Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The True Tradition of Excellence

I love Oklahoma, but I'm not from here. I am from Fort Smith, Arkansas where I graduated from Southside High School where our mascot was a Rebel and our fight song was Dixie. What I'm about to write won't make me popular back home and it might even cause divisions within my own family, but I can't remain silent anymore.

Last summer after the deadly church shootings in Charleston, SC the Fort Smith Public Schools Board of Education in closed session voted to discontinue the use of the Rebel mascot starting with the 2016-2017 school year and discontinuing the use of Dixie as the fight song for the 2015-2016 school year. It was a decision that sparked controversy. Some have argued that the mascot needs to stay the Rebel out of school pride and southern pride. Some have argued that the issue they have is that school board did the vote in closed session without public input. I have stayed away from this issue mainly because I don't live in Fort Smith anymore and I wanted to focus my time and writing towards issues that have been facing Oklahoma educators. However this impacts all educators. While I personally don't find the Rebel mascot offensive nor the fight song offensive, I know those that do, when I was a student there I knew students that did. What I find to be truly offensive is how others have chosen to address the issue and their use of tactics to do so.

I have heard arguments both for and against the decision, and I have witnessed most of them being civil. However the hatred and egocentric, and might I say childish attacks need to stop. They need to stop right now. For the love and this is big, when it comes to educating children there is no room for hatred and egocentrism.

You can get your point across without resorting to slander and name calling. What lessons do these teach children? How do we as educators tell child not to act this way when they see adults in authority and position of influence in their community using this kind of behavior? This teaches kids nothing.

I am all about school pride. I am all about building a climate and culture where students are engaged and excited to learn. I am not dumb and I know that the school mascot is central in building that community. One argument that I have heard is that changing a mascot will take away the school's tradition of excellence, and for the love that can't be far from the truth. Southside High School will continue to have a tradition of excellence. Why is that? Because they have educators of excellence, the true tradition of excellence. They have educators that day in and day out do what is best for kids. What makes a school excellent is not the mascot that it holds, but it is the real people inside the building. It is the educators, administrators, cooks, food service workers, custodians, secretaries, volunteers, and of course the students that make a school excellent. Southside graduates have become educators, doctors, lawyers, businessmen and businesswomen, stay at moms and dads, workforce laborers, members of the armed forces, and so much more. Those that educated myself, my mother, my brothers, my friends, and countless others did not do so because we were Rebels, but they did so because they cared. I don't teach my students because they are Tigers, I teach them because I love them and because I care. Regardless of a change in mascot, children will still be educated and more importantly children will still be loved.

We must never forget our history and we must never forget how we got to where we are now, but the best is yet to come. Great teachers will continue to teach and will continue to impact lives, students will continue to excel in academic, fine arts, and athletics, and the world will keep on turning. It is time for this community to move forward, it is time for relationships to be restored. Great things will still happen, because great people, not a cartoon character, are in that building everyday.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Year in Review

It is a Monday morning at 11:30, I'm still in my pajamas and bathrobe. I only have 250 steps on my FitBit, and I had cake for breakfast. It must be summer.

This school year has brought laughter, tears, joy, heartbreak, success, and failure not only in my classroom but for teachers across the state of Oklahoma.

I started this school year by changing my focus. The Vocal Music world can be cut throat. We are pulled in nine million different directions, we are tasked with the responsibility to prepare students for contests, concerts, and musicals that we many times find that to be our only focus. Over the the past two years I found myself in a dangerous trap of it being about me. It isn't about me. It was never about me and it never should have been about me. It should always be about my students and their successes not my recognition. This year I made the intentional choice to focus on building community in my classroom. We didn't sing a note written on a page of music that would have been used for a performance, audition, or contest for the first two weeks of school. Instead we spent that time getting to know each other, building a community of trust, and building friendships. Because I spent that time with my students it made the year so much smoother. During the school year I would try to have one day about every two weeks for at least thirty minutes of rehearsal going back to those community building activities. Some might question why would spend precious rehearsal time focusing on this, and my response why would you not? We are not only building musicians but we are building young adults that need skills to function in society. I don't regret it at all. This year I learned more about my students and I loved them.

This year wasn't without some failures as well. As any middle school choir teacher in Oklahoma will tell you that OSSAA District Contest Sight Reading was a beast. A raging, hairy, slobbery beast. I have always done well at Sight Reading Contest. My students start sight reading in September. They are fabulous sight readers, but this year there were changes. We were thrown for a loop and my students felt defeated. I felt defeated. However, we picked ourselves up and we made more music. We had some fun. We sang Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake. We found ourselves again, and we had fun making music.

