Doing Part-Time Work Within the Four Corners of Your Home

Photo Credit: Pexels

Guest Post by: Aliyah Kaye Cheney

Education offers great long-term value for our youth. However, students in high school and college need to get some work experience now to better prepare themselves for life in the workforce. For students from low-income families, working while studying is also means to an end. Unsurprisingly, they make up a big chunk of the 70% of college students who work even while enrolled.

Of course, there are drawbacks to this setup, like the possibility of declining grades. But when done right (less than 15 hours of work weekly is most ideal), the benefits are many: sustained good performance at school, improved work ethic, development of soft skills, expansion of social and professional networks, and of course, some extra cash. That said, now seems like a good a time to be part of the work-while-studying population, as opportunities for part-time work are increasing.

In fact, jobs like freelancing are fast becoming the norm thanks to a host of different factors (e.g., improvement of technology, increasing popularity of work-from-home setups, and this lingering health situation). Case in point, writer James Gonzales points out in an article on remote work that there are over 56.7 million freelancers in the U.S. as of 2018 — a 3.7 million increase from the 5 years prior. Demand for home-based work figures to rise even more with this health crisis proving the viability and usefulness of remote work. Indeed, such opportunities should not be missed by students today.

The key is finding a suitable part-time, work-from-home job. That process, incidentally, is similar to looking for full-time work, as already outlined in the post ‘Searching for a Job?’ The process takes due diligence, starting with a job search — but instead of looking at traditional job listing sites right away, you might want to check out online freelance sites such as UpWork, Guru, Freelancer, and Fiverr. Entrepreneur Laurence Bradford details in a feature on where to find freelance work how these sites can help novice freelancers find work in simple, albeit lower-paying, projects first to gain experience, build their portfolio, and expand their network. These can help lead to more opportunities to take on bigger, higher-paying projects.

Not to mention, there are different types of freelance jobs, with opportunities for students of every skillset. Content creators and creatives, like writers and artists, in particular, are in high demand. The same is true for those knowledgeable in web design, computer programming, and software troubleshooting. Students without such skills can partake in the gig economy, too, via online typing or data entry jobs, whose main skill requirement is being able to type accurately, but at above-average speeds. And as an Entrepreneur listicle of work-from home jobs notes, such jobs do not require previous experience, but can earn one a starting salary of $10 per hour.

Slightly more demanding are transcriber/transcriptionist jobs, as they entail listening to audio files and then typing out the words. But like data entry, these jobs are entry-level, though their $25-an-hour rate is much higher. In addition, students who are meticulous and highly organized can try being virtual assistants, whose tasks include sorting and replying to emails, organizing schedules, inputting data, and assisting with social media (for a rate between $10 and $15 per hour).

Indeed, students who want to do part-time work from the comforts of home have an assortment of options. But it is up to you to find those opportunities, and to take advantage of them. Good luck!


Written by Aliyah Kaye Cheney
Exclusive for jamesdivine.net

The Grandmother I (Almost) Never Had

My Italian mom told me so many stories of her father – how she struggled to keep up with his long legs while he walked with purpose, how proud she was of him providing for her family, and especially how he told Bible stories to his 9 kids, making them come alive with his story-telling skills.

(my grandfather)

I never got to meet my grandfather. He passed away too early when I was about 2 years old. And my grandmother followed very shortly after him.

We had left my dad because he was abusive, so I wasn’t connected on that side of the family. As a child I felt deprived and jealous. Other kids had a dad. Other kids had grandparents. I had a ton of aunts and uncles, but they lived in Italy, thousands of miles away.

The lifesaver for me was church. Not only was it the place I learned about my Creator and how I could have a deep relationship with him that transcends this life, but there were so many opportunities to surround myself with friends, mentors, and teachers. There were many of these relationships I didn’t fully appreciate until I was fully into my middle years.

Mom belonged to the older singles group at church. Most of the people in that group had never been married and didn’t have kids. They were in their late 20s and early 30s. Mom had two kids. The teachers of the class – Mr. and Mrs. Thomas – had two kids of their own who were about the same age as my sister and me. As part of teaching the class, they often planned fun outings to the beach, to the park, barbecues, and get togethers. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas were not only class (and classy) teachers, they embraced us, loved us, poured into our lives and changed our lives. They were the first couple I can remember who showed me what a marriage could be like. This had a deep and lasting impact on me!

On one occasion we went out to dinner with the Thomas family, and Mr. Thomas’ mom was also there. I doubt the restaurant is still open, but I can show you exactly where it was in Norfolk, Virginia. I saw the way Rene and Tommy and their grandmother interacted and I was jealous. Their grandmother was such a nice and compassionate lady. She was fun, loving, and witty. She oozed joy and exuberance about life. During dinner, I expressed my dismay at not having my own grandmother. “Grandma Thomas” – as she later became known in our house – said that she would “adopt” us as her grandkids.

(L to R) my sister Mimmy, Grandma Thomas, Mom)

These were not empty words on her part. She already had a quiver full of grandkids, but she became our real grandmother. She began to be a regular part of our lives and treated us as if she WAS our grandmother. When my first child was born about a decade later, Grandma Thomas made a blanket for her. Grandma Thomas never got to hear from me what an impact her life had made. She went the way of the world and passed on to the other side.

I know we will meet in heaven someday. I will run to her, scoop her up into my arms, and tell her what an impact she made in my life! 

Who can you be a grandparent to?

(P.S. My grandmother was also a writer. She was a frequent contributor to Readers Digest, The Saturday Evening Post, Mature Living, National Enquirer, and IEA news among others. Following is a poem she wrote that is one of my favorites.)

 Spray Job

My dog is so obedient,

He does what he is bid;

The park bench said, “Wet Paint”

And that’s just what he did.

My wedding day!
(L to R) Grandma Thomas, Rene, Lynn

Lights. Cameras. Action. – Tips for Online Teaching

You don’t have to be an expert at teaching via camera. Start with what you know and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. You will get better!

In this tutorial, I share some strategies for making better videos, with tips about lighting, background, making the camera your friend, and what I mean by pre-roll and post-roll. Enjoy, and watch for my videos coming soon called “The Two Minute Teacher Tune-up”.

Purchase the light I use here (affiliate link)

10 Steps to Writing a Book in 9 Months

If I can write a book, anyone can do it. I’ve had the honor of writing six. I’m working on number seven right now. Here are ten steps to follow…

  1. Start with an idea – you probably already have a few or you wouldn’t be reading this.
  2. Brainstorm chapter headings – sometimes just writing – not editing – makes room in your brain for more ideas.
  3. Start writing in a word document so you can save it. Don’t worry about format or editing too much at this point, or even the number of words you are writing. Set a reasonable goal for yourself, maybe 500 words a day. Many word processing programs will give you a word count. There is no right or wrong answer for how long or short a book needs to be. I think most books are too long.
  4. Post each chapter as a blog post. I was aiming for one a week. You may do more or less. Don’t worry too much about editing. What’s the purpose of this? Get some feedback from some of your (hopefully) strongest supporters – friends and family. Does the story/subject resonate with them?
  5. At some point, you will realize you are near the end. Take what you have written and begin to edit it. Cut out extra words. Add stories or details that you forgot to add the first time around. What works best for me is to actually print it out and mark all over the paper.
  6. Go to Kindle Direct Publishing and set-up an account. If you already have an amazon account, you will be able to log in using that. Start working with the online cover editor. Make decisions about the size of the book. Download their template and start formatting your material to the template.
  7. Order a proof copy. Not required but I highly recommend it. I made some changes after seeing my proof.
  8. Order your books. I ordered 50 copies originally and within two weeks had to reorder, mainly because I had given so many away. My physical books cost me about $2.50 a copy. I sell them for $12-$15. Digital books are free to make.
  9. Selling…It helps if you already have a “platform.” In other words, you should have a way to sell the book. In my case, I am a motivational speaker part time and am able to sell the book at my events. If you don’t have a platform, think of how you can create or incorporate one.
  10. Be realistic. I sold about 5 copies the first month my book was out. Dan Miller of 48 Days fame says it takes two years for a book to really get going. Be persistent and stay encouraged.

