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Tuesday
Jan152013

Teaching fear

For so many of us, education boils down to fear.

First we have fear on behalf of our children, and then, at the appropriate time, we transfer the fear to them while still retaining a measure for ourselves.

We fear "not getting it." Not being good enough. We fear failing grades. We're afraid that we won't get into college, that we'll flunk out of college, that we'll choose the wrong major, that we won't get a job. 

We compete with other individuals, amassing AP classes and extracurricular activities in an academic arms race. And as a nation, we're worried that we'll be left behind as other countries train up generation after generation of highly skilled workers. 

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Saturday
Jan122013

Shortcuts

I believe in shortcuts.

I don't mean shortcuts that undermine what you're trying to do, like risking your life by rushing through a red light, or compromising your health by taking diet pills to lose weight, or never changing your strings so that your guitar sounds like broken windshield wipers. 

I like shortcuts that result from drilling down to the core essence of what you're trying to accomplish, allowing you to get maximum results from minimum effort and time.

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Thursday
Jan102013

Common sense over Common Core

Béla Bartók, the celebrated twentieth century Hungarian composer, wrote playful and interesting piano music for children in addition to his larger works for advanced musicians. Some of these pieces were based on Eastern European folk melodies, and some were wholly original. There were several that I absolutely loved as a child, and I love teaching them to my piano students.

Mikrokosmos is a collection of études that progress from very simple to highly complex, which Bartók wrote to systematically address certain musical and technical challenges. While I love the concept, most of these (especially the ones for beginners) leave me cold musically. It strikes me as an attempt to reverse-engineer the process of becoming a musician - an idealized repertoire for an idealized student who will think like a professional musician from the first downbeat.

As I review the Georgia Performance Standards and the Common Core standards, I find myself thinking of Mikrokosmos. The standards are similarly comprehensive, cerebral, and virtually impenetrable unless you possess specialized skills. There is no recognizable equivalent to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" - the common-sense learning you remember from childhood.

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Friday
Sep072012

Learning is not linear

So, I'm now teaching middle school.

Following a calling is an incredible thing. I've found that it's best to not ask why I feel called to do something - I've just got to do it. Not that I'm impulsive, necessarily - I believe, as Rilke says in Letters to a Young Poet, that things grow within us without our awareness before they seem to spring up out of nowhere in our lives. The roots of this project go deep, even though a mere five months ago it was unknown even to me.

In order to best serve my students, I prepared. I researched curriculum. I reviewed the finer points of quadratics and quadrilaterals, colloids and covalents, appositives and apostrophes. I developed a daily schedule, put together a ton of IKEA furniture, and meditated on my vision for the school year.

Man, was I in for a surprise.

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Saturday
Dec102011

How to get great results with anybody (including yourself)

I'll never forget the first Collegiate Chorale rehearsal I attended. Rob (or Berg, as he is affectionately known to his high school students) conducted the entire rehearsal in silence. He used gesticulations, exaggerated facial expressions, the piano, and the chalkboard to get his point across.

Since Rob, with his expressive features and tireless enthusiasm, gives the impression of a cartoon character come to life this was amusing, unsettling, and highly effective. And clearly memorable, since it's been well over a decade since that day and I can recall it in such detail.

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