The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.


Another Farewell

Today was the third day of my three-day assignment as the band teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. It was pretty close to being exactly what I expected, with a few exceptions.

With the DVD actually working this time (huzzah!), the day went quickly. I watched the same four scenes of Mary Poppins over and over and over again. Some of the classes went very well, with the students being polite and respectful not just to me, but to each other. One class was absolutely terrible, to the point that I told them that they were the worst class of my week. They were much better behaved after that, probably because it dawned on them that I report to their teacher how they were for me, and their teachers do not take kindly to students abusing the subs, even if there are just a couple of days left to the school year.

The worst, though, was when I had a group of four students talking throughout the movie in one period. I repeatedly asked them to stop talking, and eventually three of them did. But one boy kept it up. So when I told him again, he responded by accusing me of being racist.


I stopped the movie, turned on the lights, and explained to the class the difference between racism and having a white teacher tell an African-American student to stop being disrespectful. I don’t know that the message got through at all, but I wasn’t going to let a student get by with making such a ridiculous claim without any response from me.

Fortunately, the rest of my day went very well. The 8th graders, especially, were great. I told them that they could talk and sign yearbooks as long as they cleaned up the room and put all of the furniture back where it belonged at the end of class. They did. One boy asked me to sign his yearbook, and another promised to find me on Facebook. (I have a policy of not accepting friend requests from current students, but insofar as I do not sub at the high schools in Champaign, and he is done with school on Friday, I said he could friend me if he could find me.)

And then it was a quick farewell to the students I have come to know so well over the past several months. Some of them are probably glad to not have to see me again. Others expressed sadness but, at the same time, they are done with middle school, so the farewell was overshadowed with the jubilation that they survived. I’m glad they did, and I wish them all the very best in high school. I’m sure I’ll see some of them around, most likely at Wal-Mart, where I seem to run into a bunch of students.


Technical Difficulties

Today was my second day as a band teacher at Edison Middle School. Yesterday we watched short podcasts because it was a half day and the students didn’t have much time in the room. We were back to the regular schedule today, though, so the plans allowed for starting a much longer video.

We were to watch the Walt Disney adaptation of Mary Poppins, because the bands had just featured several of the songs in their recent concert. The teacher had the DVD ready to go, the computer set up, and everything should have been hunky dory.

Despite my apparent anti-technology aura whenever I get near an LCD projector, everything was working fine. The first class of the day (7th grade woodwinds) got started on Mary Poppins and everything seemed to be okay. Until we got about 10 minutes into the movie and it froze up. Completely.

Okay, no problem. Take the disc out, make sure that it doesn’t have any smudges, put it back in, and away we go, right?

Not quite. We made it a few more minutes and it froze up again. So I took the disc out again and examined it more closely. It was scored and scratched and marred so thoroughly that I was surprised it was working at all. Then I noticed what I had failed to take into account: it was from the public library. I love the Champaign Public Library. It has an awesome collection of everything you could want from a public library. But the patrons don’t take very good care of the DVDs. So we had to stop.

This was quite problematic, as I still had four other classes for the day. I had no clue what to do. There were no back-up plans and, since this was a band class, it wasn’t like I could just have the students take out some other work–most of them didn’t bring anything with them, anyway. So they had free time for the rest of the period, as did the second class of the day (6th grade woodwinds).

During this class, though, I did a check and found out the library had at least one other copy of the movie on DVD. The CPL just happens to be across the street from Edison. Except there was no way I could leave the building. So I texted my wife, but she was far too busy at work. So I texted her dad, who is done with his classes for the year (he is a college professor). He was able to get to the library, check out the DVD, and navigate his way through Edison Middle School to find the band room and deliver the movie just in time for my third class of the day!


The last three classes (7th grade brass, 6th grade brass, and 8th grade band–or maybe it is 7th, 6th, 6th, 7th… whatever), were able to watch the movie.

Well, kind of.

This disc was also scratched. But, fortunately, I only had to skip two  chapters and everything was back on track. Thank goodness! We will watch more of the movie tomorrow. Hopefully nothing else will go awry! But I may bring a musical DVD of my own. You know, just in case.

The Music Man

Today I was the band teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. I am also going to be there tomorrow and Wednesday, which is incredibly awesome for me, as the days remaining in the school year and ticking by faster and faster (or so it would seem).

