Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Part 1

Saturday night, we celebrated the holidays with my mom's side of the family.  For the past several years, we have all gotten together a week (ish) before Christmas.  Everyone shares some food - salad, wine, entree, etc... and we all plop a squat in the living room enjoying each other's company.  We pick names for gifts so everyone gives and exchanges one present.  LOVE this idea - makes things simple.  :)  Usually, I get suckered into playing Christmas music on the piano for a while and then inevitably, all children under 5 want to play the piano also.  My cousin has 4 adorable children, so they are usually doing something entertaining. It's a nice time to catch up and hear about new (and old) things in people's lives.  We chit chat about everything from work to politics to life changes to college to ... anything and everything!  I love my family and we are so blessed that they all live nearby.  Here are some pictures from the evening! 

My beautiful mother :)

family christmas card picture ... for this year

take 2

first christmas with the love of my life!  (well, almost christmas)

Little Jessica - almost 2 years old

Cousin Rebecca and her boyfriend, Nick

Jordyn and I - she is the sweetest 2nd grader I know

Jordyn's Safta (hebrew word for Grandma) got her a pretty necklace and lipgloss... she's getting so old!

Ben excited about his 2 year subscription to National Affairs  (very interesting journal!  check out their online articles)

My mom loved this scarf...

but wasn't sure how to put it on... epitome of politically INcorrect

tasty dessert success!

Ben teaching Brody pool.  No nonsense allowed either. 

Easy to see why children are precious to Jesus. 
 What is your family doing to celebrate Christmas?  (we have 2 or 3 more celebrations to come - can't wait to share them with you!)

Let the celebrations begin,
- Ren

You have what you say

I've learned a lot of things from my dad over the years.  One of them is that the Bible has many principles in it that God has established and they're working whether or not you believe in the Bible.  One thing that God has established in this world is "You have what you say."  (Mark 11:23-24)  The reason this verse works is because most people believe what they're saying when they say it, without even thinking about it really. 
Honestly, I used to think it was weird that my dad applied truth from God's Word to every little thing in life.  Now, I see that his faith is real.  His faith isn't sunday-only-faith, or believe-what-i-want-when-i-want-faith, but rather faith that lives out God's will in his every day life and TRULY believes all of what God says.  The kind of faith God commands us to have.  Hebrews 11:1 says "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."  If you are sure something is going to happen, your certainty isn't based on faith, it's based on knowledge.  The pastor of the church I grew up in defined faith as "believing in the Word of God and acting upon it, regardless of how I feel, knowing that God promises a good result." 

Back to the principle - you have what you say.  Lots of people are experiencing something in their life - big or small - that is a result of their speech.  I used to say "I'm so stressed" a lot.  a LOT.  (side note: I was one of those people that thought it was somehow impressive to always be stressed or busy, so when people would ask how I was I might respond, "good, but I'm so stressed." or "good, but I'm so busy."  Thank GOD I learned to stop doing that.  Listen for this in conversations you have with people - it's amazing how many people brag about their busy-ness.)  Anyway, guess what. I WAS stressed.   I chose stress and I felt stress because I said it a lot.  Not once or twice.  A lot.  Another example, think about someone you know who might be experiencing depression.  I am not minimizing the real emotional state that people experience, especially when they don't have the resources to deal with a devastating circumstance or a chemical imbalance...  but does this person you know often say (to themselves or others) "I'm so depressed."  Definitely not helping their situation.  My dad said that when I was 2, everyone would tell him, "oh no!  watch out- terrible twos" (or something along those lines).  He knew they were just joking, going along with popluar cultural phrase to make conversation, but he would respond "no. she's great. we call them the terrific twos."  And sure enough, I guess my two year old phase was great.

A small thing that my longest friends might find humorous.  I used to drop my phone a lot.  Again, not once or twice, but a lot.  I also said "I drop my phone all the time" all the time.  I would tell all sorts of people that.  I remember my dad saying... well, you have what you say.  So I decided I was going to stop saying that. and guess what? I haven't dropped my phone in a long time. 

