Saturday, January 28, 2017

Rewards and Thuggery

What exactly is suffering for my reward? Is it the little pay? Is it the daily demeaning of my profession that I see all the time? Is the lack of respect for myself and my colleagues?

In regards to my question about pay, my loan providers or landlord could give a flying flip about my heavenly reward; they want my money now.

Just this week alone I was told that gem of a statement above and one of my favorite #oklaed bloggers and blogging mentors was called a thug and denied entrance to a public event over school choice.

If you know Rick Cobb you are aware that the first thing that comes to mind is a thug. I mean look at how he is showing off the fact that he is shoe twinning with a bunch of kindergarteners. Seriously such a thug. The nerve of that guy.

I’m over the whole “this is just the way it has been.” Excuse me as I vomit. I am a professional. My friends are professionals. We are doing our best to provide ALL KNOWLEDGE to all students while not being flushed with cash. I’m over the fact that I have to accept the status quo, don’t tell me my reward is in heaven. Don’t thank for my service. Show me. Stand up for education. Be willing to lose a donor to your re-election campaign when it is clearly the will of the people not to have a particular person running the US Department of Education. I will never stop advocating for public education, and I will never stop advocating for the betterment of my students. I will keep emailing you, I will keep calling you, I will keep writing you letters, and I will keep holding you accountable.

Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go frolic on my unicorn farm with Celine Dion music playing in the background and paint glittery rainbows on my face.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Loveless Professional Development 101

This is my "I'm not amused face."
For the Love! So, I said I wasn’t going to write any more political posts...but then State Senator Kyle Loveless goes and does this….

If you don’t want to look through the bill itself, the short version of this requires teacher training on “grooming” and appropriate behavior with students.

Finally! After all of those years of asking for meaningful Professional Development, it is happening! Just what I have always wanted: Professional Development over how to have proper relationships with students.

Like what the what? At the beginning of each school year, in districts across the state of Oklahoma, we are required to watch a series of videos and take quizzes over those videos. Those videos range in topics from child abuse and neglect to sexual harassment, from bullying to how to avoid slipping on a puddle of water. These training videos are time-consuming, and yes, some of them are necessary. Call me crazy, but it seems to me that not having inappropriate relationships with my students and grooming is common knowledge. But, by all means, if you think that will fix the teacher shortage in this state, Senator Loveless, have at it.

The idea that he feels we need additional training on how to not have sexual and inappropriate relations is a slap in the face. To have that level of questioning when it comes to teaching is outrageous. I’m not stupid. I’m not a gross sicko. I’m a great teacher, and I should be respected for that. And how much would this new training cost the state or school districts? Who is going to pay for it? Let’s put forth legislation that will provide the training and professional development we need and we want. That would be money well spent. Or...teacher pay raises. *Cough Cough*

I’m curious, what exactly is his idea of “good” grooming? Because if it involves washing my hair every day, we are going to have a problem. Dry shampoo is a girl’s best friend. Oh wait….that is not the grooming he is talking about.

Saturday, January 7, 2017


As educators, we are all familiar with standardized tests and the stakes that come with them. Even though in the state that I teach in some of the high stakes has been taken out of standardized testing, however, its presence is still made known.

We spend hours pouring over those scores, breaking it down by objective, comparing its previous year's data, and then go further and break it down kid by kid, by IEP students, ELL students, Economically disadvantaged, and so on and so on. To improve and move forward with our instruction, yes we need to do these things, and I can I tell you how excited I am that my contest scores aren’t viewed in that matter!

But in a conversation with my friend Anthony Purcell (follow him on Twitter, just do it), he proposed the question, what if we looked at music contest scores the same way we look at standardized test scores.

The majority of choral contests have the two elements, a prepared stage portion, and a sight reading portion. For the prepared stage portion, each choir prepares two songs of contrasting styles, and one of those songs has to be unaccompanied, that is performed for a panel of three judges. These judges have a list of musical and choral elements each group performance is rated on that scale. Each judge gives the choir an overall rating of Superior, Excellent, Average, Below Average, and Unsatisfactory. My students and I start preparing the music we will perform for this contest starting in November and contest is in February, but the prep work starts the day they first walk into my classroom. So months and months of hard work is boiled down to 5-8 minutes of a performance heard by three very highly qualified judges who have never heard our choir perform. Then after you go through that you have sight reading, in that portion of the contest we are given a short piece of music that we have never seen before and we three minutes to learn it and then sing it for a judge. We get two chances at that. It isn’t easy, and sight reading contest preparation starts in August. You can get the same rating of Superior, Excellent, Average, Below Average, and Unsatisfactory.

