The Loss of a Student: A Music Teacher's Perspective

     This has been the hardest blog for me to write.  Somehow I feel my words will fall short of what I really want to say.  Honestly, I was hoping I would never have to even think about one of my students dying, but October 14, 2016 changed my life forever.  First, a little background . . . .
     I have been teaching in my small-town school district for 11 years--that means EVERY student who attends the elementary is stuck with me for at least 6 years :)  And, since I teach K-12, some of them choose to journey on with me even longer (which I consider to be a great honor).  This October marks the first time I have lost one of those precious students--and it turned my world upside down.
Kennedy Raye Tennant was a beautiful and lively girl who I had the privilege of teaching for 7 years (I hate that I have to use past-tense verbs--it's so wrong).  On the morning of October 14, she was killed in a car accident on the way to school.  Her older brother and sister were also in the accident, and though their injuries were serious, are on the road to recovery.  I'm very thankful for that, since both of them were former students of mine as well! 
     I teach my mornings at the elementary and then go to the middle/high school after lunch.  I heard within an hour or so of school starting that a student had passed away, but I didn't know who.  I saw the teary eyes of other teachers who had heard who it was.  I asked one of them if it was a former student from the elementary and they nodded.  I decided I should get through the first half of my teaching day before I let myself know the terrible news.  The elementary kids didn't know what was going on and I knew I wouldn't be able to hide it once I knew.  And to be honest, I could tell from the looks on people's faces, this wasn't just a student, it was one of those students who has everyone's heart strings.  
Kennedy--Always a fashionista!
     After the last elementary class left my classroom, I reluctantly read my email.  The second I saw who the family was, my heart was broken.  This family is SO involved in our community and are such positive supporters of our school district in every way.  To have them lose a child seemed simply unfair.  And to have them lose their baby--Kennedy . . . . I put my head down on my desk and sobbed.  Not just cried--my body was shaking and I could barely fathom what I had just read.  It just shouldn't be--NO 6th grader should die.  No kid should die.  NO STUDENT should die.  Maybe it's just that NO ONE should die. 
     The teacher's lounge was so quiet during lunch.  I  asked around what they thought it would be like when I got up to the high school.  I didn't know what to expect.  I had a friend die when I was a freshman in high school, so I knew how many of the students were feeling, but I didn't want to downplay how fresh their hurt--no, OUR hurt was for Kennedy. 
     When I got to the high school, it was nearly deserted.  We still weren''t certain if Savannah and Nolan were going to be alright, so all of their friends were super upset.  And honestly, Kennedy was one of those kids who grew up going to everything with the "big kids."  She was at high school basketball practices and hung out with her older siblings' friends.  She was everyone's little sister.  This wasn't just any student, she was arguably the princess of our whole school district.  I'd like to take a moment to tell you about her.
     Kennedy was sassy.  She was ALWAYS smiling.  She was friendly and outgoing.  She was fiercely competitive in sports, but very sweet in person.  She knew how to wiggle her way into the heart of anyone she met.  She was a great singer and a fun dancer.  She wore dresses for at least 2 years straight when she was a little girl and she possibly had the thickest most gorgeous hair I have ever seen on a kindergarten student.  She was a diva--but in a way that everyone loved her.  Including me. 
How I remember Kennedy when she was little!
      You see, you don't just go to school every day as a teacher and only think about the objectives you are teaching.  My students are my "2nd set of kids" as I like to call them.  Sure, not all of them love my class or love me, but I love them.  I try to figure out what makes them excited about learning and try to integrate it into my class.  For some of them, like Kennedy, that comes easily, because she already loved to sing and dance.  And for those students who audition for parts in shows, like Kennedy, an even deeper bond is formed.  Let me tell you, that girl was one spunky Junior Djinn (dancers for the genie in Aladdin).  And for music teachers, like myself, I didn't just have one year of great memories with Kennedy, I had SEVEN.  She was one of the little kids I looked at and always thought, "Boy, I can't wait to see what she's like in high school."  I'm deeply grieved that I will never get to know.  And even more grieved that her family will never get to know.  Savannah lost her only sister--I can't imagine that pain.
     The following days were terrible.  We didn't do a whole lot of academic learning at the middle and high school those following days, but they were learning a very hard lesson about life.  Some days we sat and talked about Kennedy, other days it was less organized "free time," which trust me, felt nothing like free time.  We had to move our choir concert because I just couldn't imagine making students perform when we returned to school on Monday.  It was the right call. 
     Our middle school students asked if we could dedicate our re-scheduled concert to Kennedy.  I was so pleased they asked, because I needed a way to work through my grief for this little girl, and I didn't know where to begin.  We began practicing our concert songs again and each class nominated and voted on one song to sing for Kennedy.  Her family came to the concert, which I was so grateful for, and we all sobbed through the songs for Kennedy.  I will ALWAYS think of Kennedy whenever I hear those two songs again--and for that I am thankful!
     I would be lying if I didn't add in that I was an extremely emotional teacher for about a month after Kennedy died.  I've never cried because a class or a student "got to me" before, and I let it happen a few times.  It was really hard for me to understand how students could be rude and disrespectful after an event that taught us how precious life really is.  But, I suppose my students didn't understand how deeply I was hurting for Kennedy and her family.  I don't think they even have a clue how much I care about each and every one of them.  And perhaps, they were just being teenagers and oblivious to what was going on around them.  I wish I hadn't "lost it" and cried a couple of times, but honestly, I was broken and still mending, but also trying to be at school to help the students.  It was too much for me to hold it together. 
6th Grade Kennedy
     Time has helped some.  I don't cry every day, but I am crying as I write this blog today.  I feel sorrow when I see Kennedy's family--incomplete without their little diva.  They have been so open about their grief and how they are doing, which I really appreciate.  So I want to leave you with something that was said multiple times as a motto of Kennedy's family--"I love you more."  Be the rainbow in someone else's cloud.  You can never know what's on the horizon for you, your family, or your students, but you can choose to make the most of each and every day you have.
      Thanks for letting me share my journey with you.  And to Kennedy--it was a pleasure to have the privilege to teach you.  I will always be thankful that out of the millions of teachers in this world, I was blessed enough to get to teach you.  And thanks for stopping by just to give me a hug at the beginning of the school year.  You will never know how much that means to me today.  I love you more and I hope to see you again some day!  Mrs. Filipiak