This is one of those principles that is working for or against you whether or not you believe God's Word.  Try it.  Pick something you say that is negative.  Replace it with the positive alternative.  See if it impacts you over a period of time.  It could be big or small.  Maybe a family member that you always speak negatively about is living up to your negative expectations.  Maybe a 2-year-old to call "terrific" instead of "terrible."  Maybe you talk about how nervous or anxious you feel a lot. 

What speech are you going to change?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Beginning Singers...

Teaching beginning singers is hard.  They teach you a lot of ridiculous things in music education programs (like every nursery rhyme you could ever imagine, and oh yeah, i learned to play the tuba. great.), but I did not truly learn the ins and outs of teaching beginning singers.  What do you mean by beginning? you ask... oh, well think can't match the note, don't want to match the note, but want to sing like Trey Songz.  Beginning like, too tired to try on Mondays (because it's Monday), Wednesday (because it's... wednesday.) and Fridays because well who does work on Fridays?!  Beginning like, won't sing "high" if they think it's "high" and talk-sing instead of sing-sing the low notes.  However, the first time we sang a warm-up that sounded semi-decent (everyone almost singing the same note while i played pretty background music on the piano), they were so excited.  That's when it's fun.
Anyway, another challenging thing about teaching beginning singers, many of whom don't really want to learn how to sing (but, like I mentioned, want to be the next Beyonce) is deciding what music to sing.  Initially, most students in my classes generally hate everything. "Ugh Ms Cook this song is so dry.  Ugh why we gotta learn this" (I hear that a lot.. even if I bring in a song they suggest.)  I mean, let's be honest. Who has ever seen a group of beginning singers (think Junior high or high school choir concert) and thought, wow I  love that song.  Yeah, exactly.  One bonus about teaching at my school is the kids love gospel choir music.  And most want to sing it like they hear at church.  (Ms Cook, that's my song! I hear that a lot too...)  What they don't realize when they want to sing "that one kirk franklin song" is that there are10 professional singers recording multiple times over each other so that they end up with a choir singing 6 different voice parts.  Not to mention the added benefits of a recording studio.  I mean, we can barely have everyone singing the same note for more than 3 beats, so I think Kirk's newest hit is a little out of our reach.

Then, even when I do bring in a song like "Oh Happy Day" (highly requested), they all only want to sing the melody, get angry when the altos have to sing the harmony, and even angrier when it doesn't sound like Sister Act. haha

Haha sometimes, my students are hilarious.  Actually, they are often hilarious.

Now, I explain all this teaching beginners on here, but I really try my best not to be one of those teachers who is like, "I know more than you and you don't get it so too bad."  (Although at times my patience is tested.)

Okay, so the real point of this post (after that long exposition on beginning singers) is that we started singing "seasons of love" from Rent.  They all associated it with the Macy's commercial, so they enjoyed learning it.  It's a work in progress.  For a change of pace, I decided to show the movie these last few days before Winter Break.

Call me crazy, but I think movies can be really valuable if they're watched right - unfortunately, most movies in school are "free days" i.e. do whatever you want because the teacher doesn't feel like teaching.  So, yes, I'm one of those obnoxious teachers that gave a background of the movie and musical (we're talking brief, like 5 minutes brief... because in a movie like Rent, where so much of the dialogue is in song, it's important for them to have a background of 1989 new york bohemian life style to understand the major conflicts.) and a short worksheet with basic questions, along with a couple questions that require you to think.  I don't let them talk, they earn participation points for watching, and they may not leave, do other homework, text, or sleep.  Yeah, it's pretty intense in room 151. 

I explained to them it's a musical, actually more like an opera - barely any dialogue, yet the entire first class period we watched it, they all sighed every time the characters started singing.  Ugh, Ms. Cook why they singing again? Ugh.   However, I was very insistent that they pay attention.  We paused once per class to talk about what was happening and who was who and today, the 3rd day we've been watching it, 3 out of the 4 classes were eagerly watching to see what happened next.  They were asking good questions about the characters and realizing deeper thematic elements throughout the scenes.  It was really fun!

