Posts Tagged ‘teacher’

A Band Director’s Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

By your grace I am a teacher.  Thank you for placing me here at this school to make a difference in my students’ lives.

But I can’t do it on my own, so please help me.

Help me not to miss any details of things that need to be done, and help me not to be lazy.

Please help me be patient, kind, and wise; and help me handle discipline problems effectively, to be as gentle as possible, and as firm as necessary.

Help me be a friend to those who are lonely, and a father to those needing guidance.

And please help me provide the best band program possible for these students, because they need it.  Help me always remember that the program is here to serve the students, and not the other way around.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

~~~~~~~~

*You may also wish to read “A Band Director’s Prayer for His Students”

Don Quixote?

The Indy Star printed my recent letter to the editor today.  You can view it at http://blogs.indystar.com/letters/2012/10/20/an-imperfect-method-for-evaluating-teachers/

Or, you can read it here:

I am writing out of concern over the new evaluation systems being put into place in our school system, and all over the state. Among teachers like me there is a lot of misunderstanding about why these changes are being made. Exactly what changes are required by new state laws? Is the RISE rubric necessary? Why?

I was honored to have Tony Bennett visit my band class last year. Indeed, I have been a supporter of his, especially on the issue of teacher certification; the reforms he advocated are sensible and helpful. However, he has not made a convincing argument explaining how this new evaluation system would improve the quality of education. Instead, my fellow teachers and I are being required to devote a great deal of time and energy to paperwork in preparation for evaluations, as are our administrators. That time would be better spent preparing lessons or running our school. Furthermore, our school system already had a rigorous evaluation system in place. Surely, the new student achievement requirements could have been incorporated into our current system to achieve the desired outcomes and satisfy the legal requirements.

Of more basic concern is the philosophy behind the new law mandating that teachers’ pay be determined by student accomplishment. Because teachers have no control over students’ lives outside of school, we cannot expect teachers to ensure success even if students make no effort to succeed in school. To define the quality of a teacher based largely on student outcomes is to deny the responsibility of the student or the student’s family in the process.

I am convinced that most educational problems can best be solved at the local level. Therefore, most control should be at the local level.

Also, while our schools can always do better, the pendulum of public opinion has swung decidedly against teachers without any regard for the responsibility of students and parents. If we want to see real change, we must stop blaming schools and teachers as the sole source of our educational problems when in truth our schools reflect society as much as they mold it.

————

When I showed this letter to a colleague last week, she called me Don Quixote and said I am tilting at windmills.  I believe she was saying that I am fighting a hopeless battle.  But out of curiosity, I looked up the reference:  it actually means “attacking imaginary enemies.”  (Tilting means jousting, by the way, and Don Quixote thought the windmills were giants.)

Well, wait a minute…  While the battle may be futile, are the enemies imaginary?  My goal is to point out that efforts to improve our educational system will be unsuccessful until our society holds parents and students as accountable as teachers and schools.  If there is a hopeless battle being waged, it is by those who seek reform without including parents and students in the equation.

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.”

“Really?”

“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.

Is That a Dog?

I took Schroeder, our family dog, to Backpack Middle School with me on Friday.  He is an 85 lb., mostly white dog with black ears, and the students love to see him.  I take him once or twice each year, and since the school year is almost over, I thought the students would enjoy a visit.

It is fun to hear the students’ questions about him.  The most common are:

Q. – “Is that a dog?” (no joke)

A. – “Very good.  Your education is paying off.”

Q. – “What kind of dog is he?”

A. – “A shepherd mix”

Q. – “How old is he?”

A. – “8 1/2 years.”

Q. – “Is that your dog?”

A. #1 – Nope.  I found him out back, named him Schroeder, and taught him some tricks.  Wanna see?”  Or…

A. #2 – “Nope.  There I was, minding my own business, when out of the blue this dog with leash attached ran up and practically begged me to walk him.”  Or…

A. #3 – “Yes.  Wait a minute.  No.  Hey, who switched dogs with me?”

Q. – “Did you bring him to work today?” (no kidding)

A. – “No.  He drove.  I read the paper.”

The students are always eager to see any tricks Schroeder knows, which aren’t many.  He knows the commands to sit, lie down, stay, and come here.  And when I say, “Go to your room,” he goes into the BandLand office.

However, he is an expert at the “Find the Peanut” game.  For this, I send him to my office and close the door.  Then I hand out one peanut each to five or six students in the band room with the instructions that all the students are to hold their hands in front of them with fists closed as though they are each hiding a peanut.  When everyone is ready, I call Schroeder out and lead him around the room.  He gives each student a quick sniff; if there is no peanut, he quickly moves on.  But when he smells one, he starts poking his nose into their hands until they open up and give him the treat.  Over the years he has gotten very good at this game.

