Life begins!

I’ve done it!

I’m so excited to say that I have finally begun my career as a music teacher! Everyone said it would happen, and it did… five days before the first day of school!

It all came together for me in one day, what I call The Day of Three Interviews. It was that middle interview that turned into my first job offer (and funnily enough, I almost had to cancel that one to make it to my third one in time!). I am now an elementary music teacher in northwest Connecticut. And it’s going splendidly.

I didn’t think it was possible, but in this very short amount of time, I feel completely different. I have purpose now. I feel like an adult. I feel capable. Driving 55 minutes each way and coming home at 5 is fine because it’s my routine now, and I like having a routine.

I’m definitely busy. And when I’m not doing work, I’m almost always thinking about how I can make my classroom more productive and fun. 

But this is it! This is my career, and I’m so excited to be a music teacher. 

Up-in-the-air life? Not so much anymore.

Happy Birthday Lenny!

Today would have been the 96th birthday of my hero and musical inspiration Leonard Bernstein.

 

Naturally, I’d like to share something of his. Here is his November 1966 Young People’s Concert: What is a Mode? (1 of 4). Lenny explains modality so accessibly, yet with his trademark sophisticated flair. Perfect for middle schoolers and anyone else who wonders why there’s something different about Norwegian Wood or Scarborough Fair.

I’ll probably be celebrating the day by listening to his symphonies back to back, followed by a sing-along to West Side Story, and maybe peeking through IMSLP for a new score to follow.

And yes, I’m already excited for his centennial in 2018. That will be a whirlwind year of concerts and festivals, I’m sure, which I’m counting on attending.

 

Books in education: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

I just finished the audio book of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, by Peggy Orenstein. Confession: I have also read this book twice, and it’s sitting on a bookshelf in my sister’s room. So in short, I find it fascinating.

Cinderella_Ate_My_Daughter_(book)_cover

Amazon’s description of it reads (in part):

“Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as a source—the source—of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages.

… From premature sexualization to the risk of depression to rising rates of narcissism, the potential negative impact of this new girlie-girl culture is undeniable—yet armed with awareness and recognition, parents can effectively counterbalance its influence in their daughters’ lives.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a must-read for anyone who cares about girls, and for parents helping their daughters navigate the rocky road to adulthood.”

Orenstein herself is a mother of a young girl. She talks about her own personal battles with these issues, but also offers solutions to combat this girlie-girl culture.

One thing she doesn’t explicitly mention is how great, and probably even necessary, this book is for educators. It’s useful for anyone who is a role model for children, but is written mainly for parents or family members. Educators, too, play a formative role in a child’s life, and as a future teacher, I see her ideas from that point of view. As I listened, I made all kinds of connections to education, so I’d like to share a few with you.

First, why is this book important for educators? For one, it introduces them to this “girlie-girl” culture that pervades America. Teachers must understand the culture in which girls are growing up and participating (not all, but many), for teaching cannot and does not take place in a vacuum. The more a teacher understands about our culture, the more likely is it that she will be able to engage with her students. And two, it offers solutions to the problems this culture creates, which teachers can actually use in the classroom.

Problem #1: Girls are taught that their value as a person is linked almost exclusively to their appearance. It’s not enough for teachers to ask girls to put make-up away or stop taking selfies during class. The point isn’t to stop the action in the moment, it’s to adjust girls’ attitudes about themselves and their education for the long-term. Solution: Teachers can make a conscious effort to compliment a girl on things besides her appearance. It’s hard! Complimenting hair or clothes is a natural way for females to “grease the wheels of conversation.” But teachers should try. Compliment their good ideas, their skill, or their kindness. Make conversation about their latest read, or how band rehearsal went, or how the soccer game turned out. Focus on their abilities and inner qualities, for these are the most valuable. Teachers of younger children can set up compliment baskets for students to leave messages for their classmates. Make sure they understand that they should try to talk about more than just possessions or outward appearances.

Problem #2: Girls are earning the majority of degrees in this country, yet the numbers of females in STEM fields are declining. STEM teachers should aim to give leadership opportunities to all students, to let girls chime in during class discussions (Sheryl Sandberg says that girls are more likely to be scolded for interrupting with raising their hand than boys are), and to praise girls’ achievements to her classmates. We expect boys to do well in these fields because of cultural stereotypes. Therefore, teachers must make an effort to show no bias towards them while still including them equally. Again, this is difficult. If there are more boys in an engineering class, then of course more boys will be called on than girls. Teachers, be creative! Do a female STEM pioneer of the month corner. Get a female computer scientist to come talk to the class. Girls need to feel valued and competent in these fields from their first encounters with them, or they run the risk of dropping out.

