A Love Letter to my Fellow Title I Teachers

Dear Fellow Title I Teacher:

Don’t compare yourself to other teachers. You are amazing. You work hard. Even if they don’t tell you, your students appreciate and love you! You may be one of the few stable things in their life! When you look at where your students are “on the charts”, often they fall behind their peers from better funded schools with intact families. But when you look at how far they have come, you can be proud because you helped them get there.

Most of my fellow teachers don’t know what it’s like to have a student SUDDENLY not be in your class anymore – with no warning or pre-planning. When you try to call or email – maybe to get an instrument back or just ask how they are –  you find everything has been disconnected. You know what it’s like!

Most of my fellow teachers don’t know what it’s like to have the $20 yearly instrument fee seem impossible for some parents to pay. Many struggle with just paying the rent and buying food. You know what it’s like – and I bet you spend some of your own money just on the supplies you need to teach!

Most of my fellow teachers don’t know what it’s like to have a student share their “good news”. And what is the good news? My uncle’s prison sentence was reduced from 5 years to 3 years. Although you would never ask it yourself, a student inevitably asks “what is your uncle in prison for?” The answer is armed robbery. You know what it’s like.

Most of my fellow teachers have never had a former student murdered in a gang fight on the school’s track over the summer. Most don’t know the heart-wrenching torment of examining oneself and thinking – sometimes out loud sometimes to themselves – “could I have done more for that student when he was in my class four years ago.” Self-reflection is good, but you probably did all you could. You know what it’s like.

Stop comparing yourself to the suburban teacher where the families are all making a decent income and are able to support what their students are doing. You DO make a difference. Love the students under your care. Make sure you take time for yourself. The emotional stress can sap the life out of you. Decide what time you are leaving school each day and follow through with that. Have a hobby. Read a book. Exercise. Eat well. We need you to be around for a long time!

With Love and Respect,
James Divine

* James is in his 22nd year of teaching band and orchestra. He has taught at an exclusive private school, a suburban high school, and now teaches at a Title I school in Colorado Springs. James’ single mom was on welfare and food stamps for part of his growing up years. For about a year the family was also homeless (by today’s definition). Even though they weren’t called that at the time, James attended several Title I schools in the 1970s and early 1980s. James believes that the teachers he had SAVED HIS LIFE. He understands where his current students are coming from. James hosts The Music Ed Podcast, which you can find on iTunes or at www.jamesdivine.net.    

Episode 152 – How Music Saved My Life; James’ story

This episode is a little different. In this podcast, I’m sharing a presentation I made on The Story Project, a show similar to The Moth for those who have heard that on NPR. In the presentation, I use my 100 year old saxophone to tell the story of how music saved my life (specifically teachers).

Playing the saxophone was life-changing for me!

Listen all the way to the end and you can get the code to receive a free digital copy of my book that tells my story in more depth. You can also see the live video of the Story Project by visiting www.jamesdivine.net.

What you do as teachers makes a difference!

All Dogs Go To Heaven

Guest Post by a Dog who is a friend of mine. He prefers to stay anonymous.

Man’s Best Friend. Faithful. Loyal. These are just some of the ways dogs have been described.

Not many dogs have undertaken the task of writing about life. It’s important for you – the human – to understand what it is we see in life as dogs. Dogs were designed by God to be special, to be a companion, to love without condition. He also created some of our weirder quirks, like eating our own poop and drinking out of the toilet bowl. Each gift we have also has a drawback, but these things are all meant to teach you, the observant human, how to become better and how to find your place in heaven.

All dogs go to heaven.

Well almost all. There are a few that have either become pure evil or had it bred into them by evil humans. These are the dogs that attack children, that strain against their thick chains to try and kill, and that kill for no reason except for their desire to do so. This constitutes less than 1% of all dogs. Don’t hold this against the other 99%.

The rest of us go to heaven, but it’s not the same as it is for humans. You see, not all humans go to heaven. Oh, there are a lot of them that are “good” but they are judged on a different level than we dogs.

Humans can go to redemptive heaven. If they choose not to go, well they go to another place that I don’t want to even think of. This is the same place a large percentage of cats go to. Cats can’t help it. They were born with a very selfish personality (but not all cats go there).

I wish this wasn’t so. I wish everyone was a dog and could go to dog heaven, but that would mean you would be born without a soul. Having a soul and a choice whether to go to heaven is best in the long run.

You’ll notice dogs don’t hold it against each other if we are different breeds. Some of us are black, some white. Some are big, some are small. Some are handsome while some are downright ugly (but these seem to be the most popular at times). Some stink more than others, and some are stuffy and dignified. It doesn’t matter to us. When we meet, we greet each other with our own “handshake,” (you’ve seen this…we approach each other cautiously and get a good whiff of the other’s butt. It may not always seem like it, but hygiene is very important to us). We can tell a lot about a dog or a person within the first two minutes of meeting them, and we won’t fake it if we don’t like you!

John Wayne had some dog in him. I was watching a John Wayne movie when the following interchange took place.

