Friday, January 19, 2018

Year 8: Week 20 - Electives

Today in 8th grade band class, we watched this youtube video. . .


We had a great discussion about this videos.  The pointed out how the different music changed the mood and also brought different parts the scenes.  Then watched some other videos about film music. I had a great time with my kids, and it was one of my favorite band classes I’ve had this year, and we didn’t play a note on their instruments.

Today we started our elective units. Here’s the idea. For a couple weeks the kids will be able to select what they want to do during band class. After some discussion with the kids and getting their input, we landed with three groups: chamber music, music tech, and film music.

The chamber group kids were given a bunch of music and they rehearsed. The music tech kids worked with another teacher and did some things with related to music recording and technology. The film music group was with me. We watched some examples of film music in, and discussed different ways film music is utilized by filmmakers.

Two of these three groups didn't play their instruments, but isn’t this a band class?

Here’s the thing. Band and choir are curricular groups at my school. For music class, students choose between band or choir. This means that we have some students who aren’t that into singing or playing  in these ensembles. This is a very different situation than students who do band as an elective at the middle school level and come to school early, or come in during lunch to rehearse.

This is our reality, and this set-up means that all students in our middle school have a significant musical experience. Knowing that there are students who are not as into the performance aspect of band and choir has led me to this unit.

This is a tricky thing, because we don’t have a lot class time, and it’s vital that we keep our skill building up as a band. However, some of our kids needs another experience in music to explore their own interests, and find themselves in band class. Like my younger students, I suspect that more creative experiences will actually make them be more productive when its time to learn music. There’s an unspoken exchange that happens, where the more creative time I give my students, the more they are willing to go with me in the traditional band setting.

Overall, the vibe was good, and the students had a good experience. I told my students that this is an experiment, and that this is an opportunity to make choices to make music class personally meaningful.

Today, took advantage of this situation and made great choices

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018

Parenthood: 239 - The Ethan Journal: 11/23/17

This post is about our son's disability. Ethan, our second son has conductive non-sensorineural unilateral hearing loss. His right ear has moderate to severe hearing loss, while his left ear has normal hearing.    


In the darkness of Ethan’s nursery, I gently walked around, trying to lull him to sleep. The light from the lamppost across the street shone through the linen window drapes, bathing the room in a gentle light.

The Thanksgiving guests had long since left. The house was dark. The door to our bedroom was half open, and I could hear Buffy sleeping, as Ethan continued to fuss in my arms. Refusing to settle down in my lap on the rocking chair, I stood up and danced slowly around the room. I had learned through the first couple weeks of Ethan’s life that like Ollie, my first son, he preferred that I stay on my feet as I put him to sleep.

As I began walking around the room, my thoughts left the exhaustion from the long day of Thanksgiving, to the challenges of the next day. Then for the first time in Ethan’s life, his presence brought a song to my heart.

I pulled my iPhone out a my pocket, and soon a wash of synthesized chords filled the room, followed by the mournful singing, “It’s been seven hours and fifteen days.”

Sinead O’Connor’s, unforgettable version of Prince’s torch song “Nothing Compares 2 U,” brought together everything that I wanted to feel about my son, and the feelings I was afraid to acknowledge.

Like other parents, many of which are dads, I did not immediately feel a connection to Ethan. While I worked hard for Ethan, and cuddled and hugged him, I didn’t feel that bond deep in my heart, until that moment.  Facing the harsh realities of the coming day, in that moment, love overwhelmed me, and his bright eyes looked up to me hopefully. As my love grew, I held him tighter, and my sadness grew. I felt Diana walk in behind me, and give me a hug. I pulled myself together, feeling Diana smile. She wasn’t showing any sadness, so I wasn't going to either.

That was the moment when I felt bonded with my second son, when I felt deep love for him, in the face of a reality that I was afraid to let myself admit.


I knew something was wrong the first time I saw Ethan. The shape of his right ear, and the skin tags on his cheeks, gave me the feeling that something was off. I ignored this feeling focusing on everything else that was perfect about my little boy, and everything else was perfect about Ethan.

