper last night,” said Mr. Z, “but I don’t have a stove or oven (or TV or computer) in my apartment.”

“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?”

What Is It With Lockers?

Not long ago I told you about Ethan’s magic locker (see it here – http://wp.me/p2fXmE-a7).  Now comes this story.

The other day an 8th grader named Peter stopped me in the hallway at Backpack Middle School and said he couldn’t get his locker open.

“No problem,” I told him.locker  “What’s the combination?”

“22-28-38,” he said.

So I tried it for him and, sure enough, it wouldn’t open.  I tried it a second time, but no luck.

“I’m stuck.  I don’t know what’s wrong,” I said.

“Here, Mr. Shaver,” said Mrs. Crowder, who had seen what we were trying to do.  “I have a key.”

“Oh, good.  Thank you.”  I said, opening the locker.

Seeing the inside of it, Peter started laughing.  “My bad,” he said.

“What?” I asked.

“That’s not my locker,” he answered, with an embarrassed smile.

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…

There We Went a Caroling

Christmas InstrumentsToday for the first time I got to take a field trip with a combined group of both band and choir students.  So it was fun and funny to see their personality differences.  Kids who join Band generally don’t want to sing; kids who join Choir can’t hold it in.  No matter how short the trip on the bus (we made three stops), the choir members always had a song to sing and a reason to sing it.  Over the course of the trip we were treated to an encore of their Christmas concert one song at a time.  I commented to our choir director that singers take their instruments with them everywhere they go and use them at will, while people would think it odd if one of my Band kids were to bust out his tuba and herald us with a hip rendition of Jingle Bells.

On October 4 I reported here that my students had begun rehearsing after school for a caroling field trip to the local nursing homes.  19 BandLand citizens and 17 Choir students loaded up a school bus this morning and drove across the street to the Autumnwood assisted living center where we performed 25 minutes worth of Christmas music for the residents.  We then went a half block down the street to Miller’s Merry Manor and repeated our performance.  When finished, we drove a mile to the other side of town and had lunch at Pizza Shack.

The only glitch of the day came in the middle of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen when I looked over to see why Keagan wasn’t playing.  He looked rather pale, so I silently mouthed, “Are you alright?”  He shook his head no, so I helped him to a seat while the students kept right on playing.  Keagan later told me that all he had eaten for breakfast was a half a doughnut.  No wonder he needed a rest.

It was fun to watch the students as we entered each location.  Someone always knew someone there, such as the facility administrator, a resident, or a waitress.  One elderly lady came over to me at Autumnwood to say hello.  She reminded me that her granddaughter Christina was a flute player in BandLand 10 years ago.  And she wanted to say thanks for the good music.

One of my 8th graders, Brittney, got to play her clarinet for her grandfather who has lived at Miller’s for 4 1/2 years now.  Brittney’s grandmother (who was also there, though not as a resident) told me that 6 years ago her husband underwent operations for multiple brain tumors.  He had not been expected to live, but by the grace of God he was there today to hear his eldest granddaughter perform.

My goals today included providing my students with an extra opportunity to play their instruments, to get the Band some positive exposure in the community, and to teach the kids to give a little back.   Because of all the family connections in our small Hoosier town, relatively little things like playing Christmas carols can go a long way.

The students’ goals were mostly to get out of class and eat pizza.  It may be that everyone got what they wanted.