Dream, Focus, Follow and Never Give Up

By John Gardner

DreamAnyone with a Facebook or Twitter account can find entries like, “Ugh, have to work today” or “only 2 more hours ’til I get off”. And many of these posts are from teens that have just entered the work force. If they say this after their first few months, can you imagine what life will be like after they’ve been at it for decades? They get it from their parents, though, who often make the same complaints. Stop doing what you hate.


Students often have to work jobs to help pay their way through college…. and sometimes those jobs provide encouragement to finish the degree. My college grunt work jobs included dishwasher, fast food handler and 3rd shift custodian. Summer work was in a stock room in a large Cincinnati department store. Those minimum wage jobs were not fun, but were temporary and served a purpose. Those jobs pushed me to succeed in college.

As seniors (and even juniors) begin to decide on college majors and career directions, I often hear variations of, “I’d love to do music, but I want to make more money, so I’m going into…..”

“God Bless, Good Luck, 
and may you and your money 
live happily ever after.” -G

But what do you WANT to do? Read more ›

Posted in College Prep, High Schools, How May I Serve YOU?, Job Search, Teaching Tagged with: , , , ,

When the teacher hears this “L” word from the parent.

liarIn a previous century, pre-cell-phone, almost pre-historic era, I had a memorable exchange when a pastor parent called me a liar when I told him what his daughter had done.

How do you think I should have responded?


As I walked into the small high school office, two band students had their backs to me as they used the counter phone. I entered just in time to hear one of the girls explaining that she was going to get home late because

Mr. Gardner called a mandatory rehearsal.

The caller’s friend, who may have already made her call home, saw me first, displaying a shocked face as I approached and asked for the phone. In front of the two band parent secretaries who also heard the student, I simply shared with the parent….

Hello, this is Mr. Gardner and there is no after school band practice today.

I handed the phone back to the girl and went on about my business in the office, not listening to the rest of that conversation.

A few minutes later, in the hallway, with no witnesses, of course,….this normally smiley, friendly, terrific student and valued bandster unloaded some vocabulary on me to express her displeasure. I might have brushed off a temporary anger burst, but I couldn’t ignore what she said — and I knew her father would agree. So I went back to the office to use the phone. Keep in mind that I had just caught the daughter in a lie.

Pastor A____, this is Mr. Gardner again. I just want you to know that your daughter just used some bad language with me that is both unacceptable and disrespectful. Because this is the first time I’ve had any trouble with her, I’m not going to write-up anything through the school, but will be giving her some temporary extra band responsibilities as discipline for her behavior.

(Details shared.)

Pastor: My daughter doesn’t curse.

Sir, I’m not giving you second-hand gossip. I’m not telling you what I heard or what someone else told me. I’m giving you a first hand report about a face to face conversation to let you know that I will require your daughter to spend some extra time working in the band room as discipline for her behavior, and wanted you to hear it from me.

Pastor: You’re lying. My daughter wouldn’t say those things and you’d better not discipline her.

The daughter later apologized, completed her mandatory volunteer work around the band room, and hopefully learned and grew from the experience.

But I never visited her father’s church.


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Posted in Communication, High Schools, Parenting, Personal experience, Public Schools, Respect, Storytelling, Teaching

You should never have just one reed


Playing on one reed til it breaks or dies = Bad idea!

  • You will break it just before a performance and the new replacement reed is too hard……because
  • Reeds change over time, getting softer as they go. The cane in the reed gradually breaks down from your saliva. It is gradual enough that you don’t notice it until you have to replace it.

My recommendation and why

Get a reed guard. They cost about $5 for a plastic guard for clarinet/sax players. Get one that has a place for four reeds, or buy TWO of the 2-reed variety.

Get FOUR reeds. Put them in the reed guard(s) and find a way to label the guard (not the reeds) either 1-2-3-4 or A-B-C-D.

ROTATE the reeds. Play a different reed each day. In most cases, rotating four reeds will go longer and better than playing four reeds individually until they die.

Rank/Rate your reeds.
I = performance grade
II = good for practice, but not for performance
III = maybe time to replace

After I have all four reeds broken in pretty well, once I find one that I would be comfortable using in a performance, I take an ink pen or marker and put a single verticle mark [I]on the end of the reed (that you can see when the reed is in the guard). If I have a reed that is less than performance quality, I’ll put TWO vertical marks [II]. (If/when my performance reed deteriorates, I will add a second mark to it). A reed that gets to a [III] mark is probably not worth keeping.