Now, I’ve been in bands for a long time. I first started band when I was in 5th grade (about 19 years ago), and I’ve been in them in one way or another ever since: In middle school, I was in concert band and marching band. In high school I was in concert band, jazz band, marching band, symphonic winds, and a smattering of small ensembles for state music competitions. Upon enrolling at the University of Illinois, I was a member of the university’s Concert Band II-A, which was pretty much the lowest-level band available, but I was neither a music major nor an incredibly skilled musician, so I was just happy to be in band. I stayed with II-A until the end of my junior year, when I had to leave due to student teaching and then graduating. After finishing my university studies I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the Parkland College Wind Ensemble, which is a smaller group composed primarily of community members and a few college students with a high school student or two rounding things out. In addition, I have occasionally helped with smaller ensembles at church when needed, although the need for trumpet players is not as great as, say, pianists, organists, and various string-ists. Added to all of this is my shorter history with vocal ensembles, such as my high school prep chorus, concert choir, and various church choirs, not to mention all of the musicals I’ve helped with as a spotlight technician. All of which is a very long way of saying that I’ve been around music ensembles of one sort or another for a long time.

As substitute teacher, I’ve been fortunate enough to sub for grade school music teachers a handful of times. They have generally been fun, albeit pretty simple, experiences. (Such as this, this, and this.) Added to this is my ongoing pursuit of subbing for as many teachers at Edison as possible this year. (I’m now up to 18 out of 51–not going to reach the 50% goal I’d set, but oh well; I got close!) So I grabbed at the chance to sub for three consecutive days for one teacher, leaving me with just Friday left to fill. (I’ve been scheduled for this Thursday for several weeks now.)

What I didn’t seem to take into account was the realisation that bands are big. I mean, really big. Grade music classes always consist of just one class at a time, so I am used to those numbers. The strings program at Edison is a small division of the music program, so it was small. But band… Oh, did I mention that Edison Middle School happens to have one of the highest rated middle school band programs in the nation? Many of the students at Edison are there for the band program.

I’ve had big classes before. But today was quite a shock. I had five classes total: two 6th grade groups, two 7th grade groups, and the entire 8th grade band. In each of the first four classes, there were between 32 and 35 students. Okay, that’s a lot, but it is manageable. I’ve had big classes before at Edison. The 8th grade band, though, consists of 52 students. Fifty-two! They have more students in the program then there are regular teachers in the building! The class roster was two and half pages long! Yegads!

Fortunately for me, the students at Edison love me. I mean, they really love me. Remember the picture they made for me? So even though I suddenly found myself in the midst of two score and a dozen eighth grade boys and girls at the end of the day, things went pretty well. Or, rather, things went pretty well after they all got settled. It took about ten minutes to do so. Oh, and today was a half-day, so that means class periods were only 30 minutes long. Of course, following the long-standing tradition of band teachers the world over, the students were not doing anything band-ish. In fact, they were barred from touching the instruments. Instead, we spent the period watching a Yamaha podcast about the making of either the saxophone or the trumpet, depending on the class.

Tomorrow and Wednesday we will be watching Mary Poppins, because they just had their last concert and much of the music from the Disney film had been featured. Hey, it is the end of the year, anyway. Fun times ahead!

Waste Not, Want Not

Today I was the music teacher at Robeson Elementary in Champaign. If I were to ever take my adventures in substituting and attempt to self-publish them in a mass-market format, I think I would use the working title Today I Was… with the subtitle The Adventures of a Substitute Teacher. Just in case you were ever wondering. This has caused me to ponder a question: what are some quality professional books about substitute teaching or for substitute teachers? There seems to be a number available for purchase, but I have no idea whether or not they are worth buying and/or reading. If you happen to know of any you’d recommend, I’d be glad to hear about them!

Anyway, my day went pretty well. There was a student teacher with my class who was super well prepared for teaching today. She took the lead in the lessons for each class, and, until she told me at the end of the day, I would have been certain she had been taking the lead in every class for a couple of weeks. In fact, today was her first day doing so, and she was incredibly worried about it. There was no need to be, of course, and I let her know. This was even more impressive when one considers that the 2nd grade class we had today was the class that holds the poor reputation as being the worst class I have taught this year. But even they were not totally unmanageable over the course of the 40 minutes or so they were with us.