As Ethan grew, I tried to not let the fact about his ear sour my positive feelings. We learned early that ear tags were sometimes a sign of hearing loss. However, his weight gain was great so I focused on that. When Ethan failed a hearing test on his right ear the first time, I smiled at the nurse’s optimism, when she said that he would probably pass the retest. When he failed the test again, and the pediatrician explained another a need for another round of tests, a month later that she thought he would pass, I focused my mind on how great it was going to be when we got home.

The worst case scenario logically wasn’t that bad. Most people with unilateral hearing loss (only hearing through one ear), live full lives. Most people who have severe hearing loss in both ears live fulfilling lives. I’ve taught students with different kinds of hearing loss and all of them were just fine in the classroom, had friends and lived full lives. My logical part of my brain told me that things would be okay, Ethan would be okay. So with chosen optimism and the thought that this wasn’t that bad, and not that big a deal, I told people close to me about Ethan’s condition.

This forced optimism about Ethan came from the fact that he had the best of a bad situation at every turn. He failed two hearing tests on his right ear, but his left ear was great. The plastic surgeon told us that while he had constricted ear microtia, there were no signs of this effecting his jaw, and plastic surgery later in life would not be difficult. When he went in for more hearing tests the day after Thanksgiving, we found out that while his right ear had moderate to severe hearing loss, his hearing nerve responded normally.  They were able to differentiate hearing nerve reaction from the ear canal, and through bone conduction.  Ethan failed with hearing nerve activity through the canal but not the bone.

At every turn Ethan had the best of each situation. So how could I be sad about this? We were presented over and over with the fact that Ethan had good points to the results of every single test he took. While this made me feel better in the short run, it covered up only for a little bit of time the reality that the fact that Ethan had a disability that even in the best of circumstances was sad.

The logical part of my brain was working overdrive. I kept telling myself that only having hearing in one ear was fine. I had just read an article about Millie Bobby Brown (actress who plays Eleven on Stranger Things) being deaf in one ear like Ethan. Look at how great she was doing, so of course Ethan was going to be fine.

This distance from the sadness left unprocessed, created a space between me and Ethan. It was a space that made me feel it was okay to mix his name up with his older brother’s (or the dog’s name). It was a feeling of not wanting to sing to him when I rocked him to bed, and struggling to come up with cute nicknames for him.

Something about Thanksgiving, and knowing in my heart that the tests the next day would confirm my fears, finally forced me to face the reality of the situation, the sadness of Ethan’s hearing loss, and my love and devotion for my second son.

It’s in the moment of loss and sadness that we often feel love the deepest. When Buffy was bitten (read about this situation in this post), and I feared that I would lose her, I felt a deeper love for her than ever before. I was overcome by love when I saw Diana walk down the aisle during our wedding. However, I felt something stronger in my heart when Diana was stranded in a New York airport baggage claim overnight and I spent the night unable to sleep worrying about her.

When I allowed myself to feel the emotions in “Northing Compares 2 U,” the sadness I was holding back for Ethan finally came out and in that sadness, I felt the love, and the bond for my son. For the first time I sang to him, and when I kissed him on the forehead and told him that I loved him, I had tears in my eyes.

I am sad that Ethan will have challenges that I do not. I’m afraid that what I don’t know or don't understand about Ethan’s condition will lead me to not do right by him. And I fear the moments when I will be at a loss to help Ethan understand the hand that he has been dealt, as he learns to love himself.

I know my feelings about this part of Ethan’s identity will evolve. Now that I have entered a place that I can be sad about it, I know my journey of true understanding and acceptance will start. There are times when logic, optimism, and platitudes are what we need the most. Right now, I need to be sad for my son, live in this feeling and embrace the love that comes along with this sadness. I know that for Ethan, I will be a better dad helping him through his own sadness related to his disability, having learned from my own journey through these feelings.

“Cause nothing compares, nothing compares 2 U.”