I created a course on Udemy that takes you step by step through this process. For a limited time, get 50% off by following this link.

Udemy offers a full 30 day money back guarantee. Try the course – some have even gotten through the lessons in a few days – and if you don’t think it was worth every penny, Udemy will refund your money.

America The Beautiful – My Tribute

America…the greatest country on the face of the Earth.

Are we perfect? No way! But we strive for what our founding fathers had a vision for.

Those men were endowed with heavenly wisdom to put into writing the standards of justice and equality that we should strive for.

When I was in the Army – and now even in my position as a public school teacher – I swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and to defend it against all enemies foreign and domestic.

This is my tribute to our flag, to the United States, and to the Constitution, especially the 1st amendment.

Tribute to My Dad

I once had a friend who was very overweight and had diabetes. We were hanging out and he ordered a double sugar, extra fat, triple whipped cream something or other from the coffee chain. When I expressed surprise that he was able to drink that, he showed me his insulin pump attached to his hip and told me he could eat or drink whatever he wanted. He was being treated for the symptoms of diabetes.

Our country has a severe case of “diabetes” as shown by all the crazy violence taking place, but that is just a symptom of what’s really going on! The disease is the absence of fathers in our culture.

I could have been one of those hoodlums racing around taking TVs from Target, but I was fortunate because when I was 17, I started dating Susan. Eventually we married, and her dad became my dad. By example, he taught me what it meant to be a man – to be faithful to God and family – to work hard – to honor your word. I am blessed because he is NOT my father-in-law, but he truly is my Dad.

When our first child was little, we were teaching her how to say “Grandaddy.” Instead she said “G-Daddy” and the man who is a superhero to many finally was anointed with his superhero name.

Dad, you’re not getting a card this year – just this song and video, but I hope you know how much I love you and respect you and how thankful I am for all the things you’ve taught me. However, I’m saving up for the Ferrari for you. Only $299,997.52 to go!

Episode 159 – I Almost Didn’t Join 6th Grade Band

Episode 159

Thirty two years at a job I love – 22 years of that teaching! It’s hard to believe. But it’s also hard to believe that I almost didn’t join band. In this episode, I share my story of joining 6th grade band. Listen all the way through to the end as there is a free gift offer.

Has the show benefited you? Would you consider making a one time donation of $40? Donate here

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I have four courses at Udemy: Music, Instruments and Science which includes 8+ lessons that are great for use on sub or distance learning days, Get Started Writing a Book because I think everyone has a book inside of them waiting to come out, and two free courses, 40 Ways To Make Money as a Musician, and 30 Days of Motivation

Need a speaker for your event? Need leadership training for your students? I’d love to talk.

Have a question for the podcast? jamesthedivine@gmail.com or 719-238-4193. 

Multitude of links and resources here

Sometimes You Need a Coach

Ever since I was a little boy, I have gone against the grain. I remember sitting outside the Base Exchange in Naples, Italy, selling my used comic books after I was done reading them. As a 7 year old, I would knock on doors asking apartment dwellers if I could take their trash out for a quarter. I always had money in my pocket!

Many of my friends in high school decided to pursue something other than their dream job because it “paid better” or was “more practical”. I was fortunate to have a mom who encouraged me to be and do whatever I wanted. She had confidence in me. I have always been doing my dream job (except for that year at age 30 delivering pizzas, but I did learn a lot during that time).

If I said everything was always perfect, I would be lying, but when I look back, the difficult times were often due – as Zig Ziglar would say – to “stinkin thinkin”.

I joined the Army band right out of high school. I had a blast until the Army moved me to Japan and I was away from my family for four months. That’s when I started my “stinkin thinkin” and was not a fun person to be around. It had a negative effect on me and my family (thanks to my sweetheart for putting up with me).

I was in the Army for ten years and knew it was time for a change, so I became a self-employed touring musician. Times were tough, mainly because of poor decisions I made and not knowing how to price myself.

I delivered pizzas about twenty hours a week just to make ends meet. When a part time band teacher position opened up, I took it so I could quit pizza delivery.

I liked my previous jobs but I was PASSIONATE about teaching. That eventually went to full time, so I had to cut back on the performing.

There are sometimes difficult times when teaching in public school, but most Mondays I am raring to be back at work, teaching music to young people. There is nothing that I would rather do.

When I talk to my friends – most of whom hate their jobs – I realize how fortunate I am to have a job I love. I have started to realize that many of them made the wrong choice as teenagers. The choice to give up something they loved to do something they hated…all for money.

Once you start making that choice, it is harder to come back to something you love. God created work, and it was around before the fall. God told Adam to work and care for the garden. Somewhere in our history, work has turned into a dirty word. Find something you love to do, do it with passion and as unto the Lord.

***Sometimes you just need a coach. If you need a coach, sign up with me HERE. I specialize in the music and education fields, as well as transitioning military.

Episode 158 – A Love Letter to Title I Teachers

Coronavirus definitely brought out some of the inequities in teaching. Many teachers at Title I schools found their students could not connect or were absent from online learning. Yet, you DO make a difference, and that’s why this love letter is devoted to you.

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Find out more about fundraising for your program at Scool Services

I have four courses at Udemy: Music, Instruments and Science which includes 8+ lessons that are great for use on sub or distance learning days, Get Started Writing a Book because I think everyone has a book inside of them waiting to come out, and then two free courses, 40 Ways To Make Money as a Musician, and 30 Days of Motivation

Need a speaker at your event? I’d love to talk. Or maybe you have a question for the podcast? Submit it here or call the number on my page header and leave a message.

Multitude of links and resources here

Hashtags Don’t Change The World

Several years ago, the school community I was a part of suffered a terrible tragedy! A mom and three of her kids died in a highway accident. The dad was not on this trip and survived. Two of the kids were in the same class that I taught. It was a small class of about 20 students. The students were a really tight knit group. The loss hit us all really hard.

The accident happened in the early part of summer vacation. This makes it harder to process because we weren’t all together to cry, to share stories, and to work through our grief. Personally, I was in a fog for at least three weeks after hearing the news. I could not get the tragedy off my mind. There were times I couldn’t sleep. There were times I imagined how horrible it was for dad. One of the students had ended the school year with our relationship not completely intact. Although it was just normal teen angst, I was tormented over whether I could have reached out more and restored the relationship. Now I would never get the chance.

When school started that fall, we naturally started to process our grief all over again. After consulting with the school counselors, we made sure to have a therapy dog there in class the first day. We didn’t even do our normal start of the year procedures. That would have to wait. We shared stories of the two students, talked about our love, we cried, we hugged, and we talked through our feelings. Plans were made to purchase and install some type of memorial to the lost students on our classroom wall. Life started to get back to normal as much as possible.

A few weeks after school started up, one of my student’s moms called me and asked if we could meet. She wanted to share what she had heard from several of the students. Imagine my surprise and hurt when she told me that several students thought I didn’t care much about these two students’ passing. I was heart-broken. I felt a stab of pain. I was confused. I started to cry. How could they think I didn’t care? Didn’t they hear me talk about how much I missed the students? Didn’t I share with them how I was numb for three weeks? Didn’t we forego our usual start of the year routine so we could take time out to grieve – and we continued to take time as necessary to continue to grieve.