For me I became more involved in the #oklaed community and meet some of the most passionate and amazing educators. We are passionate about students in Oklahoma and we are outraged by the decisions that our legislatures are making that are negatively affected our children. This year with our budget crisis students have lost programs, educators lost their jobs, and horrible decisions had to be made in order to keep schools open. All the while money is being wasted on trying to impeach the President and building a reflecting pool at the Capital. We didn't stand for it. We made our voices heard. This year dozens of pro-education candidates filed to run for office. People are more informed of what is happening because we refused to stay silent.

I'm proud of this school year. I'm proud of what I, my students, my school, and my fellow teachers in my district and across the state accomplished. I would say that I can't wait to see what the 2016-2017 and I really can't but for right now, I'm going to enjoy my summer!

Educators what are you proud of? What did you do this year that you loved? What did you do this year that you won't be doing next year? I would love to know!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

My Concert Is Over...Now What?

So I'm a Choral Music Educator and my concert was last Friday. By the way it was fabulous and amazing.

So I find myself trying to figure something out to do with the middle school monsters...students, I mean students. Well...five minutes ago I came up with a plan and I feel like it is a brilliant idea.

My kids do my job. It was the best. My kids had to plan the lesson and teach their class.

I divided the class into five different groups, and some of my larger classes had more classes. In these groups they had create their lessons. Their lessons need to have objectives, worked on three of our essential skills that we work on in class, they needed to include all of the normal things that I do when I'm teaching and leading rehearsal, and some sort of reflection or assessment. Below I have included all of the handouts I used and gave to kids.

They have knocked it out of the park! They have been prepared, they have thought out their lessons, and they have been outstanding. I saw future teachers in the making. It was wonderful.

What I never thought would happen would be how it would affect my students. One young man said, "It gave me greater respect for everything that my teachers do for me. I never really understood all of the stuff that you do to make sure we learn." They loved this project and they loved planning and getting it all together. It will be a part of my curriculum for years to come!

Project Rubric

Project Guide

Sample Lesson Plan

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Dear Educator...Again

Dear Educator,

I'm writing to you again because it is May. While there is a light at the end of the tunnel and summer is coming, somehow May just might be more heartbreaking than April.

We have watched our students grow all year long, and we have to say good bye. We wonder if we were enough, what we taught them was enough, and we wonder if they will be happy and successful. At least I do. I talk a lot about loving kids, and that we can't really teach them to fullest extent without loving them fully and truly knowing them. For me after teaching some of my students for three years, I wonder if I have prepared them and I wonder if they will remember anything that I taught them or really anything that I have done. If you are anything like me, you ready for this school year to be over, but at the same time you are still hurting and processing what all has gone on this school year. Lean in close, if you changed one life. You changed the world.

To the first year teacher, you made it. Congratulations! I promise you that the tears you have shed have been worth it.

To the teacher that is retiring, you made it. Congratulations! Thank you for your years of service and for your dedication to your students and schools. Thank you for leaving a legacy.

To the teacher that is leaving the profession, I get it. Times are hard and being a teacher is hard. Thank you for all that you did while you taught in your classroom. And always remember that you can come back. Good luck in your future endeavors!

To the teacher lost their job because of budget cuts, I'm sorry. It isn't fair. I don't know what to say to make it better. Don't lose hope and don't lose your passion.

To the graduating college student, Oklahoma kids need good teachers. I hope that you choose to stay.

To the administrator that had to make the hard decisions, thank you for what you do. Thank you for doing the impossible. Thank you for what you have done.

To the students that we have taught, I hope you learned something. But more than anything I hope you know that you are loved.

Educators it will be okay. It will be better. I admire you all and I admire what you do! For the love just keep doing what you are doing and when it gets hard keep going and always eat a donut.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Teach Like Me

I love being a teacher! Sometimes it is the best job in the world and the worst job in the world. I'm sure that teaching is the only job where you can both love and hate your job at the same time.

My reason and my why for teaching is simple. "So every child can experience the love and beauty that music can bring." Over the past five years of doing this amazing thing, I have been able to help students fall in love with choral music. More than just learning about choral music, they learn a little bit more about themselves along the way.

Just today I attended my first senior reception. What I love about Broken Arrow is how they have receptions for seniors to go back to their elementary schools and middle schools, this group of seniors were my first class of Eighth Graders. My first year of teaching...I cried a lot. I mean I cried a lot, like sometimes everyday. To see these kids come back to my school, grown and matured, made all of those crazy tears worth it.

One senior made me cry again, but in a good way. He told me that I was his favorite teacher of all time. If it wasn't for me I would have never been in show choir, he would have never had the greatest experiences of his life. FOR THE LOVE!

He is thinking about becoming a choir teacher and that makes me beyond happy. In a world and a system where so many are leaving the profession, I can't even think about doing anything else! I have heard that many teachers don't even encourage their students to become teachers, but I can't do that.

So why should you teach music like me? Because each day you get be crazy, creative, and have some fun with some amazing kids. You aren't just teaching them about music, you are teaching them so much more.