Happy to be a music teacher,
Mrs. Cook

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Anger Management

I have a student, let's call him Joe, who is... unique.  Joe has a very distinct voice- slightly nasal, loud... piercing actually.  Joe also makes a scene when he enters a room.  Whether it's loud walking, dramatic backpack dropping, extreme sighs, singing... you just never know.  Joe also has a physical disability.  I don't know what it's called, but it effects his writing because his arms are shorter than would be proportional and he has less than 5 fingers on each hand.  He's obviously learned to adapt well, in my opinion, when it comes to this part of his life.  However, he has also been labeled as having a learning disability, according to his IEP (individualized educational plan, for my non-teacher friends out there).  I'm not sure whether Joe is actually "learning disabled," to be honest.  But that's kinda besides the point because he's been treated as learning disabled and allowed to slack off, so he does.  Reinforcing the cycle.  Anyway... back to the point.  So, Joe.  Joe has good days and bad days in choir.  He can be really enthusiastic.  He seems to enjoy being the center of attention (who doesn't, though?)  He likes singing (although the distinct voice makes for an interesting choir sound).  He can be as negative as he can be positive.  With the flip of a switch, or one too many rude jokes from an ignorant peer, Joe will lose it.  (Side note - I've noticed a culture of needing to have the last word among my students.  It's extremely irritating.  More on this another time.)  I talk to Joe a lot one - on - one.  He drops his stuff off in my room 7th period (my prep) while he eats lunch, to return for class 8th period.  He occasionally pops by to say hi or I see him in the halls.  I talk to him after class sometimes to discuss how the class went that day.  Joe is VERY aware of his behavior.  He'll say things like, "Ms Cook I had a bad day in math and I was angry and I know I was taking it out on you in choir and that aint right."  For someone who can act so immature, he is much more aware of his thoughts and behavior than other students I have.

As a personal policy, I try really hard not to write students up.  It sends them out of my authority, almost as if to say "I can't handle you... they'll deal with it."  I pretty much don't go there, except for the non-negotiables in school policy (refusing to submit cell phone upon teacher request or cursing someone out, etc...).  I've only written a couple students up this year so far.  Success.  But the other day, Joe was so out of line, I had to write him up.  Kinda.  I talked to him after class back and forth and explained that while I try to be patient, I will not tolerate disrespect.  We discussed that no matter how disrespectful students are to me or each other, I never disrespect them (more on that another time).  Anyway, Joe was not happy about this write up, but I was frustrated and felt like I was out of options.

After Joe left and I had silence to myself (rare at school - or in life really), I realized I might have acted emotionally.  I try not to do this with students, but I do.  The problem was - if you threaten, you have to stand by it... right?  This is my theory... 99% of the time.  However, I'm not perfect.  So, what a dilemma.  I was starting to wish I hadn't told Joe I was writing him up.  I was replaying the scenario over and over in my head.  I decided to just put the writeup in the trash.  Was this the right choice? I don't know.  The next day, Joe was silent.  Didn't sing.  Didn't talk.  Didn't make scenes.  Just sat there.  (moping, immature, sulking, yes.)  The following day, Joe was back to normal, enthusiastic Joe but not disruptive.  I saw this glimpse of a student that I see like twice a week (that I try to constantly reward and give positive attention to).  I don't know if he assumed I didn't send the write up in.  Or if he thought I forgot.  Or if he forgot.  I really have no idea.  I still don't know if I did the right thing either.

Today, Joe was a little nutso but not off the charts.  I could tell this other student was bothering him and so after class I asked him about it.  We talked about how some people just say things to get a reaction (which is why I "wait" for silence instead of reacting or yelling... more on that later).  At the end of our conversation, he asked me if I thought he should take an anger management class.  He asked it quietly, like a secret, even though there was no one else in the room.  This student, who can drive me absolutely up a wall (though I try to never let on), who is a complete psycho on unpredictable days of the week, who is a ridiculous jokester, who can be hilarious, who writes with 3 fingers and tells it like it is... this kid asked me for serious advice.  He really wanted to know what I thought.  And he wanted help.  Teacher moment? yes.  I went on to point him to Jesus (he said he was a Christian) and we talked about controlling reactions, reacting emotionally, strategies, etc...  We concluded an anger management class might help with strategies for reacting to negative situations and that a faith-based class would be the best.

Sometimes I miss the little ones.  I miss their cute questions and funny stories.   I miss their weird presents and pictures.  But when I get to have a real conversation with a teenager who needs help in life and I can point him to Jesus... in a public school... then, yes. I love working with the occasionally psycho, sometimes brilliant, and unpredictable adolescents. 

