Big Boys DO Cry – and You’re in Good Company

Do you remember the old Four Seasons song Big Girls Don’t Cry? Well they DO cry, and so do boys!

I grew up in the era where MOST of the men in my life would tell me to “Stop Crying”. “Men don’t cry,” they would lament. They were wrong!

I don’t hold anything against those men of influence. After all, they were part of what we call The Greatest Generation. Many experienced the Great Depression. Many of that era gave up their lives so we could enjoy our freedoms! Thank you!

Barbara Walters – when interviewing General Schwarzkopf – said surely Generals don’t cry, do they. The General answered, “Sure they do.” Strong men cry. They are not afraid to cry. But I was, until I turned 30 years old.

That’s when I finally embraced who I was, who God made me to be. I was created with the gift of music. It’s a gift I have been blessed to use in my career for 35 years now. And what makes me great at music is that I have a high emotional IQ. Some would call it an EQ (emotional quotient). It makes me great at music. It makes me great at “reading” people and feeling what they feel. It helps make me a compassionate teacher. It makes me too sensitive at times, caring too much what people think of me (yes, there’s a downside).

If I were to place crying on a scale of 1-10, many of those men who mentored me as I grew up would be a 1. I’m probably an 8. My family likes to make fun of me – in a good natured way – because I cry so easily while watching movies; I cry when I get to see my grandkids; I cry when it’s time to leave the grandkids; I (almost) cry when I eat truly delicious, wood-fired, Italian style pizza! My “grandfather” was the same way. Here’s what he thinks about pizza as it relates to love.

So it’s ok for grown men to cry! You’re in good company with the General, President Clinton, President Obama, and the Creator of the Universe Jesus Christ Himself.

Emotions are great. Crying is great. Just be careful not to let those emotions guide your decision making. Emotions can’t be trusted.

*** James Divine can be found crying over episodes of America’s Got Talent with his wife of 35+ years. He is also the author of Jimmy – A True Story of Abuse, Poverty, Forgiveness and Redemption about his childhood and victory over the terrible things he experienced. Most of his tears these days are joyful ones. Find out more about him at www.jamesdivine.net

She Taught Us How To Think – He Didn’t

I had a wonderful 9th grade social studies teacher. She taught us how to think.

I attended a school that had kids from all over the world! We had white kids, black kids, Filipino kids, Vietnamese kids, Hispanic kids – and those are just the ones I can remember. When it came time to study world religions, the teacher had us examine the main tenets of each. There were students represented from each of the major religions we studied – Christian, Jewish, Muslim – and we were encouraged to share, to ask questions, to disagree, to agree, to debate. We were not allowed to demean or ridicule or be disrespectful. Did the discussions start to lean that way at times? Of course, we were 14 and 15 year olds. But the teacher – as leader of the class – steered us back to being appropriate.

This teacher made class so much fun. We often had a cultural exchange day. Students would bring food that represented their families, their cultures. The food was delicious. I am on a quest to find lumpia that tastes as good as what my classmates brought. She often questioned us, examined the merits of our discussion and caused us to go beyond “this is how I feel” to the “why” of what we were studying.

The funny thing is…I never knew what she believed!

I could speculate and guess. But it would only be a guess. She wasn’t out to teach us a certain ideology. She was out to teach us HOW TO THINK! For ourselves.

My 8th grade physical sciences teacher taught us about evolution. Towards the end of the unit, he pulled out a bible. He made sure we knew the only reason he was doing that was because he was “required by law to teach you about creation.” He made sure we knew that he thought “this is a bunch of nonsense.” He asked. “Is there anyone who believes in this idiocy?” My hand timidly went up. He proceeded to ridicule me in front of the entire class. He stated that only an idiot would believe such a thing as the universe being created.

Needless to say, I did not feel welcomed in that class after that. I was not engaged. I did not have a desire to learn what he was teaching.

The difference between the two teachers? One got me thinking, encouraged me to challenge my own way of seeing the world, and encouraged question and debate. The other was more interested in getting students to believe like he did.

Thanks to the first teacher mentioned, I dug deep into the why of what I believe about creation. I studied materials from both sides. And although there’s no way in this life to prove the universe was created, I’m proud to say I’m still an “idiot”.

Let’s all be more like my social studies teacher.

***James is a middle school teacher, husband, and grandfather. He is the author of Jimmy: A True Story of Abuse, Poverty, Forgiveness and Redemption. Order it on amazon. Check out my Speaking Page.

I Was Bullied Throughout School, but in 6th Grade I Became a Bully

From 2nd through 7th grades, I was bullied by other boys. Mom felt it was always wrong to fight. She would quote Jesus’ admonition to turn the other cheek. Later I realized that verse describes a time when someone insults you. Even Jesus overturned the moneychanger’s tables, and sometimes boys have to defend themselves. 

One day, a bully who was always tormenting me did so again. In a rage, I grabbed the front of his shirt, slammed him against the wall and demanded that he leave me alone. It worked! I realized I was bigger than most of the other boys. This bully told everyone that I beat him up and he left me alone. Very rarely was I bullied after that. 

For a very short time, I became a bully myself.  I sure enjoyed throwing power around and instilling fear in others. It only took me a few months to realize how wrong these actions were; they were not consistent with my desire to follow the example of Jesus Christ so I quit being a bully. I’m not proud of my actions during that time.

One boy I bullied – who looked a lot like what a 7th grade Bill Gates might have looked like – saw me and started to run away as usual. I was running after him yelling, “Wait, I want to be your friend.” He must have thought I was crazy. He did finally stop. When he did, I apologized for bullying him, became his friend and started defending him against other bullies. You can’t make things like this up!

The kids I hung out with started smoking pot when their parents weren’t around. Although I never smoked it, I was often around when they did. I knew that was somewhere I didn’t want or need to be, so when they would plan their parties, I told them I had to check with my mom. I never did check with her, but I told them that she would not allow me to go. 

God in His grace and mercy was watching out for me. We moved a few miles away to a better apartment and different school. I found a new circle of friends who were not into pot. Life started on an upward trend again for me. Sometimes you just need a change.

***James is a middle school teacher and motivational speaker. Find out more about him at www.jamesdivine.net. This is an excerpt from his book (available on amazon), Sad Boy, Joyful Man: Your NOW Doesn’t Determine Your FUTURE.

In 6th Grade I Almost Didn’t Join Band

I’ve spent 35+ years working in the field of music,, yet in sixth grade I almost didn’t join band! The choices were to go to choir, drama, art, band or to stay in the room and read. I love reading, so I decided to stay in the room. After about a week of this, it grew boring. My band friends talked about how much fun band was, so I decided to give it a try.

I met the director, Mr. Derrio. He looked at me – looked at my mouth and said, “You look like a clarinet player.” Even as a professional musician and having taught band for many years, I am not sure if he could really tell, if all he had left were clarinets, or if he needed clarinet players.

Playing the clarinet was something I had a natural talent for. I practiced regularly. I had a passion for playing, I looked forward to it, it helped my confidence. Not having a dad around made me somewhat of a mama’s boy. I wasn’t very skilled at sports. I didn’t know much about outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, camping and shooting. 

I can look back now and realize that I was more gifted emotionally than the average person. Most people in the arts are gifted in the same way. This gifting makes us more sensitive and caring. It also allows us to be hurt by people more easily. The result for me was a lot of bullying and teasing in school.

Mr. Derrio had a huge impact in making music important to me. He was kind and patient and excited about music. He always had a funny comment or joke about the music. He never raised his voice or yelled. 