Photos used with permission. 

Organize Volunteers with Less Work

    I became K-12 last year, so I was looking for any and everything that could save me time.  I had post-it notes covering my desk before school even started!  During all the chaos, I kept getting e-mails from VolunteerSpot (now called SignUp.com) telling me their website was "free" to use and could help organize my volunteers.  Hmmmmmm. . . . okay, I was desperate, so why not give it a whirl?
     I set up VolunteerSpot to organize people bringing desserts for my fall choir concert (my FIRST secondary concert EVER!).  Guess what?  It was all that I had hoped it would be--and a little bit more!  So please let me tell you about it in case it will help you next year in your teaching!  I imagine you could use this for costume prep, parties, parents volunteering to help students learn speaking lines, etc.  Sound good?  Yep!

http://signup.com/

What is SignUp.com?

     SignUp.com is a website that allows you to create an event and describe what volunteers you need.  You are then able to share this event with others through e-mail, a link, social media, or a button on your website.  Parents can follow the link to see what volunteers are needed and can sign up without you being the middle man (or woman)!

(I think a tear may be rolling down my cheek . . .)

How do you use it?

1.  Sign up for an account using your school e-mail so that all communication goes to your school e-mail.  Then it will take you to your Dashboard.  This is where you get stuff done!

2.  Click on "Create New Sign-Up." 
 
3.  Pick a date to create an event:
4.  Add spots for the volunteers you need: (You can even create a repeating schedule!)
Here's what it looks like when you add multiple spots:  

5.  When you are done creating spots and click "Next" it will take you to back the calendar view--but don't stop there!  Go to the bottom and click "Next."  It will take you to a page where you can customize your event's appearance to match the theme.  LOVE this!  Pick an icon, then scroll down to pick the background design.  Click "Next" when you're done.
6.  Pick an option for how you would like to share it with parents.  I personally send the e-mail to myself and then copy it to my choir parent lists.  But do whatever works best for you!
7.  Then you can finally click "Done!"  It will show you all of the nifty features you will be able to add if you go premium, but for my purposes I haven't needed that :)  To go back to see your event, you can click "Dashboard" in the upper left corner.  Here's what it looks like under "My Sign-Ups" now.  (I signed up for a volunteer spot so you could see what it shows you.) 
8.  Click "Preview" if you want to see what parents will see when they go to sign up.
9.  Go back to "My Sign-Ups" on your Dashboard.  If you click on the title of the event.  It will take you to the calendar view.  Click on your even in the calendar view and it will pop this up:
Pretty nifty, huh?  