The mom told me the students felt this way because I didn’t post anything about it on facebook. She explained that she had informed them that everyone processes grief differently, and that this was my way of processing grief. I even set up a meeting with a few students who seemed to be most affected. I apologized to them and we worked through this. I thought they understood my reasons – privacy, facebook is not the place for that, etc. Ultimately the grief and lack of forgiveness led to these relationships never being exactly the same.

Hashtags don’t change the world.

If this had been just one story rather than a trend I see, it would be easier to pass it off. However, I see this trend happening on social media in every major injustice and tragedy we see…

  • An injustice takes place
  • People rise up and say “something needs to be done!” (by the way, this response is good)
  • A lot of sound bites and hashtags happen on social media (this is ok, but still doesn’t solve the issue above)
  • If someone appears to be silent or doesn’t buy into the hashtag or posts anything but the topic of the hashtag, he or she is shamed and accused of not caring (this is 100% wrong)
  • A flurry of activity happens, then the next hashtag comes along

In this scenario, nothing gets done! 

Nothing changes. 

People end up with hurt feelings. 

Relationships are damaged.

Hashtags don’t change the world.

Imagine this scenario… A father has a family of six to feed. He and others agree that something needs to be done. He and his friends all post on their social media and decide that they are going to plant food to grow. His backyard is plowed under and turned into a mini-farm with all sorts of crops. He even receives advice on how to water and nurture the plants so he can have food for the family. Then the next day, he wakes up and instead of working on his mini-farm, he starts a new hashtag mission. Within days the fledgling plants all die and he still has no food for his family. 

Hashtags don’t change the world.

What does change the world? Long term action inspired by love. Here are a few examples.

  • Churches that have food programs, but they don’t simply hand out food. They invest in the lives of their community. If someone needs a job, they help that person. If someone needs counseling, they work to get them that. Same thing with job skills. These churches help the immediate need but also look to how to solve the symptom. There are thousands of these churches all across our country.
  • A friend of mine has adopted 15-20 children. Most of them were adopted as teenagers. In fact, I have three friends who do this! They are changing the world.
  • John Walsh – whose son Adam Walsh was abducted and murdered – turned his grief into the show “America’s Most Wanted”, which has been credited with capturing over 1200 of America’s worst crime fugitives.
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving was formed by a mom who lost a child to a drunk driver

Hashtags don’t change the world.

Well James, what can I do?

You can pray (but don’t stop there).

You can read and study, but make sure you read and study the right things (but don’t stop there).

You can adopt a fatherless child. Maybe you can’t bring them into your home like my three friends, but can you invite them to your family events once in a while?

Look around in your own community. If you see a need and you are equipped to help, do it. I think sometimes we think filling a need always involves money. Maybe you have a skill that can help. Maybe you know of a job. Maybe you can babysit. Maybe you can cook. Maybe you can mentor. Maybe you can bravely speak up when you see injustice happen. I personally think when we are involved in a church community, we have a greater chance of seeing needs and having our needs filled. Attend a local church. 

Hashtags don’t change the world. Actions by loving people do.

*** James has been a teacher for 22 years. He currently teaches at a Title 1 school in Colorado Springs. Ever since he was five years old – when Jesus Christ changed his life from the inside – he has had a desire to look out for the underdog. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net

The Sheep, The Sheepdogs and the Wolves

There are three types of people in the world: The Sheep, The Sheepdogs and The Wolves.

Most people are sheep. They live a somewhat normal life…they go to work, do what they’re told, pay their taxes, raise their families, watch tv, hang out on weekends. For the most part not creating any waves. Most of them think life is great until…

– dun dun dun – the wolves attack.

images_1The wolves are all around us. Some of them are obvious, like the criminals we see in the news each day. Some of them are not as obvious; they may even occupy leadership positions in business, government, education and religion.

The wolves are out to steal, kill and destroy. The wolves are on the prowl for the weak sheep, those who have fallen away from the herd, those who are scared, those suffering from an injury. The wolves are out to fulfill their own needs and care nothing for the sheep.

images_2The sheepdogs have a mission…protect the sheep from the wolves and sometimes from the sheep themselves! The sheepdogs round up the sheep, promoting unity. This makes it much harder for the wolves to attack.  The wolves like wounded and solitary sheep because – at heart – the wolves are cowards.

The sheepdogs often bark in warning to keep the sheep together. The sheepdogs sometimes have to inflict pain through a nip on the legs of the sheep. When compared to being eaten by wolves, this pain is minimal but necessary. The sheepdogs often feel lonely.

Like the wolves, you can find many sheepdogs in leadership positions in business, government, education and religion. Occasionally you will find a sheepdog that is controlled by wolves. These can be more dangerous than the wolves.

Even though the lives of the sheep are dependent upon the sheepdogs, the sheep often hate the sheepdogs. Some sheepdogs look like wolves; they have sharp teeth and claws and are always barking, but it’s to protect the sheep! The sheepdogs often get into terrible fights with the wolves to protect the sheep.

images_3Over them all is the Good Shepherd, Jesus. He gave His life for the sheep. Many of them hate Him too. Many of them reject Him. He made the sheepdogs. He gave the sheepdogs their mission because He cares for the sheep even more than the sheepdogs do. The Good Shepherd warned us that the wolves often come to us in sheep’s clothing.

How about you? Are you a sheep, a sheepdog or a wolf? Maybe you’re a sheep controlled by a wolf? Have you met the Shepherd?

Don’t Confuse Being Famous With Making Money

Many people set their aim on becoming famous, thinking that’s the path to earning money as a musician. It’s not. There are famous people who make money, but there are many musicians you probably have never heard of who make $75,000 a year or more plugging away in their local community.

I have a friend who ran a band that played at weddings and parties in Atlanta. He was making a lot of money. He said it was really hard work. He owned the equipment. He booked the events. He paid the musicians. In short, he operated his band like a business. He was never famous but made a tidy profit.

Setting your heart on fame may be fleeting. If you set your heart on money – and that’s your main focus – in the long term you will be dissatisfied. If you set your heart on adding value to people’s lives, you will change the world – or at least your community.

***this article first appeared in the book The Saxophone Diaries: Stories and tips from my 30+ years in music. Get your free copy by signing up on my list below or order on amazon. James has been in the music field for 33 years. Sometimes as a musician or educator, you just need a coach. Check out James’ coaching services.

Searching for a Job?

Did you know that the ancient Hebrew language does not have a word for coincidence? I “found” my first teaching job by “coincidence”. (in quotes because I don’t believe in that word)

I was performing full time and wanted to give teaching a try. I would not have sought out a full time teaching job, but money was tight and I had started delivering pizzas part time to make ends meet; a job I despised.

The principal of a local private school lived across the street from me. We could have bought any house in Colorado Springs. He could have bought any house in Colorado Springs. The fact that we were neighbors was no coincidence!

We weren’t friends, but his daughter babysat for us and he knew I was a musician. When the half time band teacher job opened up at his school, he asked if I was interested. I said, “Yes.” He scheduled an interview for me.

The day I showed up for my interview, there was chaos everywhere. At the time the school functioned with a “let’s put out the latest fire” style of leadership. I never was interviewed. I observed a few classes. Afterwards, they asked me if I was interested in the job and hired me on the spot.

I mentioned that I wasn’t quite done with my bachelor’s degree yet – I needed three more classes – and they said that was fine as long as I finished that school year. Yay! I was able to quit delivering pizzas.

A few weeks after being hired, I went to the school to fill out paperwork. The former band teacher showed up wondering why she didn’t receive her July paycheck. That’s when she found out she was being let go.

A week or two later, I tried to cash my first paycheck. It bounced! It turned out to be a clerical mistake. The payroll account was short by a couple of cents, but it did leave me wondering what kind of place I was working for.