Yes with my contest scores I do get judges comments and feedback, and that is by far the most valuable part of that judging sheet. But what by far makes the contest so vastly different from standardized testing is the subjectivity behind. All of the judges I have encountered have always rated my choirs fairly and according to our skill set and level, but let’s say that my choir sings at the beginning of the day as opposed at the end of the day. Or my choir full of seventh graders follows a choir full of ninth graders. Or my choir performs before the judges go to lunch and it has been a marathon of judging. All of these things are factors to contribute to the overall performance. Again all of the judges in my experience are highly professional and do their best to ensure that they do their job effectively. However the truth is this, the judges are hearing and seeing a three-minute performance of a five-month long process. They can only judge the performance; they can’t judge the process. Sometimes factors beyond our control effect what happen: your best sight reader and leader of the alto section wakes up with 102 degree fever and misses the performance, your bass section goes from 15 to 7 after a chunk of them end up on the eligibility list because of their grades in Math, or you could have a section that can’t find the Do (solfege syllables for those of you who don’t know) to have their lives in sight reading even though you know that they can do it.  

So now seeing and understanding the background behind the contest, let’s say you are sitting in a faculty meeting and your administration pulls out the test scores for last year and includes your choir, band, orchestra, one act plays, and speech and debate contest results as well. How do you interpret that as a school? As a faculty? Do you even understand the context of what the results and the feedback? I would wager to say that you might only understand the score sheet in front of you truly if you have some music training or music degree. Would my scores that are suddenly in front of you come with an audio recording of our performance? Because it would be very difficult to understand those scores and feedback without hearing the actual performance. Here’s the kicker, isn’t music supposed to be a beautiful art form opened to listener interpretation, so shouldn’t that factor into what you are reading. Because how many people looking at those score sheets and comment cards would understand what they are saying. I know that would be terrified if my contest scores and comments were just laid out for all to look at and them and interpret them as they will. What you won’t find on that comment card or that score sheet is the real reason I go to contest. Not for a score, not for some judges to tell us how amazing we were (because we are), but for the purpose that it makes my students better musicians and it makes them better people. Going to contest teaches my students about hard work, courage, and dedication. Sharing your craft with anyone can be scary. Sharing your craft when you an awkward and hormone filled middle schooler is even scarier.

So to the ELA, Math, Science, US History, and Geography teachers out there, this is what it is like for me when I have to sit and look at your test scores. I don’t know what I’m looking at and I can’t even begin to imagine what you are feeling when you see an entire year of teaching summed up it a few numbers on a page. So if see me looking confused or looking like I don’t care, that is far from the truth, I do care, and I want to be supportive because you see they are all our kids and we only what the best for them and to see them succeed. Our teaching is not defined by numbers on a page and what data points our students reach, our teaching should always be driven by what is best for the child and impacting their lives beyond the classroom. When we do these things we will see those numbers go up, but more importantly we will see the lives of children improve.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Just Make Sure Students Are Put First

When I heard the news that #oklaed had last one of their own to a senseless and tragic accident, my heart dropped. If you never had the chance to have any interactions whether it be in person or Twitter with Michael Reid, I’m sorry you missed out on knowing one of the coolest people ever. I connected weekly via Twitter with Mr. Reid, and I met him once, and I was struck by his passion for students and by his passion for educators. Both he and his wife strived to seek the best for the children that they served.

On Sunday he participated the weekly #oklaed Twitter chat. He liked many of my tweets, and I did the same with him, but one Tweet that he posted and as I was looking back on those words today it makes me cry and makes me humble, “Just make sure students are put first.”

I did not work in a building with him, but I know those that have, and I’m sure they will confirm that he always put students first.