REPLACE a III reed with a NEW one and get it going in the rotation.

Posted in Music Department, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , ,

Looking for help defining an educational perspective

By John Gardner

education level conceptual meterConsidering the variety of educational experiences of just the four in my immediate family (me, spouse, two sons) – I should have an interesting educational perspective to write from, but I am struggling with the focused perspective part.

With family experience at school types that include public, elite, private, top-tier, Christian, Catholic, sacred, secular, Ivy-league, city, state, academy, college, university and boarding — my struggle is where to begin?


  • inner city geographically segregated but integrated student body – me
  • multi-cultural in predominantly Jewish neighborhood, bigger city, east coast
  • mid-sized mid-west – two sons
  • really small rural – my first teaching job

Within the public system, we experienced arts, athletics and academic, including regular, AP (Advanced Placement) special GT (Gifted and Talented) multi-grade-level classes, pull out groups as well as off campus college classes during high school. And we have experience from within and without a teachers’ union.

Not all (even within the family) agree, but I tell people…

“For us the [public] system worked but we had to work the system.”

Three of us attended PUBLIC/STATE UNDERGRADUATE colleges (University of Kentucky, Tennessee Technological University) while one experienced “top-tier” PRIVATE UNDERGRADUATE (Duke University) plus semester studies at New York University and OVERSEAS summer studies in Ghana and Costa Rica.

GRADUATE schools include STATE IPFW (IU), Ball State, and Ivy-league secular PRIVATE GRADUATE school (University of Pennsylvania). Also graduate study at Southern Baptist Theological SEMINARY.

We have TEACHING experience in PUBLIC primary through secondary, CLASSICAL CHRISTIAN primary and secondary, CATHOLIC primary through middle school, PRIVATE undergraduate universities, PUBLIC CITY/STATE undergraduate college/universities, and PRIVATE SECONDARY BOARDING SCHOOL — plus management/oversight and teaching responsibilities in a PRIVATE SCHOOL OF PERFORMING ARTS and on the school board of a PRIVATE CLASSICAL CHRISTIAN academy.

Our collective DEGREES include BACHELORS in English, Music, Music Education, MASTERS in Secondary Education, English, Music (in progress) and Divinity (in progress) a DOCTORATE in English and additional specialties including Library Science and Music Therapy.

Educational experiences are in the STATES of Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee in systems run by private, religious and public boards under Democrat and Republican governors and state assemblies.

Religious schools include Liberal Arts Christian, Classical Christian, Catholic and Seminary.

So, what do I write about???

Comparing, contrasting, supporting or criticizing

  • Public, Private and Religious
  • Catholic-specific / Traditional Christian / Classical Christian
  • Economics: Poverty vs Privilege
  • Diversity or lack thereof
  • Segregated, Integrated, Multi-cultural
  • Compare states
  • Gifted and Talented – as special ed or contrasted with…
  • Unions and other political factions

I’d really appreciate your input. Thanks for reading.

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Posted in Classroom Teacher, College Prep, Communication, Consulting, High Schools, How May I Serve YOU?, Teaching, Types of education Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Are teachers real people?

Teacher Student Love

By John Gardner

Do students see teachers as real people? I’ve seen posts and heard student comments about the weirdness of seeing a certain teacher at the grocery or department store or in a restaurant. For some, seeing that homework-assigning, discipline-distributing, command-issuing government employee from the mandatory classroom changing a flat tire, cutting grass, experiencing pain or tragedy, showing emotion or some other evidence of humanity is just plain “creepy”.

Creepy is official teen talk, by the way.

Teens see people over twenty as aging, if not old. Twenty-five is close to historic and anyone past thirty is, well, old enough for grandparent or senior status. Teen girls, no doubt, experience unsolicited, unwanted, inappropriate comments and advances by online creepers.

Yet knowing that, as a teacher over 3x their age, I enjoy (please don’t tell me if I’m wrong) a fantastic relationship with the teens I am around. Most give me more than the obligatory student response to a teacher command. I respect them and love their youthful enthusiasm and it could be their ability to sense that which moves them somewhere past polite and even into comfortable talking to this elder. Yes, some of them would still call it borderline creepy if I were to offer transportation to a walking-in-the-rain teen, but overall, unless I am completely be-fooled, I think I have earned okay status.

