Why Decisions often take us on New Adventures

Why Decisions often take us on New Adventures

If you have read the post titled Confusion you know that I recently had to make a very important decision.  One that was to affect where I worked, where I lived and where my children went to school.

My children and I looked at the pros and cons and all of the many details that would be involved and together we made a decision.  We were moving.  We were going to start a new journey in another place, in another state.  We moved forward with this decision.  I was going to take my dream job.

If you read my post called “How do we finish strong?” you might have noticed the comment about re-evaluating a recent decision especially since I also mentioned being overwhelmed because of it.  Well, that was this decision.  I didn’t want to rethink or reevaluate this decision.  I knew we had made the right decision for us.

However, there were things I didn’t know that would very quickly force me to rethink everything.  

So, my children and I had to process all over again.  We made a new decision.  I tried to avoid thinking about that decision.  I knew what had to be done and I knew I didn’t want to do it.  I was frustrated to the point of being cranky anytime the subject came up.

Eventually, I had to face it.  It hasn’t been easy.  Yet I knew there was a time-table that made it so I didn’t have a lot of time.

Over a very short week, I took one step at a time towards that new decision. Yesterday, I made the final step.  Instead of opening the door to a new place, new job and new adventures I understood, I am opening a door that is both familiar and somewhat unknown.

I am not moving.  I am not taking that dream job.

I AM staying where I am at.  I AM teaching in the same school as I have the past two years.  I AM still teaching choir.

I WILL be adding Beginning and Intermediate Theater classes to my schedule.

Yes…you heard me correctly.  I am now a theater teacher.

What does this mean for me?  I am stepping out of my comfort zone!  As an opera singer, of course I sing and act, but it is a lot different from teaching acting.  This is not the adventure I expected.

Things have moved quickly in just one day.  I have signed up for Tech for Directors and Secondary Methods classes to be taught at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in July.  I am about to sign up for a week-long comprehensive Acting and Theater Production classes to be taught at BYU in August.  I also just found out I have a meeting with other theater teachers in my district tomorrow.

I never thought my life would take this direction.  I mean, I have directed a couple of musicals–one at my current school where I co-directed it and one for my church that I wrote, I have been in a few operas and even some musicals but I never thought it would come to this…me teaching theater.

My mind has already started forming thoughts as to what lessons I could do.  I have been lucky enough to be friends with the outgoing theater teacher who left me all of her stuff as a way to help me this summer to prepare.

But I know that there is much to come and much learning that will be needed…both in me and in my students.  I will also be fully responsible for our school musical, which is another overwhelming thought but I know now that my friend was right.  I have all the support I need…other theater teachers, other teachers at my school, my current students that were thrilled to hear I would be teaching both classes and the parents that have been so helpful and supportive for the past two years.

New adventures don’t always take the form you expect them to.  Where will yours take you?

 

2 Days…Still much to do

2 Days…

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The concert is in 2 days. 

As always, there is still much to do.

Today was the second day in our school auditorium to get more comfortable with the practiced staging and the layout of the stage.

It was the first day each class got to practice their songs in the context of the entire concert. They got to hear the accompaniment of the other pieces so they knew what song came before they had to go to the stage to perform their number.

This concert is more elaborate than I have taken on in the past.  We add choreography to one concert every year.  However, this is the first concert in which I have altered the layout of the risers and added other props to help with visual aspect of the choreography.

We also added a slideshow behind the singers to add to the visual effect. The stage crew has been working on the slideshow for a number of weeks now despite only meeting two times each week.  So far, it looks really good! It still needs a little bit more work and so a few of the students are currently working on the Google Slides.

Today was the first day I got to work with my stage crew this week.  Our normal time had been removed because of testing.  We got a chance to help set up the stage after having moved it to accommodate another teacher.  We also got to put our brand new gels on the stage lights and work on the sound system.

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I love being the stage crew advisor! The students and I work completely in tandem.  Sometimes they know more and sometimes I do.  But no matter what we have had to work together to make everything mesh so well.  They worked so hard today doing what they have been trained to do! So well that the district media specialist that was fixing our hanging mics commented to me about how impressed he was that the students took ownership of the equipment. He talked about how they worked together, how they made decisions about which colors to put on which stage light and he even noticed the students had organized our equipment room so items could be stored correctly and easily found.  How awesome is that?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love being a choir teacher just as much for similar reasons.  However, only 15 students are allowed to be on the stage crew each year.  That means they have to really know what they are doing, they have to be able to work well with others and they have to truly become a team that can rely on each other.

