Advice – Take It With a Grain of Salt

I spent 1986-1996 in the Army Band. It was a great learning experience for me. I got to spend three of those years in Japan, serving my country as a saxophonist touring Japan.

After a while, I knew army life was not for me. I knew I needed a change. My wife and I discussed it a lot and were 90% sure that I would leave the army. I value the advice and input from others, so I asked a lot of people about their thoughts. I started with…

My 5 foot tall, round, Italian mama

Jeemy (she called me Jimmy but it came out sounding like Gee-me). Iffa you getta outa da Armee, you maka a bigga mistaka! You family, shes a gonna starva. You kids, dey gonna die-a. You willa never, never, never, never, never, never, succeed-a ina anything you do. I begga you, no maka dis mistaka!!!!!

A half dozen people who had gotten out of the Army after three years

James, I wish I had never gotten out of the army. Life has been one struggle after another. I have kept getting low paying jobs. If I had stayed in, at least I would have my pension now. If you get out of the army, you are making a big mistake. You will have a hard time succeeding. Your family will struggle. And think about the free health care. What if someone in your family gets sick? I implore you, don’t make the same mistake I made.

A half dozen people who had stayed for 20 years and were now drawing retirement pay

James, I wish I had gotten out of the army when I was young. Yes, I’m drawing a pension now, but I am so far behind others who started in their careers long before me. I strongly urge you to get out NOW and start your new career.

But there was one piece of advice that was completely different…

Kirk Wilcox, college professor, friend, and mentor

Like a true teacher, Kirk didn’t give me any answers directly. My question for everyone had been, “Should I stay in the army or get out.” Through thoughtful questions and targeted feedback, he got me to think for myself, to decide what the right decision was for me. He pointed out that all the others had ulterior motives – often informed by regrets they had in their own lives. With his guidance, I came to my own conclusion that I needed to get out of the army. And I learned a few things along the way…

Ask advice, but realize it may be biased. Ultimately, you have to come to your own conclusion. Parents, friends, and family members often will lean towards what’s “safe,” but safety is not the ultimate goal we should strive for.

Be careful about making decisions based on fear. Mom’s advice – and those who regretted getting out of the army, was very fear based. Fear will often cloud your thinking.

Don’t “follow your heart.” Your heart – which is your emotions expressed in a different way – can be one consideration, but it shouldn’t be everything. What if I followed my heart to be an NBA superstar? I stink at basketball – always have – and although practice would help me be better, it would never get me to NBA status.

It’s NOT “better to be safe than sorry.” The safe decision would have been to stay in the army. There is so much I would have missed had I done that! Have I ever regretted getting out? Almost never (I say almost because there were a few times when finances were tight and I thought I may have been better off.) But with 26 years hindsight, I can say I have no regrets about that decision.

I was younger then and knew less about seeking advice than I do today. Now I have more mentors that are like Kirk, mentors who make me think and dig deep. Surround yourself with great mentors and friends who will steer you in the best decision for you.

*** James Divine is an educator, public speaker, and course creator. Find out more about his speaking at www.jamesdivine.net and more about his music at www.jazzysaxman.com.  

Episode 219 – Interview with Jennifer and Kris – Creators of Baton Sync

Have you ever looked into a software management system for your band, one that can help you track inventory, budgets, uniforms, finances, lockers, ensemble lists and more?

If so, you know how expensive it can be.

Husband and wife team Jennifer (band teacher) and Kris (software developer) have joined forces to create an inexpensive solution for you.

Their Baton Sync software is just $20 per month (that’s total, not per student). And it’s been tested with Jennifer’s bands.

Get a free trial and find out more at www.batonsync.com

Listen to more podcasts here: https://www.jamesdivine.net/podcast/

The Story Project – Funny stories of growing up Italian

The story I shared at The Story Project a couple of years ago. It  aired on KRCC in Colorado Springs.  This is my recording of that public airing so forgive the poor sound quality.

I share funny stories of growing up Italian, including:

  • How garlic permeates everything when you’re Italian
  • Why I speak SO LOUDLY
  • The uncle who inspired me to get into music
  • The secret to a successful marriage
  • Why I was terrified of the wooden spoon my mom used to cook with
  • Funny stories of the language barrier

Get my book I Cannoli Imagine at amazon.  I’d love to share these stories with YOU live! Contact Me.

The Student Led Rehearsal – How To Teach It

You’re going to be gone from school, there are no music subs (or sometimes no subs at all), and you don’t want to leave the students with a written assignment. What do you do? Try the Student Led Rehearsal.

I wish I had originally came up with this idea, but like much of what we use in music it was stolen – I mean borrowed – and I don’t know who to give credit to. I saw this technique demonstrated at a Midwest clinic with a college band. I have used it effectively with high school and middle school students. 

It’s not a technique you can just pull out of a hat the day before you take a day off. It’s a technique you train your students in. Several training days will be needed before it can be effectively implemented without you. Once you have trained them, use the technique a couple of times a month – with you present. It helps the students take ownership of the music!

Step 1 – Designate a Leader

This won’t be a leader in the traditional sense of someone conducting, but his/her role is important nonetheless. Designate and train several leaders. You never know when they will be gone. The leader’s job will be to…

  • Determine where within a song the ensemble will start and end. The leader needs to be clear on this (with your training). For example: “Start at letter A, end in the last measure of A but don’t go on to B”, or “Start at measure 7, play through but not past measure 14.” 
  • The leader will want to pick a short section of music – usually no more than 8-16 measures – and preferably a section where most or all of the band plays. This technique gets bogged down in long exposed passages where just a few are playing.
  • He/she will start the ensemble with either a counoff or a nod.
  • It’s very important to train the ensemble to stop where the leader articulated. It’s very important for the leader to be clear on the start/stop areas.

