Monday, September 19, 2011

Every day is a new day!

Each morning after breakfast duty, I run up to the office to help my 5th grade helpers as they do the announcements.  Then I run back to my classroom just in time to greet my first class of the day which is always kindergarten.  I think that kindergarten is great in the morning because they are still half asleep.  When they are still barely awake kindergarten is my favorite. In the morning thanks to our wonderful 1/2 time music teacher, I have approximately 25 students.

On every 7th day of school I get to see those bright shiny kindergarten faces again at the end of the day.  This is always a more interesting experience because they are wide awake, ready to go home and they've multiplied!  In the afternoon, when my side-kick is off teaching music at her other campus, I get 35 students all to myself!  Kindergartners in those numbers should not be allowed, but that's a soap box for another time.

So this afternoon my herd of kindergarten kids showed up at my door complete with their backpacks, full bladders, dry throats, hurt fingers, runny noses, untied shoes, and tag games still unfinished from recess, and there I was,,,,,,,, the adult in charge, by myself for 45 minutes!  I wanted to run and hide.

Did I mention that I'm supposed to be on vocal rest for 9 more days? So despite my trepidation I was a little glad that it was kindergarten because the nice thing about being 5 years old is that you can still be impressed! While they settled in their usual place on the floor, I started playing the piano.  As they immediately stopped what they were doing, and stared open mouthed at me  I thought, "this is brilliant!  they didn't even know I even had a piano in the room and now I've wowed them with my virtuosic skill!"  (the skills that last about 24 measures before I crash and burn)

As soon as I made my crash landing they burst into enthusiastic applause and then all of a sudden my piano starts acting strange.....

One of my little ones had crawled underneath and had started playing with the pedal with one hand while he had the other one draped over the top reaching blindly for anything he could touch which of course caused the perfect distraction.  At the moment of distraction, and before I could so much as breath about 5 things happened at once, my personal "teacher recorder"  had 5 year old mouth all over it, my activeboard had been unplugged, the sound to the activeboard had been unplugged, the piano pedal disconnected and my microphone turned off.  It was literally as if they had telepathically sent a signal to do all of these "no-nos" at once!

So my attempts at relative silence went out the window at this point.  I was able to refrain from yelling, barely, but I did give them sermon # 374 about the dangers of electrical plugs and why you shouldn't just push this or pull that to see what happens.

While I was in the process of pulling together the shreds of my lesson that had  been based on technology that regrettably relied on electricity and sound, one of the students said, "Are you mad?"

 I must have been frowning.

With a sigh of long suffering  I said, "No, I'm not mad, I'm just a little aggravated, but it will be alright."...... The word aggravated was as freakishly novel as my attempts at playing the piano.  The entire class suddenly focused  and started rolling their new found word around on their tongue.  They came up with a variety of 5 year old derivatives and shouted out things like "agi-ca-tated?" and "agri-jated!" and "ali-vated". When one finally asked. "What does "agi-jated" mean?"  I responded by saying it means "slightly annoyed".  We were off again, tasting the wonders of a new and bizarre sounding word.

And that was when the story of Peter and the Wolf came to my rescue!  To say that my original lesson was well and fully cooked is an understatement, but as my very curious 5 year old class had suddenly developed a fleeting interest in vocabulary, I thought I should go with it.  The grandfather in Peter in the Wolf is wonderfully aggrieved.  I am so happy that I had a CD that would tell the story, so that I could be quiet.  I had the students raise their hand when they got to the character who sounds aggravated which they loved and before we could get any further in the story, it was time to go.  They left talking about the characters in Peter and the Wolf as if that was what I had intended all along...

We should always remember that we teach children and not subjects.  They always have a funny way of letting us know what they need to learn about whether that is what we had in mind or not.

Monday, September 12, 2011

After school is where it starts

This is shaping up to become a truly great year.  In addition to my regular school day I've been given the chance to provide music classes to students who want to take them after school.  This year my half time co-teacher is coming back to campus each Monday afternoon to teach piano in the piano lab.  Because of her help I am free to teach guitar twice a week and a little class called "Melody Soup".

Guitar is a fun class to teach because the students who take it are VERY excited and they REALLY want to learn how to play guitar.  The only problem with guitar is that is a sincerely challenging class that involves mild pain until you get calluses formed on your fingers.... so the early days of guitar lessons are less than inspiring.  The students who have the will to stick it out are primed and ready to do great things.

