Elementary Epiphany

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I have not posted in a while!! During my high school student teaching I got so absorbed in everything that I was doing that I stopped making time for my journal or my blog! Oh well, you live and you learn! There is real value for me in written reflection.

I have been at J.B. Watkins elementary school now for 3 weeks with my masterful cooperating teacher, Mr. Chuck Rhode. What a ride. I am now taking over all but one component of one lesson. But let’s back up to last weeks epiphany…

hope-bubbles-purple-flowerI came up with a lesson inspired by some workshops done by Christine Hoffman and others over the years. I’ve seen presenters rave about how fun group work can be and how creative the students are when they put their heads together.

I put the 5th grade and the 2nd grade into groups of 5 or so and set them off on the task of creating their own folk dance or new lyrics to a song they know, respectively.

Ummm, yeah. So, I can pretty much call that my most disastrous lesson of my entire life. I did it 3 times the way I originally planned, so with two 5th grade classes and a 2nd grade class before I knew that something had to change. There were some groups that did well, but I was appalled by the groups that did not. One group that triggered my change was the worst. They had gotten to a complete stalemate, more than one group member had requested to change groups, to which I replied ‘That’s not the point of this.’ I tried mediating, to no avail. By the end of class, the entire group (2 boys and 3 girls) sat on the floor, arms crossed on the verge of tears.

As the class lined up and filed out, one particularly upset girl from that group glared at me, and a boy from the same group look me in the eyes and said, “this stinks!”

“this stinks”

He might as well have stabbed me in the heart. My lessons are AWESOME! They don’t stink! But this comes directly from the consumer, a person who is supposed to be benefiting from the lessons. I thought long and hard that night: Why is this happening! Why can’t those kids grow up!

I decided to completely change the lesson. After doing a little bit of research on group work in the classroom, I found conflicting reports. Many students had posted on the subject themselves. Not one report was positive. There are only negative and luke warm responses.

I felt in my heart that I needed to be a part of changing the perception of working with those we don’t always associate with. So, I took into account many things that I learned from many places and went at the lesson the next morning full force.

I realized that most students do not know how to work together and that they are extremely defensive when their ideas are not well-received. Also, most students were not even attempting to be diplomatic. What do you do when the students are unfamiliar with a concept that they need for the task at hand? You model.

After a fun opening activity I sat the next class down and told them that I have a project for them. You are going to create new lyrics to this melody! ‘Yay’ the second graders yell. “I will be putting you into groups” I say. They visibly deflated.

“Thumbs up, thumbs down or in the middle: How easy is group work?” As expected, I got a bunch of in the middle and downs. I appreciated the honesty. I continued to explain to them that I agreed with them, but it can be easy and fun. It gives you the chance to see perspectives you usually don’t, and ideas you would never think of. I told them the biggest rule to remember is that you can only control yourself. If you think someone’s idea is stupid, that’s your problem. Figure out a way to accept the ideas of others. I modeled being a groups moderator with the class and voting on song topics. I modeled dealing with a bad idea by coming up with a ridiculous idea and asking students how to handle it. I sent them into groups and had them do nothing but choose a topic and I gave them only 3 minutes to do it.

Every group did it in less than that time and I had them do a team building exercise (human pretzel) while they waited for the other groups to finish.

I gave them five minutes to now come up with lyrics and rehearse to present for class. They presented in ABAB fashion, A being the whole class singing the original and B being each group singing the new lyrics. At the end of class, I asked the 2nd graders, “Now, do you feel even a little bit better about group work?” The resounding yes that they yelled almost brought me to tears.

The moral of the story is that my very worst lesson evolved into my most rewarding lesson yet. Each class that I did it with for the rest of the week got better and better. They all loved it. Every time I had a student who did not want to cooperate, I gave him (it’s always been a boy so far) a special duty. I think reprimanding him would make him hate group work and music class even more. Both boys took their assignments very seriously. I was impressed.

Kids make me better 🙂

KeyaraSig

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Why in the heck would she want to go and LIVE abroad?

I’ve been pursuing the idea of starting my teaching career abroad Fall 2013. While it would not be the end of the world at all if I don’t get such a job, it’s what I want. Kids are kids wherever you are, so whether I am in my home of Virginia, out in the lovely city of Chicago or in the busy and crowded city of Hong Kong I’ll be with kids and that’s all that really matters.

As of late, I’ve started to examine exactly why I want to live abroad. It’s a question bound to come up in such an interview and something I just need to know…If I just wanted to take a trip to somewhere that’s outside of the U.S. because it would be cool, I’d be in for a rude awakening several months in when it ain’t cute or new anymore. So why?