Band was the highlight of my day. About April of that year, Mr. Derrio had a heart attack and was gone from school for quite awhile. We had a substitute who had retired long ago. I’m sure he tried his best, but he just did not have the energy to keep up with a group of 6th graders, and we pushed the limits daily in his class. 

Mr. Derrio came to visit one day and was wearing sunglasses to hide his tears. Almost all men were like that in the 70s; men did not cry. I don’t know how many times I was told by the men in my life to quit crying and act like a man. It wasn’t until I was about thirty that I felt comfortable expressing my emotions.

***James is a middle school teacher and motivational speaker. Find out more about him at www.jamesdivine.net. This is an excerpt from his book (available on amazon), Sad Boy, Joyful Man: Your NOW Doesn’t Determine Your FUTURE.

A Secret That No Child Should Ever Have To Keep!

There was an emptiness inside of me, a longing, a desire to connect with a Dad. I had a mom who loved me and would do anything for me, but I still felt empty.

My mom was best friends with a lady named Gene. Gene was married to George, who was in the US Navy stationed there in Naples. At the time, mom was living with a man named Sonny who was also in the navy. We all lived in a high rise apartment building. Although Sonny was nice to me, he didn’t seem to have the emotional wherewithal to fill the need for a daddy that was deep within my soul.

Gene and George had three kids. The oldest was a boy my age, also named George; the middle child was a girl named Karen who was my sister’s age; the youngest was named Chris.  He was just a baby at the time. George would often watch all five of us kids while my mom and Gene went shopping and hung out.

George loved me. I loved George. He listened. He played with me. He gave me words of encouragement and unconditional love. He was the father figure I was looking for in my life. He filled a need that nobody else seemed to be able to fill in my life.

One time while he was babysitting, an argument broke out amongst us kids, one of those petty ones that nobody can remember the reason for. Just like you might have with a sibling several times a day.

George decided to get to the bottom of the story. He said he would be talking to each of us individually. I was first.

I hated to be in trouble. I was afraid of authority. I always did what I was told and rarely misbehaved. The tears were streaming down my face as I proclaimed my innocence. The other kids were pounding on the bathroom door saying “Jimmy didn’t do ‘nothin.” 

George embraced me.  He told me he knew I was innocent. He just wanted to talk to me to get the real story because he knew I would tell the truth. He wiped the tears from my eyes. I began to calm down and be able to breathe again.

George then removed my pants and raped me on that cold, hard, bathroom floor. A six year old boy! An innocent six year old boy. An innocent six year old boy who loved George as a father. He stole my innocence. He stole my joy. He stole my childhood. Tore it all into shreds.

There was the physical pain. That hurt enough in itself, but that isn’t the worst of it. Physical pain heals and goes away. The emotional pain remained and took over 40 years to completely work through.

I felt torn physically and emotionally. I still loved and admired George, but he had committed this terrible act. I felt shame. I felt like I was the one who had done something wrong. I felt betrayed. None of what was happening made sense in my six-year old mind, and none of it makes sense to me today.

After the horrible act, George tried to comfort me with words. He confessed that he was a sick man. He apologized and asked me to forgive him. I did! Six year olds are very forgiving.

He cleaned me up and we went back to the living room. The other kids were all asking if I was ok. George answered for me and said I had been upset but everything was fine now. All of us kids continued to play as if nothing happened. The sun went down like normal. Mom came to pick us up like normal. We went back to our place like normal.

But nothing was normal ever again!

The seed of this horrible deed was planted into my spirit. That seed was to grow and reap many undesirable mindsets later. For the time being I was a six-year old boy with a secret, but life went on. 

I don’t know why I didn’t share this painful memory until I was sixteen. I attribute it to the shame you feel when something like this happens. I attribute it to the trust I had in this man.  

I looked up to him and craved his attention. Each time he told me “this is the last time this will happen.” Each time I believed him. I can remember the first and last time clearly. The dozens of instances over the next 2-3 years are a blur.

The last time was after we had moved back to Virginia.  George had come to my family’s church one Sunday morning and invited me to spend the afternoon with him. I declined, but he was insistent and whispered in my ear not to worry, nothing was going to happen. 

It DID happen, and that eight-year old boy who was full of trust learned not to trust people. It took me forty years to get over that lack of trust.

***James is a middle school teacher and motivational speaker. Find out more about him at www.jamesdivine.net. This is an excerpt from his book (available on amazon), Sad Boy, Joyful Man: Your NOW Doesn’t Determine Your FUTURE.

We Were Homeless, But Not “Sleeping Under a Bridge” Homeless

I didn’t understand we were homeless. 

It wasn’t the “live on the streets in a box” homeless. We lived with relatives. We lived with friends. Italians are great at putting together a makeshift bed to bring in extra people. We had our own apartment for a time – but we could not afford electricity, so candles lit the way for us. 

We lived in at least 5 different places during the two years in Italy. For a five-year-old boy it was an adventure. For a single mom, it was depressing. 

One of my aunts lived in a 2 room farmhouse that was built many years ago. We would walk to it. To access it, we went through a gate and across a field full of sheep. Cool stuff for a kid. 

Indoor plumbing had been brought to this house after it was built, probably many years after.  Possibly to save money, water was only brought to the kitchen area. The toilet was right next to the stove! The only thing that separated you from others in the room was a shower curtain. My aunt would be cooking meatballs while I was sitting on the pot doing my business. Not a great mixture of smells.

All my aunts and uncles treated me kindly. A couple of my uncles were a little gruff, but nothing that scared me as a kid. Uncle Salvatore helped instill a love of music in me at an early age. He played the guitar at family gatherings. 

I had Italian and American friends. I learned to speak Italian without even trying. I got to eat lots of good Italian food and there was plenty of it. We were poor, but I never had to go hungry. In Italy everyone claims to make the BEST meatballs. After you try them, you realize that they are all telling the truth!

Mom taught me another lesson about racism –  through her actions rather than through words.  

She had a guy friend over for dinner. He made a prejudicial comment about black people. My mom kicked him out in an instant. He was trying to apologize and make amends. She told him in no uncertain words to get out and never come back.

Overall life in Italy was fun and an adventure for me. There was one terrible secret that impacted me for the rest of my life.

***James is a middle school teacher and motivational speaker. Find out more about him at www.jamesdivine.net. This is an excerpt from his book (available on amazon), Sad Boy, Joyful Man: Your NOW Doesn’t Determine Your FUTURE.

Kindergarten is Great! The ladies are nice and there are free chocolate chip cookies

The bright spot for me was when I started Kindergarten.

The first day was pretty scary, as it is for all children starting school. I recall two of the most wonderful, compassionate teachers in the world who made me feel at home right away. I looked forward to school! We even had a snack time with cookies and milk every day. For a successful school you need love, chocolate chip cookies, and milk. The rest are just extras.

I started Kindergarten in 1971. There were still pockets of discrimination despite the Supreme Courts’ Brown vs. Board of Education decision. I had a black friend who lived near me. I asked my mom why he didn’t go to the same Kindergarten as me, and she said it was because there were evil people in the world who discriminated against black people. 

I simply could not fathom anyone doing that. I am thankful that I had a mom who taught me that discrimination is wrong.

In May of 1972, my last month of Kindergarten, we left for good. We moved to Italy, leaving everything behind, all our toys and clothes, and flew to Naples, Italy where mom is from. 

I have many wonderful memories of this time in Italy. When you are just five years old, you don’t understand everything that is going on. 