It gets better:  This website sends reminders on its own to the people who sign up--YOU DON'T HAVE TO REMEMBER TO DO IT!  However, if you want to send a message or a thank-you to your volunteers, go to "My Sign-Ups" and click on "Manage" and then "Messages."  You can also print reports, etc. to see the status of your sign-up all through the "My Sign-Ups" section.  LOVE IT!

Is it really FREE? 

YES!  As far as I can tell, unless you are someone who has to organize a marathon, I think you will be more than happy with the FREE package!  You can always upgrade to premium if you really want to :)

Is it worth the time?

Yes, there's a small learning curve when using SignUp.com, but it pales in comparison to the amount of time I used to spend making flyers, sending e-mails, and making phone calls!  Work smarter, not harder right? 

Give it a try and let me know how you used it!  I would love to hear how you saved time!

Catch you next time I have something Noteworthy!

6 Tips for Burnt Out Music Teachers


Feeling burnt out in the music classroom?  Stop feeling overwhelmed and get back to why you love teaching!  Check out these 6 tips to help you feel refreshed instead of stressed!
     Most of us have been there.  You had a great passion for teaching music most of your career, but now you are just done.  Kaput.  Burnt out.  
     I've had my fair share of this as I've gone from K-5 to K-12 this year.  Most of the time I've held it together, but there are some days where I just want to make it through the day so I can go home and not think about teaching anymore.  I can't say I've completely mastered not feeling burnt out (though with 3 weeks left of the school year I would say that's normal!), but here are some tips I have learned through the ups and downs of my year.

1.  Remember why you wanted to teach music to begin with.

     Sometimes going back to the beginning of it all helps take the focus off of the day-to-day and helps you remember the overall picture.  For me personally, I wanted to teach music because it was such a big part of my life growing up.  It was something I was good at, but more importantly, something that fulfilled me.  I am forever grateful for the teachers I had who helped to foster my love of music throughout my life.  I wanted to be that to someone else someday.  I didn't realize how challenging music education would be, but I knew that I could impact the lives of students the way my teachers impacted mine.

2.  Keep a wall of encouragement.

     Students sometimes make our day and we shouldn't just forget about it and move on.  I keep a folder with encouraging notes from students from the entire span of my career.  I also make sure to put notes and student art work up on the walls of my classroom so that I see them when I'm getting discouraged or overwhelmed.  And just when I hit a wall this year and literally wanted to quit education all together, one of my students wrote me a note.
I will NEVER throw this note away.  NEVER.  This student is a dream--so talented and such a wonderful person.  But she's mine and you can't have her ;)  We all have those students we would sob if they left our school, and she's one of mine.  And guess what, she appreciates me!

3.  Choose your attitude.

     Yes, we've all had to do a million PD's on school environment.  A few years ago, our principal had us read a book about the Seattle Fish Market and the concepts they used to make it a positive place for its workers and customers.  I don't know about you, but handling fish sounds way less fun than teaching music, so if they can make handling fish fun, certainly the ideas can help teaching!  One of the mantras we repeat over and over at our school is "choose your attitude."  Yes, it's true, some days I don't want to put on my big girl pants and choose my attitude, but you'd be amazed at how a conscious effort toward thinking positive can help your overall day and year.  Especially when you can help your co-workers do the same thing.  Complaining won't get you very far, problem-solving will.

4.  Surround yourself with positive people.

     I'm lucky to work at one of the best schools in the world.  Seriously.  We don't make a lot of money or have a flashy building, but the people are top notch.  We all work together to accomplish our goals at our school.  It's not about your classroom, it's about how it affects the school overall.  Yet, we still care about each other individually.  I was lucky enough to have a co-worker tell me in the nicest way that she saw how I was becoming negative as the year went on and it bothered her because I wasn't normally like that (thank you K-12 . . . ).  It actually helped me, because it reminded me to go back to the positive person I was before.  Now if you can't find a positive person in your building, make sure that you find someone outside of work who you can meet for coffee (or chocolate) to talk about your struggles in a constructive, problem-solving way.