I have been playing clarinet since I was about 12 and I am 22 now, so 10-ish years. I started on piano, and while I still play, I am not the best or anything. I have proficiency on most band and orchestra instruments and the skills to really learn any instrument of my choosing.

campusMy dream. I have been wanting to go abroad for who knows how long, but this specific dream came up about 6 months ago. At first I wanted to go teach English abroad after seeing the abundance of those jobs. After doing a little more research I realized that I could teach my chosen subject abroad after all.

I want to see the world and more importantly meet other people who love to see the world. I crave conversation with people who are just (insert good word for amazingly awesome, cultured and fun to talk to) I also want to learn many languages in my lifetime.

I want it so much because I want to feel everyday that I am going for my dreams. I decided a long time ago that I would live without regret. I decided a little more recently that I would make that a lot easier for myself by going for the things that I want and living for what I believe in. I believe in what a music education can do for children because I know what it did for me.

I dream of just being happy. I feel happy when I am around so many students who love and care about what I love and care about as well. I want to be a lifetime learner. Teaching is a profession that transcends so many age barriers! I am not limited to the knowledge of other 20 and 30 somethings! I am exposed to the wealth of knowledge of my young at heart seasoned professors and former cooperating teachers, my future colleagues and students of so many ages. As a music teacher, no matter what level I teach, I will still get to take advantage of the knowledge of a variety of ages and certainly a variety of personalities!

You got a dream…follow it. Even if you don’t get what you think you want you will get something far greater than what you’d get settling for what is appropriate and doable! You’re dreaming it for a reason silly!

Until next time…

KeyaraSig

Classroom Management Pros and Cons

One of my teaching mentors who is not a musician asked me about the unique classroom management issues facing music educators. I really enjoyed writing him back so I thought I’d share with the lovely readers of this blog!

My cooperating teacher is a master at managing a classroom. So much so, that this situation is borderline utopian and not realistically what I will be getting into my first few years. The classroom vibe is something she has consciously been cultivating for the years that she has been there.

Band presents a few management pros and cons:

Pros

  • The kids chose to be in this class and love music
  • Kids who are in band are usually the cream of the crop; it’s rare that you deal with too much crazy kids who seem to hate your very being and will do anything to go against you.
  • In high school band especially, parent involvement is high…you know their parents and they know you know their parents, sometimes on a personal level.
  • To play as a band you have no choice but to follow the conductor. Students self police because they want to make music together and the students who get in the way of that are shut down quite quickly.

Cons

  • They have freakin instruments in their hands. It gets quite loud.
  • They are smart: They can tell when you don’t know what you’re doing.
  • Individual progress: Progress is EXTREMELY varied. You will have a kid that has been in private lessons since they were 5 and a kid that started last year sitting in the same row on the same part. Differentiation is something we do everyday whether we like it or not. 50 kids means 50 different skill levels.
  • The numbers: You are looking at controlling between 30-80 or even higher students at a time. That is just the instrumentation of a band. My CT masterfully curbed that problem. She has a young band and an auditioned band for the older students. The young band is split into 3 classes so that as they get used to high school she can teach them all of the musicianship basics missed in middle school. The older band is one class, but they know what to do.
  • Music is extremely personal. This is a pro and a con. You get to know these guys pretty well over the years, but you have to keep that line. While many band directors become life long friends with a good amount of their students, while they are still in high school the line needs to stay there. How do you yell at a kid who is getting too comfortable and expect them to stay in band when the reason they are in band are these connections? Delicate balancing.

wpid-PicsArt_1355700698467.jpgMy cooperating teacher is very organized in her approach. She always plans even as experienced as she is. She has such a friendly rapport with the kids but the line is clearly there. They can talk to her any time and she will literally do anything for them. There is a group of older students that come into the band room to hang out pretty much every chance they get.

My personality works for and against me. I am friendly and genuine and the kids know that so they are willing to shut up for me. They know I care for them and that I will admit my mistakes. There is also an amount of trust there because they know I am not going to throw them under the bus for anything. However, I am not extremely assertive when it comes to regaining control. My teacher says that my voice kind of blends in when I try to calm them down. I have to work that and many other things.

Also, My CT is big on telling them what is going on and right now I am more on the side of doing things to improve their playing but not telling them why we are doing it causing it all to be much less effective. If I tell them we are playing long notes to focus on tone they can practice that way at home, they can focus more on improving their tone, etc. If I just do long tones they just do long tones.

Every single situation has it’s specific struggles. This just brushes the surface of the unique world of classroom management in band.

KeyaraSig

Thoughts after two weeks

Oh my goodness, student teaching is a dream come true. I truly end each day satisfied that I am having positive experiences with students and colleagues. I love being around people and constantly learning all the time.

roseMy cooperating teacher is awesome. She is really a master at this and everything I want to be when I get to that point. She cares about being effective and is constantly improving herself as if she were new to this (She’s in her 11th year). She cares about her students immensely and will do anything for them. It’s comforting to know I have a great example to follow. It gives me such a wealth of ideas to steal from.

