SMS (Text Message) Notifications for my band students!

UPDATE – After taking Joe PIsano’s great advice, I checked out TextMarks a little more closely.  I could not find any specific information on their site regarding the ads they send with their messages, but I have realized that the ramifications of these ads going to students may not be good.  So, at this point, I have put this project on hold, and am continuing to search for a service that will do this for free with no ads at all.  If anyone can point me in the right direction, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  I think this could be a really powerful communication tool!

After attending the PMEA Summer Conference this year, I starting thinking a lot more about how I could integrate technology into my band program.  More specifically even, I started thinking about how I could use technology on my students’ level.  It is clear to me that many students use text messaging as an important method of communication.  So, I started wondering if there was a way for students to subscribe to a band text message alert service for my program.

After many hours of searching the net, and failed attempts to use many different services, I finally found what I’m looking for in TextMarks.  This service allows the students to text the word “sharonband” to a specific number, and then they can receive any alerts that I post as the manager.  This service also gives me the ability to either allow or disallow the subscribers to send a message to all other members of the group.  I have disabled this feature, as I only want students to be able to receive messages.

As far as posting messages to the subscribers, I can either do this from my mobile device or from the web.  This service allows me to use 120 of the 160 text characters, as I believe the rest are reserved for short advertisements. (That’s how they keep it free.)

This is very exciting to me.  I notice how much students use text messaging, and I think it is just another great way that we can “meet students on their level” and keep them informed of the important information that we need to pass on to them.

I can foresee this being useful to any teacher that wants the ability to reach out to their students “outside of the school walls.”

Check it out, and let me know if you would consider using this with your students!  I can’t wait to get this going with my students and report back later on how it is working!

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New School Year: Challenges Ahead

In about 10 short hours, I will be meeting with students for the first time in the 2008-2009 school year.  I must say that while I am usually enthusiastic about this event, I am not feeling so this year.  Actually, I was doing a pretty good job of having a positive outlook for the year until I got my class rosters  Once again, I was disappointed with the numbers.  Now, I am not naive – I know how many (or how few, in this case) students I have in my program.  But, it is just disheartening to know that you only have 40 students in band from 7-12.  I guess what I found most disappointing about this is that every year, I seem to have fewer kids, instead of more.  I feel like my program is growing in so many ways, yet I can’t seem to get the numbers up.  I am also concerned because this is what most people in the community and administration focus on: numbers.  I really thought that by this, the 5th year, I would start to see an increase in numbers, and it’s just not happening.  Now I guess I have to figure out why this is the case.  And, I think I have some issues that I need to address with my administration and some things I have to admit to myself as well.

Realization – Just being here and being a great teacher will not alone increase the numbers in my program.  I think this was a false belief of mine until today.  It is not just enough to be doing a good job – some fundamental changes within the district need to happen, and I follow with some of those that I believe are necessary (in no particular order).

1. Schedule changes – Every year, I lose more and more of my best students to schedule conflicts.  My first year, I had none.  This year, I have about 3-4.  There simply should not be other classes scheduled during the same periods as band, or any music ensemble for that matter.  I know this is not always possible, but this year, our conflict is with a couple of AP classes.  Now, if what I have been hearing is true, our highest achieving students are usually music students.  Then why schedule an AP class at that time?

2. Change in mentality – We have assemblies and “Tiger Tunnels” at our school for many sports activities: football, basketball, softball, baseball, track, cross country, swimming, tennis, golf, and wrestling.  During these events, we honor those athletes that have achieved great things in their respective sports.  Don’t get me wrong – I am all for that – I love sports.  But, we have never once had any kind of assembly for any of our students going to county festivals, districts, regionals, or states.  Why not?  Aren’t these student musicians representing our school just as equally as the athletes do?  I think doing this kind of thing would change the old “band geek” mentality in our school.

3. Additional Staff – We have added a music position in our district this year and I a very grateful for that.  But, we still need more music staff members.  For three elementary buildings, there is 1 orchestra teacher and 1 band teacher.  This simply does not give us (the orchestra director and myself) enough time with those elementary students, and we lose many of them before they even leave 6th grade.  We are doing pretty good staff-wise at the middle-high school level, but we desperately need more help at the elementary level.