It also means I have to have my part ready for them.  I can’t just expect them to do it al by  themselves.  I had to prepare them.  I had to be willing to learn from others that knew more than I did.  Sometimes that meant the two amazing guys on the crew that had more experience with this newer equipment than I did.  That meant that I had to teach them the equipment they didn’t know.

Image result for tinkerThat also meant I had to be okay letting them “figure” things out.  Those two were willing to “tinker” with our equipment to learn all the nuances so we could see what the possibilities were.  They were always safe with the equipment and only used it in ways that they knew wouldn’t damage anything but it was truly amazing to see how they were able to do things the so-called “experts” at the district knew how to do.

 

Level 2

A short while ago, I shared that I had passed my Praxis PLT test.  This was a wonderful day for me.  I had passed, on the first try, a test I had heard horror stories about.  A test that requires all teachers to show knowledge about the theorists we learn about in college.  Yet this test is not required to be taken until one’s third year of teaching.  To me, this implies that we would teach in such a way that we would try all of these theories on our unsuspecting students.  We all know this is so not the case.

Despite passing this test, my journey towards a Level 2 license was not complete.  I had to a form signed by my principal that stated I had passed the test, completed a new background (which came back faster than the score for the test), and numerous other requirements.  I then had to send it off to our HR department so they could verify the information and recommend me for Level 2 certification.

So, it took care of the paperwork and sent it off through district mail.  And waited. And waited. And waited. And began to get slightly frustrated not because I had to wait, but because no one even verified they got the document. Admittedly, I had had things lost through district mail so maybe my view was colored but I thought it would be at least courtesy to send an email saying they got it.  Wouldn’t you? It seemed it was easier to prove a bank or credit union had received my mortgage papers than it was to get a district to even acknowledge anything had come in.

I will admit, I only waited a little less than two weeks.  I was a bit impatient.  I just wanted to know if they got it.  So, I sent off the email.  I requested the receipt of the document.

I guess I waited just long enough…I got a return email! And…it said all of the information had been verified so I could now follow the link provided and pay $55 more to upgrade my license.

I did it! I paid that rotten fee and I got my new license! I even saved a copy on my computer just in case. Good for five years. YAHOO! 

But the whole process has left me questioning why teachers have to pay so much to relicense or upgrade their license when 1) the whole process is required by state law, 2) teachers aren’t really paid all that well, and 3) whether other organizations make them pay for their licensing or recertification.  I mean, I know most officers don’t have to.  Their departments usually cover all costs.  I only know this because of knowing someone who is an officer. But, I don’t even know if the costs are equivalent.  I just know that I paid $150 for the test, $60 for the background (less by $20 because I was an employee), $55 for the upgrade and could have paid for testing supplies and/or classes to help me prepare for the test.  Which, of course, is less than I paid when I was going for my teaching license the first time around. And that doesn’t even cover the time it took to take classes required for the upgrade that thankfully didn’t cost money, just several hours of time each.

At least I can say…I made it.  I got to the Level 2 club of teaching.  I can get back to working with students!

 

 

Choral Biases

When I think of choral bias, I immediately think of the comparisons that are often made between instrumentalists and singers.

Let me explain: 

 

When I was in high school, we had band and choir.  I participated only in choir, as that was my love, but I had many friends in band.  We hung out, we talked music, we participated in musicals together, etc.  It didn’t seem to matter whether you were in the band or the choir or both.

However, when I got to college I was in a for HUGE shock.  Not only was I a small fish in a big pond where competition amongst was enormous but now I had to contend with those who looked down on me.  The first class I remember attending that had both instrumentalists and singers in it was my piano class.

Now, I had taught myself how to play the piano simply because my grandparents didn’t believe I actually wanted to learn the instrument. Thankfully, they saw my desire and got me into lessons. The problem was in that I had taught myself so much, the teachers I had assumed I had more technical skills than I did.  This plagued me for years.  Because of the lessons I ended up taking from my choir teacher (who was a fabulous pianist) I continued to get better at playing and even accompanied one of the choirs I sang in on multiple occasions.  However, my technical skills still weren’t that fabulous when it came to scales, arpeggios, and Hanon (since I had never heard of that until I got to college).