Step 2 – When the band stops playing

  • Three or four – no more – ensemble members will stand and be called on by the leader. Anyone can do this. You will find that at times some of your least advanced ensemble members will have the best input.
  • When called on, ensemble members will provide concise, clear, loud feedback of something that can be worked on.
  • Good examples…
    • Trumpets did not enter together at their entrance
    • The high clarinet part is sticking out
    • It sounds like there might be a wrong note in the sax section
    • The ensemble is not playing with a pyramid sound
    • It sounds like we missed the crescendo
  • Bad examples
    • The _____ section sucked
    • I don’t like this song
    • I want my mommy
    • Any comment longer than 10 seconds
    • A comment that just says the same thing someone else already said (you will have to train the ensemble to avoid this)
  • After 3-4 students provide input, the leader restarts the ensemble at the same section and everyone tries to fix what was wrong. The ensemble stops again and repeats the same process with input from 3-4 people.
  • The ensemble performs the section of music a third time.
  • After 3 times, the student leader selects another section to work on. If it can’t be fixed after three tries, it is probably something that needs the director’s help.

When the students are properly trained, this is an excellent technique that will allow them to get valuable rehearsal time without a music sub! Is it as effective as having you there? No, but it’s about 80% effective. I have shared it with my own groups in both a suburban high school and urban middle school. I’ve also shared it at Tri-M day at my state conference and would be happy to share it with your group of students at a conference.

*** James currently teaches middle school band at a Title 1 school. He has taught high school band and started his career as the 4-12 band teacher at a small private school. Prior to that he spent 10 years in the Army Band. James is available to speak at your music conference. He shares his own journey of abuse and forgiveness in his keynote speech, Teachers: You Saved My Life. He is also the author of The Saxophone Diaries: Stories and tips from my 30+ years in music. Find out more and reach him at www.jamesdivine.net 

The American Dream Is Still Alive

I am proud to be 50% Italian, 40% German, and the rest a hodgepodge of other nationalities that make me the terrific person I am, but ultimately I’m 100% American!

My mom – a full blooded Italian Neapolitan (someone from Naples, Italy) – came to America in 1965 to marry an American and enjoy her own slice of the American dream. She came from a dirt poor Italian family. Since she was the oldest girl in a family of nine kids, she had to drop out of school after the first grade to help out her family. In her teens she had worked for many American families. She was loved and appreciated by them and they treated her well. She thought America was a land flowing with milk and honey.

Through a friend of a friend of a friend, she found out my father – recently widowed – was looking for a wife. He had heard that Italian women were great with children, excellent cooks, and extremely good-looking. Who can ever resist an Italian? Through fate – or stupidity – or perhaps both, they married and thus began my mom’s journey to America.

Financially, the dream was way more than she imagined! A nice home in the suburbs of Long Island, a television set, a vehicle, plenty of food, and even some money left over. She was blessed with two great looking, intelligent, outstanding, humble kids. Relationally, the dream left a lot to be desired. Father was abusive physically – at a time when many in our society chose to look the other way.

When I was 5, we left him for good and moved to Italy, where we were homeless. Not living under a bridge homeless, but shuffling from relative to relative every few months, occasionally having a place of our own (sans electricity), but mostly living with other people. Two years later we moved back to the United States, this time to Norfolk, Virginia.

A Photo during our time in Italy

Mom eked out a living with a combination of welfare and cleaning people’s houses. When sis and I complained about school, Mom would get a real serious look on her face and give us a passionate pep talk in her adorable Italian accent.

“Jeemy” she would say, (everybody called me Jimmy growing up, but my Italian relatives called me Jeemy).

“Jeemy. Di only-a tinga I ever-a wanta growin uppa was-a to go-a to school-a. Now-a you-a be tankful dat you canna go-a to school-a. No more-a complain-a.” That importance of school sunk in to the deepest part of my brain. Although there were other times I complained, I learned to be thankful for the chance to go to school.

Jeemy grew up and became James. I joined the Army, got married, and started having kids. Mom became Nonna – the Italian word for grandmother. I took one or two college classes every chance I had, earning my associate’s degree and then my bachelor’s degree while in the Army. It took me about 14 years. I became the first person in my family to earn a college degree. Eventually I also earned my master’s degree at the age of 45. I was accepted into a doctoral program, but decided I’d rather save my money and start putting that effort into the many projects I had on hold during my younger days. Was earning the degrees difficult? Yes! Were they worth it? Yes! And I have my mom to thank for all her encouragement about the importance of school (mom passed away in 2021 at the age of 77).

Mom circa her early 70s

One of my kids – when he was an underclassman – decided he wanted to be a lawyer. He didn’t want to just go to any law school, he wanted to go to Yale. He took a year off after earning his bachelor’s degree to work and study for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). By this time he was married and a father to a baby girl. He made many sacrifices, often choosing not to go to fun family events so he could study for the LSAT. He scored in the 99th percentile and was accepted into Yale Law School. He graduated and is a success in his field!

America has its flaws. Every country does. But is there anywhere else in the world where the grandson of a poor, uneducated immigrant can graduate from Yale Law School? We are the land of opportunity. Take advantage of it!

James is a public school music teacher. He is thankful for the education he has been able to receive. His education is not finished yet. He learns something new everyday and will continue to learn until the day he dies. James is the author of 5 books, including I Cannoli Imagine: My Italian Life, in which he shares many funny stories about growing up with an Italian mom. James is available to share his inspirational message with your group. In Your Now Doesn’t Determine Your Future he shares his own personal journey of overcoming adversity and helping others to do the same. Check out his web page at www.jamesdivine.netSpecial thanks to Zia Rosaria for being the inspiration for this article!!

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.