#mybad

Haim G. Ginott said: 

I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.

As I read and reflect on this quote, I shamefully share the following story.

I am a member of the #compelledtribe.  We have been charged to share our “my bad” story as novice educators.  Though I am not proud of what I am going to share, it is important. If others can learn from my mistakes, perhaps I can spare the heartache of students with inexperienced teachers. I was once that inexperienced teacher who hadn’t quite learned to honor and respect the needs of her students.
I was a High School Band Director and it was time to audition for “chairs”.   First Chair of any section was a coveted position.  It meant recognition, solos, and leadership amongst fellow band members. As a novice teacher, I was proud of the way I was going to handle auditions.  I knew all there was to know about auditioning, after all.  I was a teacher and a performer. It was very equitable.  Students were assigned a student identification number per section as well as a musical selection and some scales they would be performing.  They also received a rubric with expectations and specific points awarded for each performance category.  I was READY to assess them and determine who would sit which chairs for the beginning of the school year.

In addition, students received solo or small group lessons prior to the audition. I wanted each student to have the opportunity to be successful.  I figured if they were willing to practice and work hard for first or second chair, they’d be willing to strive for their best this year and be invaluable members to the band’s overall performance.

The day of auditions arrived and students were nervous and excited.  I was too.  It was my opportunity to be organized and run a very fair and equitable audition process.  “Blind” auditions commenced. I listened to every student who was interested in auditioning for a chair.  There were many.  I was a new teacher and they wanted to impress me just like I hoped to impress them.  I used rubrics and rated what I heard.

When the tabulations were done, I began aligning student identification numbers to individual students.  As I finished, I discovered “Jennifer” who was a senior and, from what I understood, always sat first chair.   But according to my results, she was NOT ranked first. 

To this day I am embarrassed by my actions. I completed the tabulations and posted the chair rankings on the instrument closet door, throwing caution to the wind.  My thoughts were, “Oh well.  I know what I heard.”  When the students arrived, “Jennifer” was hysterical.

She lost first chair to a sophomore. 

This caused complete havoc in the band.  What I had hoped would unify the students and gain respect for me, completely backfired.  My “process” was not effective.  Students took sides. Parents were angry.  Administration was involved. 

There were several options I could have chosen.  For a true, appropriate audition process, another music teacher should have listened with me, or even a third.  We should have listened, discussed, reflected, and agreed on each chair candidate as they were auditioning.  This also would have assisted in defending my process.  With the way I did things it was “my ears” against student performances.  Imagine the criticism of the new music teacher – me!

If “Jennifer” truly did not get the top spot, a meeting with “Jennifer” and a call home to her parents before the rankings were posted surely would have been appropriate. 

I lost credibility that day.  But more importantly, I crushed a student.  It was awful. 

I share this story in the hopes that novice teachers will learn. Maybe this post will find its way to “Jennifer” and she will understand what a foolish, inexperienced teacher I was and forgive my careless act toward a talented young lady.

Go forth and be cautious in your teachings,  for you have the ability to shape a child forever.

Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference.   ~ John Wooden

How Pat Summitt Changed My Life…

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I never played basketball.  I am only 5’2′”.

I don’t watch professional sports and really never have. I root for all of the athletic programs and student athletes in the Barnegat School District where I am the Superintendent.  As a spectator, I am most proud of my own children.  During their sporting events, I am the screaming, excited, passionate, worried, on-the-edge-of-her-seat, proud mom.

I am not much of an athlete.  A few years ago I completed the Jersey Girl Triathlon, the Tough Mudder, the Color Run, and a bunch of 5K’s.  Exercise is essential for a healthy mind and body, yet lately, time is not on my side.

When I started my teaching career, I had the wonderful opportunity to be a High School Marching Band Director.  I know…crazy, right?  I was young and inexperienced but so incredibly passionate about music, teaching music, performing, listening, and working hard to provide rewarding musical experiences for my students.

(Don’t worry, this whole blog is not about music.  Hang in there…)

If you ask any Marching Band Director, musicianship (in all it’s beauty) is nearly impossible when the band’s instrumentation is spread over ten yards or more of a football field.  There are color guard flags and rifles impacting sound (and vision). Student musicians are trying desperately to hit their marks for the drill they have been working on since band camp.  It is still ninety degrees in late September. The band is wearing polyester uniforms. They are trying to keep in step with each other, watch and listen to the drum major, and their view is partially obstructed by a hat with a giant feather on it!   It’s kind of like trying to swim a 200 meter freestyle race with a blindfold on, one arm tied behind your head, and a five pound weight tied only around one ankle.

This, my friends, is what Marching Band is all about.

When I was a Band Director, there was another band director nearby.  Her name was Karen also.  Just like all the head football coaches knew each other, so did we.  The other Karen was amazing.  Her band placed in the top three bands for local, county, and state competitions year after year.  They were accomplished musicians.  Her students had mastered the “wall of sound.”  If you have never been to a marching band competition or a drum corps show, you have already stopped reading this blog.  The “wall of sound” blows your mind every time.  It is that moment in the show when the sound coming from that band in front of you simply lifts you out of your chair.  You can feel the music notes dappled across your face.  Your hair blows back and you can’t breathe.  This happens because it is LOUD but also because it is a moment of sheer beauty.  A moment of outstanding intonation…full, beautiful music.

The other Karen’s band also mastered amazing Latin rhythms, how to perform with character, when to play to the crowd, how to be amazing showman, and how to choose music that really showed off their talents.

The other Karen beat me every time.

So, I did what any coach would do.  I tried to emulate her.  She became my mentor and friend and she introduced me to Pat Summitt.  I never met the late, great coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers. But the other Karen told me to read, “Reach for the Summitt“.  It was the first book I read that motivated me, captured my attention, inspired me, and provided “coaching” strategies that I could apply to my work as a Marching Band Director.

The band’s performance improved.  I had an amazing mentor and friend in the other Karen.  But reading Coach Summitt’s book did something astounding for me.  It made me hungry to be led, a desire to be inspired, and drove me to improve my “coaching”. It gave me the courage to try and keep trying. Summitt’s book encouraged me to look within for strength, reach to others for support, and persevere even when I wanted to quit.

I believed in the things that Pat Summitt believed in and I still do today.  We are a team. Character Matters. Work together toward a common goal to achieve the best outcomes. MAKE CONNECTIONS WITH YOUR TEAM.

Pat Summitt said, “What I see are not the numbers.  I see their faces.”

As a teacher, I had the opportunity to see the faces of many, many students. Today I have the honor of seeing my former students as successful adults.  I see the current students in my district as amazing students with unyielding potential.

Pat Summitt was a hero to me and many others. As a woman, I was floored by her strength and her successes.

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In her memory, I will commit to what she believed in and reaffirm my beliefs in her teachings. Do everything with character and integrity. Your team is your family. Make connections.

Thanks, Coach.