4. Additional schedule changes – If I’m going to be critical here, which I guess I am, I should mention that band and choir should not be scheduled the same period.  This means that we must share students.  The most “full ensemble” rehearsals I will ever have will be 3 per week, 2 every other week.  This is the same for choir.  In other words, if we have students that are in both band and choir, they go to one a few days a week, and the other the rest of the days.

I really think that if my school district is serious about supporting their music programs and making them strong, these are some fundamental changes that need to be made in order to achieve this.  These are the challenges that my program is facing right now.

My new colleague in the choir department would be quick to point out that my situation could be much worse, and I agree.  I am not ungrateful for what I do have.  But, that also doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t want or push for this program to be the absolute best that it can be.

Twitter & Music Educators

If you are not yet familiar with Twitter, I encourage you to check it out. Rather than try to explain it to you, I will quote Wikipedia:

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.

Updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them. The sender can restrict delivery to those in his or her circle of friends (delivery to everyone being the default). Users can receive updates via the Twitter website, instant messaging, SMS, RSS, email or through an application such as Twitterrific or Facebook. For SMS, four gateway numbers are currently available: short codes for the United States, Canada, and India, as well as a United Kingdom number for international use. Several third parties offer posting and receiving updates via email.

I have really just recently started using Twitter, and have come to find that I have some colleagues in my own school district that are new users as well. What I would like to do, however, is figure out some way for music educators to start following each other on Twitter, so that we can share information, etc.

So, if you get a chance, please find me on Twitter, and we can start “following” each other. I am on Twitter as “dougbutchy.” Hope to hear from you soon!

Email from a former student

For whatever reason, I feel compelled to share this email and response that I sent to a former student today.  I think that I wanted to share it because it reflects how I feel about myself and my teaching.  I am always questioning myself and my methods, and I think that makes me a better person and teacher.  That is also why I write this blog…it gives me an outlet to reflect on what I am doing in education.  You may find this relevant or not, but I wanted to share it.  The names have been taken out to protect the innocent!

How are you!? How was band camp? I just got my laptop and everything set-up and thought i’d send you an e-mail! I’m so excited to be at college, but I must say I do need a little more closet space! haha. But, I did want to talk to you about when you went to school. Did you ever question your major or think you should change it?  I just find it very distracting because when I tell people i’m going into Elementary Education they tell me stories  of how everyone goes into that major and hates it after a while.  It just makes me very nervous to go into something that really isn’t for me. Anyways, I figured I could always talk to you considering you were my favorite teacher and always have great advice! 🙂

Hope everything is going well!


Doug Butchy

show details 11:29 AM (3 minutes ago)
Reply

Hi!

Thanks so much for the nice email.  I really enjoy keeping in touch with everyone this way – now I don’t really feel like you’ve left!  HA!  Band camp went really well, and we are on pace for a really good year!  Hope that you can come and play on homecoming in the alumni band!

Anyway, when I first started at YSU, I actually was a music performance major.  When I graduated HS, I can remember saying “I don’t want to have anything to do with teaching high school kids.”, and I truly felt that way.  But, I had a friend in music education that told me to go ahead and pursue an education degree, basically for job security’s sake.  So, I did.  And then, about 2 years later when I actually started taking some education classes and going to do field experiences, I realized that I really liked teaching.  In fact, I realized that I loved it!  I guess that means that my situation is opposite from yours!

But, here is what I can tell you.  I guess the question I would have is why do people hate the major after a while?  Is it the coursework? Or, is it that they found they did not like to teach after doing some field experiences?  I would speculate that it is probably because of the classes, and not because of the actual teaching part of it.  I think it is normal to question what you are going to be doing.  I had moments when I questioned what I was doing in music all through my 5 years at YSU, believe me!  And, quite honestly, there are still times that I question what I am doing now.  You probably don’t know this, but if I hadn’t been hired at Sharon, I was ready to go to the State Police Academy and pursue a career in law enforcement!  Anyway, I think that is absolutely normal and you shouldn’t be worried about it.  You will know once you start into your education classes if you like it or not.  But at least give some field experiences a try first and see.  If you truly don’t like it, that’s okay!  Don’t feel like you can’t change your major if you know you are in the wrong field.  In education, the worst thing to do is to become a teacher and be unhappy.  Because, believe me, if you are going to teach, you had better LOVE it!

