Reflections on a New Year: Part 1

6142869933_18c3fa91bb_zWhile many students/educators have already begun their new school year I am still in my final week of summer break before going back for a week to staff professional development .

A new year with new opportunities!

However, with education and teachers receiving a lot of attention and scrutiny from politicians and the media having often being deprived the necessary tools for success, there is a lot to contemplate.

Let me be clear, I use the term ‘tools’ in reference to funding for supplies, personnel, and academic and athletic programming. And I do not limit academic programing to the involvement of what is considered the ‘core subjects’ but to all subjects that need to be taught to develop the whole child. The term ‘success’ is being referred to as it has been defined by those who have never taught or even observed a teacher other than their own from childhood.

What is viewed as success (test scores) in education, in my opinion, is not a true measure of success at all. All that is important is that other adults view the school and it’s students as successful.

So if you appear to be having success, then you are.Image25

If the classroom is decorated nicely, there is a nice and neat bulletin board displaying student work, and if all the numbers are in the green or blue then you are successful.

There is no care for how the numbers got that way.

There is no care if teachers cheat on standardized tests unless the media gets ahold of it.

The reason there is no care, in my opinion, is because the majority of the tests our students are subjected to do not accurately assess their knowledge.

The reason I find this as a major pondering point is not to complain or throw my arms in the air and say, “My students will never receive the education they deserve with the funding/materials that I have at my disposal.” Or to say, “How am I supposed to teach my students how to be a person when I am told to teach to the test and social emotional skills, history, and grammar are ignored.”

I think on these issues often for two reasons:

1. There is nothing I can do about it.1-book-books-circle-curly-education-knowledge-learn

In reality I could do something about it. However, in order to make a meaningful and lasting change I would have to become an educational lobbyist, or some form of equivalent in the political sector in order to propose and hopefully pass and implement educational law and reform that would actually make a difference in the nation’s present educational system. The reason there is nothing I can do is because I am not going to leave my classroom or my kiddos. I love what I do and won’t let it be taken from me for any reason.

2. I am going to succeed anyway.

I was born to teach, it is the thing that comes very naturally to me even though I have a tremendous amount of room for growth and improvement. I don’t care what the politicians say. I don’t care what the complainers have to say. I am going to succeed anyway. Notice I am not going to ‘try’ to succeed, I AM going to succeed.



Every year success looks a little bit different in my eyes.


Most importantly, I have to consider what success looks like for my students. As a music teacher I can rather easily teach my students to sing and/or play a performance piece that sounds great. Anyone who comes to watch will shower the students with compliments of how well they did.

But the real question is, “What did they learn?”

It does not matter how well the students performed, even though great performances will greatly help a music program, if they don’t walk away with an enduring understanding. The reason this does not matter is because this is the model of “If it looks good you are successful.” Of course looking and sounding good is part of the students success, especially in the arts, yet it is knowledge gained by the students from the process of learning, practicing, and performing that matters, that is where the true measure of success lies.

If a student can’t tell me something they learned from a performance piece then I have failed them in that enthusiastic-children-playing-on-computerparticular lesson. Possibly, I didn’t actually tell my students what academic gains they should be taking from the
lesson and all they did was experience something that was fun. Yet, without connecting the dots between having fun and learning, a rigorous lesson will quickly turn into an activity.

This is one of the reasons that objectives or “I Can” statements are important for the children. For a time I felt rather strongly that I shouldn’t have to post the lesson’s objective on the board because my students were going to learn it anyway, there was simply no need or benefit.

I felt that I was only posting objectives because that is what the adults wanted to see and it did not help the students. And this mindset handicapped me on a regular basis at the beginning of my career. I was so appalled that adults weren’t thinking of what is best for students that I actually fell into a similar pattern.

There is a piece of advice, or rather a mental calibration that I have to remind myself often of: “If I disagree with a new policy, procedure, or ‘reform,’ still take a step back and think of how it will benefit the students.” If in the end it will benefit the students then there is no way to argue against it, and by looking at new initiatives through this lens I don’t end up blinding myself to the needs of my students.

Keep an eye out for part 2…


Zebediah (Zeb) Allen is a music teacher in Chicago, IL and has been teaching in low income inner city public schools for 5 years. Zeb wants to live in a world where students always listen, teachers are always well rested, and no one ever skips breakfast or lunch. As a Music Educator, he’s taught at 7 schools in Chicago Public Schools (2 of them as a resident teacher) in the Chicago neighborhoods of Garfield Park, Bronzeville, South Loop, North Lawndale, and currently in South Shore. He has presented at Googlepalooza, a technology focused professional development conference in Chicago for anyone involved in education, for the past two years and continually strives to find ways to use technology to the advantage of both students and teachers. When he’s not teaching or lesson planning, you can find him writing music, rock climbing, cooking, looking for a new amazing dinner spot, or any other way to just have fun.


Photo credit: ccqatar via Visual hunt / CC BY

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