***James is a middle school teacher and motivational speaker. Find out more about him at www.jamesdivine.net. This is an excerpt from his book (available on amazon), Sad Boy, Joyful Man: Your NOW Doesn’t Determine Your FUTURE.

Playing with Snoopy, Peeing on Trees, Eating Meatballs

On September 27, 1966, I arrived, a blank slate, ready to be filled with knowledge and take on the world. Most of us start that way.  I knew how to eat, sleep, cry, and poop. That was it! My father was American and my mom was from Naples, Italy.

I have some great memories of my early life…

  • playing with my dog Snoopy – a beagle like the one in the Peanuts cartoon.
  • hanging out with my friend Manny EVERY DAY.
  • eating delicious Hispanic food that Manny’s mom made
  • eating the BEST meatballs on Long Island made by my mom
  • peeing on the trees in my backyard (it was good enough for Snoopy, so Manny and I did that too; no little boy in his right mind would take a break from playing to go inside to pee)
  • getting my first bike

There was a neighborhood convenience store next door. The proprietor was a very friendly man. If we sang a song for him, he would give us each a piece of small, football-shaped chocolate. He is one of the many people in life who were a positive influence just by his kindness and character.

I didn’t like my father. He beat and abused my mom. I was witness to that and felt helpless as a little boy. It made me sad. It made me confused. 

Mom tells the story of my father sitting me on his lap one winter and asking me if I loved him. 

I answered “No.” 

When he asked why, my answer was “because you hurt Mommy.” 

He told me Santa Claus wouldn’t bring me anything. I was fine with that. 

Then he sat my sister on his lap and asked her the same thing. 

She also answered “no” until he told her Santa wouldn’t bring her anything, and then sis said, “I love you, Daddy.” I always thought she should have been an actress.

I was scared to death of my father! 

Many nights, I laid in bed wide-awake listening to her screams and his verbal and physical abuse. 

I was scared to death of my father!

It was terrible how society dealt with spousal abuse in the 1960s and 1970s. The police were frequently called and showed up at our house. However, they informed my mom there was nothing they could do since he was her husband. 

My mom once trudged through the snow to her priest after receiving a beating. She was bloodied, bruised, and in her nightclothes. The priest slammed the door in her face. 

These individuals lacked bravery. It doesn’t mean all police and priests are bad. We must – all of us – be willing to be brave when we see injustice.

Mom would take my sister and me to escape the abuse and stay with friends for a short time, but we always ended up back with my father. He would show up at the home of the family we were staying with, sometimes threaten them and my mom, and beg her to come back. The families lacked bravery and asked us to leave.

Even as a small child, I learned to choke down my feelings, anger and hurt and store them inside my heart. All those feelings and hurts will come back up if not dealt with.

***James is a middle school teacher and motivational speaker. Find out more about him at www.jamesdivine.net. This is an excerpt from his book (available on amazon), Sad Boy, Joyful Man: Your NOW Doesn’t Determine Your FUTURE.

Believe It Or Not, I Say “Thank God I’m Boring!”

I had zero confidence as a young man. I mistakenly thought I had to always be dating someone, when what I really needed to do was work on myself.

When the girl I was dating would break up with me, I always wanted to know why. I should have just let them go, but I always pushed the issue.

“Why are you breaking up with me?” I would ask.

The answer was usually “You’re boring.” 

This comment hurt so much! I know now I shouldn’t have let it hurt me, but I did. This bothered me all the way to my early 40s? By then I had acquired some wisdom, knowledge, and experience – and my confidence was much improved.

When girls would tell me I was boring, what they really meant was, “You don’t have all the drama surrounding you that other guys have.” These “non-boring” guys seemed to lead girls around by a string, toying with their emotions and feelings and not caring if they caused pain. It was all about how they – the boy – felt. 

At age 40, I decided that I liked boring. 

Don’t get me wrong. I in no way think that I am boring. 

But if these are the definitions of boring…

  • Remain faithful to my wife of 35+ years
  • Stick with a job I don’t necessarily like at times because my family needs the income
  • Stick to my commitments
  • Do what’s best for my family above myself
  • Serve others with humility

…then count me in as boring! Many of those “exciting” boys from high school have left broken families in their wake of pursuing what they want.

THANK GOD I’M BORING!

Some of my teachers played a big role in my life. A great ancient Hebrew named James had this to say about teaching…

“Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards.”

Here are some good and not so good teachers in my life.

  • My Kindergarten teachers were outstanding, kind, compassionate and made me feel welcome. I remember crying on my first day of school, but after that I couldn’t wait to get there. I wish I could remember their names.
  • My second grade teacher was Mrs. Everitt. She took me on as a project and cared for me and my family. She taught me and loved me.
  • My fourth grade class was overcrowded, so they moved several of us students into the 5th grade class. Ms. Gandy held us to high standards academically and behaviorally. She is in her 70s and STILL making a difference in the world.
  • I did not like my first fifth grade teacher. She seemed to hate children. That was probably not the case, but it sure felt like it to me. Fortunately I moved away after two months of fifth grade and ended up with the most wonderful fifth grade teacher.
  • In seventh grade, I had another of those teachers who seemed to hate kids. We would often mis-pronounce her name on purpose and made it sound like it Miss Screwed Up.
  • My first band teacher was awesome, Mr. Derrio. He and my elementary music teacher helped to develop the love of music that has given me a successful three decade career.
  • My wife and sister had a teacher in high school who seemed to enjoy giving students failing grades. I never could understand that. When I have a student fail, I feel like I have failed somehow and I adapt my teaching.
  • My wife had a fourth grade teacher who told her she would never amount to anything.
  • Mr. Trammel taught me about integrity. Even though he had a large number of sick days, he took a day off without pay rather than fake sickness.
  • My best teacher was Steve Ambrose. Students will typically have a greater connection with the teacher who teaches the subject they are passionate about. Steve was passionate about music, still is, and passed that passion and excitement on to me. He really made you think!

Teachers, you have a tremendous amount of responsibility. You can make or break your students’ day.

***James is a Title 1 middle school teacher and author of Forgive: One man’s story of being molested…and God’s redemption in which he shares how important teachers were to his life. He is also available to share to groups of teachers his story and why they are important. Reach him here. 

Get his free training 7 Tips To Save 5 Hours This Week and Every Week. Find out more about James at www.jamesdivine.net.

Teachers: Powerful Forces for Good or Bad

Some of my teachers played a big role in my life. A great ancient Hebrew named James had this to say about teaching…

“Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards.”

Here are some good and not so good teachers in my life.

  • My Kindergarten teachers were outstanding, kind, compassionate and made me feel welcome. I remember crying on my first day of school, but after that I couldn’t wait to get there. I wish I could remember their names.
  • My second grade teacher was Mrs. Everitt. She took me on as a project and cared for me and my family. She taught me and loved me.
  • My fourth grade class was overcrowded, so they moved several of us students into the 5th grade class. Ms. Gandy held us to high standards academically and behaviorally. She is in her 70s and STILL making a difference in the world.
  • I did not like my first fifth grade teacher. She seemed to hate children. That was probably not the case, but it sure felt like it to me. Fortunately I moved away after two months of fifth grade and ended up with the most wonderful fifth grade teacher.
  • In seventh grade, I had another of those teachers who seemed to hate kids. We would often mis-pronounce her name on purpose and made it sound like it Miss Screwed Up.
  • My first band teacher was awesome, Mr. Derrio. He and my elementary music teacher helped to develop the love of music that has given me a successful three decade career.
  • My wife and sister had a teacher in high school who seemed to enjoy giving students failing grades. I never could understand that. When I have a student fail, I feel like I have failed somehow and I adapt my teaching.
  • My wife had a fourth grade teacher who told her she would never amount to anything.
  • Mr. Trammel taught me about integrity. Even though he had a large number of sick days, he took a day off without pay rather than fake sickness.
  • My best teacher was Steve Ambrose. Students will typically have a greater connection with the teacher who teaches the subject they are passionate about. Steve was passionate about music, still is, and passed that passion and excitement on to me. He really made you think!