To those born to teenage parents who were born to teenage parents, I may be older than some of their grandparents. I have, in fact, been called “G-pa” (as well as G, Mr. G, G-man, G-ster, G-dog and more).

So, the question is, when I periodically see a post or hear a comment that goes something like… (not directed at me, I trust)

“You’re old enough to be my dad….don’t talk to me.”

….do teens really see teachers, at any age, in a non-humanistic way?

Enlighten me, please….and thanks for reading.

Recent posts you might want to consider, include:

11 Things that Fire and
Music Departments
Should Have In Common. 




Teacher Student Love




Is it ever ok for a teacher to LOVE students?



The most views of any post I have ever published....so far.

The most views of any post I have ever published….so far.

10+ Values Marching Band Students Learn

Posted in Communication, High Schools, Public Schools, Respect, Social Media, Teaching Tagged with: , , ,

Follow your Dream

By John Gardner

Anyone with a face book can find entries like, “Ugh, have to work today” or “only 2 more hours ’til I get off”…. How many people do you know who are in jobs they hate?


High School and College students often have to work jobs to help pay their way through college…. and sometimes those jobs actually encourage them to continue the college trek. My college grunt work jobs included dishwasher, fast food handler and 3rd shift custodian and my summer work was often as a stock boy in a large Cincinnati dept store. They were not fun, but were temporary and served a purpose. Do the work and don’t complain. Focus on the goal.

As seniors (and even juniors) begin to decide on college majors and career directions, I often hear variations of, “I’d love to do music, but I want to make more money, so I’m going into…..”

“God Bless, Good Luck,
and may you and your money
live happily ever after.” -G


But what do you WANT to do? Read more ›

Posted in College Prep, High Schools, Repost, Sales and Marketing, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , , ,

Three questions about private music studios

By John Gardner

Classic music Sax tenor saxophone and clarinet in blackIn preparation for a Skype interview by Andrew Ingkavet, a music teacher in the Greater New York area, I asked if he had any questions he wanted to share in advance — so that I could be especially prepared for those.

“I have lots of questions, but these are the main three.”

Safety, Transparency and Reputation
When Coaching Students

 1. Why do you feel you have been successful in your market? (Strengths)

My market includes 1-1 music coaching in person and remotely, teaching in public high school and private university settings, and working as a Virtual Assistant for teachers, parents, students and small business owners — virtually anywhere.

My combination of training in 1) music performance, 2) teaching music and 3) sales give me some unique skill sets to draw on. One other reason I am successful in working with teens is that I “love, admire and respect” them — and I tell them so.

Proficient musician make better teachers. I studied for four years each with two clarinet teachers using opposite techniques. One taught me like a father to an adopted son. The other used bullying and intimidation tactics. I did learn much from them both. There was one problem I try to avoid in my teaching, however. I never heard either of them play or perform. My private lesson teacher through high school was reportedly one of the best in that part of the state at the time. He was also a high school band director. But I never saw him with a clarinet in his hand. I never heard him demonstrate what he was describing. At the university, I occasionally heard my professor warming up before I went into my lesson, but he very rarely demonstrated what he was talking about. I never heard him in a faculty recital either.

As a teacher, I make sure I demonstrate what I’m talking about. The education world calls it modeling.

The reason I want you to keep your fingers close to the keys and to use chromatic fingerings is so you can play fast…..like THIS!

Having a good read, a solid embouchure and control of the airstream give you a better opportunity to play the high notes…..like THIS!


Because my degree is in Music Education, I have studied the psychology of learning, of recognizing different types of learners and understanding how to match my approach to the learner’s strengths and weaknesses.

A few years ago, I lost three students when the university negotiated a teaching arrangement with the principle clarinetist in a professional orchestra. They had promised a recruit that she would study with this guy, but he refused to travel for one student — so they asked me for some of mine. He was an amazing performer (better than me) … but he was a terrible teacher. He knew what he was doing musically, but couldn’t explain that to students. In one semester, one of the three students sold her clarinets and the second changed her major.

I got my job back….but there were two fewer clarinet majors. The third returned to me.

Most music educators are good musicians — and if they teach in the public school system, they are also trained in education.

I left education for twenty-five years — to go into the small business and sales worlds. I find myself using some of my sales training in my teaching.

