Student teaching: the ultimate internship

Since March 17, I’ve been pretty busy. I’ve probably gotten less sleep than I needed. My eating habits have been a C+ at best. But life’s actually been pretty great.

Since March 17 I’ve been student teaching chorus and general music at Avon Middle School. This is the final requirement for my teacher certification program and next week will be the fifth and final week. (ARC students are expected to have applicable experience and transferable skills behind them, unlike traditional students who would acquire them over a longer period of time spent student teaching.) I’m so happy to say that this has been one of the most eye-opening and educational experiences of my life. Not only has this reaffirmed my desire to be a teacher, but it has been the ultimate internship. Anyone in any field should be so lucky!

That’s really what student teaching is- an internship. Under the guidance of a veteran teacher, you learn about the field, educational practices, dealing with administrators and students and parents… everything your mentor would do during the course of a day you do too. And no day is like any other. Sometimes there’s student drama, sometimes kids just won’t respond to anything you do, sometimes you’ll completely deliver your lesson wrong, or sometimes the stars will align and everything go exactly as planned. You’ll meet colleagues in the department, school administrators, and other teachers. You’ll have heart-to-hearts with your mentor about what you’re doing well and what can be improved. Different skill sets you never though you’d need will come to bear, and other times you’ll have to just wing it and pretend you know exactly what you’re doing. (Plus I got my own desk! Which I promptly covered with healthy snacks, tea, and miscellaneous student papers.)

This really is the ultimate internship. It’s not like a new job where you could be dumped in the middle of a new environment and expected to learn everything on your own. Every day I’ve got people watching my back. The teachers are supportive because they’ve all been where I am now. My arts internship in 2009, while a good experience, didn’t give me a strong sense of belonging or value, and the institution didn’t hire me when I applied to work there a few years later. But my student teaching internship has more than made up for the sense of belonging and value I had been missing for years. Finally, four years out of college, I’m ready for the career I want to have. Maybe if I’d had this opportunity four years ago, I wouldn’t really have been ready. I’ve changed so much since then! But I’ve got it now, and I can’t wait to pay it forward to some new student teacher in 20 years when I’m a mentor!


The best day of work yet!

The first time I got called to substitute teach music, I was at the AMS/SEM/SMT conference in New Orleans. Talk about ironic. I was bummed.

The second time I got called to sub for music was yesterday. I had stayed up the previous night to watch the Oscars in full, and I had choked on my gratuitously-doused-with-breadcrumbs zucchini fries. So I was exhausted and my throat was scratched and painful. But when I got that call, I was thrilled. Not only was the middle school music teacher out, but one from the high school was too. Which one did I want?

Middle school, I replied. I start student teaching middle school in two weeks, and this would be a good learning experience. (It’s crazy how much you can learn just by spending one day in charge of a classroom.)

Yesterday ended up being the best day of my substitute teacher position so far. I didn’t do anything extraordinary. But I felt purposeful, valued, and confident. It’s times like that when I know I am definitely in the right field.

I got to the school and happily found out I’d be teaching flute and clarinet lessons all day. Very lucky, since this teacher also does trombone and saxophone, which I don’t play. The secretary even let me dash home to retrieve my instruments. Also lucky, since I live very close!

My lessons with 5th, 7th, and 8th grade wind students were so much fun. I’d done mock lessons before in my teacher cert program, so I used that experience as a departure point. I checked that the instruments were put together correctly and that the students’ posture was correct. I incorporated National Standard 7, evaluating music and music performances, which I think is far too often forgotten in a rehearsal setting. I taught the concepts of intonation and tuning. We even used my tuner app, Tunable, to check our concert Bbs. When the pitch is in tune, a green bar expands at the middle of the screen. When you’re flat or sharp, the bar turns red and moves left or right.

I’m not sure if it was my experience as a long term music sub, or that I am taking education classes… whatever the reason, I felt totally comfortable in front of the students. I felt in charge, knowledgable, and helpful. And I felt particularly valued knowing that the school district thought highly enough of music to call someone to come in and give lessons when many other schools would have just cancelled them to avoid bringing in a substitute.

My one general music class met in the computer lab to work on projects. I don’t like patrolling students as a sub, but this time I was not afraid to give students clear directions and instructions, like asking them to check their binder again for a rubric, to show me the progress they had made, or to quit playing games when there was other work to do. Of course, students won’t always acknowledge your efforts. I made extra copies of the project rubric for a few students who had lost theirs. They didn’t thank me, but the point was that I noticed they were missing and made a point to fix the situation. No more underestimating this sub!

As I wrote in my journal that night, I felt like I was at my regular job that day. Which makes me all the more excited to start student teaching chorus and general music in a few weeks. Hard work, but rewarding. Fun, but a learning experience.

What can I say? When you know you’re meant to do something, it’s the best feeling in the world.

