The List of Things You Cannot Say

I’m a music teacher.  Did you know?  Of course you did, I’m just being silly.  One of the things that I have developed over the years, that almost all of my students have seen at one time or another, is the “List of Things You Cannot Say.”  It is, because I am on a roll with stating the obvious here, a list of things that you cannot say.  Why?  Because I hate free speech!  Because I said so!  Because because because because!  Actually, we all know that I am a big promoter of the first amendment and everyone’s right to say whatever they want, regardless of how offensive it may be.  So I suppose it is a little curious that I have, essentially, a list of banned words and phrases, and that not only do I possess and enforce this list, but I’m the one who came up with it.

I came up with this list not because I enjoy censoring my students but because these words aren’t so much Words as they are Little White Flags.  They are signals that the student has given up, or is about to.  While I do think that the situation may come up from time to time where it is good to just acknowledge that you’ve worked your hardest and to just move on from a project, students are often reach that point much sooner than an adult or teacher might.  Students need to be taught to persevere, to be dedicated, to face hardship and adversity.  And waving little white flags in the face of a difficult piece of music is no way to learn!

The number one offender on this list, of course, are the two dreaded words, “I CAN’T.” If a student sees The List, it is probably because they have uttered these two words.  These are probably my two least favorite words on the face of the planet.  “Can’t” is probably my least favorite four letter word on the planet (not to say that I have favorites, they’re all pretty deplorable).  When I hear a student say “I can’t,” it’s not coming after months of working on a particularly tricky passage, it’s coming after a week, maybe two.  It’s looking at something hard (“It’s hard” is also on the list) and making the decision that “I can’t” before we’ve even tried.  Often it’s giving up before we’ve even begun. And these are not the kind of thoughts I want my children to be burdened with.

I want my children to be strong, and adventurous.  I want my children to be curious and hopeful.  I want my children to be brave enough to test their limits, and also, smart enough to know when it is appropriate to think these thoughts.  Because sometimes, yes, it is hard.  Sometimes you’re not going to like the song.  Sometimes you’re just not going to get it (Yes, “I don’t like this song” and “I don’t get it” are there, too).

But please, say those things when you’ve given it every try, when you’ve attempted it every which way, upside down and backwards.  Give up after you’ve given it your all, and even then, give it one last try.

Second runner up for Most Popular Little White Flag is “I’ll fix it next time.”  Oh,  honey.  I learned a long time ago, as you are learning right now because I am telling you, that ‘next time’ never actually happens.  Next time is that mystical land that exists somewhere in the very near future that we never actually arrive at.  It is just beyond the horizon, it’s the gateway to ‘tomorrow’ where a lot of other procrastinators leave their to-do list.  Don’t fix it next time.  Stop what you are doing and fix it now.  Right this second.

If you live in the present and work in the present, you won’t “always make that mistake,” which is another entry to the list.  You are always making that mistake because you are practically giving yourself permission to do so!  Why give yourself permission to be less awesome?  Why say, “I’m bad at this,” when it’s practically like giving yourself the free pass to be as lazy and as average as possible?  Students just don’t know how much awesome they have bubbling up inside of them, and when they say things like “I always do that” or “I always make that mistake” or “I’m bad at this,” they are clamping the lid down tight on all that potential that they just don’t see.

Because I try to be an optimist (how can you be a teacher and a pessimist?), I subsequently also created the “List of Things You Can Say” which is basically a compilation of the “List of Things You Cannot Say,” turned inside out.  “I can’t” becomes “I can,” I’m bad at this” becomes “I’m good at this,” and on and on.  Because if I’m going to subtract vocabulary from my students’ lives, it would be irresponsible of me to not add anything back in.

The funny thing about this list, is that I actually catch myself saying things on this list from time to time, and I’m not talking about the Can Say list.  Yes, even I get frustrated and say “I can’t,” or I get lazy and say “I’ll fix it next time,” on the rare occasion.  I’m not perfect.  But I know I can set a better example for my students.  So I turn my can’ts into cans and I keep on going. 

I hope you will, too.

Linky Dinks: How to Take a Sabbatical

NO I AM NOT QUITTING ANY OF MY JOBS.

I repeat – this is not a herald of things to come.

However – I realize that there are people out there who maybe need to take a break from their jobs.  Maybe because their jobs are just not as awesome as mine is.  Or maybe because certain life events have changed their point of view.  Or maybe, or maybe, or maybe.  There are probably a million reasons to take a break from your professional life.  And, of course, Lifehacker gives you the plan to make it happen.