Friday, January 12, 2018

Year 8: Week 19 - Holding It All

One of the truest signs of maturity and adulthood is the ability to hold conflicting thoughts in our minds. For example, Thomas Jefferson was one of the most important philosophers in history, and did important work as one of our founding fathers. He also owned slaves, and abused them, like many other slave-owners. It is difficult to have such conflicting views of a person and to hold them together in your mind, but that is exactly what it means to understand humanity.

This is the way that teachers have to learn how to think. We get annoyed by students, while at the same time liking them as human beings. We punish students, while feeling sorry for them when they cry. We feel pride about a concert, but there are don’t go well, and it can leave a bad taste in your mouth. We do a job, and we feel good about the work we do, and in the same day, we can feel bad that we made mistakes. Some of the most important decisions I’ve made, have not been positives for all parties in the short term and that’s something that I’ve learned to accept.

Last night we had our winter band concert. This is the first time we put on a band concert without the choir. Overall it went really well. However, there were things that could have gotten better. There were things that I could have done better, but it’s not like I was doing nothing the week leading up. My days were full of tasks and preparation, so maybe I really couldn’t have done things differently, and that’s a hard thing to accept.

We set standards for ourselves. I like to think they have become higher but also reasonable and attainable the more experiences I get. The problem is that I’m not the teacher I was five years ago, and my personal life has changed. While I am able to keep more plates spinning, I don’t have as much time to do work at home. There are standards about my work and how I’d like to work that need to change. Sometime this means letting details and nuances about my teaching go, that in years past, I would have spent more time deliberately addressing.

It’s about making choices, prioritizing, realizing that details that I fussed about years ago don’t matter, and in some ways can’t matter, because I have less time.

At the same time that I struggle with changing how I work, not being satisfied as I would like, I know I’m doing what I can with the time that I have. This doesn’t always feel like enough, but it is. I saw it during the concert last night.

My low 6th grade brass section was playing a section feature. I glanced at the audience and saw a high school trombone player. I had started her on the trombone years earlier and she was always one of my favorite students. She had a look of excitement and pride watching the younger trombone players was magical and heart-warming. It’s not that all the challenges disappeared in the moment, but her smile brought meaning to them, and peace to my heart.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Monday, January 8, 2018

Parenthood: 238 - Green Bean Casserole, A Lesson From My Father

My dad would have hated what I had for lunch today.

I took part of a leftover baguette, cut it lengthwise and toasted it. I spread some left over Alfredo sauce on the bread (ala cream cheese on a bagel), and put some sliced up Italian sausage inside and to complete the sandwich.  It was delicious.

My dad loves a good baguette, and he’s ok with sausage, but the Alfredo sauce, not so much.

My dad loves great food. He’s a very open and adventurous eater, and much of my interest in food comes from him. Many of my favorite memories with my dad include food. There’s sitting across from him at Herb Garden, among a sea of wine glasses experiencing what can only be described as a ridiculous culinary adventure. Grabbing a bowl of Vietnamese Pho with my dad on a Saturday in Seattle’s Rainer Valley neighborhood was always a fun outing. I remember sitting next to my dad as a young kid, while he was watching television trying to enjoy his steak after a long day at work.  He would eventually relent and feed me bites of his New York Strip, which was his choice cut at the time. Oh, I can’t forget that time when he cooked bananas foster, and almost set the kitchen on fire, and there’s sitting with him at my maternal grandmother’s favorite sushi bar for dinner the day of her funeral.

While my dad can appreciate the craft and art in creamier and richer foods, he doesn’t has much of a taste for it.  I totally respect my dad’s view on foods that lean on heavy cream as an essential ingredient. This viewpoint is not out of ignorance, and it’s better for his health anyways that he doesn’t eat as much of these kinds of foods. My dad is simply not the kind of guy who orders mac ‘n cheese, nachos, or would enjoy Green Bean Casserole.