Teachers, you have a tremendous amount of responsibility. You can make or break your students’ day.

***James is a Title 1 middle school teacher and author of Forgive: One man’s story of being molested…and God’s redemption in which he shares how important teachers were to his life. He is also available to share to groups of teachers his story and why they are important. Reach him here. 

Get his free training 7 Tips To Save 5 Hours This Week and Every Week. Find out more about James at www.jamesdivine.net.

The brother I never knew

The Brother I Never Knew

I have a wonderful sister. We went through a lot together as kids and are great friends today as adults. But we were robbed. Mom was pregnant at least 5 times. Her third child she gave up for adoption. He was taken in by a loving family. Babies 4 and 5 were aborted.

When I was 5 years old, we had to flee from an abusive marriage my mom was in (my father). He died just a few years later. Over a period of two years, mom lived with two other men. With one of them she conceived her third child. He abandoned her at that point, accused her of sleeping around, saying he was not the father of her child. He left. Mom had no education, no real job prospects, and no money. At the time she was best friends with a couple who could not conceive. She gave the baby up to them for adoption. They raised him as their own.

After mom’s relationship with “baby daddy” failed, she quickly became involved with another man and ended up marrying him. Mom did not have much confidence or esteem. She “settled” for someone who wasn’t the greatest. Although he was not physically abusive to her, he was emotionally abusive and was a playboy who enjoyed having lots of women. I remember as a 9 year old, he even brought a woman to our house to live with us who was pregnant by him. I am not sure why mom put up with that!

For obvious reasons, the marriage began to flounder – and mom was pregnant with her 4th child. She had no desire to mother a child by this man she began to hate. Others in her life encouraged her to abort, saying, “it’s just a piece of tissue.” So she did.

Mom was always too slow at cutting off toxic relationships, so this guy was around for several more years. Sexual intimacy had become non-existent in their relationship. One day, he demanded his “rights” as husband and raped mom. Mom became pregnant again and decided to abort a second time. Eventually she divorced this man and moved on to another toxic relationship.

I didn’t find out about her story until many years later, when mom was well into her 60s. She suffered with the guilt of killing her own babies. She suffered with the regret of having made a decision that could not be reversed. She grieved and wailed over these babies. I can remember as a child her wailing and sobbing late into the night in our tiny apartment.

Mom loved the Lord Jesus Christ with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we talked about these things, I constantly reminded her she was forgiven by God – He can and will forgive anything if we seek Him with all our being. She never seemed to be able to accept His forgiveness. When I hear of other women who have had an abortion, my first thought is compassion and mercy towards them. Yes, abortion is murder. But there can be healing and redemption through that. All of us are guilty of some sin in our lives and need God’s forgiveness.

Here I stand today, pro-life. But I feel like I have been robbed. Robbed of the brothers or sisters I could have had. Robbed of a mom who lived the last 20 years of her life in regret instead of enjoying her golden years. But I also stand here today blessed! My fourth child was adopted. His mom chose life, and I’m so glad she did because I can’t imagine life without any of my four kids.

I’m pro-life because a voiceless baby deserves to live. I’m pro-life because God tells us to watch over and help those who are oppressed. Those who have no voice. Those who are abused. 

I know I will get to see my brother/sister in heaven someday. Mom is there now getting to know them, and now she knows all about God’s forgiveness.

*** James Divine is the blessed father of 4 kids and 8 grandkids, with number 9 on the way! He has been married to his HS sweetheart since 1986. Find out more about his life story in his book, Forgive: One man’s story of being molested… James often shares his life story. Find out more HERE.

Teachers – Your Dedication Makes a Difference. You Matter!

As we approach the end of the year, we are all feeling tired and drained – which I think we all know and expect – at least physically.

But remember, we are also drained emotionally. It can cause our emotions to trick us. We may think…

“Does what I do matter?”

“Would a career besides teaching be better?”

“Why do I even bother?”

This is a trick! We know our bodies are tired, but we don’t always recognize our emotions are tired. Throw this lie into the dumpster because YOU MATTER.

I have a friend who is an engineer. He once could not understand why teachers were so tired in May. As we talked about it, in his job he has 25-30 projects going at any given moment…BUT…only 1 has a deadline coming up soon. The others are in progress with deadlines months and even years away. I told him teaching is like having 150 projects with a due date coming up, but they are ALL due May 24. He voted for the bond issue in the following election!

We have a few weeks to go, and then we can rest physically AND emotionally.

Go and make a difference because YOU MATTER!

***James is a 24 year teacher and knows he is doing what he was called to do. At least 2-3x a month he does have his doubts, but realizes now that it’s just tiredness talking. Get his free training 7 Tips To Save 5 Hours This Week and Every Week.

James is available for professional development sessions, specializing in a motivational speech called “Teachers Saved My Life.” Reach him HERE to find out more

8 Ways To Mix Up the Method Book

By James Divine
As we approach the end of the school year and the weather is warming up outside – especially after our spring concert – it can sometimes be a challenge to get students to maintain focus. Sometimes mixing up the method book a bit can make band class more interesting. Here are 8 Ways to Mix Up The Method Book.

Mini-ensembles – Give students a short masterclass on how to practice duets and trios (they often think individual run throughs will improve their performance when they need to work together). Some tips include: a) Play all parts together in unison b) Have one person play while the other listens c) Practice the duet together but then stop as soon as something doesn’t sound right. Give the students ten minutes to go and practice their ensembles. Have them return to the class and perform. Give out small awards for successful performances.

Flashback Friday (or Thursday, or Monday, or whatever) – Students get to choose the exercises. It’s a great way to review without you having to pick. Works great on a day when many students are gone on a field trip and your original lesson plan is not going to work. Also is effective right after a concert or on state testing day when their brains are fried. You may need to set a few parameters – for example “pick anything from 1-120 in the book” – or you could literally have them pick even the most difficult exercises. I always have the sample from the demo CD available and if a student chooses something deep in the book we haven’t performed yet, I will play the sample for them. 

Change up the articulation – Go back and review exercises that are easier for them, but have them slur everything, or tongue everything, or “bop” the entire exercise as staccato, including whole notes (this particular one will expose who isn’t counting 4 beats). You’ll be surprised how difficult this one can sometimes be.

Divide music into groups – Split the class into 2 groups. It could be brass vs woodwinds, or saxes vs everyone else, or whatever – be creative. One group will play odd measures – the other group will play even measures – but with no pause in the music! Many groups will struggle at first but will get better at it. It forces the students to count, listen, and anticipate. Once they get good at measures, try dividing it by beats. Another variation – pick an easy song like Twinkle Twinkle. Have the class perform the song note by note – i.e the first person plays the first note, then the second person plays the next note, all the way through the melody. Everybody has to be engaged for it to work. Basically they are performing the entire piece in their mind as they prepare for when it will be their turn.

Play backwards – Have students face the wall behind you – just kidding, not that backwards – play the song in complete reverse, starting on the last note and moving to the first note.