Anyway, the first day of piano class came and we all introduced ourselves.  As soon as I said that I was a vocal major, I saw an immediate response that SHOCKED me.  A vast majority of the students looked at me with disgust on their face as though being a singer was a “less than musician”.  Some even voiced that opinion.  They said things like, “Oh…you’re a singer” and “Do you even know what the piano is?” The teacher even shared their opinions.  Every day after that, I felt as though I had to prove my worth as a musician.

Ok…I know, you’re out there saying “Well that’s just one class!”. Well, I hate to say it but you’re wrong.  That was only the first one.  Every theory, sight singing, dictation, or conducting class, etc. where musicians were not separated by instrument, I got the same response.  I didn’t get it.  Why did they think singers weren’t good enough?  Why did there seem to be such bias?

I have had many years to ponder this and experienced more instances when this happened both in and out of school.  I’ve even seen it as a choir teacher from my students’ parents.  Why does this happen?

One of my colleagues, that is a trombonist and teaches orchestra, and I talked about this.  He had never thought about the things that I shared.  Yet, as we were discussing my experiences and feelings, he realized that he too had participated in such events.  He admitted making fun of the lack of musicianship he had seen in singers.

Over the years, I’ve had many theories.  They usually come down to the teachers and/or parents that pass on bias to their students.  This is usually in the form of how difficult it is to play and instrument compared to how easy it is to just open your mouth and sing. Not even looking at how difficult it is to maintain pitch with or without accompaniment, how difficult it is to maintain respiration just as a trumpeter or oboist.

However, I have also noticed that too often there are singers that decide they want to be music majors but have failed to prepare themselves for the rigors of the program as much as they should.  Sometimes, they have been repeatedly advised to prepare but have failed to do so. Unfortunately, more often than not, they get to college unprepared because they either didn’t have a teacher to inform them of the requirements, a teacher that was qualified to inform them or a teacher that spent all of their time making choir “FUN” that the skills of a musician never got taught.  The students sounded great but didn’t understand what they were singing, why they were singing it or how it was created.

Both of these theories may not have been proven but they did seem to align with what I hearing from my colleague.  He felt I was definitely on right track. 

Well, the bias I have, has definitely been influenced by my experiences because of the feeling I had of always having to prove my worth.

It manifests itself in how rigorous my choral program is and the expectations I put on myself to prepare for class every day.  It meant that my first year I put an inordinate amount of pressure on myself to create that rigor and maintain it.

It manifests itself in what pieces I choose, what I teach my students, and the standard that has been placed on my students as I try to create a solid program that can compete with two of the finest musicians I have been privileged to work with…the band and orchestra teachers. Their skills make me want to be better.  They never try to make me feel inferior, yet I do.  The bias I have lived with for so long still performs in my mind and constantly recreates itself so I feel like I am still proving my worth.

I find that those same biases I complain about, I have had for my students.  I found myself, in my first year, comparing students based on whether they had taken piano lessons or not prior to taking my class.  I was finding myself wanting to teach to those students who had previous musical experience before those who had not.   What a terrible thing to do!

Thankfully, I realized what I was doing.  I can’t say it was a quick realization but at least it happened.  I realized that just because one of my students has had musical training prior to my class does not guarantee they will understand what I have to share with them. Sometimes, it’s the so-called ‘non musician’ that understands it first.  Today, I look at each student, make sure they understand, ask specific questions to check understanding and see how they apply the knowledge.  It is fascinating to me when it all comes together.  

 

Waitin’ for the Light to Shine

Waitin’ for the Light to Shine

One of my choirs is preparing to sing the song “Waitin’ for the Light to Shine” from Big River at our final concert of the school year.  Over the course of several weeks while learning the piece, we’ve briefly talked about the storyline…surprise, surprise, none of my students have read Huckleberry Finn.  We’ve talked about why the character Huck Finn might be singing this song.  We’ve  talked about what the words mean to them individually and as a group.  We’ve talked about how they want to perform it for the audience.  As the students internalize the lyrics, not just the music, I can hear the theme coming through their voices.  We have about 3 1/2 weeks until the performance and many days of staging and choreography before it will go to the stage, but already it’s at a great place.

The song has been on my mind lately.  As I’ve talked with the students about what the words mean to them, I’ve had to step back in my own mind and ponder the meanings to me.