My favorite class is turning out to be "Melody Soup".  Melody Soup meets from 4:30 to 5:30 each Monday and Wednesday and it meets with the same set of kids each class, so that means that this group of kids who attend Melody Soup each week are getting twice as much music each week in the afternoons as I am able to give them during regular school day.  How nice it is to see a group of kids twice in one week!  We are already getting so much done.  I can't wait until Wednesday because they will actually be able to remember what we did the class before.  I'm using the song experiences from Education Through Music as the basis, but I'm letting the students have a great deal of input.  After we played several games on Monday, we talked about what kind of final product we would like to produce.  They want to have a performance that involves costumes, technology instruments, games and singing.  SOOOOOO

We are going to put together an opera based on the songs that us folks familiar with ETM know go together well to form the libretto for an opera.  The students learn the songs, then put them together in their own order, figure out their own costuming add instruments (which will be new to me) and perform.

Today we learned "Are You Sleeping?".  We played the song using hand signs and trading partners.  Then we sang the song in a round.  Then we talked about the story in the song and then the children acted out their story.  Both stories were different and we had a great deal of fun.

Wednesday we are going to learn the second song "Where is John?".....

The wild card elements of this "Melody Soup" experience will really be the added instruments, the costumes, and the attempts we will make to video our work.

I am so excited to be able to use ETM in a small group with the same group of students each week in sessions that are close enough together for students to remember what we did AND with students who although tired from a days work are highly motivated.  What a pleasant way to end the day.  One of my Melody Soup kids told me " I had lots of fun making soup today..... I guess we are lucky because the other kids after school don't get to make music soup."  I like that!  Maybe word will spread and I will be able to add "Melody Stew" "Melody Bisque" and "Melody Casserole" to the roster in the spring.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

'Tis the Season

There is something about spring that makes me think about fall.  Like clockwork, when I start preparing my spring choir concert and 5th grade graduation prep, my mind immediately starts playing the "next year" game. 

Next year - I'll start recorders sooner
Next year - I'll try a patiotic program in 5th grade
Next year - I'll solve that pesky scheduling delima that has a simple solution
Next year - I'll set up my room differently to ease the flow of traffic
Next year - I'll write these projects

It's like a happy disease.... just as the spring starts to really feel like the runaway train that I am desperate to get off of, my mind jumps ahead to an imaginary utopian school year with none of the harsh realities that embody the current year and with all of the irratants iradicated.

In my dream school year there are no messy classrooms, unfiled papers, or mice.   There are only well-behaved students, and there are only perfectly executed and well recieved lessons where everyone is fully engaged and delighted to be a part of what is happening in my classroom every day.  I'm always on time, I'm always prepared, my technology never fails and I'm never sick or tired, or angry.  I'm like Glenda the good witch meets Mary Poppins in the music classroom...... Can you Imagine?

Nevertheless I think that I am drawn to next year because I am totally immersed in the experience of this year and usually while I am knee deep in this or that my mind is coming up in the "I should have....." and the "I wish I had".....that ae an inevitable part of any teaching experience. 

My friend Carol has a good way of doing this.  After each major campus event, she takes notes during lunch as the event is inevitably discussed around her. With the program or experience so fresh in everyone's mind, she manages to refine her process at the moment in time when creativity is high.  No one is wondering what we did because everyone just did it.   She writes it all down and puts it in the folder for that event.  When it' time to dust off the REAL work of implementing the plan the following year she has a fresh set of suggestions and feedback to help get her started. 

For me - the best way to be ready for next year is to end well.  If I don't finish well then I have a really hard time getting my classroom set up and things planned for the new school year come August.  Sometimes if my life outside of school will allow, I have been able to complete my own personal finishing process by the "let's go home" date.  Sometimes, I make abbreviated trips to school for a couple of weeks after school is out.  I've learned that investing this time, allows me to not be entirely overwhelmed when school starts. 

There are many things that I address, but the first and more important has many facets, so I'll start with it.