Problem #3: Girls and boys know that pink is a girl color. This one’s more for the preschool and elementary teachers. Adults know this statement about pink isn’t true, but kids don’t. Because this is what they see wherever they go.

  boy toy aisle girl toy aisle

Boys consistently get more variety in color and type of plaything. Action figures and building sets in blue, brown, red, green, and orange! Girls are often limited to pinks, purples, and yellows, as well as playthings that don’t do much of anything. Princess dolls with brushes, lipstick, and a purse! There’s something inherently secondary about girls’ toys, or so marketers would have us believe with signs like this.

building sets

Teachers should be sure to encourage everyone to play with all the different types of toys and playthings present in the classroom. Cross-sex play should be praised to the class (“Look how nicely Susan and Eric are playing together!”). Teachers can verbally encourage girls to use different colors in their artwork. And any boy who wishes to play with a doll or a kitchen set should, of course, be allowed to, but also praised. This is also a great conversation starter (“Do you have a family member who takes care of your baby brother or cooks dinner at home?”). Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with pink. But it’s important for girls to know that it’s not their only option.

Problem #4: Boys and girls are not taught enough about internet etiquette and privacy. We can’t make privacy laws at a rate that keeps how with how fast technology changes (well, maybe Massachusetts can). Older adults are often befuddled by technology and aren’t in a place to teach about safe limits. And parents are not always in the know about what their children do online or on their devices. Middle school and high school teachers should raise the idea of internet etiquette, safety, and privacy to their administrators. Schools can hold in-school seminars, discuss these issues during school pride sessions, or run half-semester or half-year classes. Technology teachers can turn this into a research project. Guidance counselors can communicate their willingness to work through privacy or cyber-bullying with students and their families. Administrators can enact cyber-bullying policies.

The main thing is that these solutions need to be part of a team effort. If only a few teachers are on board with these ideas, their effect will likely not be far-reaching. In daily interactions with colleagues, teachers should bring up some of these issues. Use Peggy Orenstein as a conversation starter!

I finished this audio book in about a week, mainly listening to it on my morning or evening walks using OverDrive. It’s loaded with statistics, anecdotes, research, and a fair amount of comical writing.

Orenstein’s website is also a great place to keep up with her research and this “girlie-girl culture.”

Ambition, happiness, and honesty

My dad has has had one job his whole life: Professor. At the same school. For thirty years. He’s climbed the career ladder, published research, lectured at conferences, chaired committees, and designed successful new courses. Power to him!

That type of career trajectory, though, is becoming less and less common as millennials seek a differently fulfilling experience from a job than their parents might have. Today, young people want work-life balance, paid time off, family leave, intellectual fulfillment… basically, strong sense of belonging, being valued, and making a difference. I’m one of those young people. In order for me to live the most fulfilling life- socially, personally, mentally- I want a job that is not just something that pays the bills, not just something I have to compartmentalize, not just something to which my actual life becomes secondary.

What will that be, I wonder?

I can envision several scenarios in which I’d be very happy. I don’t mean to appear indecisive or noncommittal- that’s just how I feel. I’d love to be teaching. Traveling the world. Writing music. Attending conferences. Working to empower girls and young women. Acting as an arts consultant to local schools. Learning how to grow my own food. Becoming fluent in Italian. My interests are plenty. Why must I confine them to one career?

For many people, a career change is revitalizing, a way to unlock a higher sense of self. Many of my fellow ARC peers were mid-career adults looking to turn their life around with a new and exciting job. Others transfer their skills to new fields and entry level positions that they embrace as learning experiences. I feel like one day, that might be me. It might be in thirty years. My mom loves the idea of retiring from healthcare to work in a laundromat or bakery. Years ago, that kind of ambition might have been verboten, hardly seen as ambition at all. But anytime someone wishes to better themselves and learn something new it is ambitious.

The challenge, besides having the time and means to do everything you want, is to not appear, well, indecisive or noncommittal. For example, when someone asks you during a job interview where you see yourself in five years, it might not be the best thing to say “Hairdresser to the stars!” when the position is bank teller. Yet it might be a completely valid thought to you! Just because you may want Hollywood in five years doesn’t mean you don’t want the bank now. It doesn’t mean you’re any less serious about the bank. It just means that your personal goals are varied, that you seek fulfillment, and that you’re willing to take risks.

Would the bank want to hire someone who said “Investment banker” over you, future stylist extraordinaire? Yes, maybe. It does make sense on their end. And in all likelihood, leaving the conversation hanging with “Hairdresser to the stars!” might throw some people off.