Have Students Conduct – You might have everyone start off mimicking your four beat pattern – I always describe it to them as floor, wall, wall, ceiling. Then have individuals come up to the podium to conduct. It opens up many opportunities to talk about prep beats and what to look for in the conducting.

Change up the seating – Have those who sit in the back move to the front and vice versa. Maybe even allow open seating. Caution! For some reason when you change one thing in a classroom, some middle school brains think that all the rules go out the window. I have had success and fun with this technique, but on occasion students who never talk out of turn and students who never have their cell phones out suddenly think those rules no longer apply. I can’t explain it, but who can explain middle school brains. I usually preface this with a clear explanation that no rules have changed and there will be consequences for broken rules.

Marching Band – Work on memorizing an easy song like Twinkle Twinkle – most students have it memorized but just don’t realize it. Have them turn their stands around. Once it is mostly memorized, have students stand and march in place. If you are really brave, you might take them outside and give them an introduction to marching techniques – first without playing, then add the memorized piece back in.

I hope these tips help you to keep the end of year more interesting while continuing to work on musicality!

* James Divine has been teaching band and orchestra for 24 years. He is currently at a Title 1 middle school in Colorado Springs.  Get his free training 7 Tips To Save 5 Hours This Week and Every Week.  Find out more about James at www.jamesdivine.net

I Wasn’t Always This Way – And I Get Better With Age

James Divine

People look at me – 55, getting better looking each year, married to my high school sweetheart, parent of four, grandparent of 8, successful band & orchestra teacher, author, speaker, musician – and they think “Wow, James is so confident and sure of himself. Life has been good to him. I wish my life was like that.”

I wasn’t always this way!

I struggled, really struggled with self-esteem for many years. I know it was related to having an abusive father, being molested and all the damage that did to my psyche. I ALWAYS felt like I had to be dating someone, and my self-esteem plummeted when a girl would break up with me. I would beg her to come back, to give me another chance, to tell me where I failed. By the way, this is the worst thing to do. I should have said, “OK…I was thinking the same thing.”

My friend Amy – after hearing about the umpteenth time of a girl breaking up with me and how sad and lonely I was – she was one of those people who got to the point quickly – confronted me about why I felt like I needed to be dating someone all the time. I don’t think she even realized the impact of her words. It caused me to think. It caused me to change my behavior. I decided to stop being worried about finding the right person. Maybe I needed to focus on me, on becoming a better person! Becoming more Christ-like.

The interesting thing is that when I did that, that’s when I found my soul mate, my life-long lover, my best friend. I started dating Susan soon after that talk with Amy. I knew in about a week that Susan was probably the one. (By the way guys, after a week is not the time to mention this, even if you know deep in your soul).

Even after I started my adult life, got married, joined the Army band and was a successful husband, dad and musician, my self-esteem was still rock bottom.

I wasn’t always this way!

You see, I am a recovering people pleaser. At first glance, a people pleaser seems to be a really nice person. Everyone can count on them. Need cookies baked, call a people pleaser. Need someone on a committee, call a people pleaser. People pleasers can’t say no. Ultimately for me, this desire to please grew out of a fear of rejection, which had its roots in not being close to my father due to his abuse of my mom. I felt that those close to me might reject me if I didn’t do everything they wanted.

Although I started killing off the roots of what caused me to be a people pleaser, I didn’t totally sever the roots until I went to LifePlan in 2015. LifePlan is basically two intense days of physical, emotional and spiritual counseling. In the course of the two days, you uncover your roots – patterns and behaviors that have contributed to how you act or react to things – and sever a lot of those roots (the bad roots). I learned to leave those people pleasing tendencies behind.

I wasn’t always this way!

So when you see me – successful, self-assured, confident, willing to disagree, making sure I have my priorities straight – I want you to realize it wasn’t always like this. It is a journey, a process, sometimes hard work that takes you from one point to another. I had the same doubts you have. I had the same struggles you have. I had the same lack of self-esteem as you have.

I overcame and

Now I am this way (but I wasn’t always this way)

And I like that I’m this way…the only one I truly have to please is God

And He’s pleased with me because He is making me into His image

By taking care of me first, it has given me more time

By focusing on my mission and calling, it has made me a better person

And believe it or not, I love others more than I ever have

So don’t look at me and say, “I wish”

But look at me and say, “If he could do it, with God’s help I can too.”

I love you.

I’m proud of you.

You make my life rich.

***James is a Title 1 middle school teacher and author of Forgive: One man’s story of being molested…and God’s redemption in which he shares how important teachers were to his life. He is also available to share to groups of teachers his story and why they are important. Reach him here. 

Find out more about LifePlan at www.chrislocurto.com

The Beatles Had It Right – All You Need is Love

“All you need is Love. Love is all you need”

So true, and advice so needed as a teacher.

When they don’t meet your expectations…love them anyway.

When they disrespect you…love them anyway.

When they don’t work hard…love them anyway.

It’s not hard to love the students who are excited about your class, who work diligently and exceed your expectations. It’s the others that are hard.

Love goes a long way. It won’t solve every problem, but you don’t know what the long term effect will be.

…Love Them Anyway

***James is a Title 1 middle school teacher and author of Forgive: One man’s story of being molested…and God’s redemption in which he shares how important teachers were to his life. He is also available to share to groups of teachers his story and why they are important. Reach him here. 

I Said To Her, “You could never disappoint me!”

After I discussed our first playing test of all 12 scales in one of my high school classes, a student of mine came to speak to me a few days later…

“Mr. Divine…I’ve been working hard on the 12 scales and wanted to let you know that it’s possible I might not pass them on this first try.” (I allow multiple retakes). “I didn’t want you to be disappointed in me.”

I felt like my heart was about to break. Here’s an outstanding student doing her best and her worry was that she would disappoint me.

I said, “You not passing your scales would NEVER disappoint me. I only have grades and give playing tests because I want everyone to improve and I know you are going to improve.”

She left class with a smile, came back the next week and aced her 12 scales.

As teachers – our words have tremendous impact! I know we can get caught up in the 5-10% of students who give us a hard time, but most are hard working and want to please.

What message are your words sending to your students?

For an example of how words from my teachers affected me, click HERE.

***James is a Title 1 middle school teacher and author of Forgive: One man’s story of being molested…and God’s redemption in which he shares how important teachers were to his life. He is also available to share to groups of teachers his story and why they are important. Reach him here. 

11 Ways To Lose (and Keep) A Band Student

Nobody wants to lose a band student. Sometimes it’s inevitable – you get a student who doesn’t want to work at all for example. Other times it may be our own fault.

Here are 11 ways to lose a band student for sure (and 11 ways to keep them).

1. Have Roving Eyes

Instead of focusing on the here and now and what students you do have, always look for the next Miles Davis. Never be content with who you have.

Make the best of who and what you have. Develop them to their fullest ability. Miles Davis could be weird at times anyway.

2. Don’t Answer Calls and Emails

Answering these takes time, time away from preparing the music. Just delete/erase these before they clutter up your inbox.

If a student takes the time to call or email you, it is generally because he wants to do well and improve. If you don’t respond in a timely manner, you are showing lack of concern for them. Many times students have told me I’m the only teacher who responds to their emails.

3. Don’t listen to feedback

Some of my directors growing up were “My way or the highway” types who really were not interested in becoming better people. Ignoring the feedback from your students means you won’t have as great of an opportunity to improve.

Listen to student feedback, even if you disagree. Maybe there is a compromise in there somewhere. Listen carefully if it’s coming from your leaders.