A teacher in the making...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

God's Word

The Word of God...
  • Is eternal - "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of God endures forever." - Isa. 40:8
  • Is powerful - "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" - Heb 4:12 
  • Guides us - "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." - Psalm 119:105
  • Refreshes us - "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul" -Psalm 19:7
  • Corrects us - "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." - 2 Timothy 3:16
  • Leads us to Jesus - "The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." - Hebrews 1:3
This list could go on and on.  Take a minute to meditate on the following passage about God's Word:

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:1-14)

Wait a minute?  Is that pronoun right?  He, the Word?  Yes.  He, the Word.  The Word of God became flesh...  Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ fulfills every prophecy made about him hundreds of years before He walked on the earth.  Jesus Christ IS God's Word in human form.  He became like us (Philippians 2) born in a manger (Luke 2), over 2000 years ago, forever to change history.

Ask God for a supernatural revelation of his Word to you personally in this Christmas season.  His Word is LIVING, so no matter how many times you've read that passage, it can come alive to teach you in a fresh, new way.  

Resting in the peace God's Word provides,

Friday, December 3, 2010

5 months

Today is the 5 month-iversary for Ben and I :)


5 months ago to the day, we committed our love and faithfulness to one another...

This was one passage we had read at our wedding (Colossians 3:12-17)
 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

We have by no means perfected all that (good thing we have a lifetime together), but we are walking through life side by side now.  

5 months down, a life time to go.   

Celebrating the best 5 months of my life,

Mixture of Emotions

I'm currently experiencing a mixture of emotions that are all over the place.  I think they're canceling one another out to equal blah.

I spent the day at a Professional Development. Throughout the fall, public school districts hold professional development days (or teacher institute, staff development, whatever) to "professionally develop" the teachers while the students are at home sleeping or playing video games or the like.  Thankfully, our administration tries to keep the meetings short and the preparation time long... meaning lots of time to plan, prepare for students, collaborate, etc...  Today, however, was one of those all-day-meetings.  No complaints though. From what I've heard and seen, we have it pretty lucky when it comes to these days (where I work anyway...)

Maybe you're wondering... "Emotions from professional development?"

We spent the last hour of the day discussing ACT scores.  Now, since I teach music, I'm a little out of the loop when it comes to certain things in the building.  However, all juniors in the state of Illinois recently took a practice ACT.  They take it in the fall and we get their results around this time of year so that they have a few months to improve their scores before the official school-wide test in April.  There are several times they can take the test throughout the year, but the school administers the test for free in April to all junior level students. 

For those of you who have been out of high school for a while, the ACT is scored out of 36 - a composite score that is made up of an English, Math, Science, and Reading tests as well as a written portion.  This is one of 2 main tests used on college applications, the other standardized test being the SAT.  Colleges generally accept a score from one or the other, and the ACT is the more common test midwest area schools use.

The average score at the high school from which I graduated is 24.6 (2009-2010 junior class).
The average score at the high school where I currently teach is 16.1 (2009-2010 junior class).

I learned a lot during our P.D. today.  The students who teachers think are the "top students" in our school - students who take AP and honors classes, students who are over achievers in every area, students who have good attendance and 3.8 GPAs (for better or worse, I was one of these kids in high school...) they are scoring between 16 and 19 on average.  The highest score in the building last year was a 26.  In case your math is fuzzy, that's less than 2 points above the AVERAGE score at Prospect  High School in Mount Prospect, IL.  (where there are always a couple kids who score the test perfectly each year.)  Granted, Prospect is higher than the state average and it's a very good high school.  (The average composite score for the state of IL is 20.4.) 

But, what I was so hung up on was these "honors kids."  These top kids.  These kids who teachers in my school give A's to.  Supposedly they are learning... Why aren't they scoring better?  I know not everyone is a test-taker.  But at least one out of those 400 kids has to be a "test taker."  And many of them sat through 10 Saturdays of ACT prep class. 

There are all sorts of theories.  Teachers blame the tests.  The test writers blame the teachers. The kids blame themselves.  Everyone points fingers.  And there probably isn't just one reason for the gap. 