I have lived in the darkness for so long
I am waitin’ for the light to shine
Far beyond horizons I have seen
Beyond the things I’ve been
Beyond the dreams I’ve dreamed
Are the things I’ve done
In fact each and every one
Are the way that I was taught to run
Chorus:
I am waitin’ for the light to shine
I am waitin’ for the light to shine
I have lived in the darkness for so long
I’m waitin’ for the light to shine
For me, we often have dark times.  We continually strive to get through them and we look out at the horizons around us for the strength and the dreams that we hope for.  As teachers, we even sometimes live through our students in order to get through those dark times and wait for those good or glorious moments when light shines around us.
In some ways I have felt that darkness Huck talks about in the song.  His story is not the same as mine as his challenges are not mine.  However, sometimes when you feel as though you walking in a cloud because of circumstances that are out of your control, you feel that darkness.  During that time, you are waiting for something to change, to brighten your day or even your life.  It could be of a personal nature or a professional one or both.
As a music educator today, job status is constantly being threatened.  I teach in a location, as do many of my peers, where no elementary student is ever taught music in a class unless the school is lucky enough to have a “general education” teachers that have an interest and knowledge in music to teach it OR they can apply for a one-year grant to hire a music teacher.  However, the school must reapply every year and funds may or may not be offered or available in subsequent years.  Who wants to work a job that is supposed to be full-time but may really be temporary?
Even middle/junior high school teachers’ jobs are not always safe from year to year.  Class size plays a huge factor in whether a teacher stays full-time. Most of the time the class size has nothing to do with the quality of the teaching but that obscure, non-transparent “number” that is applied to the class size that must be met for a class to hold.  If the schools overall numbers go down, so does your class.  If the school offers for choice for students, which I believe they should, they don’t adjust the class sizes to accommodate for that, they just reduce the teacher’s load.
School culture can play a role, especially if the music class has consistently been a “dump” class…a class to put every student they don’t know where to put.  The biggest problem with this one, is that the teacher has enormous pressure to “manage” the classroom effectively, now not just with large numbers of students but those students who have clearly had trouble in every other class they have been put in, but provide differentiate instruction, and create and maintain performances that are of a high standard.
I know that some of what I describe is not new to music teachers, nor is it new to any teacher, especially those that teach “elective” courses.  Sometimes with all of these pressures, it’s a wonder that teachers stick around.  I think that’s why we are having the crisis we now have.  Teachers are tired of waiting for someone to acknowledge their worth, their knowledge, what they can share with everyone not just their students.  Those that stick around usually do so because they care about their students so much.
The question is…how long will that last if something doesn’t change?  I know some teachers that are extremely supported by their administration, the school culture and the parents.  They feel safe, they feel blessed and they feel as though they are making a difference every day.  I think every one of us has one of these…I just think that teachers should have them all.  The students deserve it as much as the teachers do.
My year has not been easy.  I love where I teach.  I love my students.  However, it hasn’t been easy.  I have had health issues that thankfully were easy to fix but sure a pain to deal with.  I have had personal and professional situations that have not made my days always easy.  I keep going.  I try not to let it get me down because as Huck puts it….”[it was] the way I was taught to run”.  So now, I am just “Waitin’ for the Light to Shine”.

Welcome!

Welcome to my Website!  Today, I begin a new journey as a blogger.  I think everyone knows how they feel when they begin any new journey.  For me, I am experiencing a number of emotions.  Trepidation, anticipation and excitement are just a few.

Trepidation, because there is always someone who knows more than I do and it makes me wonder what I can really share that you may not already know and yet I know that my life experiences only add to my educational experiences giving me the preparation I need to go forward.

Anticipation, because I believe the posts I will share will be of value to someone and that the comments made will be helpful to me and all of my readers. They will make me think, make me aware and may even change the way I view something but they will also do the same for my readers.

Excitement, because I can’t wait to truly get started.  I have spent much time trying to find adequate resources for my students to use when preparing pieces for Solo & Ensemble or just for one of my ‘wonderful’ assignments.  The limited resources out there that are actually usable and not full of junk or unhealthy practices are what made me think I could do or share something of value.  I can’t wait to share those “experts” I mentioned on my ABOUT ME page as well as my own understandings and musings.  So let’s get started!