Salespeople learn how to ask qualifying questions to gather information to get a clear picture of the situation. Students (and even their parents) are not always good at explaining themselves well. So many times, by asking questions and gathering information, I find that the real issue is nothing like the first comment made. My sales skills also kick in when a student is telling me what he/she “can’t” do, i.e. memorize music, march, continue in band, play a solo, etc.

Robot and shield “Times Have Changed:
Open Schools of Yester-year vs
Secure Schools Today

2. Do you use any technology or software in your day to day running of your business? If so what and how?

Google Docs for collaboration. In our music office at school, all three music teachers can be in the same room, working on the same document at the same time — and seeing what each other is doing.

By creating a Google Form, which itemizes responses.

Finale is my music notation program of choice, partly because it integrates with Smartmusic. With Finale, I write, edit, arrange or transpose parts. I can also create special exercises or rhythms for a certain individual or to help with a particular piece of music. Smartmusic is great for making exercises interesting with accompaniments — but it also includes an assessment component that students can use for private practice at home.

In the band room, I use the Blue Tooth feature on my phone to play a recording through the sound system — or to make my metronome loud enough to be heard.

I use YouTube to post video or audio of rehearsals for student assessment.

The high school where I teach has a 1:1 program (1 iPad per student), and I’ve put, as an example, our basketball pep band book into digital format for download into iBooks. Students have used iPads vs 3-ring binder notebooks at games and other performances. Students can also snap pictures of their music folders at school so they can practice at home without taking their folder home.

In working with remote students, usually from a rural area with little access to expertise on some instruments, I use Skype or Facetime. At one school, students are set up in the band director’s office and he is in the vicinity. I usually have the student point the camera so I can see (depending on what we’re focusing on) fingers or embouchure. A couple times, early on, I’ve observed minor discomfort when a teenage girl is pointing a camera where I can see her fingers, but also her torso…but that discomfort fades as they get to know me — or when I react to it by asking them to change the camera angle.

I use Google Voice for my VirtualMusicOffice.com business — because it rings to my cell without my giving out that number. It has voice mail where I can have separate greetings. And I get the messages via email and text, with the option to read or listen to the message.

Phone Word CollageHow I Use Google Voice
In My Small Business

 Especially when making calls to students or their parents, I use an app on my phone to record the conversation. Similarly to the idea of the airplane’s black box, if all goes well, I delete the recording as soon as I’m sure there is nothing on there I would need. It can also come in handy for getting a name or number I didn’t quite hear — or for clarifying something when either student or parent tries to tell me what I said.

Cracking and crumbling of the word Trust

Broken Trust and the
Damage Bad Teachers Cause

 3. What trends do you see happening in the private music school space? (Opportunities?, Threats?)


As public schools continue to tighten budgets, often resulting in reductions or elimination of music programs, parental interest in providing music for their children increases through private music studios and even schools of performing arts.

Because of the increased hesitancy to send children and teens to teachers’ homes, teachers are opening private lesson studios in music stores. This is good for the music stores because of the increased traffic. And the setting satisfies most parental safety concerns.

Another growing trend are Private Schools of Performing Arts. Several large churches have created Schools of Performing Arts as an outreach to their communities.

Bellevue School of Performing Arts, Memphis, Tennessee

Stevens Street School of Performing Arts, Cookeville, Tennessee

For the past ten years, my son has been the administrator for the Stevens Street SPA. Not the largest, but they have dozens of teachers (college town) and approaching two hundred students. They have to spread their end of semester recitals over two to three evenings to get them all in.

At first, the schools thought we were competing with them and wouldn’t support us or encourage students to come. But over time, they have seen that our students are well trained and it even helps their programs — so I now go to several schools to speak to students and parents.

Stevens Street School of Performing Arts "Petting Zoo", an alternative to the band/orchestra instrument selection programs offered by most public schools.

Stevens Street School of Performing Arts “Petting Zoo”, an alternative to the band/orchestra instrument selection programs offered by most public schools.


The biggest threat to private teaching studios is the legitimate concerns have about Safety, Transparency and Reputation of the teachers.

Another concern is economic. As a teacher in a public high school, I try to help students who have been playing on their 6th-grade student instruments for 5+years without proper maintenance. I have students who struggle to pay the $35 we require for marching band shoes — and we keep a box of used shoes (donated by graduates). Over the years I have secured far too few scholarships and grants to help provide lessons for deserving students.