5.  Go to professional development.

     Sometimes I'm overwhelmed and the thought of going to one more PD makes my head want to disintegrate.  But, most times, PD really helps re-energize me!  One of the best things that happened this year is that I had a clinician come in to work with my choirs.  It really helped give me new ideas and a way to move forward where I felt like the choirs were learning more and sounding even better than before.  I also went and observed another choir classroom for a day.  Those experiences were invaluable to me this year and provided a great pick-me-up!

6.  Re-ignite your own passion for music.

     My friend Bethany and I decided to get season tickets to the Wharton Center this year.  AKA--6 Broadway musical productions in one year!  It has been so much fun to go watch musical theater productions that touch my soul while I am watching them. They also give me new ideas for my own musicals.  And did you know you can use those tickets as a tax write-off?  Back to the real point though--watching a musical makes me remember why I do what I do.  I LOVE music and I LOVE how it affects the people who create it and listen to it.  What are you doing to make sure you remember how much you love music?

I hope these ideas give you something to think about.  I will probably have to come back and read my own post in the future and I'm okay with that.  Don't give up because something is hard, if it's worth fighting for, then do it.

Catch you next time I have something noteworthy!

K-5 to K-12--Part 1: Observations

I had 10 years of K-5 teaching under my belt last year and was comfortably living "the dream."  I knew the routine for shoe-tying, nose picking, puking, elementary musicals, and all other fun elementary experiences.  AND THEN THEY MADE ME K-12!!!! 



Horror, panic--no wait a minute, I GOT THIS!  No I don't.  NO I DON'T.  Breathe, just breathe.  Everything will be okay . . . . . . . maybe.  I hope?  No, I CAN do this. . . . perhaps?

Such were the roller coaster thoughts of my brain as my whole teaching world was changed.

Flash forward:  I have successfully "survived" 7 months of being K-12 (elementary and choir).  It has been a ton of work, not gonna lie.  But, I thought I would write a blog post about my observations as a "first year" K-12 teacher.  I hope to add other K-12 posts in the future.  Perhaps it will offer some hope or help to those of your in similar situations.  If nothing else, I hope it offers the feeling that you aren't alone. 

Observations:

(Keep in mind I went from elementary to K-12, so my observations will be about the 7-12 land . . . )

1.  Hormones:  Be ready for a whiplash of emotions from a lot of your students.  

Downside:  It would be amazing if they stayed in the same mood for two days in a row so I could figure this thing out!  I've had to learn not to take their moods personally.  You would think I would know this from 10 years of prior teaching, but nope!  It's a new type of patience to not respond to the ebb and flow of their teenage worlds.  Not to mention teaching students who tower over me . . .

Upside:  They understand emotions more when they sing.  They can connect with the music.  They get the goose bumps when something musically beautiful happens.  And they want to sings songs about love that my elementary kids always thought were "gross." 

2.  Words:  They know how to explain their thoughts better now.


Downside:  In elementary you tell a student to stop talking and they do.  In middle and high school they look at you and tell you they weren't talking to begin with.  (Ummmmm, then why were your lips moving when we weren't singing?)  And then they huff and puff for the rest of class and you are sure they are snap chatting evil things to their friends about you later that day.  I still haven't figured out Snap Chat . . . that's a lesson for another day! 

Upside:  They are smart.  Really smart.  I LOVE the ideas that some of them come up with.  Not to say elementary students don't, but I really love that some of them have such deep thoughts and passions now.  Politics.  Social justice.  Music.  Rap.  Fashion.  Sports.  Acting.  I love the connections I can make with my students about their interests.  And they get more of my jokes now!  Which they sometimes groan about, but hey, I'm just happy to have an informed audience!


3.  Friends:  Mean everything to them now.


Downside:  Their phones are their third arm.  And they don't seem to understand that they don't need them every second of the day.  If I have to tell one more person to put their phone away . . . Oh, and they make choices based on their friends rather than what they actually want to do.  I guess I forgot about that part of being a teenager. 

