Posts Tagged 'Alumni Voices'

Lessons in a 4-Inch Box

By Claudia Felske – You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher. It’s Christmas Vacation as I write this, and I have students-on-the-brain.

Case in point: I’m watching my son enjoy his favorite Christmas present, and it’s got me thinking about teaching again.

It’s the loop pedal’s fault. I didn’t even know what a loop pedal was until I gave Eliot’s Christmas list its due attention. And now, not only do I think it’s the best present we could have bought him, but I think it’s a master teacher.    


Huh? How can this little contraption (“THIS was $99?” I exclaimed, unimpressed, upon its arrival) be so miraculous?  What, even, is it? The loop pedal is a gadget that allows Eliot to make short recordings with his guitar and then play over those recordings, creating loops or layers of music. And because it’s a pedal, the recording part is “hands-free,” making the process of playing, recording, listening, re-recording and layering seamless.

But is this teacher sacrilege? How can I give an inanimate object teaching kudos, especially since singing the praises of  Eliot’s real-life guitar teacher, Craig Friemoth? It was just two Christmases ago, when I wrote about Eliot’s gift to me: he had taken my favorite song at the time and created and played an extended, remixed version of it for me on his guitar. I called it “the best present I’d ever received.” It affected me deeply as a mother and as a teacher as I witnessed Eliot’s growth as a musician and I pondered how to elicit such creativity and engagement in my classroom.

The continuing influence of Craig’s teaching on Eliot’s love of music and growth as a musician can’t be overstated. How, then, can I now bow down to the almighty loop pedal as the ultimate teacher?

Here’s how. This is what he’s doing:


Eliot & loop pedal at play

  • He’s examining the process of music making and the parts of a song.
  • He’s perfecting his craft. In any process, there are “cheats” and shortcuts. But a loop recording exposes and amplifies the smallest error. So now there’s an organic motivation for perfection which is fueling extra practice.
  • His creativity has exploded. His love of playing classic rock riffs continues, but now it’s mixed with loads of experimentation.
  • His “aha” moments are many.  After he plays a loop, adds another and another, I hear all sorts of “ah,” “no” “okay…”wait”… as he’s discovering the interplay of these sounds and then tweaking them for various effects.
  • He’s learning the thickness of music. By that I mean he’s experiencing the richness of music as the sum of its parts by deconstructing it and then reconstructing it. It’s like playing in a band while being all the band members.
  • Perhaps most importantly, he’s getting that all-important feedback loop that we know is critical to learning. The loop pedal doesn’t lie. It plays back what it hears, making him painfully or ecstatically (whichever the case may be) aware of his abilities, providing feedback and motivation for correction.

Make no mistake: without the guidance of Craig, Eliot wouldn’t be ready for any of this. A master teacher enables a student to become his own teacher and prepares him for other “teachers” (human and non-human varieties) he’ll meet along the way.  

And so, I end with three pats on the back and a question:

First the back pats:

  1. One to Mike and I for heeding the Christmas list.
  2. One to Eliot for creating it.
  3. One to Craig for making him ready for it.  

And now, for the perpetual question:

How can we as educators do this? How can we provide for our students the foundation for life-long learning, the readiness to recognize and leverage all the potential teachers they will encounter in life?  

Where Comedy Meets Tragedy

By Claudia Felske – It’s official: Ruby Ruhf, “Star English Teacher” is the top pick in the National High School Draft will receive $80 million over 6 years with $40 million in incentives.

No wonder this Key & Peele comedy sketch, “Teaching Center” has received over 4 million YouTube views in a few weeks.

Hilarious, right?

Here’s the hilarious part:  Imagine if teachers received the fanfare and hero worship akin to our sports figures. Imagine money thrown at them in a no-holds-bar draft in the hopes of landing the best in your child’s school. Imagine national play-by-play analysis of master teaching. Imagine fawning fans, screaming crowds, signing bonuses, hype, excitement, and RESPECT.

Therein lies the humor. The sheer ridiculousness of it! It is so laughable, so inconceivable, so counter to all things logical and realistic that TEACHING would be held up as the vocation to be admired, emulated, and valued at our society’s highest levels—that we can’t stop laughing about it.


Arne Duncan on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

There’s much pain in humor.

The departing Jon Stewart comes to mind as he was perhaps the modern day example of comedy-wrapped tragedy. The Daily Show was the preferred source of news for millennials: today’s big events stripped down to its dirty underpants. Stewart and his brilliant writers exposed the hypocrisies of the media and of politicians, causing us to laugh, but it was a bitter, cynical laugh.  This wasn’t Benny Hill chasing a busty woman to a vaudeville beat. It was a painful, reality-laced laugh at things that matter: politics, public health, the economy, the environment, education.  Stewart’s humor made palatable the viewing of the profane.