This isn’t “hey, here’s all the reasons why you should take a break from life.”  This is, essentially, “hey, here’s how to do it and not be a homeless bum.”  TO summarize: figure out the why, when, how, and what.  Figure out why you are choosing to take the sabbatical, plan when it starts and how long it will last, how to cover all your expenses while you are on your break, what you’ll do with all your new free time, and most importantly, how to exit the professional world and enter your sabbatical world.

Sure, there are some people out there who have pretty ridiculous and amazing jobs like myself, and there are even some people who have jobs that while they are not as exciting, are still pretty awesome.  And for some people, maybe they just need a break from the every day grind for longer than just the standard two weeks paid vacation per year.

That Lifehacker article is for those people, and if anyone reads it, gets inspired and embarks on a new life adventure, I will be so happy to know that I shared it with them.

And now for something completely different: Sharing is Caring

Mom and Daughter CollaborateI’m an only child, so while sharing is not exactly a foreign concept to me, it’s definitely something that doesn’t come.. naturally, I suppose.  So maybe that’s why this collaboration seems to make sense to me.  First, mom Mica Angela Hendricks starts the drawing.  Then she hands it off to her daughter, who finishes it.  The results are pretty unexpected, yet still artful and interesting to look at.

See all the pics and hear a little more about the process here.

Linky Dinks: Be Crazy Good, not Crazy Weird

Check this video from A Box of Crayons and Positively Positive.

 

I think this is a really interesting technique that could be adapted to a number of situations and ideas.  One example: What is the most cost effective way to accomplish something vs. the most extravagant way?  What is the quickest way to do something vs. the longest most drawn out way?  The possibilities and applications are endless.

Every Day is a New Year

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Dr. Paul M. Beaudin at the Diocese of Metuchen’s headquarters (I’d like to think of it as a super duper secret lair for educational and religious things, but it’s not very secret at all, in fact, it’s a huge building in the middle of a field.  You couldn’t even sneak up to it unless you were in full camo gear and you shimmied across the whole way on your stomach, why do I even think of these things?).  If you travel to his page on Iona College’s website, you will only get the tip of the iceberg on this guy.  Yes, he is well educated.  But more than that, he just knows how to present to a crowd of fellow, well-educated individuals.  His talk on the Common Core (which is essentially a set of educational standards that all but just a handful of our United States have adopted) and how it is pushing teachers not just to cover different areas of subject matter, but to also focus more on critical thinking and problem solving instead of just, as he said it, “vomiting information onto your students for them to vomit back on to you,” was not just well put together and informative, but also peppered with jokes and a lot of audience interaction.  Look, the common core relates to math and English/language arts, predominantly, and I still had a BLAST and left feeling absolutely energized about the school year.  I don’t teach anything anywhere near those subjects (although I guess in a way, I do).

I took some pretty excellent notes (if I do say so myself) and wanted to share some of them with you guys.  Hopefully you will become newly inspired and invigorated in whatever it is you do, even if it’s nowhere near the educational field.

 

When doing lesson plans you have to think of What you teach, How you teach, how you Test, Qho you teach, but most importantly, you have to think of Why you are teaching this, because everyone needs to know and understand that.

When you think of your favorite teacher, you don’t think of the subject matter they taught you, you think of Who they are and How they taught.

Let this school year be a new year for every student.  Let every day be a new year for every student.  The master teacher views every single child with a vision that may not be shared with any other person in the building.  The master teacher sees potential that others don’t.

No matter how you are elsewhere, when you teach you have to be the most organized person in the room.

How you teach is your own, but respect the How that your students have been exposed to as well.

Be gentle with yourself (he said this in relation to bridging the gap between the old standards and the new common core standards, but this is excellent advice for anyone, always).

Know where your students are coming from and where they need to get to.

Ask better questions.

Essential questions are not answered in a 45 minute class period, essential questions are answered over a lifetime.  Write essential questions into your lesson plans.  Look at text in a deeper way, ask good questions of all students.

If there were no mistakes we wouldn’t need schools. (I TELL MY STUDENTS THIS ALL THE TIME!)

God wrote the class list even though it comes on sister’s letterhead – they are here to learn from you and you are there to learn from them.

Be able to say, I’m good, but I need help with this.

If every single child was perfect, your job would be boring.

Understanding is ownership.

I am free!  I am free to not cover every page of the book, the book is not the curriculum, the book is a tool (I have been saying this one to myself for awhile now, too!).

Don’t give up on vocabulary.

No more spoon feeding – give students the tools to unpack information themselves.

—–

I think I loved this talk so much, not just because it was inspiring from an educational standpoint, but if you read that list, you come to realize that so many of those things apply not so much to teaching, but just to being a better person.  And that’s something everyone can use.  After all, if every single person was perfect, then life would be boring.