The interviewer, Andrew Ingkavet, operates ParkSlopeMusicLessons.com.


Posted in Classroom Teacher, Personal experience, Teaching Music, Virtual/Local Services Tagged with: , , ,

I Swear…NOT!

By John Gardner

Surrounded Blamed

Swearing, cussing, cursing …. or whatever you want to call it, has been around forever. And lately, it seems, it has been around more than I like…..

  • he finds the door locked and, not knowing I was near, unloads a string of “words” (his term) …… for which he profusely apologizes…., but only after discovering ME!
  • “pardon my french”….. when someone accidentally slips in a “colorful” word.
  • an Oscar winner drops “the f-bomb” and makes news headlines.
  • someone attributes the word for “female dog” or “fatherless child” to describe life or another individual.


  • someone slips on tv then asks, “can I say that on tv?”.
  • edited tv/radio have certain words bleeped out and institute delays so that they can bleep or silence unwanted verbiage.
  • it seems expected in some situations (“cusses like a sailor”) and common in others (assembly line work, sports…) while it is less or not at all tolerated in others.
  • some of you legitimately question why some mentors or teachers, in particular, say and do things off campus that they must discipline you for doing on campus…. and you use that to support your position.

…. so I want to share my personal position on the matter.

If you swear in my presence, one of us must leave. I find it personally offensive, disrespectful and a sign of your limited vocabulary — and it negatively impacts my respect for YOU. Can I forgive you? Yes. Can I forget? ….ummmm no! Can you regain respect? Not quickly.

WHY do I disrespect swearing? The root of the issue, for me, is scriptural. I live by what I believe to be clear teaching against it. Yes, Jesus cursed the fig tree, but there was a significant consequence to the tree. He became “the curse” to pay a price. There are numerous references to using “the Lord’s name” in vain, or in swearing at or by things. To avoid those cautions and condemnations, or the risk of offending, I choose to communicate differently.

‘Substitute’ words. For many, substitute words make it ok and I’ve been (and periodically continue to be) guilty here. To avoid abusing “God”, for example, we substitute Gosh, Golly, Garsh (a local priest uses this one). I’ve said, ‘what the heck, or darndang, son-of-a-band parent… and others. We know what “dad-gummit” or gosh-darn-it mean. I often see variations of “effing” or “freakin” used in facebook. I used “omg” until challenged by my son. He was right. Recently, I saw “oh em gee“.

Print and tv media use “f-bomb” and “n-word” as tolerated substitutes. Inserting an asterisk (*) in place of a letter of the word cleans it up. Is there any doubt what someone means to say when they spell “c**p”? I consider “G”, on the other hand, to be a perfectly acceptable substitute for “Mr. Gardner” in most cases.

Wikopedia claims one 4-letter word can be used as a verb, adverb, adjective, command, interjection, noun, and can logically be used as virtually any word in a sentence…and often is; printing an example of a complete sentence consisting of the repetition of that one word.

Have you ever been “cussed out”? Of course you have. And it normally involves 3-4 words inserted randomly and repeatedly to convey additional emphasis. Really? REALLY? Are you impressed? I am NOT!

Why must you have two sets of vocabulary? There seems to be the vocabulary you use among friends or when angry, which is totally different from what you say in school, in the presence of a teacher or work boss. Seems to me that it would be easier to maintain and expand one vocabulary so that you don’t have to remember which language to use when/where.


Posted in Communication, Parenting, Repost, Respect, Social Media, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , ,

Music Literacy across the Curriculum

Music LiteracyMusic is Literacy. Language has its grammar and syntax, chemistry its symbols, physics its formulas, mathematics its equations; music also has its language of symbols and niche Italian terms. Music notation is a language composers use to transcribe musical thought to paper enabling readers who know the language to read, interpret and translate that language into aural art. Students learn to read this specialized notation language in the same way a mathematician learns formulas or the chemist applies the element symbols. In a piece called, “Andante” students learned the title is an Italian term indicating tempo, or speed: faster than Adagio but slower than Allegro. Many of the musical terms are, historically predominantly Italian. Musicians must understand that fortissimo is louder than forte, which means they also learn the suffix ‘issimo’. Allegretto is a “little bit” allegro. Dolce is nearly the opposite of marcato and if you get crescendo and decrescendo backwards, you can ruin the entire effect. If the music page tells you to rallentando and you accelerando instead, you crash. If you miss a fermata or play through a caesura, you’ll be embarrassed. Not only are there vocab words, but there are abbreviations for them as well; f, ff, <, >, ^, //.  Foreign language.