Upside:  Their friends motivate them.  Positive peer pressure is a great tool for getting students to learn and inspire each other.  Not gonna lie--I feel like I need to get more of the "positive" thing rolling in my 7-12 classes this year.  But I know it took me several years to really feel comfortable at K-5 and I have to expect something similar in the 7-12 realm. 


4.  Self-Awareness:  In other words, they are often only aware of themselves :)


Downside:  Think back to when you were a teenager.  Did you ever REALLY focus on what other people needed, or were you mostly concerned about yourself and how others saw you?  Teenagers are painfully aware of how others see them to the point that it is tough for me to watch.  I just want to tell them to be who they are and stop worrying about what other people think!! 

Upside:  They want to be loved and accepted by everyone--including you!  What have you done to make sure your students know you care about them?  Some things I have done:  gone to sporting events, sent post cards home about positive things I've appreciate about them, watched TV shows they like so I can talk about it with them, let them pick a One Direction song for our Pops Concert (please don't judge me!), shake their hand at the door (which they WILL adjust to, I promise), stretch to music they like on Fridays, etc.  AND, I really enjoy it.  It's the best part about my job--that I get to build someone up who I genuinely care about (an may remember me in the future since I didn't stop teaching them in 5th grade)  :)


I have a gazillion more thoughts, but these were the few I chose to write about today.  I would love to hear from other K-12 teachers.  Or even secondary teachers--good advice is always welcome!

Catch you next time I have something Noteworthy!

9 Vocal Health Tips for Music Teachers

By Philip, Frank [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

     One of the most challenging things for a new music teacher is figuring out how to keep their voice healthy.  Since I've been in the trenches for 11 years now, with plenty of vocal health struggles, I thought I would share some things I have learned.

1.  Drink plenty of water.


     And you may even want to add some electrolytes if you have low blood pressure.  Try using large water bottles that show how much water you are drinking so you can make sure to get at minimum 6-8 glasses of water each day.  I personally need more than 8!  Also, drinking room temperature water is more beneficial than hot or cold water.

2.  Warm Up.


     Humming on the way to work can go a long way.  If you don't have time for a real warm-up, trying warming up the first few minutes with your first class. 

3.  Amplify your voice.


     Microphones are awesome!  You can talk and sing quietly and your students can still hear you.  I have had a traditional wireless microphone and an infrared microphone.  Both have advantages and disadvantages, but they both make cool spaceship and Darth Vadar noises (which is all that really matters . . .).  In reality, amplification is shown to increase our students' focus on what we are teaching.  We are just as important as classroom teachers, so make sure you are included when new technology comes to the building.  You can also try to fund a project through Donors Choose or another fundraising method. 

4.  Only talk when your students are silent.


     Easier said than done.  Beginning teachers often talk over their students (including yours truly).  Don't do it.  Have a cue that requires little or no talking from you such as a bell or a clapping pattern, play it ONCE and then wait for silence.  It will take a while for students (and you) to adjust, but in the end, all of you will be happier.  Remember that many people lose their voice because of how they are talking/yelling, not how they are singing.  Are you talking without stress?

5.  Frontal voice placement.


     I at one point in college, I was singing with my voice placed in the back of my throat.  It didn't necessarily sound like it, but I was.  My voice teachers didn't notice it, but boy did I!  My voice hurt to sing.  When I was at grad school, we had a music theater person come in and they talked about how forward their vocal placement was and had us do some exercises with them.  This was a game changer for me!  My voice lasts longer and my range is wider when I sing with frontal placement.  Find someone who can help you if you can't figure it out yourself.

6.  Hang up signs to remind yourself.


     Certain things like drinking water and being quiet until the students are quiet aren't easy to remember when one student wants to show you their tooth fell out, two students get called to the office, you are being observed, and you have a new lesson in front of you.  Hang signs up in your room somewhere that will help you to remember whatever it is that most often causes you to lose your voice.  Be proactive!