I'm not so concerned however about the gap between the kids I grew up with and the kids I teach.  I'm concerned about the kids I teach. Period.  The kids I teach are smart.  they are intelligent.  They enjoy learning.  (Side note - you should see the look on some people's face when I tell them that in person... and rightfully so.  With all the horror stories the media presents about Chicago's terrible south side schools, it's no wonder that someone I was with before I started working at Simeon literally called the kids there "animals," not that he knew any of them personally. That was just his educated assumption...) 

Anyway, a lot of the kids I teach are lacking skills, but not because they don't want them.  This is a major generalization, and mostly just me randomly processing my thoughts... but they don't know how.  They don't know how to learn.  They don't know how to comprehend.  They don't know how to "BS" a well written essay.  They don't know the language of the questions.  They just don't know.  and yet we're giving them A's in school.  Passing them through.  this is a  HUGE problem.

so, for the emotions...

Astounded - at the low scores.  In fact, the lowest composite score in our building was a 10.  Several students scored at a 10.  That is lower than the score you would receive (according to the stats) if you randomly guessed on every question throughout the test.

Frustrated - at the gap. 

Confused - what to do?  How do we move the scores?  Especially the scores of the students who are bright, creative thinkers.

Encouraged - I really like the administration at our school.  He has a whatever-it-takes attitude.  Tell them truth lovingly... your score is not competitive for good state schools.  If you want to go to _______ for college, we need to work hard to raise that score.  They are looking a positive school-wide strategies for raising the scores of the kids and they are taking lots of teacher input.

Irritated -  by teachers who don't take any responsibility for their teaching and blame everything bad on the kids.  Oh wait, but all the positives are the teacher's doing...

Hopeful - Simeon is on the right track.  These students have the ability.  This is not a hell hole or a drop-out factory.  These kids are bright, creative, intelligent, and have lots of potential  (especially the new freshmen class). 

Intrigued - Teaching music, I don't think a lot about ACT scores.  But it's changing my outlook - given the freedom in my curriculum (um, I don't have any standards or assigned teaching curriculum goals), what can I do in my classroom to help prepare these kids for college?

Confident - the Lord brought me to Simeon for a reason.  He has given me a supernatural love for these students and I will seek His guidance and wisdom about this job. 

Thankful - for the education I received and for the Lord's goodness in my life.

So, what about you?  Do you read about education in the news?  Ideas for raising the scores?  Ideas about the roots of the gap?  I'm interested to know what people think...

A local teacher who is refusing to get caught up in the mumbo-jumbo of protests and teachers unions, but rather work at my teaching practices to best educate the students,

Messiah 3 and 4

The 3rd and 4th songs in Handel's Messiah are straight from Isaiah 40:4-5

"Every valley shall be raised up,
   every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
   the rugged places a plain. 
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
   and all people will see it together.  
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” 

Jesus is a life-changer. He alters things.  Eternity changed when the glory of our Lord was revealed in Jesus Christ, God's Word incarnate.  God has a way of doing things that we might perceive as "backwards," but then again whose perception should we assume is right? ours or the Creator of the Universe's?  (Sadly many people would answer that question "ours."  But, narrow is the gate...) 
The valleys raised up, the mountains made low.  Backwards
Love your enemies.  Backwards
Forgive those who wrong you infinite number of times. Backwards.

It's as if Isaiah was shouting - Get ready because Jesus is coming and he will turn your world upside down.  Prepare. Prepare. Don't miss this one. 

What a relevant message for us in this present day.  It hits me in two ways.

1.) Do I have a supernatural revelation of Jesus Christ that is personal to me?  Does it truly personally effect me that Jesus came to earth to live a perfect life.  That my Savior and Redeemer was born in a manger.  That Christmas (as much as I love lights, trees, sparkles, red and green wrapping, and presents) is actually about the King of the World.  Am I ready to approach this season?
2.) Am I preparing for his return?  Get Ready.  He's coming back. The prophecies throughout the old and new testaments ring true - Jesus is returning in glory beyond our wildest imagination.  Is my heart ready?  What will I be doing?  Will He say, "well done my good and faithful servant?"  Because "the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all the people will see it together" whether they believe it or not. whether we're ready or not.  

Handel's Messiah puts this text beautifully to music, but more important than the music is the scripture's implicit question... are we ready?