The first time I ever ate Green Bean Casserole is one of those food memories that has never left me. My freshmen year, a group of people from marching band invited me to road trip to see a football game. I’m not sure what game we were heading to, or even the game at all but I do remember the dinner we had at one of my marching band’s friend's house that we stayed for the night.

It was a very dark, and very cold night and as we sat down for dinner, I was hungry and looking forward to something nurturing. A bowl of cottage cheese came out and people spooned it on the plate, which completely mystified me. Then a big casserole dish came out with some roasted chicken, which smelled incredible. And then came the Green Bean Casserole. There was an audible “aww,” of wonder when it came to the table, and some people even applauded.

I looked this dish, with small pieces of green beans in a white sauce covered by some kind of crunchy topping, I could not identify. Oh, cream of mushrooms soup and friend onions? Right. My family ate green beans, but they were stir-fried with garlic. Of course as with every dish, I took a spoonful onto my plate. While I was truly touched by the hospitality of my friend’s family, besides the chicken, I barely could eat any of the other food.

It took some time but after couple years of living in the Midwest, I grew to enjoy and love Midwestern food culture. Each time I saw Green Bean Casserole, I tried it again, and every time I did, I liked it a little bit more, and it got to the point that I was one of those people applauding when I saw it. The green beans mix perfectly with the mushroom flavor in the sauce and the fried onions, (in a very Chinese way), complement the texture of the beans and add a great pop of onion flavor.

My mother-in-law was hosting Christmas eve dinner and I volunteered to cook some kind of vegetable dish. I considered doing roasted Brussels sprout, or possibly a ratatouille, but then it hit, I’m going to do a Green Bean Casserole, from scratch. I looked through a bunch of different recipes and landed on this one by Laura Vitale:

I liked the idea of a firmer “al dente,” beans, the bacon adding depth to the flavor, and a real mushroom presence. I made the dish for Christmas Eve dinner (though I didn’t fry the onions myself), and it was a success. It tasted rich, but also fresh, and people enjoyed eating it.

About a week later when I was home, I was talking to my mom, as I often do, about cooking. I told her about the Green Bean Casserole, and she seemed interested. I offered to make it for dinner, and she agreed that would be nice. We hit the Asian grocery store (there were having an incredible sale on fresh uni), managed to find the fried onions as well as the other ingredients.

When we got home, my dad as usual took some time to do prep for the evening meal. Ethan watched my dad as he prepared the green beans. My dad told me that when he was a kid, he would watch his grandmother snap green beans in half.  He smiled at Ethan and Ethan smiled back somehow understanding the meaning of the moment.   

I explained to my dad that I was planning to cook a creamy casserole dish that he probably wouldn’t like. My dad laughed and said that’s fine, and that he had plenty of other things to eat. I left my dad with Ethan as he continued to prep. A little while later my dad found me in the living room with a cut up mushroom and asked me if it was small enough for the casserole. I said it was perfect and my dad went to the kitchen and finished cutting them up.

It was fun showing my mom how to make the casserole and she encouraged me to put more friend onions on top, and attempted to keep me from eating them before putting them on the casserole.

We had a great dinner with my parents, Diana, our kids, my brother and sister-in-law and their two daughters. It was the first time ten of us had shared a meal together and it was really special. The casserole turned out pretty well (it was a little under-seasoned). It didn’t seem like my dad tried it, which was fine with me. My mom liked it and thanked me for making it.

The next afternoon my mom mentioned that the Green Bean Casserole made good leftovers and she had eaten some of it for lunch. She said that everyone liked it. My dad chimed in, and said, “I had some for lunch it, and it was good, I liked how the mushrooms and green beans mixed.” I was surprised, and immediately felt proud and appreciated. After a couple minutes, I realized I shouldn’t be surprised.  This was my dad.

In high school when I got really into musicals, my dad tried listening to musicals to understand my interest. And now there are times that he actually listens to musicals more than I do now. My dad took me to classical music concerts, he wasn’t initially interested in. I don’t know how much he understood the music that I wrote in college, but I know he listened to it and took pride in my work. I periodically send him CDs, books, and DVDs and he probably doesn’t like dome of what I send him but I know that he tries every one of the things I share with him.