There was one part of the day that did disappoint me, though, but it had nothing to do with teaching. It was during the 15-minutes of lunch duty we had supervising the 5th graders. The vast majority of the boys and girls were eating the lunch provided by the school. There are quite a few of these students who qualify for free lunches, but whether the district pays for it or the students’ parents do, someone has had to pay for all of the food that is served to them.

Which is probably why I was so annoyed to see so many students not eating. If I were to guess, I would say that there was close to 10 lbs of food not being eaten during this lunch period. The food services staff confirmed that this is fairly typical, and it is true for all the grade levels. As this is a K-5 building, that means that there is about 50-60 lbs of food wasted each day. Even if it is just 50 lbs, that is 250 lbs of wasted food a week, which adds us to 9,000 lbs of wasted food each school year. It is quite possible that my estimates are way off, and that there isn’t such a gross amount of wasted food each year, but I worry when I continue to do the math. There are 11 grade schools in the Champaign district, and I have a feeling that there is about the same amount of waste in each building. 99,000 lbs of food that goes in the trash each year.

The boys and girls in the area have not learned the wonderful maxim of old: waste not, want not. Another great maxim that applies is use it up, wear it out, make it do, or make without. Instead, though, we have young people who don’t seem to appreciate what they have. I think I’ll make an effort to point out provident living concepts when the opportunity arises. I may not have a full-time job teaching, and I may not be with these students all the time, but I can try to make a positive impact wherever I am upon whomever I can.

Update: Thanks to my oldest brother, Tom, I’ve been made aware of this story out of Chicago about kids throwing away food because it is unpalatable. I don’t think that this is the case in Champaign, but it does bring up an important issue about whether or not food should simply be nutritious, and how the quality of taste/texture/etc. impacts a student’s decision to eat all of (or even part of) his or her school-provided lunch.

Teaching Strategies: Hump Day

Today is Wednesday. For reasons not quite clear to me, this day is generally known as Hump Day. I find it a somewhat annoying term, and yet I see it all around me. Perhaps that is why I find it annoying. Who knows for sure. When I was serving a two-year mission for my church, there was a common way of describing periods of the mission: first entering the mission field (as we called it) was the Bump. Six months later was something or other that was never defined often enough for me to remember. One year in was the Hump. 18 months in was the Slump, when the missionaries began to think about going home. And at the end was the Trunk, when the bags were packed and the missionary went home. Fortunately, we don’t break down the work week that much. Our society is content to focus on the middle of the week, which we seem to dread while also looking forward to it.

I guess I am fortunate enough to find myself in a profession that allows me to enjoy what I do every day. Yeah, I get tired at times, but I still love my job. I look forward to each day. I hope someone will smack me when I start counting down the days until the end of the week. I don’t have a problem with counting the days until a break or until the end of the school year. But spending all of your time looking forward to the weekend? That seems a bit counter-productive.

Which is why I write about this as a teaching strategy. The strategy isn’t actually Hump Day, of course. Nor is it the recognition of the concept or the use of the term. Rather, it is the opposite. One of the most important things a teacher can do is to simply love coming to work, each and every single day. I’ve met the teachers who are their to do their jobs, as they think of it. And I’ve met the teachers who understand that their jobs are a lot more than what the contract says. I watched Mr. Holland’s Opus yesterday, and I think that this scene captures beautifully what I am talking about:


Fortunately for the music students at John F. Kennedy High School, Mr. Holland learned:


So the next time you find yourself thinking of Hump Day and then looking forward to the weekend, just remember: the teachers who rush to the parking lot with gusto as soon as their work day is over are rarely the teachers for whom after-school assemblies are planned and former students come back 30 years later to celebrate.

Teaching Strategies: YouTube

Today is the first real day of Spring Break here in Champaign, Mahomet, and Urbana. I had earlier stated on Twitter that I would not be posting anything today, but I just found this awesome YouTube channel that I wanted to share with all of you. (Shout out to Edna Lee at Regurgitated Alpha Bits for sharing this on her blog!)