4. Don’t Get To Know Your Students

After all, music is the most important thing, so why would we ever ask them about their families, future plans or other activities. (Caveat…I DO make sure my students understand that our short rehearsal together is going to be focused on music).

Before, after and during breaks in rehearsal, get to know about your students’ families, jobs, dreams, interests and hobbies.

5. Focus only on your wants and needs

Who cares what songs the students want to play. It’s all about winning the competition and making me look good.

Isn’t it ok to play a Disney song once in awhile? Let the students pick some of the repertoire. I usually ask them to send me a www.jwpepper.com link so I can review it. If it’s not suited to our group, I tell them why.

6. Argue over little things

After all, what type of tread is on the bottom of the marching shoe has won and lost championships, right?

After 16 years of teaching, I quit being so strict about footwear at concerts. Do I want the kids to look nice? You bet. Does a percussionist wearing black sneakers instead of black dress shoes affect anyone’s enjoyment of the music? Not really.

7. Ignore The Little Things

I know Sally doesn’t have music yet, but there’s just no time for such trivial things. I’ll update the grades at the end of the semester. I know Brian took a retest weeks ago, but I don’t think he will mind having a D as long as I change it before the end of the semester.

The little things add up to big things. I am not perfect in this, so I write EVERYTHING down. I don’t want to forget the small details. 

8. Don’t show appreciation

The students have the privilege of being in my class.

The students have the option not to be in your class. It’s your privilege to get to teach the best and brightest in the school.

9. Don’t Apologize

Rule #1: The director is always right.

Rule #2: When the director is wrong, refer to rule #1.

Saying “sorry” when called for is one of the best things you can do. I’ve lost my temper at a kid. I’ve said something that humiliated them or done something I shouldn’t have. I ALWAYS apologize. It makes an impact on the students.

10. Poor care of facilities

Hey, the music is the most important thing, so why do the room and instruments need to be taken care of.

Put away piles of stuff. Organize. Throw away. Make the facility look the best you can with what you have.

11. Don’t care

Look at the players as people who fill a need for an instrument rather than as people.

Show concern. Call when a student is away for extended illness. When they return, tell them how much you missed them. A student doesn’t care how much you KNOW until they know how much you CARE.

***James Divine has taught band and orchestra for over 24 years. He currently teaches at a Title I middle school. He is the host of The Music Ed Podcast. He is also the author of The Saxophone Diaries: Stories and Tips from my 30+ years in music. Get in touch with James HERE.

Why I Love Colorado

Susan and I moved here – reluctantly – in 1992 with the Army, thinking that as soon as I got out of the Army, we would be moving to Virginia. We never left! Two of our kids were born here. We love Colorado and hope to never move away, but if God ever has something for us somewhere else, we will move. There are so many obvious reasons why Colorado is great – the mountains, the climate, the outdoors – but I’m going to talk about some of the reasons that aren’t as obvious.

  1. There are no alligators!

I have a niece who lives in Naples, Florida. We went to see her last year and had a wonderful time getting to know her family. She took us on a hike through a nature preserve. Fortunately it was elevated because there were alligators! It was nice to see them in their habitat knowing we were safe, but she told us about how they sometimes show up in people’s yards! Come to think of it – we didn’t see many children there and half the adults only have one leg. Susan asked her if they ever move around in drainage ditches – for example at the side of the road or near major shopping malls. Jane answered that you occasionally will see that…we saw one in the very next drainage ditch we looked at!

There actually is an alligator farm in Colorado near The Great Sand Dunes, but that doesn’t count – they are behind fences and if they ever got out, the cold in winter would probably kill them.

2. There’s very little humidity

What you see above is an actual picture of humidity. It’s like a black hole in space. It sucks all the coolness right off your body and makes you hot. Sure, we have to apply moisturizer to our hands, and our feet, and our arms, and our legs 24x a day, but at least when we put a shirt on, it doesn’t get stuck to our bodies.

3. We have mountains

Every place else has hills – we have mountains. You get to experience the grandeur of God’s creation. It makes for some interesting situations, like looking DOWN on a flying plane. And when we have a wet winter, it’s cool to see the mountains topped with snow for over half the year. Occasionally it will even turn white in the summer, but it quickly melts away. I’ve ridden my bike all over our beautiful city. There has not been any neighborhood that didn’t have a good view somewhere in its midst.

Turn your device sideways to make this comparison work…

Our mountains

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What other people call mountains

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4. Our water is delicious (see #3 above)

I think it has something to do with much of our water supply being snow runoff, but it tastes delicious to me, right from the tap. In America we pretty much can’t complain about our water – we are fortunate – but if you want your water to also taste good, come here. I love the bubbly springs that pour from the ground in Manitou Springs, but some people – including my wife – think that water is nasty.

5. The weather is always a surprise

I have been biking in the winter and have needed winter clothes in the summer. The joke here is that if you don’t like the weather, just wait half an hour. It can change so quickly! One school year, I had a snow delay the third week of May. Several districts were closed. But I have also worn shorts and a t-shirt in January.

This makes life more interesting. You can’t say “We’re going hiking this weekend,” it’s more like “We’re going hiking OR we may be staying home and watching a movie.”

Although the constantly changing weather can be fun, sometimes it’s nice to get some consistency. We get that in September, which is probably our most stable weather month and my favorite. It’s hot in the middle of the day – but not too hot, and it’s chilly enough at night to need a jacket (great sleeping weather).

I hope you come for a visit to our beautiful state, but don’t stay – housing prices in my town are already 3x higher than what they were when we moved here in 1992!

***James is a speaker, musician, author and middle school teacher. You can often find him hiking trails with his beautiful wife, mountain biking all over the place for some solitude, or in the summer on a stand up paddleboard. He and his wife have four kids and eight grandkids. Now you know why he loves Colorado. Find out why he loves being Italian in his book I Cannoli Imagine: My Italian Life.

Contact James HERE

Keeping Up With The Times – a no win scenario?

By Guest Writer Brooke Pierson

Keeping up with the times – a no win scenario?

Over the years I am constantly hearing about how we need to “reach more kids”…

Teach rock band!
Teach computer music!
Teach hip-hop!
Teach what the kids are interested in.

To be fair, this post isn’t about those things entirely – those are great things to teach and can be a great addition in an elective nature of our schools – I wish we could offer all  those things. I also recognize that each situation is different and just as there are only 3 or 4 major types of sciences that students study in school, we are also limited in what we can offer effectively. 

What I do find interesting, however, is that in an effort to “be with the times” we never really do hit that mark – because the times and what kids are interested in changes so drastically and fast. Ten years ago there was a huge push to incorporate rock bands in schools – and it made sense – rock bands were everywhere and had been for a while. But then all of a sudden there was a shift and now it’s all about loops, electronic music, and sound engineering/production. Rock band is “old”, guitar sales are down, etc. And you bet there will be something else soon.

Meanwhile, millions of students have been learning music embedded into our country as one of our unique traditions: concert band. We often look to other countries and think about their cultures with such awe and positivism and then we sometimes overly critique what we do for the purpose of what? Meeting the whims of generations? The taste they have that changes each generation? There is nothing wrong with tradition and culture so long as we’re meeting the needs of our students but we also have to be the curators and stewards of that need.