That’s why you’ve got to own your ambition and turn it into your greatest strength. If you don’t want to be an investment banker, don’t gush on about how you do. But whatever it is you do want to be, show people how you’re working towards it, even if it’s vague right now. Show how your skills from this job or a previous job will help you get there. Show how you’re ready to make a difference where you are right now. Because it’s true!

Millennial ambition and yearning for fulfillment can turn our society’s views on what it means to be successful on their heads. It’s hard for me accept this for myself sometimes, but I know in my heart that my success is how I define it. 

Being a nurse now does not preclude you from being a teacher later. Being a nanny now does not preclude you from being a pilot later. It’ll take work, and maybe even more school. But if it’s true to you, go for it.

When I interviewed for an arts admin job in New York this summer, they asked about why I wanted to be in New York if I had just gotten Connecticut teacher certification. I said I felt called to many things, and that I thought I’d be good at this job. I was casting a wide net, I said, because I believed my skills and experiences were transferrable. And that was one of the best interviews I’ve ever had.

If you’re the kind of person who likes having a job you can leave behind at 5pm, that’s cool. And I don’t mean that’s okay. I mean, good for you. Good for you for knowing what makes you happy. If everyone was more honest about what would make them happy, we might all be better off as a result.

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Celebrity and the human experience

This morning I read Colin McEnroe’s column from yesterday’s Courant, where he confessed his grief over the recent deaths of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman. “We are not wrong to grieve them elaborately,” McEnroe said in opposition to people who feel like our sadness over the deaths of celebrities is distracting us from real tragedies in other parts of the world.

On the surface, the idea of us grieving celebrities seems strange. We don’t know them, they don’t know us. Their exaltation seems superfluous in a world plagued by tremendous amounts of suffering. But for many people, myself included, the connection to a celebrity transcends fandom.

I remember hearing about Philip Seymour Hoffman. My sister sent me a text right before the curtain went up at a local production of Evita. I mentally missed the whole show thinking about it. A week later, I heard about Shirley Temple Black via Facebook. I cried. She was my childhood hero, and her death seemed morbid somehow, as if she had died an 8-year-old girl instead of an 85-year-old woman. In my mind, probably in many people’s minds, Shirley Temple could never die. Neither could Mickey Rooney, but he did two months later. If I had been around in 1969 when Judy Garland was found dead in London, I’m not sure what I’d have done.

It’s hard for me to describe the effect Old Hollywood had on me. To me, it’s enough to say that it profoundly shaped the direction of my life, but to others, that might seem dramatic. How could I have connected so strongly to Shirley, Mickey, and Judy when I was around their ages myself, watching them from a point of view two or three generations behind them? Nonetheless, I did. I took tap and permed my hair to be more like Shirley. In 7th grade, I wrote a script for and attempted to direct an all-girls version of Boys Town, starring my own family members and, of course, me as Whitey (or Jocelyn) Marsh. I did a few projects on Judy Garland and received so many books on her as gifts, which stoked my fascination with her tragic life. If they’re gone, is part of me gone too?

Admittedly, Shirley and Mickey’s deaths weren’t tragedies. But Judy’s was. Philip’s was. Robin’s was. No one is making our current global horrors any less horrible by acknowledging this and mourning them for it. McEnroe exalts the latter two as heroes for taking the horrible truths of the world and bringing light to them through their art.

Making art in a world full of suffering is not selfish or irrelevant or ignorant. Leonard Bernstein said this before and it remains true today: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” The power of artists to pull people, individually and together, out of despair and anger is tremendous. We mourn them because they lived in us and shaped our souls. That’s about as human an experience anyone can have.

Paying your dues: proving yourself before you get a job

My friend just got his first job (yay!). Like me, he’s a teacher, and like me, he’s been unable to find work since he graduated.

He’ll be working in the school district we went through and where he’s worked part-time as a TA for the past two years. I’ve heard him announce his recent accomplishment to various people, but I’ve noticed that he often attributes it to having “paid his dues” by previously working in the district in a job he was overqualified for.

I have no doubt that’s part of why he got the job. Being an alum has its advantages (he knows the district and the teachers), and having worked there for an extended period of time showed he was committed and dedicated- qualities anyone would want in a new teacher.

But I know he was selected for the job mainly because he was qualified, smart, competent, and enthusiastic. I’m sure he does too. Still, he’s not suffering from impostor syndrome when he says he got the job because he had proven himself. He might actually be on to something.

Today, many new graduates must first have a wealth of “pre-experience” before securing a job for which they are otherwise qualified. Why is this? I know it’s unrealistic for hiring procedures to stay the same from year to year. Markets change, and some jobs just plain don’t exist in the same numbers anymore. But I’m not talking about how hard it is to get into a particular field. I’m talking about how hard it is to get a job at all without this “pre-experience.”

get experience

I graduated with my master’s confident that my experiences, skills, and enthusiasm would be something employers were looking for. By the end of that year, I had come to believe that everything I had done up that point had only brought me to the edge of being considered for qualification. Two years later, with additional experiences and education behind me, I feel more qualified, but it’s still been difficult to secure any leads. In a world that claims it needs creative people and good teachers, I feel like the reality is just the opposite.