The #1 strategy for thank-you note writing isn’t what you think it is…

Saw this in the Courant this morning…

Photo Feb 23, 4 26 06 PM

The article talks about professional thank-you note etiquette, but it doesn’t clearly address that age-old question: should notes be hand-written or emailed?

Laura Labovich, founder of Aspire! Empower! Career Strategy Group in Bethesda, Maryland says that there is no one-size fits all answer on this topic. Different companies will say different things, and there are pros and cons for either method. 

I was always one to go for hand-written notes after interviews. They showed effort and demonstrated a personal touch. However, in recent years, companies and institutions have begun shifting the hiring process to become an almost entirely digital one. Very few places accept physical applications, and as a result, personal addresses of members of hiring committees are missing from websites. I’ve found it difficult to find even emails and phone numbers for specific people sometimes-  can I really expect physical mailing addresses? On top of that, sometimes the mailing address for the application is different from the physical location of the company.

In college, I learned to follow the company’s example when deciding whether to hand-write or email. If all your communication has been primarily through email, then a thank-you email is acceptable. The Courant article said to consider the culture of the company in making your decision. But often my correspondence with a potential employer is over the phone. What do I do then?

I still believe email is impersonal and easy. But I have to endorse it as my current preferred thank-you note method for strategic reasons.

That sounds so cerebral! But here’s an experience of mine that sealed the deal. I wrote about an interview experience of mine here where after a great interview, and after sending a personal thank you note immediately afterwards, I never heard a word from anyone involved. Ever. I was surprised that it seemed my effort went unacknowledged when I took so much care to prepare myself and send a well-written note. But something else occurred to me. Perhaps the principal I interviewed with never received it. Perhaps I sent the note to the wrong place. Perhaps a secretary never personally delivered it. Or maybe it just got lost in the mail.

I felt so foolish! What a ridiculous ending to that experience! I’d like to hope that any employer would at least update interviewees on the hiring process even if they do not send thank you notes. But it is entirely possible that employers do not consider the interview over until the ends have been tied with a note. No note, you don’t advance.

Here’s another similar experience I had. After a volunteer arts position one summer, I created a thank-you note for my director with rubber stamps and watercolors. I was so happy to have had the opportunity and I wanted to show it with my creativity. Since I rarely saw the director during the actual job, I thought she might acknowledge the note, or at least say something about having me back again. Nothing. A year later, I was the one soliciting them for a paid job (which I got). But it appeared I had been forgotten or neutrally appreciated until then. Of course, it’s silly to thank someone for a thank-you. But acknowledgement goes a long way. So does lack of acknowledgement. And I believe that goes for employees and employers.

As soon as you put a letter in the mail, you put your trust in many different people that it will get to where it needs to go. And usually it does. But I’ve had medicine and paychecks get lost en route to me. Postal mail is not 100% reliable.

Here’s what can’t get lost in a chute or dropped under a counter: an email. As soon as you click ‘send’, unless it’s returned due to a faulty email, it’s deposited in the recipient’s inbox. And that’s the best anyone can rely on, save for hand delivering (don’t do that).

The point is that thank-you notes have to be received by the person with whom you interviewed. Your chances for this are much better when notes are emailed than if they are mailed through the USPS.

Emails are also legible and time-stamped. Both things that work in your favor.

In the end, two people could be up for the same job. One could write an excellent thank-you that gets delivered three weeks after the interview because sorting and delivering mail is low on the company’s list of priorities. The other could write a decent thank-you note in the form of an email that is instantly delivered and read that day. Who gets the job? Even if the quality of writing was the same, timing might have made all the difference.

Sometimes being strategic is what will open doors for you. 

Digital note-taking might just change your life

20140213-181715.jpgThe resolution is a bit poor, so here it is in actual font:

This is GoodNotes.

And this is my handwriting.

This app completely changed my note-taking methods, organizational strategies, and outlook on education (both as a student and a future teacher).

I highly recommend it!

When I began my teacher certification program, I noticed that a friend of mine was using a note-taking app on her iPad. With the aid of a stylus, she was able to takes notes in her own handwriting into the app. Once anything was taken down, she could move it, change the color and size, cut and paste…

Meanwhile I was taking notes with a pen and paper.

I love my pen and paper. Even after what I’m about to say, I still love them. But I also love efficiency.

And my friend’s app, Note Taker HD, was efficient. It eliminated her need for paper, allowed her notes to be 100% customizable and suitable for her particular learning style, and had the advantage of letting her have all her notes in one place…

What was I doing with my thick notebooks and myriad pens and highlighters, breaking my back every weekend carrying them all around, shuffling through my backpack to find the right paper or colored marker, and mentally eye-rolling when I had to squeeze in my teachers’ afterthoughts on topics I thought were finished?