We have a *unique* and wonderful musical culture in the US – it has a ton of variety from jazz to classical to popular, rock, country – endless! But one thing we also have is a tradition that include band/choir/orchestra at the core in our educational system. And I don’t see anything wrong with that. In fact, it is a beautiful thing. This cultural element (and I’m going to keep saying that because it IS our unique cultural element) is integral in the way we shape students and it is a pathway to more specialized musical forms. Rather than trying to put efforts on educating students in whatever fad there is (and changing curriculum to do it) we rather should be continuing our efforts to enrich, strengthen, and grow this unique tradition – whether it be advancing literature, empowering students of all backgrounds, gender, ethnicity, etc, growing our scope.

This doesn’t mean getting rid of those other things. Do them, teach them, enrich our students lives. But don’t overlook the power that our musical culture can have on students and rest assured that cultures thrive on tradition – and concert band is one tradition that is deeply embedded in our society.

Brooke is a teacher and composer. Find out more about him and order his music at https://www.brookepierson.com

James Divine is a Title 1 middle school music teacher. Reach him HERE.

Peeing on Trees and Other Early Childhood Memories

Earliest Memories

“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”

-Sigmund Freud

This is a picture of my grandfather, my mom’s father. He passed away before I had a chance to meet him. My mom speaks very highly of him.

Most children don’t remember much from their earliest years. My oldest son Josh surprised me once by telling me something he remembers when he was under three years old. I had been gone for three months for Army training. When I returned, we all went out to Taco Bell to celebrate. He remembers that.

Most of my early memories are good. I played outside a lot. I peed on the trees in our backyard despite my mom’s insistence not to. Hey, little boys play, and they don’t think about peeing until they have to go REALLY bad, and the trees were so convenient. At least I didn’t pee in the heating vent like at least one of my sons did!

I remember watching Bob Barker on The Price is Right (and then watching him three decades later…it hasn’t seemed right since he retired). I had a best friend next door named Manny. I got my first bike.

There was a neighborhood convenience store that my friends and I walked to often. The proprietor was a very friendly man. If we sang a song for him, he would give us each a piece of small, football-shaped chocolate. It seems like such a small thing, but he is one of the many people in my life who was a positive influence, just by his kindness and character.

I remember being fearful of my father. I sometimes witnessed the abuse he delivered to my mom, and I was afraid of him. As far as I remember, he never laid a hand on me. I can only remember two interactions with him. I asked him how the turn signal turned off in the car. He had my sister and I convinced that he was magic. On another occasion, we went fishing with my older brother. It was cold and my feet hurt terribly, but I was too afraid to tell my father. I tried fishing later in life but just never grew to love it like many men I know. I know there must have been other interactions, but these are the only two I remember.

My mom tells the story of when my father sat me on his lap and asked me if I loved him, and I answered “No, because you hurt Mommy.” My father said that Santa Claus wouldn’t bring me anything and I answered that I was fine with that. Then he sat my sister on his lap and asked the same thing. She answered the same as me until he told her Santa wouldn’t bring her anything, and then sis said, “I love you, Daddy.”

I always thought she should have been an actress.

***James Divine is a middle school band teacher and author. This post is an excerpt from his book “Forgive: One man’s story of being molested.” Get it on Amazon. James loves to share his story of forgiveness. Contact him to check for availability. 

Wait Until You See What His Mom Gave Him for Breakfast

Jill was cleaning her son Billy’s room, putting ALL the clothes in the hamper because – if you’ve had a boy, you know their clean and dirty clothes co-mingle. They know what to wear after giving it the sniff test. She tossed the pizza boxes from under the bed into the trash. She found the five missing forks and two plates from her grandmother’s china collection there too, as well as a dead banana and some dried up mud. But what she found next appalled her.

Hadn’t she and Dan raised Billy with good morals? Didn’t they go to church each week? Dan made sure to spend quality and quantity time each week with all three of his kids. Dan and Billy even took a church camping trip in the mountains of Colorado where the dads led the sons through what it meant to be a man of God and how to remain sexually pure. The trip included fishing and hunting. Both Dan and Billy described it as the most impressionable week of their life. So when Jill found the girlie magazines, she was shocked, embarrassed and surprised. What would she do?

Jill threw the magazines in the trash, but didn’t mention anything to Billy. Billy noticed they were missing and wondered what would happen to him. Was his dad waiting for the right moment to wring his neck? Would he face years of restriction? Would his car be taken away? He didn’t want that to happen. He had a date with his girlfriend.

That weekend, Jill called everyone to dinner. The house had smelled of fried chicken for the last hour or so. Jill knew how to make fried chicken. She got the recipe from her grandmother, who used real bacon drippings for the frying. Billy came to supper with anticipation. Jill brought everyone their plate and set it down lovingly in front of them. She had made a special plate for Billy. Instead of getting ready to devour his food, Billy almost barfed.

Where was the delicious fried chicken? Why had his mom, who SUPPOSEDLY loved him, placed a nice heaping platter of egg shells, bacon drippings, carrot peel, potato peel, the dead banana from his room and the sweepings from the kitchen floor, in front of his face.

“Mom, why are you giving me trash to eat?” He asked.

“I figured since you were feeding your mind that sort of garbage, you would also want to feed it to your body.” She replied.

When you put pornography, gossip, and impure thoughts into your brain, it’s like eating egg shells for breakfast. What kind of gross things are going into your mind? What can you replace it with now?

(Although this story is fictional, it is based off a real mom I read about who did this with her son. It cured him of his desire to view pornography).

James is available to share his story of abuse, but most importantly overcoming that abuse. Find out more HERE. Check out his book about growing up Italian, I Cannoli Imagine.

4 Tips to Being a Better Band Director Using the Acronym BAND

4 Tips To Be A Better Band Director using the acronym BAND

There are four key areas that – if you focus on these and make them a priority – they can help you be a better band director. None of them have anything to do with music, but the word “BAND” does fall nicely into place to help you remember them.

B-Bread

Watch what you eat! When life gets busy, it can be very easy to grab something to go. I once was 30 pounds heavier than I am right now, all due to poor eating choices and failure to plan. Plan ahead what you are going to eat. Buy some healthy snacks. Keep them in a fridge at work, in your glove compartment, wherever. Pack a healthy lunch. Watch the pizza. I once ate 8 slices at a football game and regretted it for the next day and a half. I could do that when I was 18, but not now.

A-Activity

Move your body. Exercise is important, not only to your physical self, but to your emotional and mental health too. Pick something you like. Jogging, hiking, swimming, biking, walking. Put more ing in your life. You should strive for a minimum of 20-30 minutes 4-5x a week. It will lengthen your career and leave you feeling like you have more energy. Warning: When I was 30 pounds heavier and first embarked on exercising and eating better, I initially felt worse. This is normal.

N-Night

Get plenty of sleep. The amount is different for each person. I need 7 hours a night, so I try to make sure I get that at least 6 nights a week. Try napping. The floor of my office often became a 10 minute nap area when I taught marching band. Students have posted hundreds of pictures of me sleeping on the bus on a trip.

D-Diversion

Have a life outside of band. I heard of a band director who does not allow himself to read anything unless it is something that will help his band. I think this is unhealthy. Take up a hobby. It might even be music related, but not be something you need to do for a living. I had to quit giving lessons for the most part because I felt like my teaching day was never ending, but I perform, record and compose simply because I like to and it’s an outlet for me. I also hike, bike and meet with friends (and spend time with my family of course).

When life gets off track and you’re not sure what to do, think B.A.N.D.

***James currently teaches middle school band at a Title 1 school. He is available for professional development sessions. Contact him HERE. Check out his 30 minute training, “Save 5 Hours This Week – and Every Week.”

