Friday, August 19, 2011

An Encounter With a Trumpeter

(or, The Rubber Hits the Road)

You know that idyllic version of your class? The one where your lessons go smoothly, the students interact kindly, and every moment is teachable? Alas, someday. In the mean time, I ran into a future student of mine. He gave me these well-meant words of guidance:

  1. "We suck." Literally his first piece of "advice."
  2. "We're rude."
  3. The equipment is bad. Most of the equipment is old, though they do have a new concert bass drum.
  4. It's a small program; one of the smallest in the area, percentage-wise.
  5. I don't remember quite how he said it, but he was talking about the old teacher was cool because she had a lot of down-time at the end of class.
  6. Student XYZ is going to play teacher's pet.

Keep in mind, these represent his judgement, not mine. For example, number 3: a lot of the older instruments actually play quite well. I've only test-played a selection of brass instruments, but I've sure seen worse. Although, I do feel I shall never know why my predecessor decided to get a second concert bass drum. Oh well.

Anyway, thinking about this more, I realized that these are the same symptoms of my High School French department. The teacher was a really kind, well-meaning lady who certainly knew her stuff, but cut corners in teaching us students, like showing us movies (with the French subtitles... ooOOoohh!) and having us play games and do partner activities that were weak in reinforcing the concepts. Then, when we switched schedules to have longer periods, the lessons stayed the same with the addition of free time at the end. (cf. #5) So when she copied the tests out of our old and tattered (cf. #3) but still-valid books, we performed poorly (cf. #1) and ended up with an attitude that was less than respectful (cf. #2).

Now the good news is that I feel like I don't have to change my style or my goals too drastically to fit the needs of this class; I can mostly be myself. These people obviously need to celebrate some small successes. They likely need to invest more time practicing, too; that one might be a hard one to swallow.

So, I'm mindful of the other French teacher at my school - she taught the upper-level classes and actually treated us like responsible adults, which meant work. After we had gotten used to such low standards, anything else seemed unjust, unfair, and unconstitutional. I'm afraid that if I teach like how I believe I should, I'll alienate most of the already small band. Perhaps my best bet is to not go into it with all guns blazing but instead ease them into higher standards. Something about that feels wrong, though - I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think I don't like the idea of lowering my standards and then randomly springing new ones on them - but it may be my best bet.

The other, backup good news is that even if this epic-fails, the younger kids won't have these stigmas, and I'm confident they'll perform marvelously.

'Til next time,

Saturday, July 30, 2011


I am hired! I start in 3 weeks at a great school in a great town in South Dakota!

Let this encourage those of you who are jobless to keep looking: after I was offered the position, I got a couple more calls for interviews (and one more offer! self esteem +2). So, if you are now where I was last year, don't give up! Keep pushing your resumé around, keep making connections, and if you really are feeling pessimistic, at least put your name in for substitute gigs, especially in small towns; they need subs too, and are often hard-pressed to find them. You could be the go-to substitute for the entire county! Imagine your resume next time around "sought-after by 12 schools on a regular basis" has a nice ring to it, no?

Best of luck,

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Licenses and food: not (necessarily) mutually exclusive

When all you've got paying the bills is a minimum-wage job, $50 can seem like a lot of money, especially in that awkward time after rent and before your first paycheck of the month. And, when you've got some distance from college and stopped regularly writing checks with four or five digits in the "pain box," money gets a whole new scale and scope. The "NASA effect" no longer applies (that is to say, "Oh, we're spending a billion dollars already; what's another million?") and the several hundred dollars you end up spending on a license is no longer dwarfed by tuition.

I'll choose to believe that the licensing institutions' hands are tied when it comes to charging teachers $50 here for fingerprinting and $50 there for background checks and, the one that I understand the least: $30 for mailing $2 worth of paper, envelopes, and postage for an out-of-state license packet that is free and online for in-state graduates. I have to choose to believe that their hands are tied because otherwise, it starts looking like some kind of xenophobic scheme, and this blogger becomes rather cynical. Not to mention that another state requires a full-blown license (as in, not a typical starter, 3-year provisional license that many states use for new teachers) before they ask for over $200 plus other, hidden, miscellaneous expenses. I choose to believe that that one happened because of cautious legislators.