The study of music is interdisciplinary. Students studying music are also learning other subjects, like history, cinema studies, theater and foreign language.

We performed music from the movie, “The King’s Speech”, which included music by Beethoven (historic, iconic, classical), and learned some of the HISTORY of the movie, i.e. WWII, the king’s stuttering problem and the artistic effect of the music behind the speech [only in the movie] as we watched that particular movie clip. That’s history and theater.

Music is cultural. A piece called “Africa; Ceremony, Song and Ritual…” showcases 26 different drumming assignments and includes singing traditional African melodies and vocalizing tribal African sounds. We reviewed pictures of African drums, watched/listened to video/sound clips and took class time to understand how that complex sound is really not much more than several more simple rhythms layered on top of each other, often in compound meters of simultaneous duple and triple rhythms (did you get that?). If we were to correctly perform “Andante” and “Africa” in the same concert, not a single audience participant should have trouble determining which piece is European and which is African.

Philosophy of Education

To play/understand Jazz music necessitates some social studies understanding of New Orleans and how the import of slave music morphed into a style of music that the whole world understands originated in the USA. There is an academically valid reason why much of jazz, especially originally, was not written down. History again.

“Some modern educators have forgotten the call of the founder of our American school system, Horace Mann, who believed that music was essential to the education of the young for the development of aesthetic appreciation, citizenship, and thinking.”
-Alan Miller, professor of education at Fort Hays State University

Music is mathematical. When we read those markings, in addition to telling us what sound to make, they also tell us how to group them together rhythmically. It takes two sixteenths to make an eighth, two eights to make a quarter, two quarters to make a half and two half notes to equal a whole. Math.

“Music is the arithmetic of sounds as optics is the geometry of light.”
Claude Debussy, composer

Music is emotional. Performed well, “Stars and Stripes” will evoke a significantly different response from “Taps”, or the jazz version of “Sing, Sing, Sing”. Music is used at birthdays and at funerals; to represent victory or emote defeat. It can make us cheer or cry. ….but ONLY if the musicians understand and convey the emotion in what/how they play. Psychology/Theatre!

To talk drama or choreography, we could discuss Marching Band or Show Choir.

“Music students learn about the cost of sacrifice necessary for accomplishment. They learn of the cost of loyalty and responsibility to a group. They learn of the tremendous self-discipline and cooperation required to be a member of any large and successful ensemble. They learn of pride in accomplishment and develop a self-esteem that flows over into home, work, and treatment of others.”
-Robert Wentz, superintendent of public instruction, Nevada State Department of Public Instruction

When we tune our instruments – because we know that out of tune notes together make an ugly sound – we apply a basic understanding of sound waves and frequency. We lengthen or shorten the instruments to alter pitch. Understanding vibrations, frequencies and how the length of the instrument adjusts pitch is physics.

“The word is out: Researchers have discovered a way to make kids smarter. And savvy parents are signing their children up for private piano lessons while school boards debate the role of music in the public school curriculum.”
-Joan Schmidt, Director of the National School Boards Association


Thanks to David Gardner for input.


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Posted in High Schools, Internet web design and ecommerce, Managed hosting, Teaching, Teaching Music, Virtual Assistant Tagged with: , , , ,

Special Education at the other end of the spectrum

The world is so full of mediocrity. Have you ever had a student at the “other” end of the special ed spectrum? You know…. the end that also requires extra teacher input and attention; where it is just as challenging to keep this student engaged as it is the lower achieving student? Why is the term “special needs student” only used at one end of the spectrum?

I once sat in on a public discussion meeting where a high-achieving group was challenging a scheduling change. I was shocked when I heard one of the presenters say….

We’re not here to teach the elite. We’re here to teach the masses.

Think about that.

It is as though we’re all about not leaving a child behind, but also about not letting anyone get ahead either. At the lower end of the proficiency spectrum we have organized “special” education with additional class rooms and facilities, employing both certified and classified staff. We develop IEP’s (Individualized Education Plan) for about 12% of our public school student body (Institute of Education Sciences) and require all building teachers to accommodate each of those individual needs.