My CT has been gradually giving me more and more responsibility. She gave me a full class to teach on Thursday of my first week and at least half a class every day since. I am extremely grateful. She also invests a lot into making me into a great teacher. She doesn’t hold back much when giving me feedback, which I love. She is also into getting me to dig into my weaknesses so I have been playing percussion a lot (I am a woodwind player primarily) and she had me teach jazz band once (I am a classical musician) Great stuff!!

I have a lot of work to do to be the teacher that I want to be, but the process is fun. I enjoy all of the feedback. The negative feedback is more fun because it gives me projects to work on. I love improving myself because in the end it is a service to my students, current and future. I get to live my life in service of others! And the happier I am the more effective I am so it is my duty to do what I can to be happy for my students. Life is good.

KeyaraSig

The week behind me and the week to come

Week one is done! Week two is approaching at an incredible speed! I am ready with my dukes up for what it may bring me. I am sure that it will be unexpected and awesome at the same time, but only time will tell.

ImageWould you believe that I have had every intention on posting every other day? I have been fighting incredible fatigue which is something that I have never faced in my life. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I fall asleep very fast and it is nearly impossible to wake me up. However, that is no longer the case, or at least it hasn’t been for the past week.

Although I get to bed at a reasonable or sometimes too early hour, I always wake up around 3am with all kinds of lesson ideas and unable to fall back asleep. One of my mentor teachers (Allen Hall @ Glen Allen H.S.) told me I just have to write it all down when I wake up so I can go back to sleep. I’ll try it.

Anyway, my body was so tired after the first week, that I fell asleep at 10pm on Friday night and did not wake up (even through multiple attempts) until 8pm on Saturday night. All that day light wasted. I stayed up Saturday night doing lesson plans. Unfortunately, I only got about 2 hours of daylight this weekend…You live and learn, right?

Student teaching so far has brought the best out of me. I have always known that I am at my best when I am in front of an audience. It feels like there is something way bigger than me going on. I play my best on the stage with an audience, I am the person that I’ve always wanted to be in front of a group sharing knowledge. Being in the classroom is always so amazing because the learning process is such a two way street! Even more-so now than it will be in the future. Every time I step onto the podium I learn SO much. I learn about myself, the students, the music, the whole process. It’s amazing. It is truly amazing.

Last week, my goal was to get out of my comfort zone as much as possible. I did some, but not as much as I had hoped. Next week I want to build upon that goal. I will continue to try to get out of my comfort zone a lot more, but the main goal will be to get to know the students better. I couldn’t have asked for a more respectful group, and the vibe there is so relaxed. I think I have been trying way too hard to be ‘professional’. Don’t get me wrong, I pal around with them between classes and I had a great chance to get to know some of them during the All-County band event this Friday. I wanna do more and I want to be more.

I am actually pretty introverted. It’s hard to tell because once I am in a social situation I spread my wings…might as well (@TheRickeyB quote). But, I really am not always as comfortable in my skin as I seem. Many times I would much prefer laying down with a good book or writing in a journal to a party. Particularly a large party (I absolutely hate crowds). I say this to illustrate why it can be harder sometimes to get up and say something instead of plunging head first into my journal. In some situations, it feels almost as if I am glued to where I am and only someone referring directly to me can pull me out of the paralysis. Kinda strange for an overzealous attention whore, but I gave up being normal or predictable (even for myself) years ago. I’d go insane trying to figure myself out completely.

Anyway, I am so excited about next week and what it will teach me. I am open to suggestions to help me with any of my aforementioned problems or any comment in general!

 

 

Thoughts

This morning I realize that I truly will not work another day in my life. I truly derive happiness from everything that teaching and music is. My soul, no, my entire being feels a kind of contentedness knowing that this is my chosen path. (Now if I can just meet that rich hottie that is gonna lead me to financial security, I mean love…yes, love)

I know everyday will not be easy, but it seems illegal to have so much fun and still get a full-time salary. Today’s gonna be a good one.

Just One Of Those Days… (Day 2)

Today was just meant to be one of those days. I was so beat after yesterday that I crashed after posting about day 1. I woke up at 3am and I could not go back to sleep! So I got up and tried to make the best of it by making an amazing lunch for later: A steak, baked potato a yeast roll, greens and various snacks to keep me energized. With that meal, who couldn’t conquer day 2!

I did a little this and that to pass the time, finally getting sleepy again only an hour before time to go. Determined to fight, I dragged myself to the kitchen to make an omelet I had been craving along with my morning shake. I put the omelet in a cup for portability (She’s cute AND smart!)