So, what's the moral to this story?

Plan your finances.

I'll say again: Plan. Your. Finances. Dave Ramsey, creator of the Seven Baby Steps, has a practitioner of those steps build a couple of financial "buffers" for unforeseen expenses. First, a person gathers $1000 for an "emergency fund," which covers medical bills, car repairs, and other things of that sort. Second, he has a person pay off existing debt, and third, he builds a second buffer of 3 to 6 month's of living expenses.

I would instead amend this so that there is a step one-and-a-half: build a $500 to $1000 buffer for licenses and interviews. That way, when you find out that you're going to have to shell out another $100 for gas to get to an interview 8 hours away (plus $60 for a hotel, if you want to be able to think during the interview), you won't have to give up meals for the next three weeks.

Other things you might not know about getting a teaching license:
  • Some states require fingerprinting, and that can take 6 or more weeks for law enforcement to process. After that, my home state says it will take another three-or-so weeks to process the application itself.
  • Moral: Start early. Very early.

  • Most states I've seen have different (and usually more expensive) rules for people who graduated in another state. These are called out-of-state or provisional licenses, and they may valid for a shorter period of time, during which a person may have to take other classes or complete other requirements.
  • Moral: Do your homework, and do it early.

  • This also applies to job applications: most places will not take your word that you graduated with these classes, that student teaching, and those grades; they want official transcripts. In fact, I think that every place to which I've applied for anything has wanted an official transcript. They also can take some time to actually get to the people who need them; figure a day or so for the request to go through, a day or so to get processed at your institution, and several days for USPS to their thing. Note: these are business days, between 9 and 5, when the Registrar isn't busy with a hundred other things.
  • Moral: Get a bunch. Get more than you need. Seriously. Probably 20. Maybe more, depending on how many schools you apply to. If anything, they stay good (as far as I know?), so keep the extras filed away in case you need more later on. You can just drop the envelope you received it in along with everything else you're mailing to your myriad different schools.

Happy hunting,

P.S.: In other news, the officer who fingerprinted me knew has personally met and chatted with Bob Crane, and personally knows the D.P. for the old Hawaii Five-Oh series.

Monday, May 16, 2011

7 Interview Tips

Wahoo! I'm back from a year-long sleeping spell with a promise not to make any more promises on this blog, especially about "going to post something soon." Whoops.

So, I've got an interview! Rock on! Not my first interview ever (Third ever, maybe? Fourth?), but my first music teacher job interview (maybe second if you count summer band, but that was sort of already a done deal). A little advice:

  1. Don't eat an entire pizza right before going to bed. This is a good piece of advice in general, but it's really not doing me much good right now.
  2. Do relax before-hand. Right now, I've got about 1 hour before breakfast ends, 2 hours before check-out, and 4 hours before the interview itself. I'm thinking a good long walk and some fresh fruit from the local supermarket will do the trick.
  3. Do familiarize yourself with the town. Don't go driving around in the dead of night. I was waiting for my pizza and wanted to find the school, but I did feel like kind of a creep; History Channel in my hotel room probably would have been a better option.
  4. Speaking of hotels, don't get up mega-early, drive 6 hours straight, and then interview. Get a hotel room for the night before, relax, swim if you can, and don't eat an entire pizza. I feel like I made most of the right decisions in this one.
  5. Do take the easy route to get there and the quick route to come back. I tried taking the quick route to get there and got lost, found my way only to discover a bridge out, got lost again, got found again, and got there an hour-and-some late. Fortunately, because of #4, I still had about 18 hours to burn before I was actually late.
  6. Do choose good music. As a music-teacher-to-be, you know how powerful a good soundtrack is, so choose tunes to get you in the right mood. If you want, its fun to experiment by putting on different songs for each of the cities you drive through.
  7. Don't worry. [Do] Be happy. No interview is the end of the world, and no job is the "only" job. If they like you, awesome; if they don't, just take it for the experience of interviewing and move on. No biggie.

Anyway, time to catch some of that breakfast. Later!

P.S.: Do the kids say "no biggie" anymore?