12/05/2011

Nutcracker Week

It was the year 2000.  I was fresh out of college.  My first year as the music teacher at Remington Elementary was underway.  Now, I'm not usually much of self horn tooter.  But I do have to say...

I was pretty freaking good.

I know, it isn't nice to brag.  But it's just a fact.  I was a really good music teacher.  I'm not afraid to say it.  In fact, I'll say it again.  I was really good.  There you have it.

Here are a couple of rules I lived by when teaching.  They won't tell you this in your music education classes, folks.

1)  Do NOT try to be their friend.  You have friends.  They have friends.  They have friends that are much cooler than you will ever be.  Don't try.  You will just look like an idiot.  A desperate, pathetic, old, idiot.  And desperation in a school setting is like blood in the water, Gentle Reader.  Those little monsters will eat you alive.  Trust me.

2)  It's okay to let the kids think you're a little crazy.  You know...  unpredictable.  Like there isn't anything you wouldn't do.  A loose canon.  Keep 'em on their toes.  It's good for morale.  And fun.  Well, fun for you.

And...  Yah.  That about sums up Miss Spradlin's Rules for Classroom Management.  Don't be their friend, and act crazy.  Ta-da!  With those two simple rules, you too can be a fabulous teacher.

I know that if you happen to be reading this as a past student, or as a past colleague you might be thinking something else.  So for you, Remington Alumni, I will also tell another truth.  Yes, I was a good teacher.  But I was also...

Pretty freaking mean.  It's true.  I was kind of a meanie.  I had super high expectations.  With a couple of exceptions, I am totally okay with that.  There are a couple of circumstances that I wish I could take back...  for example.  One time teaching art, there was a little girl who was consistently really, really slow about clearing her desk off for art class.  After telling her to clear off her desk two or three times, and the rest of the class ready to start...  I walked to her desk without saying a word.  Then I silently, without warning, without ceremony, swept my hand across her desk and dumped all of her belongings onto the floor.  Yah...  definitely following rule #1, and #2 that day.  I still feel bad about that particular incident... she looked up at me with these big sad eyes, and I immediately regretted my strict adherence to rule #1 and rule #2...  But.  I never, ever had to wait on anyone to clear their desk off for art again.  There ya go.  Crazy might not always be pretty, but it usually works.  So to sum up.  My classroom management strategy was...  Mean, mean, mean...  super high expectations...  then after a couple of weeks (or months, depending) ease off the mean.  But always keep those super high expectations.  And, man.  Those high expectations really paid off.

My kids.  I still shake my head at how phenomenal they were musically.  I don't think they had any idea how hard the music was.  Really.  I never told them, so they didn't know.  I just taught them the music.  And they played it.  They didn't just play it, they played the H-E-double-hockey-sticks out of it.   Like, "Oh, well here is an incredibly difficult Samba.  Huh?  What level is this This piece will take me a week to learn myself...  Can the kids play it?  Let's find out."  Could they do it?  Heck yes.  And they played it.  Rocked it.  Melted my dad-gum face off.

I was an Orff music teacher.  (Okay.  You have no idea what that means.  Carl Orff was a composer and a music educator.  He spearheaded a movement of teaching music that is heavily based in speech rhythms, and that is also heavily percussion based.  And come on.  What kid doesn't want to play drums?  To be "Orff Certified", which I am thank you very much, is kind of a big deal.  It's a pretty rigorous training program.  Challenging.  Fantastic. Expensive.  And incredibly fun.  I was very fortunate to receive a grant from my school district that funded my training through two levels of certification.  The grant funded my training and also turned my music room into a wonderland.  I had enough high quality drums and mallet instruments for an entire classroom of kids to be able to play together.  That is a really big deal, folks.)

So I had a room full of great instruments, quality training, freakishly high expectations, a mean streak, and a screw loose.  And that, my friends...  is the recipe for a dynamite music program.

You're in for a treat, Gentle Reader.  All this week I will be sharing stories about a much beloved tradition that I started at Remington Elementary.  The annual Holiday production of The Nutcracker.  Oh, man.  Hold onto your hats, friends.  Get ready for a week full of crazy directors (well, okay.  just one crazy director.), naked first graders, a hundred tu-tus, sword fights, handmade costumes, a prostitute or two, a battle between a stoned belligerent dad and my hard core rock star of a principal, a cheeky news reporter...  and a partridge in a pear tree.

Tis the Season.

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