7.  Don't be afraid to have a non-singing back-up plan!


     We all have days when our voices aren't cooperating.  If you are sick, don't be afraid to deviate from your golden lesson plan and give your students something else for a change.  I have music bingo games they play (and love) as well as a set of sing-along packets I made from Music K-8 magazine.  And BONUS:  these also make great sub activities for non-musical subs.  They still have value too--the bingo games reinforce note names and the music packets allow students to experience more types of music and increase their reading fluency (your principle will love it if you throw that term out there!). 

6.  Treat acid reflux, allergies, and asthma.


     I have been "blessed" with all of the above.  They were absolutely killing my vocal cords and I had no idea.  It wasn't until I talked with my doctor about how and when I lose my voice that I realized how much it was related to my overall health.  When and what you eat and even how you wash your sheets can make a big difference.  Make sure you talk with a doctor to get these regulated the best you can.  (Nasal spray is great!) 

9.  If your voice continues to struggle or hurts regularly when you sing, see an ENT with a singing expertise.


     I had nodes in college.  Let's just say yelling at the top of your lungs during a basketball game when you are a vocal major is NOT highly recommended :)  It wasn't just because of that, but I had to take an entire semester off from singing.  It was so hard to do, but I can tell you I have never appreciated singing more than the first note I sang when the semester was over.  I am more conscious of when my voice is stressed now and try to pinpoint the cause rather than just "get better."  Sometimes taking a rest is needed.  Plus, it is challenging to sing with proper technique when you begin losing your voice, so be aware of that.  

     You will undoubtedly lose your voice at some point, but keeping your voice as healthy as possible makes a big difference.  May the odds of your vocal health be ever in your favor!  Catch you next time I have something noteworthy!

Teacher Talent Show Ideas

     Recently I've been thinking about talent shows.  It may not be that time of year for you, but I wanted to share some ideas in case you are looking for something to do with other teachers in your talent show!  
     We have a talent show at our elementary every year near the end of the year.  I love getting to see what kids choose to perform!!  As much as the students love seeing their friends perform, their absolute favorite thing is to see their teachers perform!  This can pose a challenge since some teachers are not super excited about getting outside of their comfort zone.  Granted, I have seen a group of male teachers perform as KISS and the Spice Girls!  But since not everyone is that comfortable up in from of people, here are a couple of ideas that perhaps even a shy teacher may consider:

Teacher Talent Show Ideas

1.  Recorders--teach them Hot Cross Buns or something else simple.  Dressing up silly is a MUST of course!
Need a teacher talent show idea that the students will LOVE?  Check out these 4 ideas.  Number 3 is so cool!

2. Pop See Ko--If you haven't signed up for GoNoodle, you need to!  You can check it out yourself here, or check out this blog I wrote about it awhile back.  Pop See Ko is one of my students' favorite chants and last year we changed it into our teacher talent act.  It took about 15 minutes to prepare.  Each grade of teachers created their own dance move and we started with kindergarten and went up, and even had our principal come out in the hotdog outfit at the end (see the video below)!  Then we invited the students to do their own "Pop See Ko."  It's kind of hard to explain on a blog, so watch below to see what to do:



3.  Dancing in the dark--as STICK FIGURE PEOPLE!  We did this a couple of years ago and boy was it a hit!  This option helps shy teachers because they know people can't see who they are.  It was so much fun and silly at the same time.  (Tip:  Make sure it's completely dark!)  I wish I had a good video of our simplified version for you, but here's a way over the top version:



And here's directions on how to do it!

4.  Lastly, I can already sense a Whip Nae Nae act coming this year . . . anybody else?



Why do we do these crazy things?  For the students.  Catch you next time I have something Noteworthy!

Back to the Future Music Giveaway!

I haven't written a blog post in FOREVER, but this one is too good to pass up!  Check out the #BTFMusic giveaway and enter below to win one of three Teachers Pay Teachers gift cards. 

To enter, START HERE and write down the the letter at the top of the page.  Click on the letter to go to the next store and get the next letter (make sure you keep writing them down).  Along the way, follow each store, and check out the amazing things everyone has to offer.  Once you have the code, come back here and enter the secret message!  You will also want to search #BTFMusic on Teachers Pay Teachers to find a bunch of great music products for only $1.21.  Enjoy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


P.S.--Hopefully once I get used to this K-12 thing, I will be able to blog more :)  Catch you next time I have something noteworthy!