It can be easy in the current political and social climate, that we give up, that we lose hope and vision. I admit, I have done that. I have let the circumstances around me cloud my judgment and my judging. I stopped putting students first. This must and needs to change.

So as I go back to work tomorrow, with a heavy heart for those that hurting, I will remember those words that were tweeted out, “Just make sure students are put first.”

My thoughts and prayers are with Michael Reid’s wife Linda, family, education family, students, and friends. We are here for you.

*If you need a shoulder to cry on or just someone to listen too, I am here. I love you #oklaed.*

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Balance: One Word 2017

My first post of 2017!! 2016 was full of personal and professional triumphs, and it was also full of personal and professional lows. One that I felt helped me when things got dark and heavy was my word that chose to represent 2016. Hope. There were times that I had a lot of hope and times that I felt like I had none. However, I learned more about hope than I ever thought or imagined. I learned where to place and not place my hope. I always learned to look for hope. I learned there is always hope, even if it is the hope of a donut and cup of coffee in the morning.

This year my word might seem a little less ideological and might be a bit more practical, but I feel like that truth that I can learn from applying this idea will help me become a better Christ follower, a better woman, a better daughter, a better sister, a better friend, a better dog mom, and a better educator.

2017 is the year of the donut! Just kidding donut is not my one word of the year, but it was a close runner up. This year my one word that I will drive my thinking, my living, and my teaching is balance.

This word has two different aspects for this year, and it is my hope that my fellow For the Love readers that you can find the some the same truths in these words. I struggle with two very specific areas of balance in my life: balancing my professional life with my personal life and finding the balance of taking feedback and learning from it and not taking it personally.

In regards to aspect number one, sometimes if I could I would work 24/7. I’m going to share something that I think might just shock my fellow educators...we were not created to work all the time. Yes, what we do is so very important and sometimes to prepare and be ready for the important task we have at hand it requires us to give a little bit more of our time. However, when we get to the point that we start becoming obsessed with our work and our teaching that we ignore other areas of our lives, our teaching begins to suffer. Or at least that is what happens to me! My students deserve 100% of me every single day and when I am not at my best they feed off of that energy. When they feed off of, my negative energy chaos ensues. So what does this all mean for me? In 2017, I will leave what I can of my work at work. As educators we know that hours that we have to put into outside of the classroom and I’m not saying that I will stop pursuing and plan to make my teaching and my classroom better, what I am saying is that I will take time and manage my time in a way that I can make the most out of my time. (It makes sense in my head, just go along with it). Today I made a practical daily plan to achieve balance between my personal and professional lives.

Use Of A Daily Planner.-There is so many options out there for planners and agendas. From very simple to more complex. I love my planner! Wherever I goes. My planner helps me think about my day and how to make the most use out of the time that I have.

The Top Three-Each day I start with the top three things that must get done that day. Yes, I might have other things that I need to happen and need to get done, but if those tasks aren’t accomplished, they can be added to the top three for the next day. I make sure that before I leave work, I have checked my top three off of my list.

Leave Work At Work.- It will still be there tomorrow. When I’m home or when I’m with friends, I want to be focused on them and not on rehearsal plans and field trip forms.

Take Time To Do The Things I Love- I love long walks and hikes with my dog. So I make it a priority that the first thing I do when I get home is a long walk with my precious pup. Each night I will do one that I love. Serving others, watching Netflix, reading, writing, or dinner or drinks with friends are all things I love, and when I am doing those things I won’t be doing or working on work.

What works for me might not work for you, and that is really what balance is all about finding what works for you.

Another area in my life that needs balance is how I receive feedback. Feedback is so important, but my downfall with feedback is that I somehow take every little thing personally. For example, a judge at choral contest stated they didn’t like how I conducted one measure in one of our pieces. One measure out of like 85. I was so mad and so defeated. I know it might sound crazy, but that same judge gave me so much more positive feedback. I spent hours breaking apart that one comment that I couldn’t even be thankful for the positive feedback. I lacked balance. This one will be harder for me to handle and I honestly don’t really have a plan for this one, I’m just going to have to work through this one.

So what is your word for 2017? I would love to hear your thoughts! Have a great 2017 and my the donuts always be in your reach.