The channel consists of surprisingly well-made (for amateurs) music videos of 52 different events in history, put to popular music. Some of the songs are contemporary, such as the story of the French Revolution set to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance while others use hits from the 1980s, such as Tainted Love by Soft Cell to tell the story of the Trojan War. There are even some Beatles tunes thrown in. Some of the videos are better than others, but they are fun and would be great to share in the classroom.

Except, of course, for that nagging problem that seemingly every school district in the nation has blocked access to YouTube. This channel alone provides an excellent argument for allowing teachers and staff access to sites that are blocked to students. There are lots of ways around this, of course, and a quick Google search can give you directions on how to take advantage of any number of them. (Edna Lee even offers a way to rip YouTube videos, but I’ve never used it and I have no idea what the legality of it is, so I’ll leave you to find your own methods of acquiring the content).

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite videos from History for Music Lovers!


Music Meme

Today is the first official day of the two-week Winter Break. My friend Natasha recently made a blog post based on a Facebook music meme, and I thought it’d be fun to do, too. Also, it gives me something to post today as I continue my ongoing project of recording and sorting my library. The meme was to list the first fifteen songs that play on your iPod when you set the songs to shuffle. I agree with Natasha that fifteen is just not enough, so I decided to follow her example and double it. So here’s the list of the first 30 songs that played while I was sorting through my classroom collection of juvenile nonfiction:

  1. Take It Outside – Barenaked Ladies (Everything to Everyone)
  2. My Love – Celine Dion (Taking Chances)
  3. Look Up (To See What’s Coming Down) – Santana (Caravanserai)
  4. Lean On Me – Bill Withers (on a mix album my wife and her best friend made)
  5. She Will Be Loved – Maroon 5 (Songs About Jane)
  6. Backdoor Man – The Doors (The Best of the Doors)
  7. Feels Like Today – Rascal Flatts (single track)
  8. Baby, Let’s Play House – Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap soundtrack)
  9. Disenchanted – My Chemical Romance (The Black Parade)
  10. Spawn – George (Polyserena)
  11. We Never Wanted a Legacy – Jealousy Curve (demo album)
  12. I Still Miss Someone – Johnny Cash (16 Biggest Hits)
  13. I Wanna Be Like You – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (Swingers
  14. A Thousand Years – Sting (Brand New Day)
  15. Master of Puppets – Metallica (Master of Puppets)
  16. Shine – Plain White T’s (Stop)
  17. Evil with a Dog Face – Theodore Shapiro (Marley & Me soundtrack)
  18. Blow Ya Mind – Lock N Load (Best Remixes)
  19. Not Coming Home – Maroon 5 (Songs About Jane)
  20. Tongue Tied – Eve 6 (Eve 6)
  21. Agony – Robert Westenberg (Prince Charming) & Chuck Wagner (Rapunzel’s Prince) (Into the Woods soundtrack)
  22. Tears – Bonnie Tyler (Faster Than The Speed Of Night)
  23. Speed of Sound – Coldplay (mix album)
  24. All The Things She Said – t.A.T.u. (200 km/h In The Wrong Lane)
  25. All The Way to Reno – R.E.M. (In Time: The Best of R.E.M.)
  26. You Love to Sing (Slow Version) – Copeland (Dressed Up & In Line)
  27. Moon Over Bourbon Street – Sting (Bring on the Night Disc 2)
  28. Angel Eyes – Tony Bennett (Perfectly Frank)
  29. If This Is It – Huey Lewis & The News (The Heart of Rock & Roll: The Best of Huey Lewis & The News)
  30. OK – Holly Conlan (Bird – EP)
  31. Bonus: SNL Celebrity Jeopardy – Alex Trebek, Ozzy Osbourne, Martha Stewart, and Sean Connery (I know that this is not a song, nor does it actually feature any of the celebrities listed, but it showed up in the shuffle, and I figured it was worth including.)

Looking over this list, I am very happy that Barenaked Ladies were first. I love their music, and own every album they’ve released to date. I am also glad to see that I had a wide selection of my musical tastes represented. I was kind of shocked to have more than one song by Sting show up, particularly since I own considerably more BNL music, but that’s just the luck of the draw. I’d love you know what kind of music you all listen to, as well. You don’t have to list the first 30, or even 15, tracks from your iPod’s shuffle, but feel free to share some music! Gretch and I usually find ourselves in possession of an iTunes gift card or two after Christmas, and we’re looking to expand our music collection.