1.   Put things away cleanly and neatly - obvious but often neglected.   
  •  Costumes must be laundered before you store them.  My local dry cleaners has occassionally donated their services on things I could not wash, and my current school has a washing machine and dryer.  I've even sent home wash with students before.   
  • Wash all of your classroom recorders..... you'll need them to be clean especially if you order recorders each year and the order is late
  • Clean and repair pitched or unpiched instruments.  You can't use them if they are broken and sometimes I miss things.  If you don't currently have the hardware to repair the intruments you have, order it now and hopefully it will come in before the end of May and then the repairs are simple. 
  • Store things (especially paper and fabric in plastic rather than cardboard! Plastic isn't pefect, but it doesn't attract roaches and silverfish.  If you live in a humid place, storing fabric and paper is always a problem.  If you want to spend the money, invest in those vacuum seal bags.  The 'do it yourself way" would be to make or purchase small muslin bags and put in charcoal brickets.  These are usually found in the laundry aisle.  If you aren't too worried about the brickets you could always just wrap them in paper towels and then store your things in the same bin. 
  • Clean out your filing cabinet...... This is huge..... you should decide if you want to be a "set of copies" filer or a "one original" filer....If you don't have much room or if you are moving, you should go with the "one original" policy. 
  • Clean out the files on your computer.... This is also huge..... especially if you want to be able to find something you did well for next year.... if you put things in the right place you won't spend all of your time hunting. 
  • Call in all borrowed materialls.  Folks borrow stuff from me all of the time.  Make sure that all of your music resources have made it back to you before the end of the year. 
  • Inspect your stage and storgage areas.  You may be the only one who cares enough about these areas of the school to see to their well-being, so make sure you inspect them and turn in the appropriate work orderes. 
There are many other important aspects of ending well to start well and I may revisit this topic on another post, but as I'm listing all of these things, I feel the need to get to work. 

Happy Singing!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

2nd grade

I am so very excited about the singing going on in 2nd grade this year.  They just sing beautifully!

I'm excited about how sweetly they sing because if their sound is sweet now, then hopefully we can continue to build a nice sound the rest of the time they are in elementary school.  The best part is that these students have reached that place in their singing that is so beautiful that they notice and are therefore motivated to create more beauty.

Kuddos for 2nd grade!
I think that 2nd graders are awesome! because for the most part if you are in 2nd grade you are pleased to learn.  It has been my observation over the years that 2nd grade is the happiest year in all of elementary school because if you've made it to 2nd grade there are many things that you've figured out.  Simply put, you know how to be at school.  Also - 2nd graders are a little nicer than children of other ages.  It's in 2nd grade where I see students becoming totally enthralled in whatever game we are playing.  It's in 2nd grade where I see students being most comfortable with and most accepting of their peers.  And, it's in 2nd grade where their confidence that they can manage a task doesn't lag too far behind their actual ability.  It's a wonderful time.  I wish it would last longer :)

In any case, I'm happy that my 2nd graders will be singing for their parents at the end of the month.  It will be a pleasure to share with these parents the good work their students are doing, and the good work that the parents are doing as well!

 When you teach, things don't always turn out nicely.  Sometimes we or our students fail to meet either our expectations or the expectations of others.  However, when we have the chance to experience learning that is beautiful, like my "Second Grade Songbirds" we should enjoy it fully.    After all, it's those musical experiences that are truly beautiful that inspired us to teach music in the first place.  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Vocal Rest!

The best and hardest thing to do when you are a music teacher is to maintain a rested voice. I am happy to say that now that I'm on Spring Break, I can rest my voice for a few days. This is good because my voice was in desperate need of silence!

The best money that I've ever spent was my "aerobics instructor" microphone and amplifier. If you are a music teacher who is trying to teach without amplification go ahead and spend the money to get the microphone, no amount of unamplified teaching is worth loosing your voice over.

There are multiple reasons to take care of your voice with plenty of water, rest, limited talking, and all the other healthy things we are supposed to do for ourselves anyway.....Here are the few that come to the top of my head

1. I like to sing - a tired voice keeps me from doing what I love..... I hate that!
2. This is my job - if I can't do my job then maybe I need to do something else
3. My students benefit from a healthy vocal model not a tired one
4. Having a voice that is not my best voice puts me in a VERY bad mood and is frustrating
5. Singing makes me happy
6. Some vocal damage is permanent, why risk it!
7. Surgery is risky at best, devestating at worst
8. A $300.00 microphone and a $50.00 amp is cheaper than lost work and surgery