Wednesday, December 09, 2009

What I Do

If you read this blog with any regularity, or know me at all, you know that I am a teacher. Specifically, a music teacher. The last couple of years, I've also taught a little bit of art, even though I'm not credentialed in it--or very good at it.

Anyway, that's just the very basic explanation of what I do. Most people, when they ask what my job is, assume they know what it entails because, hey, teaching is easy, right?


Ha, ha, ha.

It turns out I'm so much more than just a teacher...and yes, I've had one or two assholes tell me I'm just a teacher--I give them about as much attention as I give an 8th grader who is trying to annoy me. None. My job duties are vast, and include:

1. Nurse/Miss Manners/Reluctant Mommy

I am not the teacher who snaps on the latex gloves and applies the band aid, but I can't tell you how many band aids and wipes I've handed out over the years, or how many foreheads I've felt ("No, that's your normal temp. Go sit down."). Kids worriedly inquire about lumps, bumps, aches, twitches, rashes and other myriad non-emergencies, hoping, perhaps, that it's bad enough to be sent to the office and then home.

And manners. Oh, the lessons in manners. "Cover that cough!" "Gee, thanks for sneezing all over the thirteen people sitting near you." "Can you go to the bathroom? I don't know, can you?" "How 'bout a 'please,' please?" "THANK YOU." "If you have a question, raise your hand, don't scream 'Miss Cooooooper!!!' across the room." "Johnny, garbage doesn't go in the desk. I have garbage cans, you know." "It was an accident...he didn't do it on purpose, so stop tattling--and hey, you, tell her you're sorry."

You get the picture.

2. Policewoman

I have broken up fights and prevented them from happening. I won't throw myself, full-body, into the middle of one--I prefer my body whole and healthy, thankyouverymuch--but I have stuck and arm between two 7th grade boys and barked "WALK. AWAY." at them.

I can't tell you how many petty thefts I've investigated, in which the injured party has lost a pencil, pen, eraser, toy they weren't supposed to have at school, or what have you, and it becomes a matter of national security in their eyes.

I am programmed to walk through the corridors barking "Walk! Don't run!" at wayward students, or asking them, "Where are you supposed to be? Oh, class? Well, don't you think you'd better get there, then? Hurry up!"

3. Toxic Waste Manager

Since the start of my career, I have encountered the following in my classroom: blood, urine, vomit, snot, used gum, spit. No poop yet, but just wait--it will happen. It's happened to other teachers I know.

Bloody noses are common, as are scrapes and cuts that have been picked to death by bored children (eww). I've had a kinder and a first grader wet themselves in my room. Turns out there's this awesome sawdust-like stuff you can shake on it. The custodian gave me some to keep in my room just in case, but I've gotten really good at recognizing that certain potty dance.

The vomit, thankfully, has only happened once in my room--I've had kids run outside with the trash can, but only once did someone just let it out on the floor. This is good because I've got a killer gag reflex, and a tendency towards sympathetic vomiting.

Snot, used gum, and spit are just par for the course.

4. Musical Know-It-All

I hate, hate, HATE it when I have to tell a kid, "You know...I don't know. I'll have to get back to you about that." But, well, it's part of the job. When I was teaching high school choir, some of the kids acted like it was a crime when I would say, "Let me look it up and get back to you." I like to remind myself that I've forgotten more than they've learned.

That said, I do have a pretty extensive knowledge of music and how it works. I've been doing this stuff for 24 years. I play two instruments and sing. I listen to all kinds of music, pretty much constantly (no talk radio for me!). I live, eat and breathe music, and I'm fortunate in my job because I get to take that obsession to work with me every day.

5. Actress and Entertainer

I've often joked that part of being a teacher is being a good stage performer. You have to be able to get up in front of a class and teach, no matter what.

Case in point: In 2004, we had to have our dog, Holly Berry, put to sleep. She was old, blind, sick, and ready. Dad knew he was going to do it, and I knew he was going to. I went to work that morning and spent my whole day holding back tears. I was so afraid that if I said one word about it, I would burst into tears and not stop. I smiled, laughed and taught my way through a whole morning of music lessons at the middle school, then through a whole afternoon of covering a colleague's 4th grade class.