With one proclamation, the President would have my unending support

If the President would simply issue the following proclamation, I would support him forever…

“Let it be known that from this day forward, all marching band competitions shall be held on Fridays. All students involved in the competition shall be exempt from homework given or due that day. In addition, students not involved shall remain at school and complete any standardized testing required. Marching band students shall be exempt.”

“Let it also be known that each school district shall provide the competing band with a charter bus – complete with DVR and satellite – and shall provide catered meals for the marching band members and staff for the duration of the contest.”

“Let is also be known that the day following such competitions, practice by any of the bands participating shall be forbidden. If a band ignores this provision, it shall be required to take the standardized tests it missed. Band directors and staff shall be provided with a $500 honorarium to enable them to enjoy this day with their family and friends.”

Hereby signed by the President in the Oval (isn’t a whole note an oval) Office this day of __________ in the year of our Lord ________.

***James currently teaches middle school band and is no longer subject to the long hours and separation from family required by marching band. He did thoroughly enjoy his 13 years teaching marching band, and would happily do it again if that was his only job (just marching band, no classes during the day). He is the author of 5 books, including The Saxophone Diaries: Stories and Tips from my 30+ years in music, and is available for training and speaking engagements. Find out more here. 
Sign-up for my free mini-course “7 Tips To Save 5 Hours This Week and Every Week.” It’s a $20 value but yours free.

I’m Glad My Marching Band Didn’t Make it to State

The 2016 marching band season was the best to date. Our scores were some of the highest we had ever achieved. Our show was the most difficult we had ever attempted. My students were the most committed they had ever been (with lots of room for improvement).

As my students attained higher and higher scores, we all thought for sure we would make it to state. When we competed at regionals and beat a few bands that normally beat us, we thought it was in the bag!

But we didn’t make it.

And we were disappointed.

And I’m glad.

When I told my students I was glad we didn’t make state, they looked at me like I was crazy. Some responses were…

“Don’t you care about us?”

“Why are you glad?”

“Don’t you have confidence in us?”

I DO care for my students. They are like my family.

I DO have confidence in them. They had achieved higher than they ever have.

But I was glad we didn’t make it.

We missed making it to state by one band. One band! You could say we almost made it to state. With being that close, the students were determined to work harder, smarter and achieve more next season. Their talk afterwards included “if we had done this a little better”, and “if we had been a little more focused at rehearsal we might have made it.” Their ideas for how to make the band better started to pour forth.

If we had made state…and if it had been barely, by only one band…you could have said we almost didn’t make state. The students may have gotten cocky,

“We made state, we made state, now we don’t have to work as hard next year.”

Oh, they wouldn’t have said this out loud, but it would have come across in their actions. 

I was proud of that group! The loss caused them to start the next season with more dedication and more commitment.

And if the increased commitment helped them make it to state, great… if not, they could take pride in having done their best. Ultimately that’s all any of us can do.

*** James no longer teaches marching band; he is currently at a middle school. He taught marching band for thirteen years and enjoyed the chance to instill team spirit and leadership into students. He did not enjoy the 20+ hours each week it took. James is the author of The Saxophone Diaries: Stories and tips from my 30+ years in music, as well as 4 other books. Invite James to speak to your students or teachers.
Sign-up for my free mini-course “7 Tips To Save 5 Hours This Week and Every Week.” It’s a $20 value but yours free. 

Don’t Waste Your Time On New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time! Most of the resolutions don’t last beyond the end of January. They are bound to fail. Resolutions are often not thought out, have no action steps and are rarely written down. They often lack specificity. Here are just a few examples of how to make goals better…

I want to lose 20 pounds by summer
NOT I want to lose weight

I want to earn $12,000 more each year by December
NOT I want to earn more

I will spend every Friday on a date night with my wife
NOT I want to spend more time with my wife

Did you know many gyms sell about 30% more memberships than the capacity of the gym? They know many people are not going to follow through on their desire for fitness.

There is – however – a way to achieve and exceed your goals.

Write them down

When I was young, I had goals and dreams like everybody else, but I didn’t write them down. For some reason, when we write our goals and take actionable steps, we are more likely to achieve them. I have goals in seven areas of my life:

Spiritual

Physical

Financial

Intellectual

Work/Career

Family

Social

Goals give you a starting point and destination. They are going to change as you grow and as you figure out what’s important in your life.

John Acuff, in his book Start, talks about how he has been able to write several books and also help build two schools in Vietnam. He didn’t write that down on a whiteboard several years ago, but as he progressed through his goals those opportunities became available.

Ten years ago, I would have never believed would write five books!

What are some of your goals? Would you like to schedule 20 gigs in the next year? Would you like to finish your master’s degree in the next three years? Do you want to find a spouse and be married with kids in a couple of years? Do you want to move to a better job that fits your skills and talents? These are attainable and will be different for everyone.

EVERYTHING you’ve done – even things you didn’t like – have made you who you are today. For me, the military band was a great experience. It is where I developed my chops. It was my music education. Being self-employed was difficult, but it helped make me who I am today. I learned a lot about marketing, about pricing, about what my audience needs and wants…all things that help me even in teaching.

There are many good books about setting goals. One of my favorite is Dan Miller’s 48 Days to the Work You Love. My seven goals are adapted from his book. Get a copy of Dan’s book and work through the goal-setting process. Also read anything you can find by Zig Ziglar on goals.

In November, I create my goals for the following year. These big but specific and measurable goals are then translated into action items. I create a to-do list and prioritize the items – always remembering to leave margin in my life.

EVEN WHEN I DON’T FEEL LIKE IT, I begin to tackle items on my list. Sometimes just starting a task is the hardest part. 

JUST START!

Put away all distractions. Turn off your email notification. Turn off your phone so you are not distracted by every text message that comes in.

Multi-Tasking

Did you know that multi-tasking is a myth? We work at only 80% of capacity or less when trying to multi-task. When it’s time to book some gigs, write some music, practice, prepare my lessons or another important task, I turn off my cell phone, close my internet browser, shut down my email, get off of social media and get some focused work in. My rhythm – maybe because I am a public school teacher – seems to be about 45 minutes; then I need to take a short break and stretch or get some water. Others find that two-hour blocks work for them. Others prefer to work in intense 20-minute bursts. Find your rhythm.

Think of the short and long term goals as being a plan for your life. For example, if you want to lose 6 pounds in six months, that’s the big goal. The to-do list becomes the action steps necessary to meet that goal. In this example, you might get up thirty minutes earlier to exercise, prepare your lunch before you go to work so you’re not tempted to eat out, and buy some exercise shoes. Those are your action steps.

The goals that work best are:

Specific

Measurable

Attainable

Realistic

Timely

If you can’t reach the goal, you will only become discouraged. If you are 200 pounds overweight, to lose that much weight in one year is probably not attainable. If you had zero gigs this year, deciding you want 300 in the next year is probably not attainable. If you have no college education at all, setting a goal of finishing your master’s in 18 months is probably not attainable. Here are some examples of good goals:

  • I want to lose five pounds in the next six months.
  • I will call five venues this week and every week.
  • I will book five events this summer paying $200 each.
  • I will save $2,000 this year by saving $200 per month.
  • I will save $50 a month to purchase that new instrument in 20 months.

Sometimes I have accomplished 10% or more of my goals before the New Year even begins.

James is a middle school teacher, speaker, performer, and author. Check out his book The Saxophone Diaries: Stories and tips from my 30+ years in music. Or CONTACT JAMES to find out more about scheduling a speaking event.