I’m especially baffled for my friend who graduated college fully qualified to teach. His degree, student teaching experience, and license were proof of that. Yet he never was considered for employment until this year, despite sending out many applications.

The unspoken requirement of having to prove oneself worthy of employment before getting a job ignores the fact that not everyone can afford to do this. Are entry level jobs now becoming privileges instead of goals attainable with hard work? If so, this system will discourage good workers from finding work on a par with their education and skills. How long can people afford part-time, stressful work when they have loans, bills, and families to take care of?

Earlier this year, I was told by a colleague to “get on the ball” with my life, as if all I had to do was reach into a jar and pull out a job. I was reminded that, despite my great experiences for which I’m very fortunate and grateful, I’m still not doing it right. Oops! My life choices have all been mistakes! Of course, I don’t really believe this. But how long can I, or anyone in my situation, keep putting life on hold, waiting for something to give? I’m a good teacher, a fast learner, and I know that teaching is something I want to do with my life.

I used to be really upset about my situation. But now I’m just confused.

Dress codes and educator responsibility – Part 1/2: What’s the problem?

We’ve recently heard about the conflict over dress codes in sources like The New York Times, Jezebel, and The Huffington Post. There have been countless posts addressing the issue from various viewpoints.

Besides this being a primarily feminist issue, the conflict over dress codes is also an educational issue.

Without a doubt, educators have the responsibility of creating safe and focused learning environments for all students.

So when dress codes become less a matter of creating such an environment and more about policing gender expression, shaming girls, and catering to the male gaze, educators have a responsibility to reform them.

Many dress codes in public schools today unfortunately perpetuate discriminatory gender stereotypes, victim-blaming, and sexual objectification. Sound extreme? This article by Tabitha Tumback dissects a school dress code and exposes what in fact schools are teaching their students when dress codes are written without knowledge of towards today’s attitudes about consent and objectification.

Those who construct them must take responsibility for the codes’ implications in light of today’s attitudes about those issues named above. Don’t get me wrong- schools need dress codes. But the dress codes must be constructed around a spirit of respect for all students.

Today, that’s not always the case. What am I talking about? I’m talking about arbitrary “length” policies that police the width of shirt straps, skirts, and shorts. I’m talking about singling out curvier girls for purportedly demonstrating immodesty for wearing the same clothing as their peers. I’m talking about the idea of a shoulder being labeled exhibitionist. These rules are not constructed around a spirit of respect for anyone.

What are some of the signs of a poorly constructed dress code?

No dress code should be written with language that singles out a particular gender or body type. An ideal dress code should be gender- and body type-neutral. For example, it shouldn’t say “girls’ bra straps may be visible”; this implies that a) only girls wear bras, and b) there is something inherently immodest about bras. Instead, it should say “no undergarments may be visible” and perhaps list an example for boys and girls. This equalizes the transgression. Similarly, language that refers to “properly fitting” clothing must be re-evaluated so it does not privilege students of particular body types. Unless a student violates the undergarment rule, is at risk of their clothing falling or sliding off their body, is creating a dangerous situation, is creating an unhygienic situation, or is close to revealing private parts, he/she should generally be allowed to wear the same type of clothing his/her peers are wearing. Body parts are not inherently shameful.

No dress code should perpetuate gender stereotypes. Even in schools with uniforms. Any person of any gender should be allowed to wear clothing that is traditionally opposite their gender. Men should be allowed to wear skirts if they want, just as girls are allowed to wear pants. Similarly, boys should not be restricted to only pants or shorts, and girls should not be restricted to only dresses or skirts. This way, all students are treated equally.

 

Dress codes should not treat girls as distractions, although society conditions us to believe that they are. Society tells us that girls are responsible for arousing “impure” male thoughts, that girls are “asking for attention” when they wear clothing that doesn’t cover enough skin. Showing skin is not consenting. When schools make rules around the issue of exposure, they must be conscious of whom exactly they are trying to accommodate or protect. If the problem is that people think boys will objectify girls, maybe efforts should be made to teach boys what that is not okay.

 

These attitudes cannot continue, though I fear our culture still has a long way to go before they are abolished. Schools do not have to follow suit (pardon the sartorial pun). They can pave the way for empowering a generation of students with a strong sense of self.

Stay tuned for “Part 2: What’s the solution?”!