Cowboy: We’ve been corralling cattle together for ten years, and during that time you’ve hardly spoken to me. 

John Wayne: Yup.

Cowboy: Why is that? Did I do something wrong to you?

John Wayne: Nope. I just don’t like you.

He had nothing to hide. That’s the way we dogs are. We can usually tell the people who are liars and cheats and we just don’t like them.

Having been born without the benefit of an opposable thumb, typing is very difficult for me. I’d like to thank James for transcribing my thoughts and ideas onto the written page.

MORNINGS FOR DOGS

You humans have it easy. All day long you get to make choices about how you use your time, yet I see so many humans waste time. You all get the same 168 hours in a week (dogs have 168×7 hours in a week, but each hour is shorter…it does make it a little easier to manage our time). Choose wisely how you will spend that time.

My owner thinks I have a lot of energy in the morning. He seems to need coffee to get going. What is really happening is that I woke up two hours before him needing to pee and I have been patiently waiting for him to let me out to do my thing. Meanwhile, he is moving at a sloth’s pace getting his coffee ready when I just NEED TO PEE. This happens every morning! Here’s our typical exchange.

Me: Woof! Woof!

Owner: Hey boy. You sure have a lot of energy for it being so early in the morning.

Me: Woof!

Owner: I wish I had that energy. I gotta let this coffee take effect before I can get anything done.

Me: Woof woof woof!

Owner: Yeah boy, I’m excited for the day also.

Me: WOOF WOOF WOOF!!!!!!

Owner; Oh you need to go outside. Sorry about that.

Me: Woof

There are little nuances in those woofs. If you could tell what we were saying, you would realize that this is the actual conversation.

Me: Good morning. Gotta pee!

Owner: Hey boy. You sure have a lot of energy for it being so early in the morning.

Me: Just open the door!

Owner: I wish I had that energy. I gotta let this coffee take effect before I can get anything done.

Me: Forget the coffee, open the door, I’ve gotta pee.

Owner: Yeah boy, I’m excited for the day also.

Me: OPEN THE DOOR!!!!!

Owner; Oh you need to go outside. Sorry about that.

Me: Thank you.

This is why we are known as man’s best friend. Your actual friend would kill you if you did this to him. We take our pee break and then come in and show you gratitude. Those of you with a doggie door, God bless you.

11 THINGS A DOG NEVER COMPLAINS ABOUT

  • Stinky people
  • Stale food and water (we’re grateful to have it)
  • Bad breath
  • Race, gender, nationality, religion (we love everyone as long as they are truthful and kind to us)
  • Long car rides (anytime we get outside is a joy)
  • People petting us
  • Exercise
  • The length of time our owners are gone
  • Messy rooms (filth is another matter)
  • Other pets (as long as they give us space)
  • Table scraps

8 THINGS A DOG CAN’T TOLERATE

  • Cats
  • Abuse
  • Dishonest people
  • Soap and water when mixed together (we love water and for some reason we love to eat things like soap). I know men feel the same way. When you’re hanging out with your significant other at Bath and Body Works, and you take a whiff of the “Mango, tropical, peach drenched sunrise dew” body gel, you KNOW you want to take a sip and drink it down, especially after smelling it)
  • Dog carriers
  • Postmen (they’re messing with our property which we have been called to protect)
  • People not petting us
  • Grooming (there are a few exceptions)

THE BEST INVENTION HUMANS EVER MADE BEFORE SLICED BREAD

Do you know what I think the coolest invention is in the house? The flush toilet. With one simple push of a button, the yellow, stinky urine and brown, disgusting fecal matter are instantly swept away and a nice bowl of cool, fresh water arrives in its place to fulfill the parched sensation on my dry lips. Someone needs to invent one for dogs.

We would be happy to use the same one as you, but if you haven’t noticed, our bodies are shaped differently. It is almost physically impossible for me to sit properly on a human toilet, at least not without needing chiropractic treatment.

Many owners take us on long walks where we can find a spot that hasn’t been pooped on to do our thing. The most conscientious owners pick up the poop afterwards and dispose of it (but not usually in the cool flushing mechanism). These walks are enjoyable and allow us to spend quality time with our owner.

Some owners put up fences in their backyards and let us out to poop in those. This is very convenient. However, we are always trying to find a clear spot. When an owner doesn’t clean up the mess, we find ourselves spreading little snapshots all over the yard to try and avoid going in the same place twice. If it has been several weeks, this becomes increasingly difficult. Please be kind…pick up what we leave behind.

And be more like a Dog.

Episode 151 – Making More Music by Managing Administrative Mayhem

In this episode, I interview Wendy Reeves, band director at Sells Middle School. Wendy shares tips with us on how to reduce the amount of time spent on paperwork, classroom management, equipment, travel, and more, so we can devote time to what we really enjoy – teaching music! You’ll find several tips you can immediately incorporate into your teaching right now.

Wendy has graciously shared her materials. Click HERE for a link to her website where you can get her entire 90 minute presentation on powerpoint, as well as downloads of handouts and more information.

Wendy is a member of the American School Band Director’s Association as well as Women Band Directors International.

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