Key & Peele and The Daily Show: these are satires meant to shock us into realizing our ugly truths. Parody is a succinct rendering of how screwed up our values are. It’s hilarious and it’s tragic. The Key & Peele “Teaching Center” video is hilarious because it’s so far from our reality, and tragic because if we were a  principled society, it would be our reality.

Here’s the greater tragedy: While a free and open democracy in the 21st century is more dependent on an educated citizenry than ever, we are clearly moving in the opposite direction.

So watch the video and have a laugh…and then a cry.

For what is humor if not an acknowledgement of the garish degrees of human folly?

10 Teachers Par Excellence: A Belated Appreciation

teacher-appreciationYes, Teacher Appreciation Week was LAST week. But perhaps this lateness is appropriate. Most appreciation of teachers is, after all, LATE.

How many of us start appreciating teachers 5, 10, 20 years after leaving their classrooms?

That said, here’s my late but sincere appreciation of just a few of my teachers par excellence—ten magnificent human beings who decided (and demonstrated) that teaching is a worthy way to spend one’s life:

Thank you to:

  1. Mrs. Leetz, my 3rd grade teacher, for her Writing Stations. She had brightly-papered boxes stuffed with story starters. Priscilla and I (Priscilla being the protagonist in all of my stories) couldn’t get enough. Perhaps those were the seeds that led me to my degree in creative writing and that novel still in the works.
  2. Mr. Bergner, my 6th grade teacher, who organized an enormous community plant sale in order to take his classroom of dressed-up 10 year-olds to Mader’s German restaurant for a gourmet meal after teaching us table manners. How cool was that?
  3. Mr. Gaulden, my 8th grade science teacher for cumulus stratus and cirrus, which I identify often. He taught me the kinds of clouds, what they do, and why I should care (the same can be said for so many natural phenomena).
  4. Mrs. Gorton, my 7th grade math teacher, for naming our polynomials ACDC, REO, and other cool names and for reading us mystery stories aloud when our assignments were done, because she wanted us to be careful thinkers.
  5. Mr. Yach, my 9th grade English teacher, who one morning introduced us to his “illustrious” wife and thanked her “profusely” for bringing him the V8 he forgot at home. First, I thought it was amazing to catch any glimpse of a teacher’s outside life; second, I wanted to use words like that, and eventually I did.
  6. Mrs. Tanzer, my 11th and 12th grade English teacher, for her tangents—anecdotes so fascinating that they made me want to be a reader and a writer and a teacher; and for the attention she paid to my words—lively and lengthy commentary down the margins of my papers, not just pointing out my errors, but celebrating my ideas.
  7. Mr. Neau, my band teacher, who infuriated me by making me master a crazy hard fingering pattern on my oboe in one breath—because, he said, I could do it and anything less from me wasn’t “A” work. He was right.
  8. Dr. Boly, my uber cerebral English Lit professor, who one unsuspecting day my Junior year, declared me “brilliant” in class when we were analyzing “Musee de Beaux Arts” and I thought, hey maybe I am.
  9. Dr. Maguire, my controversial theology professor, who I saw as the true intersection of intellect, pragmatism and morality; who helped me articulate why I think the way I do; who made me realize that one person’s common sense is another’s controversy, a lesson I’ve repeatedly experienced and embraced, knowing that I’m in good company.
  10. Dr. Jay, my multicultural literature professor who tipped my thinking on its side, challenging me to examine my eurocentric education, teaching me about cultural identity, and profoundly influencing my thinking and teaching.

Here lie just a fraction of the educators who greatly impacted my formative years, who have had a lasting influence into my adulthood, and who have made me revere teaching as the noble profession it is.

Thank you, all teachers, for lives well spent.

And now, dear readers, your turn. Let’s name names: what teachers have influenced you?

The comments board is open…

A Day in the Life of a Teacher

tree-and-subjects2a short story by Claudia Felske — A prominent psychologist studied the teaching profession. She tallied the following raw data after observing a teacher for one day:

1 teacher. 178 students. 11 phone calls. 63 emails. 218 questions. 9 excuses. 2 disciplinary referrals. 68 smiles. 4 arguments. 27 late papers. 1 bathroom break. 3 meetings. 6 cups of coffee. 1 near fight. 2 belly laughs. 637 decisions. 1 hour of preparation time. 3 trips to the counseling office. 14 interruptions. 5 thank yous. 167 assignments collected. 0 breaks.

The psychologist then presented her conclusions at the National Educators Conference:

“I have observed extreme highs and lows of teaching; I have witnessed within a teacher’s day periods of high energy, jubilation and happiness alternating with periods of severe anxiety, despair and hopelessness. It is my studied opinion that the profession of teaching itself is clearly…Bipolar. “

Unphased, a teacher in the audience stood up and said, “That’s not bipolar disorder, Doc, that’s just a day in the life of a teacher.”

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