Even though my dad knew that I was going to cook something he probably wouldn’t like, he spent the time and energy to carefully prep the green beans and cut the mushrooms.  He knew it was not a type of food he would enjoy, he gave it a try and found something in it to like.

I think about my dad, raising two sons in a country he emigrated to as an adult, who don’t speak his native language, and who are adapting parts of American culture, that often doesn’t make sense. It could not have been easy for my dad to sit at the dinner table and hear me and my brother talk about thing he didn’t understand like comics books. He never forced the dinner conversation to what he wanted to talk about, he never disapproved of our interests. Instead of tryIng to mold us into people he could naturally relate to, my father let us find ourselves and looked at what he didn’t understand about us as an opportunity to enrich himself.

In this way he is the most uncommon of dads.

The paradigm of fatherhood that many adapt is about passing down traditions, and teaching younger generations to love the things that their fathers do. Because of this, some children feel pressured to follow their father’s passions in an attempt to feel approval and pride from their fathers, in an attempt to feel love. These children learn that in order to gain their fathers love, they must become a mirror instead of an individual.

My dad taught me a different lesson. He worked to get to know me, and he worked to gain my love and approval. This brought the same efforts out of me through feelings of gratitude and love. It he was willing to make the effort, so would I.

So I will try to love my sons as my father loves me.  I will find things to like in books that Ollie enjoys, and whatever Ethan is into that I’m not, I will do my best to understand. Even if I don’t get it, I will still do all I can to support my boys' passions.  Fatherhood and love is often doing for others what you don’t understood or don’t like, because it means something to someone else. 

My dad has taught me this in the big things like embracing Diana as family without hesitation, and supporting my career as a teacher, also also in the small things like cutting green beans and mushrooms and eating my casserole.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Year 8: Week 18 – Mid-Year

This was the first week back from Winter break. It was a short week, only three days, which was a little awkward but ending up being fine. Right before winter break my 3rd graders and my 5th graders had their big performance, and next week my 6th grade and 8th grade band have their concert. We decided to move the band concert until after break to get it out of the pool of events that gravitate towards Winter break. I like this idea, but it is kind of a weird mental juggling trick to have half my classes start new units while the other half are gearing up for their concert.

All of the things that I put off until “after winter break,” I can no longer put off. Grades and report writing in on the horizon, and the end of the year is beginning to take shape in my head. Believe it or not, discussions about things for the 2018-2019 school year are already starting to take shape.

The ability to exist in different stages in the different classes that I’m teaching and think about the past, present, and the future of the school is a challenge. It requires that you allow connections to form and see the trails of things that have been and the paths that lay before you. It’s a tricky balance between letting your brain focus on different points when its ready, and making your brain focus on pressing priorities.

Some timelines you can create on your own while others you simply need to go with. Like multiple lanes of traffic they move at different speeds, sometimes they slow down together to provide some calm, but more often than not they speed up together, requiring attention.

I’ve tried different ways of managing all of these tensions, and the best way to make it all work is frankly is to not limit the time I think about work to work hours. I’m all about a work/life balance, but the reality is that my brain isn’t always ready to write that email or to figure out that problem during the school day.  True innovation is pushing beyond what is and in my experience that means pushing beyond the given prep time, and letting work bleed into evenings and weekends. Most teachers have to do this to simply keep afloat, and sometimes it feels that way to me as well.

I’m looking forward to moving ahead with plans for the rest of the school year and doing the meaningful work of collaboration, that brings depth and resonance to the educational experience for me as a teacher, and for my students. There are challenges, and crises that will hit unexpected, but I’m confident that quality and professionalism in which we work through these issues will ensure our success.

Welcome to the mid-point of the school year. The light is only at the end of the tunnel if that’s where you look for it. If you look around, the light surrounds you in the spirit of the kids all the time. It’s the students who make the bitter cold not seems so bad.