But what about the 6% of Gifted & Talented student(s), at the high end of the spectrum; those who ace the test, ruin the curve and yet still do all the extra credit — just because it is there? For them, there are no additional class rooms and facilities, specially trained staff and IEP’s. The easiest thing to do is re-assign them as “mentors” or “tutors” so that we can pull everyone into the mediocre middle. That is the educationally correct thing to do, but who does it help …. and does it also hinder? We teach to the middle and use the achievers to help. We love the star quarterback but not the star student.

Yes, let’s do all we can to help every student, but let’s help every student. Compare the long term benefits of our lopsided investment for both students and society. When you hear about the top technology and other highly skilled jobs going to students from overseas, where do you think those countries are investing? As we correctly strive to leave no child behind, may we also more aggressively assist the academic achievers?

There are teachers who recognize the high achievers and provide individual challenges. We do have “AP” (Advanced Placement) classes designed to better prepare students for college….. but which colleges?

As you listen to or read about politicians, lawyers or surgeons focus, on the schools they attended. Are state schools bad? That’s not what I’m saying, but many of them are teaching “to the masses”. I went to both a large, inner-city public high school and a super-sized state university. I sat in freshmen writing and lecture classes with 200+ students in a lecture hall with a graduate assistant on a microphone who would never know my name. One of my sons, while a doctoral candidate at an Ivy League university, taught a freshman writing class with 15 students…. and of the three classes he taught, that was his largest. Am I claiming that not all colleges are created equal? YES!

School systems celebrate when test scores are slightly above the state “averages”. What is average? Mediocre? So, we’re all about being slightly above mediocre?

I’m tired of being the geek. I’m tired of ruining the curve. I’m tired of making people mad because I do the extra credit anyway. I want to go to a school where I can be normal, where it is okay to be an achiever.

I heard this quote when I was asking a high school senior about the choice of college. When the principal learned about his Valedictorian’s college choice, he shared his opinion:

Why not go to [XU], it is the biggest state school…..everybody goes there. It is affordable. Why out of state at such an expensive school?

I know because I talk to both students and parents, that the experience of the student quoted above is not unique.

Low achievers are helped. High achievers are heckled.

My parental experience raising two high achieving academic students is that:

…for us the system worked, but we had to work the system.

With the attitude and determination evidenced by the geek quote, David chose Duke. His SAT score was slightly above the “average” there. He went in as one of nearly 500 high school valedictorians and graduated in the top 1%, but that was okay there, where he was expected to achieve and encouraged to excel. Unlike public high schools, which must take everybody and do the best they can to educate all…..there are schools, both high school and college, that specialize. Here is a paragraph from one such school’s admissions brochure(emphasis mine):

    We want to find the ambitious and the curious, students who want to tackle issues head-on and are open to change. Ours is a community of talented learners, and we look for people who have unique qualities, who can challenge us as much as we challenge them. We want some bumps. We want some students who are well-rounded, some with sharp edges. We want people who are not afraid to undertake things that are messy, complex, and extremely difficult to do well—because they love it. We like students who already know what it means to succeed and those who know what it means to reach and not succeed and reach again. We like students who make intelligent and interesting mistakes, students who understand that only in risking failure do we become stronger, better, and smarter.

Let me be clear. We could not have afforded to pay the $58,000 sticker price of a [“top tier”] University education. As I was balking at the “early decision contract” on the admissions office table, they responded to my financial panic with:

If we decide we want him, we will get him here.

And they did. They didn’t make it cheap and they didn’t make it easy, but they DID make it possible for us to pay less than what we would have paid for an in state public university. Our total contribution for eight years of college for two was about $32,000. Our total contribution for eight years of college for two was about $32,000. That’s $2,000 per semester. Where can you go to a school for a price like that?

All education should be “special”, right?

Thanks for reading,

ps Every time I’ve written about variations of this topic, I get blasted with negative feedback. The goal is not arrogance or elitism, but to encourage those who ARE achievers, or who want to be by pointing out that there are solutions for you too. And….to dispel the myths that college is all about who can afford what. Here are my bullet points:

  • Don’t choose the cheapest school based on $$$
  • Good Grades Do Pay
  • Be proactive vs reactive; make it happen, don’t just let it happen. Plan it, don’t wing it.
    • Plan Academically
    • Plan Financially
    • Plan to be Well-Rounded
    • Plan to Know before you GO


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