Monday, September 18, 2017

Parenthood: Week 222 – Ollie’s Interests 9/18/17

What’s going on the world of Ollie?

Ollie’s goto vegetable is bell peppers, raw bell peppers. This is the only vegetable that he will consistently eat, except for romaine lettuce, without any dressing. He’ll do a burger (preferably without the bun) and he’s gotten into hotdogs. Ollie likes them with ketchup and that’s fine by me. I like my Chicago dog with ketchup and I think the anti-ketchup on hot dog sentiment in Chicago is silly. If people were as forceful about their opinions about hot dog condiments as they were about social justice . . .

Ollie is also a fan of breakfast sausage (he prefer the patty form) and frozen chocolate waffles.  He enjoys “peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with out the peanut butter.” Like most kids, he does like his pizza, chocolate, and ice cream.

Dinosaurs have consistently held his interest throughout the summer and into this fall. He has little dinosaur toys that he plays with. Sometimes he acts out parts of Land Before Time (which was REALLY into a couple weeks ago). Other times he arranges them on the floor and tries to remember their names. This has bled into his book interests. How Do Dinosaurs Go To School? By Jane Yolen & Mark Teague is part of a series of books that teaches kids how to behave in certain situations., Ollie is mostly interested in the types of dinosaurs, most of which I’ve never heard of), that are featured in this book.

Transformers Rescue Bots continue to fascinate Ollie. He will play these figures, setting them up, arranging them, and playing out plots for long stretches of time, sometimes almost forty-five minutes. He takes one to sleep every night and we wake up to the sound of him transforming these toys from car to robot mode in the morning.

School is going well. He’s got back into the grove of things without a lot of drama. He’s in the same classroom with the same teacher and many of he same classmates which helps. We are really happy with the work he is doing in school.  The things he learns from school delight me.  Like when recently he shared “I’m A Little Teapot,” complete with hand motions, which he learned at school.

Ollie is getting really good at giving bonus kisses, and his hugging skills continue to develop at an adorable pace.  He'll cuddle and give kisses to his little brother in utero, hugging and kissing Diana's abdomen.  Ollie's current name suggestion for his unborn brother is Sharptooth-Lava-Monster.  

On weekend mornings, he crawls into bed with me and wants to start the morning cuddling with me and reading a book. This annoyed me over the summer, but now that I’m back at work, this little ritual that now only happens on the weekends.  Something, I once disliked has become the highlight of my week.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Year 8: Week 3 - Feeling The Vibe

My new and strangely effective classroom management strategy is to talk about “vibe.” By “vibe,” I mean the feeling in the room, the overall mood. I’m not quite sure why I started doing this, but it seemed felt like a good idea and it’s been working.

I was teaching a bunch of my 3rd graders and we were having a discussion and a couple students were making distracting jokes. I paused, got all of the students’ attention and explained that I was feeling uncomfortable. I asked if anyone else was feeling slightly off and many of them nodded.

I gave them directions on how we could better focus, we moved on with the lesson and at the end, I asked them if people felt better and the class responded that they did.

Often, our feelings during a lesson mirror our students’ feelings. If we feel excited and satisfied with how a lesson is going, most likely the students will too, and if you feel stressed or uncomfortable, there is probably some portion of the class that feels this as well. This gets tricky because sometimes a students’ expression of discomfort is them goofing off in class. However, I do believe that most of the time, kids are with us emotionally for better or for worse.

It isn’t easy to be open with your kids and tell them how you feel in a moment, especially if the feeling isn’t positive. However, taking the chance to open up provides some important things for the students. Kids need to learn that their words have emotional consequences. Sometimes the best way for that to happen is for teachers to explain how the words make them feel.

If there are a couple kids who are off-topic and it’s annoying other students, by stating that you as the teacher are also annoyed, you are validating other students’ feelings. Validating is a way of helping other students feel like they are seen and known. This has the potential to empower them. Also, helping kids be aware of their own emotions is another way for them to calm themselves and focus.

I don’t think I did this as a younger teacher because I didn’t want to reveal to my students that they had influence over my lesson and my emotions. If this is done too often than it becomes all about the teachers’ feelings which isn’t a good thing. It’s our reality and I think too often students don’t realize that they have power to make a room feel uncomfortable, and with the proper guidance, they can learn an even more important lesson: they can make a room feel safe and welcoming.

When things have been grooving in a class and students feel good. I’ve asked my students if they feel good and they do. It’s wonderful to share in this feeling of togetherness.

The theme this past week for me, is “chase the vibe.” Let’s work together to get to that good feeling when we are all on the same page making great music. In music, the best experiences feel great and the same goes true for the classroom.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Monday, September 11, 2017

Parenthood: Week 221 – The Bridge

I didn’t think that he had a chance.

It was a basic monkey bridge made up of a single length of rope tied between two trees. On either side of the rope a couple feet higher were two other ropes used to for hand holds. These ropes were tied every couple feet to the bottom rope.

Ollie eagerly got in line to cross this bridge. I was bracing myself for him being disappointed after a couple steps or being scared and not wanting to do it. Kids much older than Ollie were having trouble crossing the bridge. There was one kid, about Ollie’s size who didn’t even make it up the ladder to the bridge.

Ollie climbed right up the ladder and the people helping out asked him his name. He didn’t say it very loudly, so they misheard him and called him a different name. This was a first bad sign in my thinking, but after I cleared that up, Ollie was ready to go.