To sum it up, my first teaching job…

  • Did not require that I have my bachelor’s degree
  • Was part-time
  • Did not pursue an interview with me

It was a great learning experience for me. I quickly realized teaching was my calling! I love teaching! I love performing! I was able to do both. My second year the position grew to 3 classes. That was the year I had 120+ gigs. I was somehow able to keep up that pace with a lot of coffee and many late night drives to get home from a gig. Because of that, I wasn’t in the best of health. As my third year approached, I could see the teaching would grow to full time. I was torn. I knew I could not keep up the pace I had been maintaining while teaching full time. I pondered over this for a long time and decided that the bulk of my time would go to teaching while the performing would become part time. I believe you can do both. I believe many of you are called to do both. The mix between the two will vary by each individual and where you are in life.

I settled into teaching and perfected my craft. I had lots of enthusiasm, but not much experience in classroom discipline. I became a disciple of classroom discipline and now know a lot. About my fifth year of teaching, I knew I had grown as much as I could in that position and it was time for a change. I had one small problem: I did not have a teaching license.

When I would talk to professors at music schools, they all answered my query the same way…if you want to become a licensed teacher, quit your job, come to our school and in two years you will be a certified teacher. That simply was not an option for me with a family to support.

I found a program through Western State University that allowed me to teach full time while earning my teaching license. I applied, the Colorado Department of Education accepted the Army School of Music as meeting the music credits I needed, and I earned my teaching license during my 7th year at the private school. That leads me to the job search process I used for my current job.

The Job Search Process

I looked for job openings on school district websites, searched music education job websites, networked with friends, looked on local job search sites, and basically did everything I knew to find out about jobs. I applied for 25-30 job openings. Sometimes it was slow going…there were weeks when nothing opened up!

Eventually, I was called for six interviews and received two job offers. They were not the right jobs for me. One was at a private school in Ft. Meyers Florida – a move that my wife and I were not ready to make – and one was at a school in northeast Colorado. The band program was a good fit, but the town did not offer any job opportunities for my wife.

After turning down the second offer in early May – and having already notified my school that I was planning on leaving – the job market seemed to dry up. This was when I really had to call on my faith in God! Nothing happened for the next two weeks.

Finally there was an opening at a suburban school east of Colorado Springs. I applied and was called in for an interview. One of the parents of a student of mine at the private school I taught at was a math teacher there. He put in a good word for me.

At the interview, one of the questions was, “It’s the day before the concert. The students are totally unfocused, running around the room, acting crazy. What would you do?” I pondered this question for a minute or two and answered, “I would not have allowed it to get to that point.” There was some laughter from the interviewers and they responded with “Great Answer.” I was offered the job about three weeks later (they were a very sloooow district).

I was the 5th or 6th band teacher in as many years. The position had become a revolving door. There seemed to be no future there. Many of my colleagues asked, “Are you SURE you want to go work at ________?” I decided to give it a three-year commitment. That was 2005. I stayed for 13 years.

Don’t let a program’s history affect your decision to work with it. Was it hard work? You better believe it! Were there times when it was discouraging? Definitely! Was it worth it to see the program grow to success? You bet! Persistence is key.

I left that position in 2018 and currently teach band and orchestra at a Title I Middle School in Colorado Springs. That job search process was very similar to the earlier one.

More Musician Math

25 Applications + 6 Interviews + 3 Job Offers = Success!

What if I had given up after applying to five schools? I may have had no interviews.

What if I had taken that first job? It may have put a strain on my family.

What if I had taken the advice of some of my colleagues? I would have missed a great opportunity.

Ideas to Help Your Job Search

It may be time to get creative! Why wait for your ideal job? Why not create your ideal job? In the course of my job search, I heard about many small towns that eliminated their music program because they could not find a qualified teacher. What if you were to offer your music teaching services as a contractor? You could create the job you want AND be self-employed. Maybe the school district pays you $15,000 a year to just teach band – or just teach orchestra – or just teach general music – or just teach guitar – you get the idea. What if you put 5 of these positions together? You could pull in $75,000.

Not everyone is meant to be a full time teacher. Maybe you want to perform AND teach. There are many private schools or small districts that would be willing to hire a half time teacher. But be aware. Sometimes these half-time positions can be full time jobs with half the pay.

Do you like teaching music AND theater? You might consider a small town where they are looking for someone to teach music AND something else, both subjects half time. It’s not for everybody, but might be for you.

Focus your search and your goals. I interviewed at one school that wanted to expand their band program. The position called for teaching K-12 music and expanding the band program. I knew that I would not take the job as presented. It seemed destined for failure. So I presented the hiring committee with this proposal.

Let the music teacher focus on building the band while providing lesson plans for the K-4 teachers. I will train and provide lesson plans for K-4 teachers to teach music, I will teach the kids recorder in grade 5, and in grade 6-8 they would all have to be in choir or band, which I would also teach. The committee rejected this plan. Fifteen years later, that school district still struggles with teachers leaving and no real band program.

Don’t be afraid of teaching guitar! I did that. I thought I would eventually want to get rid of it. Instead I expanded it and taught that for thirteen years. Some students – after taking beginning guitar – want to learn a band instrument, orchestra instrument, or want to take choir. As you can see, that does not detract from band and choir, it adds to it! Those students would have remained uninvolved with music.

Two Guys And An Instrument

I have two friends who almost didn’t make it into music. One was 18 years old when he decided to learn the saxophone. He toured for several years with a group throughout the country. He never learned to read music until about ten years ago, and even now only reads a little bit (he’s over 70 and still performs regularly). He’s got great ears!

Another friend joined the Army during the Vietnam War. To join the band, you have to pass an audition. With recruiters getting people in left and right during the war, somehow Wayne got sent to the army school of music, despite not knowing how to play an instrument. The authorities put him on hold until they could get the paperwork straightened out. While waiting, he asked if he could borrow an instrument and start practicing. When they decided to get more serious about sending him to another school, he asked if he could just remain at the School of Music. They agreed IF he could pass the audition. He did, and spent many years in the Army band. He has since retired and is now a dedicated music teacher.

You never know where life will take you!

***This story first appeared in The Saxophone Diaries: Stories and tips from my 30+ years in music. Get a free copy by signing up on my list here:

Just Say No!

SAY NO! SO YOU CAN SAY YES!

Remember Nancy Reagan’s theme from the 1980s to Just Say No to drugs? She was made fun of, but it is an effective strategy. You may not struggle with drugs, but I bet you do struggle with saying no!

Many people miss out on the great things in life because they are doing so many good things. They are not in tune with what the Creator has made them to do. I have been guilty of this many times. Sometimes it’s a matter of learning how to say “No” to all those good things. Believe me, it’s not easy…

People want to put you on a guilt trip when you say no. My own mom has a master’s degree in the guilt trip. She’s a cruise director! My sister and I toured the world several times, and it didn’t cost us a thing (except for damage to our psyche, but that’s such a small price to pay for travel).

Don’t let others put you on these kinds of trips! Decide in advance what’s important to you and stick to that. Will life circumstances and what’s important change over time? Of course it will.

Practice with me for a moment… “No.” Try it again… “No.” Several times now, louder each time… “no…No…NO!”

It feels good, doesn’t it! This is not a rebellious “No” like a toddler might say. Remember, this is a no so you can say yes. Repeat daily.

Say NO so you can say YES

Say NO to overtime so you can say YES to your family

Say NO to overeating so you can say YES to a better quality life

Say NO to going out to eat so you can say YES to your retirement account

Here are some real NOs I have said…

I said NO to helping in the school musical so I could say YES to conducting a community orchestra.

I said NO to playing at coffee houses so I could say YES to spending time at home.

I say NO everyday to the candy bars so I can say YES to size 32 pants.