It took just a few classes for my fascination to consume me. I bought GoodNotes (which currently exists as GoodNotes 4 for $5.99) and started playing with it right away. I didn’t realize how much it would benefit me as not just a student, but a music student.

GoodNotes looks like this. (PREFACE: To write as naturally as you would with a pen, you’ll need a stylus. I’m a Targus fan. It’s inexpensive and does what I need it to do. However, the one I’ve been using for many months just began to lose its touch capabilities. Buy in bulk on Amazon for cheap. And consider an ostentatious color like lime green or bright red so it’s easier to distinguish them from regular pens should they get lost.)


After selecting a template (ruled paper, blank paper, music paper, graph paper), you have at your disposal numerous tools and options to begin taking notes. Third from the top left, you have a shape tool that lets you draw shapes freehand, then converts them to their more perfect form. Fourth from left is the writing box. Place it anywhere, resize it, and write in it via the enlarged box (shown at the bottom of the picture). The gray bar is a place to rest your hand without affecting touch sensitivity. Next is the pen. Choose the color, tip size, and pen style from presets or custom picks. Then there’s the highlighter, also just as customizable. I use the highlighter on the shape tool setting so my lines are arrow-straight. Beside that is the eraser, which comes in three sizes. The lasso lets you select anything you’ve written and move it, change the size or color, or delete it. And the glasses tool puts in you in read/navigate mode. Use your finger to move between pages of your notebook without marking up the document.

But you don’t have to take notes on blank paper. With the upload tool, you can insert pictures, pdfs, and other visual media, then draw all over them! I upload powerpoint pdfs for school right into GoodNotes, then take notes on them. When I’m done, I can leave them in GoodNotes or export them somewhere else. I also take pictures of some of my handouts, insert them into a notebook, and write on them. That way I keep the hard copy (I need that blank in case I want to use it in a classroom one day) and still complete the task assigned.

Need more reasons to convert?

It’s eco-friendly (no paper required).

It’s better for your back (no stacks of paper or notebooks to carry about).

It’s virtually impossible to lose your notes (just clearly label what’s what!).

It’s customizable (we don’t all learn the same way- some people need colors, shapes, and different size fonts to make their notes most useful).

It’s accessible without wi-fi.

It’s accessible with wi-fi (upload files to Dropbox to access them from any device).

It’s easily shareable (need to share notes with a friend? Forget making a copy. Email it directly from the app!).

Yes, paper and pen works great for some people. Taking and organizing physical notes is satisfying. I’ve kept college, grad school, and even some high school notes because they are well-written and useful materials. I’ve honed my skills as a note-taker over years and years of being a student. My organizational skills are top notch (although you wouldn’t know it by looking at my room right now… just trust me).

But those are precisely some of the reasons I switched to mainly digital note-taking. It’s satisfying is its own way. I’m still using those skills (believe me, it’s tempting to play around with all the cool features instead of writing down what’s important!). And I’m just as organized with my materials.

Worth the price? For $5.99, I’d say yes. Think about your lifestyle. If you are getting progressively more digital, go for it. If you’re a student, go for it. If you just like making charts and lists (like me!), go for it.

Stay tuned for a follow-up on organizational strategies and advice for the digital world.

My first teaching job!

I’m the first person to roll my eyes when others say “Don’t worry, you’ll find a job eventually. Just keep applying for jobs, be patient, and something will come up!” But guess what?

I did find one! Or rather, it found me.

In early September, I reconnected with my elementary school music teacher at a musical theatre audition. We talked about what we were doing lately, and I mentioned I was getting my teacher certification, which she was glad about.

Two months later, I got an email from her. Her husband, also a music teacher, was taking some time off and his district couldn’t find a long-term substitute… would I be interested?

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I was talking to her husband and his principal, doing  a day of observation, and signing the paperwork to my first teaching job at a local primary school! (And had I not bumped into her at my audition, she never would have thought to contact me because she wouldn’t have known I was getting certified to teach music!) I barley had time to consider the details and weigh the pros and cons. It was as if someone picked me up and dropped me into this whirlwind of opportunity. I grabbed it. Or whatever you do to harness a whirlwind.

I was thrilled at my luck: the timing was excellent-student teaching wouldn’t take place until spring, I had several weekends off from my teacher cert program in January, and I could take time away from substitute teaching in my hometown without risking losing the job, I lived only half an hour away, and I was hired almost immediately based on my credentials and a recommendation from my former music teacher. Many long-term positions ask that the candidate be certified already, so I felt extra fortunate.

So I guess that formula did work for me: apply for jobs, be patient, and something will come up! (And fate kind of needs to be on your side.)

I began the 6 week position in mid-December and had a blast. I gained tremendous experience working with PK-2 students, designing fun lessons, and managing large classes.

Stay tuned- I’ll be sharing some of my stories and learning experiences from my days as Miss M the music teacher!

Frozen: Disney’s newest princess movie… right?