After school, when all the kids were gone, that colleague came into his room and said, "How'd it go?" Then, and only then, did I burst into horrible, snotty, sobbing tears and say, "Oh, Frank, my dog died today!"

Another part of my grand performance is being willing and able to make a complete ass out of myself on a daily basis. I have to be able to laugh at myself when I make a mistake, act pissed off when I really want to laugh at something a student did, and bite my lip--hard--to keep from laughing out loud at a student's Freudian slip or inappropriate joke. I have to act like flatulence doesn't make me gag ("Get a grip, you guys, it's just a fart. Get over it.") I have to be willing to do silly and sometimes embarrassing stuff ("This is what a pliƩ looks like. Yes, I'm aware that I have no grace whatsoever. Your point?") to get a point across.


And yes--I have to be a teacher. Not the music-spouting, behavior-controlling, student-watching policewoman, but someone who is aware of standards and protocols. Which brings me to the whole reason I started this post.

Today, I wrote the goals and objectives on the board for my students. I do this every day. I've always written an agenda of some kind, but in recent years, it's evolved into "goals and objectives." It's had to, because since I moved back to California in 2006, every job I've had has required teachers to write the standard we are teaching on the board.

What is a standard? Content Standards are learning objectives set by the state. California has them for every subject, every grade level. There are five strands. In the case of the arts they are: Artistic Perception, Creative Expression, Historical and Cultural Context, Aesthetic Valuing, and Connections, Relationships, Applications.

An example of a music strand for 7th grade:

Processing, Analyzing, and Responding to Sensory Information Through the Language and Skills Unique to Music

Students read, notate, listen to, analyze, and describe music and other aural information, using the terminology of music.

Read and Notate Music
1.1 Read, write, and perform intervals, chordal patterns, and harmonic progressions.
1.2 Read, write, and perform rhythmic and melodic notation in duple, triple, and mixed meters.
1.3 Transcribe simple aural examples into melodic notation.
1.4 Sight-read melodies in the treble or bass clef (level of difficulty: 1 on a scale of 1-6).

Listen to, Analyze, and Describe Music
1.5 Analyze and compare the use of musical elements representing various genres, styles, and cultures, emphasizing tonality and intervals.
1.6 Describe larger musical forms (e.g. canon, fugue, suite, ballet, opera, oratorio).

Now, my 7th graders have very little musical background, for the most part. I can expose them to this stuff, but I don't expect for one minute that they will understand mixed meters. Sight-reading is minimal, and I don't even tough on 1.6 all that much, except in passing. They can tell you that a ballet is a long ole piece of music with people dancing on their tippy toes, and that's about it. That's about all they want to know.

Anyway, I digress.

Today, after school, I looked at my white board. Up there in my scrawl were the goals and objectives for the day, followed by the visual art standards we were trying to achieve. I wrote the standards in "teen-speak," because they are written in educator-speak and I know my kids don't care/don't understand/don't wanna know about all that.

What I wanted my kids to do today was to make a winter scene using shapes and perspective, by cutting and pasting construction paper. Here is a picture of the samples I used:

Here is what I am required to write on the board to tell them, "This is what we're doing today."

This, my friends, is what my boss is looking for, what her bosses expect her to look for, and what the State Department of Education expects school districts to look for in every classroom.

Sound complicated? It can be. But I love what I do and can't imagine having any other career.

Now, if they'd only throw away their used tissues, I'd be really and truly happy.


Nefarious Newt said...

All I can say is thank you. We don't often remember how hard a teacher's job is.

Britni TheVadgeWig said...

Teachers are overworked and underpaid. They should make more than 90% of the jobs out there. You help shape our future, deal with asshole kids for the majority of the day, and have an impact on more lives than you know.

Great post. You are so much more than *just* a teacher. More people should realize that (especially the people that determine teachers' pay! Isn't it sad that I'd love to teach (I'm fantastic at it) but didn't pursue it because of the pay? However, the reason I'm going to continue on to my Ph.D. even though I can successfully practice with my Master's is so that I can teach at the university level).