I said NO to teaching lessons so I can say YES to writing and practicing music.

I said NO to the snooze button so I could say YES to reading my Bible.

I said NO to Starbucks so I could say YES to a cruise with my honey.

Say NO today so you can say YES!

*** James Divine is a middle school teacher and youth speaker. This article first appeared in The Saxophone Diaries: Stories and tips from my 30+ years in music. Get a free copy when you subscribe below:

James Divine – Youth Speaker

Poverty
Abusive Father
Homelessness
Sexual Abuse

I’ve lived through all of these. I had to overcome them as I realized that I could have a better future than what my life had dictated.

In the past 20+ years, I’ve shared this message with tens of thousands of people to help them overcome their past and move to their best future. You can count on me to be humorous, interactive, and an engaging speaker, full of insights and stories that inspire.

I have been teaching middle and high school students for more than 20 years. I know their struggles. Their pains. Their insecurities. I was exactly like them. I suffered from “I Can’t” syndrome, but finally found the process to break free. I wish it was just a little magic pill, but it’s not. It’s a process. I’ve helped hundreds on their own journey.

Now I’m a veteran, husband, dad, teacher, musician, author, and grandad! Contact me today and let’s discuss your needs.

Graduation Speech

ORDER OF GRADUATION

Welcome: Professor Jimmy

Invocation: Jimmy D-Light

National Anthem: James Divine

Commencement Address: Papa Jimmy

Biographies…

Professor Jimmy – Professor Jimmy teaches music at Southern Colorado University of Music (SCUM). His courses include: Concert Banned (a history of people who were kicked out of their middle school band), OrcaStra (an eight piece ensemble which uses sampled sounds of the great Orca whale to perform their own arrangements of the classic literature), and Music Depreciation (a study in how quickly instruments devalue over time and how many jazz musicians – although seeming quite poor – would be millionaires if they sold all their equipment).

Jimmy D-Light – Jimmy D is a rap musician. He currently resides in Seahaven with his wife and kids. Jimmy D collaborates often with Truman, who is also from Seahaven. D once was living a not very good life. He attributes part of this to being separated at birth from his identical triplets and growing up in foster homes. He has reconnected with his brothers and reignited his relationship with Jesus Christ.

James Divine – James teaches middle school band and orchestra. He also married his HS sweetheart. They have four beautiful kids and six grandkids. They enjoy long hikes and spending time together. James is also a public speaker – mostly to youth organizations and schools. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net.

Papa Jimmy – Papa Jimmy was born in Naples, Italy approximately 1926. He was born at home – so there is no birth certificate. He is hoping that since he can’t find it, that maybe one day he can run for President of the United States. He enjoys spending time with his wife, eating and making meatballs, and taking naps.

Education Reimagined

Education is in an upheaval. Teachers have been forced to learn how to teach online practically overnight. Parents were forced to suddenly become their child’s coach, teacher, and counselor. All this while we are at record unemployment rates, with many working from home while still supervising their kids.

What if we took advantage of this time to reimagine education? What if some of the changes that have occurred – the good, the positive, the different – were somehow able to be incorporated permanently?

Dysfunction

I have been a teacher for 22 years. I’m currently at a Title I school, but have also taught at a suburban public high school and a private school. We have some serious dysfunction in our system at all levels! When I think about the times I have wanted to quit teaching, it has never been because of what happens within the four walls of my classroom. It has often been because of outside forces I was unable to change.

Standardized testing – The thought behind accountability is good, but in our current bureaucracy, high stakes tests are not the answer. Too much time is taken away from content learning to prepare for the test. On test days, the students are sitting for way too long, and the teachers are bored out of their minds. The results of the tests can often take six months or more to receive, making immediate change in our instruction next to impossible.

Lack of professional treatment – I am in a teaching position now where I receive a lot of professional respect, but that has not always been the case. About 10% of teachers should not be retained. Many educational leaders impose policies on the other 90% that are needed for those 10%. Our system needs change, mostly in the hiring and firing process, whic has often become politicized and weaponized. There are even some environments where the students seem to be in control.

Time spent (or wasted) – I once taught at a school where the principal constantly told us we were not doing enough…and this at a time when I was working 11-12 hours a day. I thought, “What more can I do.” I was just as guilty! 

When I taught marching band, we rehearsed for 2-3 hours every afternoon. Saturdays were filled with practice or competitions. Why? Is it possible to be too busy? Yes. A friend of mine who started teaching in the 70s told me that marching band competitions used to take place on Fridays. The students missed school to attend – notice I didn’t say they missed their education – the competitions were just as educational as math computations. Students were off on Saturday to spend time with their families or just hang out. 

The same thing happens in sports. It has become so competitive that teams often practice three hours or more a day, and often come in for an “optional” practice during school breaks. I know…I am the dad of several kids who participated in high school sports (junior high seems to be more reasonable in this).

Reimagine 101

No standardized Testing – Teachers are free to focus on helping their students learn and improve without worrying about teaching to the test. No more three day stretches where students sit on their butts all day. We would gain back 8-10 days of instruction.

Reasonable Practice Times – What if marching bands, sports teams, and other clubs limited their practices to one hour, competitions and games were held earlier, and most or all Saturday practices, meets, and games were eliminated in favor of doing these events late afternoon? What if students were able to be home for dinner?

No Homework – There was a time when homework made sense, and maybe for high school it still does, but where does the time for play, for creativity, for reading, for getting together with friends, for family – where does that time come from? You might say, “Well, if they’re not doing homework, they’re just going to be playing video games.” That might be true, but then it’s on their parents, not you or me.

Treat Teachers as Professionals – Hire well. Pay well. Get rid of the dead weight. Teachers, we are at fault in this too. (Now I’m about to get flogged by my fellow teachers). I don’t believe small class sizes are always the answer. Imagine with me for a moment before you throw that stone. I once had a class of 65 beginning guitar students. It worked because all the students were motivated to be there and wanted to improve. Did it take a lot of prep on my part? Yes, but it worked. 

Large classes can be difficult because of the dysfunction in our system. What if you had a class of 30 hard working, disciplined students who wanted to be there? What if the six who struggled worked with a teacher in a small class who was able to provide more individualized attention? What if instead of one teacher for every 15 students, we had one teacher and one aid for every 30 students? A well-trained and responsible aid can function almost as a second teacher! 

What if students who did not “get with the program” were invited not to return? When I taught at a private school, the school worked with students and gave them many chances to succeed, but if they did not get their act straight, they were let go.

Reimagine 401 

I’m about to be flogged and stoned again, but bear with me and realize this is all meant to make you THINK. Colorado spends about $10,000 on each student for education. We are one of the lowest in the country. Where does all that money go? A lot of it is wasted. Many districts become bloated at central admin with positions that often have little to do with education. Some of these positions are needed. Many are a result of the dysfunction in our system as school districts adopt a CYA, (cover your a**) approach.  

What if that money were available in voucher format? (Look into this – REALLY look into it – and you will find cases of vouchers working well). You could see scenarios like the following:

Licensed Homeschool Mom who teaches her own three kids and three of the neighborhood kids right in her own home. They take weekly field trips, every child works at his own pace, there is lots of time for play and exploration, and she is able to make 50k a year (60k from vouchers minus 10k for expenses). Perhaps both moms are trained teachers and they split the profit. It doesn’t seem like much, but when you realize you don’t have commuting, child care, and cleaning costs, it is more.

Reading Specialist who sets up her own academy to work with kids who struggle with reading. She limits her “school” to 16 kids and hires an aid who specializes in reading. She brings in 160k, pays her aid 40k, has expenses of 30k and nets 90k for herself. Student/Teacher Ratio is 8/1. Students end up excelling in reading.