As I got in the car, I put the omelet on top of the car so I could open the door. In slow motion, my omelet toppled over and decorated the windshield. My heart broke and I lamented that omelet all the way to school.

One delicious snack was not to ruin my glorious second day of student teaching. I’m so above it. :’-(

Standing in the hall waiting for Ms. Peters, I thought ahead to lunch…That omelet had nothing on my steak, etc. Thinking about it made my mouth water. That is the moment I realized that my lunch was still on the counter. at home. on the counter at home.

……….

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In an effort to learn names, I am making seating charts for all of the classes to refer to later. It’s really helping! Just creating them has helped me learn a lot of names!

Although I have still yet to feast upon that steak, after a brief moment I decided that I choose the way I feel about a situation. You know, I never gave a second thought when my car was stolen this summer…Yet, I had to talk myself into getting over losing my glorious breakfast and lunch.

Anyway, today was another great day! I introduced myself to the rest of the band program and got another even more hilarious set of note cards. I changed the questions and the way I presented them from class to class trying to get rid of things I didn’t like. The last class was definitely the best.

Fatigue did get to me today, but I walked around a lot to counter it. I also spent a lot of time today trying to analyze each class’ vibe for future planning. For example, today’s symphonic band class has only eleven 9th graders and they are extremely quiet. I’m guessing that I will be able to really do a lot of work off of the podium and I can definitely make a point to give everyone attention. The class is 90 minutes!

Anyways, after school, I had the pleasure of attending a curriculum meeting! The music supervisor of the county went over stuff. I most enjoyed talking to my middle school band director, Mr. Etheridge, after the meeting and meeting the other band directors. I also got another chance to meet the music supervisor (not a bad thing!)

My Dad, knowing that I missed lunch, greeted me with a steak wrap when I got home, ending off another perfect day.

Student Teaching, Day 1

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My day went awesome! I was a little nervous at the beginning of the day, but when my cooperating teacher Ms. Peters walked in everything got better. I am so blessed to have been paired with such a cooperative and open-minded teacher.

My mantra for the day was stay out of my comfort zone. In all of my previous placements, when I was not on the podium, I would find a comfy seat near my CT and take vigorous notes on everything I saw. I still write a lot while observing, but I move around more, interacting with students when possible.

My CT and I agreed on me doing a little introductory activity. There was one guest conductor that has stuck out in my mind as a favorite. He gave us a sheet of paper and asked us a few personal questions while answering the same questions himself. He really made us all feel as though he cared about us as individuals. I decided to do the same thing.

I asked them:
-What is your favorite thing about yourself?
-What are you good at other than music?
-Name someone famous & alive that you would like to talk to.
-What is something you would do if you could not fail?

Although I got some really weird and silly answers, the conversation between me and the classes is already beginning! They’re sharing silly stories and revealing a lot about their personalities. I plan to use these in some way, but they’ve already done so much more than I planned!

Overall, I am happy about my school, my CT and the next 2 months. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Goodbye, Comfort-Zone!!

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A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. You must break out of your current comfort zone and become comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown.
Denis Waitley

So, as you know, I am entering the final leg of my degree: student teaching. As I plan and prepare for an effective and fulfilling student teaching experience I also have to prepare for interviews, cover letter and resume prep.

I aspire to start my teaching career abroad at an international school. I am ready for any type of adventure so I may end up anywhere in the world from Africa to Venezuela ( I am looking at specific schools in both regions) While I am doing all the dirty work form preparing my resume to reviewing interview questions to creating a spreadsheet with all of the schools with available music teaching jobs, I know that it is not nearly enough. There are some things one can only gain from experience.

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Although I am quite experienced for an undergrad, ( I have held more than 5 music education positions spanning since 2008) I have never held a full-time teaching position.

A brief picture of my situation: The hiring process for teaching jobs in the states does not officially start until the summer. I have no problem with securing a job here but my first ambition is an international job. The hiring process for these jobs is starting now.

Most international schools have found out who will not be continuing contracts and are holding interviews via Skype and conferences as early as January. I have signed up with two websites ( joyjobs.com and tieonline.com) that post these jobs and help facilitate the hiring process. I would be so appreciative of help in the following areas:

–Mock Interviews…as hard core as you please. As we say in the South “I ain’t scared”)
–Ruthless cover letter critique…I’m a big girl, I can take it.
–Resume help…there seem to be many varying ideas but I need them all!
–Just advice and support. Nothing is ever done alone.

I am determined to secure one of these positions. I am applying to every single international school that has a music opening (about 80 that I know of so far) I am an underdog because they typically want experienced teachers for these positions. However, I teach a subject that is in demand overseas and low competition so I am barreling ahead!

More on international teaching:

http://musicedmajor.net/2011/01/12/teaching-abroad/