Once the introductions are over and everyone has had a chance to pet him, we get to work.  It is pretty neat how the students can go ahead with rehearsal while Schroeder lies on the floor next to my podium.  It seems they can be trained, too, though there was that one time I caught Cal trying to poke Schroeder with his trombone slide… (why is it always the trombone players?).

When I first started taking Schroeder to work with me several years ago, a few teachers asked why I would do this.  It never occurred to me that it could be a bad idea.  I just thought it would make school a little more fun.  The best part has been meeting students I didn’t know before or have never had in class.  They feel free to come up and ask to pet him.  Then they will often tell me about their pets.  It gives me the chance to get to know them better, and vice versa.

Of course, I have to be cautious with him; some students are scared of large dogs.  But to those who fear the interruption in the school day I would say, if handled correctly (get permission from your principal), and on the right days, activities like this can be a really good thing.

Pop Tarts Anonymous

Like everyone else, teachers have various ways of dealing with stress.  But Ms. Perry seems to have gone overboard with one particular coping mechanism, and she is blaming me.

Apparently, this started back on March 16, the night the Backpack Middle School Band went to contest.  We returned to BMS at about 9:30 p.m.; it was probably 10:00 before I finally left for home.  Though it was late, I made a stop at the store to satisfy a sudden craving for Pop Tarts.  I don’t get to eat them very often (the last time was many moons ago), but when I do, I like them toasted and buttered.  The problem was, I couldn’t eat just one.  Before I knew it, I had eaten four.  I only stopped when I read on the box that each tart has app. 200 calories.  Besides, I was pretty full and feeling satisfied, and strangely unashamed.

On the following Monday I happened to mention this little escapade to some other teachers in the lunch room, one of whom was Ms. Perry.  But in retrospect, had I known the effect it would have on her I would have kept it to myself.

Today, a full two months later, she blurted out to the lunch crowd that my little indulgence had worked a profound effect on her as she has eaten untold numbers of Pop Tarts since, and there seems to be no end in sight.

“I’ve been eating them every morning and every evening, at home and in the car,” she told us.

“How is that my fault?” I asked.

“You’re the one who mentioned them to me,” she answered.

“Yeah, but that was two months ago.”

“I know,” she said, “that’s when it started.  It’s gotten to the point that I don’t care if they are toasted or not.  I just eat them right out of the box.  The other day I found a pack under the seat in my car.  It was a mess, mostly crumbs, but I didn’t care.  I just kept stuffing the pieces in my mouth.”

“Have you been eating them alone in the dark?  Perhaps we should do an intervention.  We are going to need to cut off your supply.  Cold turkey would probably be best.”

By this time everyone was laughing.  I looked up at the clock and saw that it was almost time to get back to class.  As I stood to leave, my lunch bag fell open revealing a Ding Dong.  Ms. Perry sort of gasped.

“No doubt I’ll hear about this after Summer Break,” I said.

“No doubt,” she shot back.

On Display

Nothing a teacher does goes unnoticed.

Walking across the band room in front of the class the other day, I caught the toe of my shoe on the perfectly flat carpet and stumbled a little.  Not graceful, I know, but certainly I am not the only person who has ever done this.   My students’ reactions, though, were predictably merciless.  There wasn’t one single expression of sympathy, only laughter.

“I can’t believe it,” I said, pretending to be embarrassed, “you’re all so heartless. What  if I were sprawled out on the floor right now reaching for my Life Alert button, would anyone care enough to help?  Or would you be laughing so hard you couldn’t breath?!”

Even students who wouldn’t think to laugh at a classmate’s misfortune won’t hesitate to bust a gut at their teacher’s expense.

But don’t be too hard on them.  I really think they are just surprised to see that their teachers are human beings, which can be a good thing for them to learn.

And some of the best lessons they learn come from seeing how their teachers handle the mistakes they make.

For instance, I have always been bad with names.  It’s not that I don’t like or care for my students.  I can tell you all kinds of things about each of them.  I simply have trouble with names.  But knowing how important it is to a student to believe that their teacher knows them, I work really hard at learning names.

Nevertheless, I frequently call a student by the wrong name.  So, to take the sting out of it, I have had a long standing policy of paying a penny to a student when I mess up their name.  It takes the sting out of the offense and turns it into a game.  It has almost become a joke.  For example, just the other day I called Travis by his older brother Trevor’s name, and not for the first time.  Immediately, several students caught me and said, “You owe him a penny!”

I apologized to Travis and told him to see me after class.  Travis smiled, then we got right back to work.

If only all my mistakes were so harmless.  Unfortunately, there have been times when I have mistakenly and innocently embarrassed a student with what I thought would be a harmless or funny comment, only to see by the look on the student’s face that I had totally missed the mark.  So, what then?

Well, as I have tried to teach my own kids at home, we have to take responsibility for the things we say.  Rather than try to explain it all away, I simply offer an apology.  And if the offense was made in front of the class, I apologize in front of the class (unless doing so will only embarrass the student further).  After all, being on display means I am teaching all the time, whether for good or bad.