James Divine’s Dream Music Academy In this school, I would have 100 musically oriented kids who are gifted and motivated in music. They would audition to be there. Mornings would be focused on band, choir, marching/jazz band, and theory classes. Afternoons would be focused on what we usually call core classes. The students would even learn to cook and would handle lunch preparation and clean up. There would be no after school rehearsals – all of it would happen during the school day. Students would also exercise every day. Here’s what my budget would look like:

100 students @ 10k each 1,000,000

5 teachers @ 100k each -500,000

1 admin exec @ 100k  -100,000

2 educational aides @ 50k each -100,000

building/insurance -100,000

Supplies, computers, books -100,000

Field trips/travel -100,000

Do you want to come work for me at 100K?

I have thought about and considered the ideas in this article for many years. It is doable. Every objection is due to dysfunction in our system. What about handicapped students? We already spend extra on those students. Perhaps someone could start an academy specifically dealing with the students’ handicaps. Perhaps an existing academy would incorporate the students and hire an additional aide if needed. I have believed in and practiced inclusion my entire career.

But James, what would happen to our current schools? Won’t they close down? Yes, some of them will. But most of them will adapt, innovate, and become better, shedding their thick layers of bureaucracy and becoming the focal points of their community.

James is a band and orchestra teacher at a Title I middle school in Colorado Springs. He is in his 22nd year of teaching and believes that is his calling. One of his life-long goals is to act his shoe size, not his age. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net.

I Thought I Was Going To Jail

The summers of 2010-2012 I was driving every week to Weatherford, Oklahoma to work on a master’s degree in music education. The trip took me through the Texas panhandle.

The panhandle gets its name because when you view Texas on a map, there’s a thin stretch of land in the northwest corner that – when combined with the rest of Texas looks like the handle to a big ol’ fryin’ pan, you know the kind I’m talking about. They weigh about 57 pounds and are made out of cast iron. When not used for cooking, they have alternate uses as doorstops and behavior modification for wayward husbands.

The panhandle is also flat. It’s so flat that you can see anthills in the distance rising out of the landscape. The road is so straight that I once set the cruise control, lashed the steering wheel into place and climbed into the backseat for a nap.

The thing about the panhandle is it seems that nobody lives there. Oh, you see the occasional cow, the occasional road kill, and vultures. Vultures everywhere, sometimes tearing into road kill that seems like it hasn’t even cooled down yet. You hope and pray that you don’t get a flat tire because you’ll be changing the tire with one hand while fending off vultures with the other.

Did I mention that it is also hot! With air conditioning on, it sometimes felt like the interior of the car only cooled to 85 degrees or so.

I was driving along the panhandle on my way to Oklahoma when I passed a state trooper on the side of the road. Now, it was sometimes tempting to speed along this stretch, especially since I was making this drive every week, but as I mentioned you could see for miles in any direction and I knew I wasn’t speeding at that moment.

The state trooper pulled in behind me. If he wasn’t a state trooper, he could have easily been accused of tailgating. There was no traffic in either direction! We were the only two cars on this four lane divided highway and he was tailgating me. I carefully checked to make sure I was on target for speed. I even racked my brain to try and remember if I had been speeding.

The trooper continued on my tail for 3-4 minutes.

Finally, much to my relief, he pulled out from behind me, scurried over to the left lane, and passed me very quickly. Relief! He was really beginning to make me nervous.

My relief was short-lived. He immediately pulled in front of me and slowed down rather abruptly, causing me to tailgate him. Now, I hate being too close to a car. Why did he pull in front of me like that? I was still worried about my speed and checked to make sure that it remained steady. I did not have cruise control in this vehicle. It was easy to end up with a lead foot, especially when I was tired.

After another minute passed, I was tired of tailgating the trooper, so I pulled over into the left lane, still being cautious about my speed. The trooper remained in the right lane, about two car lengths ahead of me. We continued on like this for 3-4 minutes. I was nervous the entire time. It just seemed odd to me that this trooper would remain so close when we were on this big expanse of highway.

Finally, the trooper slowed way down, but wait! He pulled in behind me in the left lane and turned on his blue flashing lights.

Great, not only am I being pulled over by a state trooper, but now I’m going to have to rescue him from the vultures too!

The state trooper sat in his car for a looong time behind me, a very long time, a very very very long time. My nervousness was reaching a peak and my air conditioning was working overtime trying to keep my car cool. Was the sweat dripping down my face from nervousness or heat, or a combination of both.

The trooper exited his vehicle and approached mine with both hands on his hips, with more swagger than a policeman in a Clint Eastwood movie. There were no witnesses out here in the panhandle. Was I going to be beaten? Were drugs going to be planted in my car? I thought for sure I was going to jail.

It seemed like everything was moving in slow motion. Maybe it was just the heat waves shimmering on the blacktop. The officer approached my car. The swagger had left his hips and risen to his voice.

“Ya know what I pulled you over for partner,” he drawled.

“No sir, I have no idea,” I answered.

“Ya was drivin’ in my blind spot back there. If I hadda needed to pull over to the lef’ lane, I mighta hit ya.”

“I’m sorry sir, I didn’t realize that,” I answered.

Here’s what I really wanted to say…

“You idiot. You were tailgating me, then you pulled in front of me causing me to tailgate you. I moved to the left so I wouldn’t be tailgating anymore. Why were you doing that when we have all this highway open?”

Fortunately I held my tongue and didn’t say anything. Remember, this was the panhandle and there were no witnesses. It was not my day to become vulture food. I can see the newspaper report now…

Colorado man found eaten by vultures on the side of the road in the Texas panhandle. The foreigner had no idea when he stopped to pee that he should have had a shotgun in one hand while taking care of business here in the panhandle. Outsiders beware! We don’t tolerate disrespect for the law in these parts.

The officer returned my paperwork and instructed me to have a good day.

Have a good day?

Have a good day?

For the rest of the summer, I drove about 5 miles under the limit through that entire section of my commute to college.

Maybe I’m being too rough on this trooper. With the exception of the occasional road kill and once every decade when a truck filled with cocaine was discovered, there wasn’t much happening in his part of the world. I drove this section of road twice a week for three summers, for a total of about 24 times. He drove it EVERY DAY!

He could have just stopped me, told me he was lonely and then we could have driven to the next small town and chatted over bad coffee and tasty tacos at the local diner. He could have shared about his dream to become a Texas Ranger and how he ended up in the Texas panhandle. I would have listened. I love Texas Rangers, especially Walker, Texas Ranger.

The Day I Stole my Mom’s Identity

In 2016, my mom suffered a debilitating stroke. I was the one tasked with handling her affairs. I sold her condo, packed away many of her things and found a place where she would live after her rehab. It was a daunting and exhausting task!

Little tasks that should have been simple and easy to handle became complex because of how afraid people are. For example, I called to cancel my mom’s cable tv subscription. Here is how the conversation went…

CC=Cable company . ME=me, good-looking Italian boy

(20 minutes on hold)
(finally!)
CC: Hi, Always Broken cable company…how may I help?

ME: Hi, this is James Divine. I’m handling my mom’s affairs. She recently had a stroke, has moved out of her condo, and now I need to cancel her cable service.

CC: Can you please give me her name, last 20 addresses, as well as the date when she sacrificed her firstborn?

ME: Sure, here it is
(3,200 account numbers and birthdates later)

CC: I’m sorry, we will need to speak directly to her. You are not authorized on her account to make changes.

ME: I realize that, but she almost died and is in rehab. She’s not well enough to talk.
(at this point I’m starting to get frustrated….there are 100 more urgent things I need to get done for my mom)

CC: I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.

ME: Can I speak to your manager please?

CC: I’m sorry, we don’t have a manager. I’m located remotely on an ice cap near the south pole, in exile and forced to work a job I hate, but it pays the bills.