Nearly a year and a half after Brave, Frozen is the newest Disney princess movie.



Frozen has all the necessary plot elements. At its center are two female characters, sisters named Elsa and Anna, who are both princesses. Can’t argue with that element. ‘Princess’ is in their names. (Elsa even becomes Queen about twenty minutes into the movie.)

We’ve seen a missing parent(s) trend before in Beauty and Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Cinderella, and Frozen is no exception; the girls’ parents die at the beginning of the movie.

Princess Anna, the protagonist, is lacking a female figure in her life. After her mother dies, Elsa is the only female in her life, and even she is no comrade, despite being her sister. Elsa’s power to freeze things becomes stronger and more dangerous, resulting in her confinement and separation from Anna. Many Disney princesses lack a mother figure, or any positive female role model. Sometimes, the only relationship she has with another female is or becomes antagonistic (Ariel and Ursula; Aurora and Malificent; Snow White and the Queen). While Elsa is not an enemy, she does reject any attempts by Anna to be a part of her life, and then fatally wounds Anna (accidentally), as many in the city of Arendelle feared she would. And that is actually the second wound to Anna she deals; the first, again an accident, occurs when they are both children.

As Anna grows up, she comes to have a strong desire, similar to those of her predecessors. Jasmine has never been “outside the palace walls”; Belle wants “adventure in the great wide somewhere”; Ariel wants to be “where the people are”; and Anna is thrilled that “for the first time in forever” she’ll be dancing, having fun, and finding true love. She especially wants freedom from the castle in which she is confined, which has made most of her life pretty dull. And, naturally, she sings about it.

Lucky her, Anna quickly falls in love with the young prince Hans for seemingly no other reason than they had the most adorable meet-cute… oh, and he’s cute. Doesn’t hurt that she’s pretty adorable herself.

Yes, both Anna and Elsa are beautiful: skinny waists, perfectly styled and shiny hair, large doe eyes, slender arms and legs. (They are also white.) Elsa morphs into a real vixen after fully embracing her powers. But we are used to the idea that women who are powerful must also be either just as beautiful or moreso.

Anna becomes involved in an inevitable, albeit pretty tame, love triangle with Hans and Kristoff. She cannot see past her dewy-eyed infatuation (her very first experience falling in love) to see that Kristoff is the right guy for her, though she does see Kristoff as a friend.

And of course there’s got to be a cute, nonhuman sidekick to provide comic relief. Frozen’s comes in the form of Olaf, an ephemerally nose-less, buck toothed snowman. Olaf is a true and loyal friend to both Anna and Kristoff, and plays a substantial role in their eventual union as a couple. (Recall the Genie from Aladdin; Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast; and Scuttle and Sebastian from The Little Mermaid.)

The final conflict of the movie, saving Princess Anna from death, can, as expected, only be resolved by an act of true love (which the trolls claim is – surprise!- a kiss). Once that occurs, the villains get what’s coming to them, Anna ends up with Kristoff, and all is well in Arendelle again.

There you have it: orphaned, beautiful, confined princess yearns for freedom and true love, attempts but cannot have a successful relationship with another female, befriends a nonhuman sidekick, becomes harmed through magical elements, can only be saved by an act of true love, is saved, and ends up with the guy.

Just a typical princess movie.


[For further reading, check out this post by fellow blogger seldomusings about the resurrection of DIsney princesses, which I came across during my research.]

Another year, another dollar

I wish I could say I wrote some new pieces for my portfolio this year. (I wrote only one.)

Or finished lyrics for a songs I started years ago.

Or became proficient on trumpet. Or finally figured out how to fully engage my diaphragm while singing. Or got better at sight-reading piano music. Or saw Tony Bennett perform in New York. Or heard the BSO for the first time. Or began the Wagner bio I picked up at a rummage sale last year.

I could really kick myself. But as 2014 approaches, I guess I’d rather not think of my life in that way. In terms of what I haven’t done. Because there’s a ton of stuff I haven’t done. (Yet.)


Instead, here’s what I did do:

Completed a full year of substitute teaching in public schools. Performed in two community theatre productions, one with a bottle on my head. Got my first Artist-in-Residence position. Went on a big vacation. Ate a grasshopper taco. Worked at a library. Bought a tablet. Walked in a protest march. Began a teacher certification program. Saw Carter Burwell and the Coen Brothers talk about movie scores. Planted a garden. Got a job as a long term music substitute. Got my first piercing. Passed the Praxis II on my first try. Saw Phantom of the Opera for the first time in 10 years. Was offered my first full-time job (and had to turn it down).

Sometimes what you really love to do gets put on hold for other opportunities. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it or won’t do it. It simply means life happened.

Just don’t lose sight of what you love. Trust me, music is well within my sight. 2014 will be my year. 2013 was a springboard year. Well worth it, I think.