He grabbed a lady’s hand on the other side of me to steady himself and with some coaxing he grabbed my own hand. We helped him the first couple steps until they pulled down the side ropes low enough for him to hold.


Ollie methodically and carefully crossed the ladder. His tongue flicked out the side of his mouth, (a cute habit he does when he’s concentrating). I kept standing next to him, carefully spotting Ollie waiting for him to slip or ask to get off the bridge, but he just kept on, eyes forward.

When he got to the end, he jumped off into my arms. I  hugged him and told him that I was proud of him.

In that moment, I doubted him. This wasn’t because I don’t believe in him, it’s because, it’s hard to not see him as my special little guy. As old as he gets and as much has he matures, I keep having these flashes of him as a baby in my head and at times it’s just hard to accept all that he really can do.

It’s a contradiction in my heart. I want him to be more independent and self-confident, but at the same time, I miss times when he was more dependent on me. I know I can’t have it both ways but part of me really wishes I could.

In the fifteen years I’ve been with my wife Diana, our dependency on each other has varied some but not dramatically. However, in the four years Ollie’s been in my life, there has been a drastic change in how much less depending he is on me. He used to need me for literally everything besides breathing to stay alive, and now, he’s crossing bridges that would make me nervous, without me.  Few relationships in our lives is like parenthood that change so dramatically is such a small period of time.

I hope Ollie keeps crossing bridges. I’ll keep reaching out just in case he needs me, and if he doesn't I may be a little sad, but more than that, I'll be proud.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Year 8: Week 2 – Snapshots of 6th & 3rd

6th Grade Band

We tried a new way of helping our 6th graders choose band or choir. In the past we have  had every kid try every band instrument. That’s a little crazy and takes a lot of time, but the idea was that even for kids who knew they were going to choose choir, this was, for most, a once in a lifetime opportunity to try to play these instruments. The issue was that this took a lot of time and I wasn’t sure that this was the most effective way to motivate students to join band.

This year we decided that we would have the students have a listening experience and focus on which instrument they liked best based on the timbre of the instrument. This would be followed with trying some of the band instruments, not all based on their timbre preference. There has been research that has shown that this is more effective for recruiting and the logic is sound. At the end of the day, if they don’t like how an instrument sounds, then they aren’t going to stick with it. This is combined with trying the instrument to address how the instrument works physically. It’s a new process for us, it gets us started earlier in the year and hopefully it will lead to students being more motivated to work on their instrument and growth for our band program.

3rd Grade
During a short transition in 3rd grade music, one student jokingly called another student “transgender.” I was surprised that this happened, but I didn’t feel unprepared. I talked to the whole class about identity and how we don’t make fun of how people identify. Things like race, religion, ethnicity, and gender identity are not things to joke about. It took some doing to help the class understand that this was not a moment to laugh and there were some giggles because they were uncomfortable, but they received the message pretty well.

I confirmed that this was not a comment made out of malice or a comment that was made with the full understanding of the meaning of the comment.  I was glad that I could make this into a teachable moment.

I was only able to address this topic openly and frankly because of a couple factors. I knew that I had the academic freedom to throw out the rest of my lesson plan to have this discussion and no administrator would second guess my choice. I was also sure that the homeroom teacher would back me up 100% and address the students with the same level of candor as me. This is what it all comes down to. When teaching about diversity, equity, and inclusion, I’m powerless without the support of my educational community.

This isn't just my work, it's all of our work as a school.  We commit to this work. Yes, I'm a music teacher, but today, teaching about gender identity was more important than any musical concept we covered.    

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Monday, September 4, 2017

Parenthood: Week 220 - Seesaw

It’s never a good feeling knowing that your kid is missing you.

I try to be rational about these emotions. The fact that my son misses me, means that we have a strong bond and that I am something to him that is worth missing, something that is important to him. We miss the people in our lives that we love the most. This logic helps but only to a point.

I started school last week, and Ollie starts school this week. This means that Ollie was home and hadn’t started his school routine. The rituals from the summer, like Ollie crawling over to my side of the bed and then both of us moving to his bed to cuddle and read a book together have had to stop. I know Ollie missed this when I was gone, since I leave for work usually before he wakes up.

It wasn’t difficult to flip into work mode this past week. Ollie was on my mind, more than normal and while it wasn’t hard to focus on work, there were times when I really just wanted to be at home with my boy.

There is another piece that has made the beginning of this year feel different. Number two is on the way in late October, which means that in a short period of time, I will be taking my paternity leave just as the year is getting started.

This is where things get complicated.

The time that I had off from teaching when Ollie was born made the entire school year feel different. The kids did fine and during that year, great things happened, but it didn’t feel like one of my best years of teaching. The more I talk to parents who are teachers, the more I realize that this is a common thing. When you chose to go on leave, it means that you have a school year that just doesn’t feel as good as other years. It’s okay, and it’s the right thing to do, but it doesn’t always feel that way.

When you are work, you are feeling guilty that you can’t be at home more and then when you are home, you feel guilty you aren’t at work. I have found a balance in the past, when I’ve been able to put work aside completely in my mind and focus only on my family. However, I’ve never been able to get in the state of my mind when my family doesn’t distract me, even in a small way from work.

Part of being a working parent is learning to live with this seesaw of work/life balance, enjoy the rare times when things are balanced and learn to accept that more often than not, things are out of whack.

That’s the way things are right now, out of whack. But that’s okay. The times I had with Ollie this past weekend were nice. It doesn’t make up for time away but it’s a reminder that what I am missing is something real, and something important. Something worth missing, and something that makes the struggle worth it.