ME: Surely you have faced this situation before and have a procedure to deal with it.

CC: I’m sorry, I’m not able to help you with your request. Would you like to be transferred to our north pole office?

ME: No thanks. I’d rather eat a plate of raw maggots then listen to more on hold music.

CC: Would you like me to transfer you to our maggot department?

ME: I thought that’s who I was talking to.

I hung up the phone. I was really frustrated. Since I was also handling her bills, I thought “Maybe I just won’t pay the bill” but I knew in the long term that would end up hurting my mom. I decided to try a different approach…

(20 minutes on hold)
(finally!)
CC: Hi, Always Broken cable company…how may I help?

ME: Hi, I’d like to cancel my cable service.

CC: Can you please give me your name, last 20 addresses, as well as the date when you sacrificed each of your children?

ME: Sure, my name is Rita and the account info you need is 1846dhfdku467253745be759403934565h3nyru5u5rhfyuj4m4neuemtn5ueiuwju666

CC: Is this really Rita?

ME: Yes.

CC: Sorry you will be leaving us. Thank you. I have closed your account.

I didn’t disguise my voice or anything! It was so easy that it was a little scary. I think the reason it worked is that I had the secret number…  1846dhfdku467253745be759403934565h3nyru5u5rhfyuj4m4neuemtn5ueiuwju666

I don’t recommend stealing your mom’s identity, but drastic circumstance call for drastic measures. As soon as I post this article, I will be moving. I expect the FBI to knock down my door at any moment.

***James is a teacher, musician, speaker and author in Colorado Springs. He wrote the book A Stroke of Bad Luck: A Survival Guide for When Someone You Know has a Stroke. Purchase it immediately on amazon:

It was recommended that we abort one of our kids

We received the news of all of our kids arrivals with joy and anticipation. Children are a gift from God.

With one of our children, the doctor was a little concerned with some things he saw on our required test results. We were told that there was a good chance the baby would be born with one or more physical handicaps. It was recommended that we abort.

My wife and I believe in the worth of every human – even those unborn. This was not an option we were willing to consider. It did cause great consternation on our part. How could we handle this? What were we to expect? Where could we go for help? We knew that our love for our child would go a long way. We prepared for the worst and prayed for the best.

Our third child was born in 1995 completely healthy and normal! He did have one tiny scar on his little tummy. We like to think that is where God performed surgery.

Tests are never 100% accurate. And even if they were, how can we be the ones to decide whether a child should live or die? That “recommended abortion” is now a grown man. I can’t imagine life without him. He has a purpose. He has a calling.

I Was a 7th Grade Bully

Throughout my childhood, I was often picked on and bullied. I was somewhat of a momma’s boy. I was not close to my father. I had a high emotional IQ and cried easily…the men in my life pounded into me (sometimes literally) that men don’t cry.

One day in 7th grade things turned around…

Red headed Patrick – tall and mean and someone who had bullied me all school year – pursued me into the hallway of the apartment building where my family lived. As he grabbed me and tormented me with his words and shoves, something in me snapped. I was sick and tired of the years of unrelenting bullying. I was done with being picked on. I detested the feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach.

I grabbed Patrick’s shirt and shoved him forcefully against the wall.

Patrick’s demeanor changed…

“Whoa James…calm down…I was only joking, “ he proclaimed.

“Yeah, right. Only joking for the last SIX-MONTHS, “ is what I thought to myself.

I let Patrick go. He told everyone at school that I beat him up. I had never laid a fist on him (besides the shirt grabbing). Patrick’s actions caused me to have a revelation…I was a big guy…I had size to my advantage…I didn’t need to let bullies torment me anymore.

Unfortunately I became a bully. I felt powerful. I felt strong. I liked this feeling.

I chose Bill Gates as my first victim. It wasn’t the real Bill Gates, but imagine what a 7th grade Bill Gates might look like. Spectacles. Skinny. High water pants. Future billionaire. I don’t remember this poor guy’s name, but we’ll call him “Bill.”

Every time I saw Bill, I tormented him. I spoke harshly to him. I acted like I was going to hit him (but I never did). Most of the time he bolted as soon as he saw me.

After a few months of this, I felt terrible! This was not who I was! I was a kind person. I had been through a lot in my short life, but was that reason for me to bully? I remembered how much I hated it when I was picked on. Why was I doing the same thing to others? I decided to quit.

One day shortly after this I saw Bill at the bus stop. Bill took off as fast as his skinny legs allowed. I started running after him! He ran faster. I ran faster. He ran even faster. I ran even faster.

What a sight it must have been, especially when I called out to him…

“Wait, wait. I want to be your friend.”

Amazingly he stopped running! Poor Bill. What would you think if you were being chased by a bully now saying he wants to be your friend?

I apologized. He accepted.

From that moment forward, when someone attempted to take advantage of Bill, I was there by his side using my newly discovered size to help him. It was my penance.

I became a bully because I enjoyed that feeling of power, but using physical size over others is just plain wrong! I’m glad it was just a 3-month portion of my life. My bullying days were over.

And the Bill I bullied?…he’s probably making millions leading a tech company he founded.

Get A First Down

In an interview of Lou Holtz – famous college football coach and analyst – he was asked what type of goals did he inspire his award winning teams to achieve. Was it to win the game? Score a certain number of touchdowns? Block passes?

No.

Lou instructed his teams to “Get a first down.” If you can continue to get first downs, you will win the game! The first down is the smallest component of goal setting in football.

In our own lives, we need to “Get a first down.”

Want to write a book…write the first paragraph.

Music teachers need to…Get that first chord in tune.

Want to lose weight…Put that chocolate down.

Family time important…Schedule an evening just for family.

What can you do to “Get A First Down” today?

The First (and only) Time I Picked up a Prostitute

The first (and only) time i picked up a prostitute

It was October of 2000, one of those rare, grey drizzly days we sometimes get in Colorado. I was on Nevada Avenue – the main drag through downtown Colorado Springs –  when I saw her. I pulled my van to the side of the road and picked her up.

Flashback to earlier that week…

It was my third year of teaching band at The Colorado Springs School. I had found my true calling as a teacher. Not only do I teach music, but I teach life. Emotional connections were made with students and their families. The mom of one of my students – I’ll call the student April – had passed away unexpectedly. Now April would be without a mom. Now April’s dad would be a widower. It was such a sad time for that family and the entire school community.

The viewing was on that cold drizzly day. At the viewing, we – faculty, students and other families from The Colorado Springs School – came together around April’s family like extended family. We were sharing stories about April, about her dad and about her mom. I could feel the presence of God strongly in the viewing room. I left and hopped in my van.

As I was heading down Nevada Ave., I saw a short, hunched over, dressed-in-rags woman in the drizzly rain. She wasn’t much to look at, maybe in her 30s but she had the look of someone who had a rough life and looked more to be in her 50s.  She had her thumb stuck out to hitchhike. I don’t usually pick up hitchhikers and don’t recommend it to you, but as I approached her, I distinctly felt God was telling me to pick her up.

It wasn’t an audible voice…

“James….pick this lady up.”

It was more of a voice within my spirit.

I obeyed the voice and stopped to pick her up. She told me she was headed to work and mentioned a location about two miles away. As we were headed there, we made some small talk. I asked her “Where do you work?” She hesitated, squirmed a little, and then answered, “I’m working the streets.”

By now, we were at her destination. I looked at her and said, “Honey, I think God has something better for you than that.” Tears began to flow down her face as she exited my van and shut the door. Tears streamed down my face as I realized that God had put me in that spot, that moment, that day to minister to a sheep that had strayed from the fold. God’s compassion on her flowed through me and my words to touch her spirit.

I wish I knew what happened to this lady. I wish I could say she left that life, went to college and became successful, helping others who had been through what she had, but that was the last time I saw her. I do know that I was supposed to pick her up and tell her God had something better for her. 

When you hear that small voice telling your spirit something, do what it says.

James Divine is a teacher, speaker, author, and musician. He is learning to hear that still, small voice more each day. This story was excerpted from The Saxophone Diaries: Stories and tips from my 30+ years in music. Get your copy at the store at www.jamesdivine.net or on amazon.

The 5 Band Directors You Meet In Heaven

When I first started teaching band in 1998, I was VERY isolated. I didn’t even know very many band directors in my local area. I was only part time, showing up on campus right before my 1st class and leaving right after my 2nd class…I had kids to pick up from daycare. Most of my music contacts were in the performance sector.

By 2000, my third year of teaching, I became full time. As I participated in events like solo and ensemble and all-city band, I got to know many of the directors. But my kids were still small. This was a time when I needed a mentor the most but when I had one the least.

In 2005, I moved to a suburban high school. In some ways it was like starting over. At the local events, it was a different group of directors. But they seemed to have one thing in common…they all seemed old to me (maybe older is a better word).

Fast forward to now…

When I look around at band director gatherings now, I am one of the oldest. How did I get here? Are people looking up to me like I looked up to others? I’m just realizing how little I know!

I have the opportunity to mentor and encourage others now. One of the ways I do that is through my podcast for music teachers.  As I reflect on 5 decades of life and over two decades in teaching – I fondly recall some of my greatest mentors and what made them great.

The 5 Band Directors You Meet In Heaven

 Ed Cannava

 I first had the chance to meet Ed in 2000 at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, where he brought his Dry Creek Dixie Dawgs to perform. I was performing with the Rough Riders Dixieland Band. We did a few selections with Ed’s group and was able to mentor and encourage them. At the same time I found a teaching colleague who became a mentor and a friend.

I was immediately impressed with Ed, first with the quality of his student performing groups and then with Ed the person. He is humble, works hard and willing to give a listening ear to a young director needing advice. Even now, every time I speak with Ed, I walk away feeling like I’m a better teacher and person. Ed offers advice and encouragement, and he does it in a way that doesn’t allow you to rest on past accomplishments. One must always strive to the next level.

The great thing about Ed is that he realizes it’s a journey. Every band program is different, and although sometimes he has disagreed, he has been able to see why I might do things differently. We share an Italian heritage and a love for emotional – not just technical – conducting. The best conductors I know are at least part Italian.

During trying times at school, Ed offered a ton of encouragement. It helped me make the decision to stay. Longevity is a huge factor in developing a great program. Although it’s not the only factor, it is one we often miss the importance of. Ed had been at his school for over 20 years. Although he is retired, he is still active in many areas of music.

Dale Crockett

 I have only gotten to know Dale in the last 8 years or so, and more closely in the last 3-4, but I remember hearing his name as early as 1993, when I was still in the Army band at Fort Carson.

Dale is the most down to earth, humble person I know. Sometimes at local music meetings, you can see someone’s ego attached to their shoulder, like a little elf. Why would someone want to carry that dead weight around all the time? Dale carries no such weight. He stands tall – literally – and you can see he is proud of his students and proud of his work, but it’s the pride in a job well done, not due to ego.

Although Dale is “retired”, he still works “half-time” at a 5A school where he is the only band teacher. I would venture to say that it’s a full time job with half time pay, especially during marching season. It’s obvious when talking to Dale that he loves his students and that he loves his fellow directors. He is always willing to take time for a cup of coffee to talk shop or just talk about life. Did you know Dale has been a pastor at various times in his life? Ask him about it, and about his faith.

Joe Brice

 Many of you know him as the guy who heads up the Regional Concert Band Festival in Colorado. The festival is always well organized and smooth running with great clinicians and adjudicators. This is because Joe takes pride in his work. His wife Carol is often with him at music events. She is like a mom to so many of us. She does a lot of the behind the scenes work too. She greets everyone with a hug. This is more important than you might realize.

I got to know Joe through a mentorship program that one of the music programs in our state was offering…free mentors to come and work with your band. Did I mention they were free? Many directors do not take the organization up on this offer.

Joe was at my school for a clinic. He mentioned the fact that I did not have a tuba player in that particular group. I replied with “I just don’t have anyone playing tuba.” He wouldn’t let me fall back on that. He said, “Have you asked anyone?” I admitted that I hadn’t. The next week in class I asked for volunteers who were interested in learning tuba. I immediately got several people who wanted to try. This has also worked in my current middle school!

An interesting bit of trivia… Joe was Ed’s mentor, who became my mentor. I in turn am mentoring people too. What you do today has an effect for many generations!

Orlando Otis

 You’ll never meet someone as hard working and dedicated as Orlando, yet he is down to earth, friendly and humble. Orlando has achieved success in his program, yet he still finds time to give a word of encouragement and support to those who need it. He also puts on a terrific jazz and marching festival. His booster parents know how to take care of directors.

Orlando and I are in a competition for best-looking band director and band that has the most fun. I definitely have him beat on the former, but he is a very close second on the latter.

When I was a “new” band director, new to high school but I really had been teaching for 7 years and was approaching age 40, I brought my jazz band to his festival. My drummer didn’t make it to the bus that morning. This drummer was hot (I’m lying, he just thought he was hot). Orlando’s son filled in for us and did 3x better than our regular drummer. It was an eye opener for the jazz band. They could see where the band could go if we had a great drummer instead of just one who was ok. That drummer didn’t last to the next semester, but the memories of the jazz band did.

Jess Girardi

 Anyone who has taught in Colorado for any length of time knows Jess Girardi. He retired from Englewood HS, where he had a very successful program. Jess has remained active well into retirement encouraging young directors and teaching adjudication sessions. If you sit down with him in conversation for 10 minutes, you feel like you walk away with an encyclopedia’s worth of information. He’s smart, likable, friendly, and lends a listening ear, plus he’s Italian.

Jess has a quiet faith that is important to him. I believe it guides him and makes him the person he is. There is no guile in Jess. What you see is what you get.

Hosea Haynes

 When Hosea finally “retired”, he had 40+ years teaching experience. The only reason he retired is that he found out at a retirement workshop that he was working for just 10% of his pay (with retirement he earned almost 90% of his salary). He retired, but continued to substitute the maximum number of days he was allowed to and also worked for Meeker Music. He earned more in retirement than he did working full time.

Hosea became a mentor and then a friend. I had been teaching for 6 years at a private school. I had no teaching license. I began a program that allowed me to earn my license. I needed to find a band teacher with a master’s degree who would mentor me. Ken at Meeker Music suggested Hosea, and that started our friendship.

Hosea met with me for more than the required amounts of time mandated by the college. I know he wasn’t paid much, but he didn’t do it for the money anyway. When the year through the college was over, we continued to meet regularly. Hosea always had advice and encouragement for me. He always had a positive attitude. Illness took him from this earth much too soon, so that’s why he is number 6 on this list of 5 directors. Hosea has already preceded us to heaven and is conducting the community band that will welcome the rest of us.

No out of tune players

Instruments work perfectly all the time

Reeds never squeak

Valves never break

There are no poor attitudes

Tuba players move in all the time

I’m looking forward to sitting in the sax section (wait, are there saxes in heaven).

Find a mentor TODAY!

***James is a band and orchestra teacher at a Title 1 middle school.  He is the author of Forgive: One man’s story of being molested, and 40 Ways to Make Money as a Musician. He hosts The Music Ed Podcast. James also is a motivational youth speaker sharing a message of “Your Past Doesn’t Define Your Future.”  Find out more about James at www.jamesdivine.net.

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