Long story short – I think that questioning yourself is okay.  That is what makes you introspective and allows you to grow as a person.  It makes you improve, and that is a good thing.  I am always questioning myself and how I teach, and that makes me a better teacher.  And, when you graduate and go out “into the world”, make sure you are happy, no matter what you are doing.  I think college is a time of self-discovery and a lot of soul searching – finding out who you really are, as opposed to who you thought you were.  If that means that you discover that you really would be happier doing something else, then do it!  I know this is a cheesy line, but it is true – S, the sky is the limit, and you can do whatever you want.  To quote one of my favorite movies, “Back to the Future” – “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything!”

Good luck this year, and I look forward to hearing all about it!  Have fun!  And, give me a call or an email anytime if you need anything!

Mr. B

PS – I am very touched that you would think of me, and ask my advice on your first day at college!  It means a lot to me!!

Band Camp Wrap-Up

Well, I am mentally and physically fried!  I think the sun has partially melted my brain!  But in all seriousness, it has been a truly excellent two weeks!  I think I probably touched on this in my last post, but there was definitely something different this year.  I don’t know if I can put my finger on it, but I’m going to try.

1. Better Attitudes – I’m not sure why this year is any different than any other…well I think I have an idea, but I’ll get to that later.  The kids really worked hard this year, and I was able to do things with them that I haven’t been able to do with any of my groups for the last 4 years.  A perfect example of that is in this cheer that I like.  It gets the kids pumped and proud of what they’re doing.  It goes like this – I yell the words in bold, and the students respond.  Feet…”Together!” Shoulders…”Back!”  Chest…”Out!”  Chin…”Up!”  Eyes…“With Pride!”  Eyes…”With Pride!”  Eyes…”With Pride!”  Anyway, when I’ve tried to do this in the past, it just didn’t go over well.  The students then would just roll their eyes at me and laugh and think it was silly.  This year, the attitudes have been much different, and the students are very enthusiastic about it.  They are actually proud of what they are doing, and it is palpable.

2. Better Discipline – I think this probably has more to do with me than with the students, actually.  For whatever reason, I was determined to really hold the students accountable for what they were going to be doing.  I think I probably set the tone early on in camp.  My group has had a chronic problem with starting on time, and I’ll be the first to admit that I became a little too relaxed about it.  I have talked the kids’ ears off for the last few years about “to be on time is to be late” etc, etc, but it never really made any difference.  So then I used to make them run laps for being late, but most of them were in cross country or track anyway, so it wasn’t really a punishment for them.  Well, this year, I started thinking about what I would really hate to do for punishment for starting late….push-ups.  I can’t even do probably 8 in a row, and I absolutely hate them.  So, I decided that for every minute that rehearsal started late, we would do 10 push-ups.  So the first day of band camp came, and we ended up doing 40 push-ups together, as a group.  You can’t just make the people that are late do them individually, because this band is a team, and we stand or fall together.  So that’s what I did.  And it worked!  Especially after one of our new officers was late for her meeting the next morning and had to do 140!  I think the word spread fast.  We maybe only started late 2 more times the whole rest of camp…even after water breaks and whatnot!  I also think the kids appreciated seeing me do 20 because I started 2 minutes late one morning!

3. Better musicianship – I think this result may be attributed to my outlook as well.  I have a young group this year, and when I started picking out music, it was very difficult, because I was trying to avoid my groups weaknesses:  2 7th grade trombones, 1 alto and 1 tenor sax, 1 tuba who was switched from clarinet, etc.  But then, I remembered an experience I had a few years ago with this group.  My second year, I tried to pick music like this that wasn’t as difficult.  And guess what?  The music tanked.  The kids didn’t like it, they weren’t challenged, and I was just generally not happy with it at all.  You see, I have learned something very important about my students in this program.  If I challenge them with music, they will rise to the occasion.  They always have, and I have never been disappointed with the results, except in the year that I tried to pick “easy music.”  So, I picked probably the hardest music I’ve done in 5 years, not because it was hard, but because it was just the music I wanted to play.  I decided I wasn’t going to worry about those trombone parts, etc.  I knew that if I had to, I could re-write some things here and there, but for the most part, I banked on the students stepping up and learning the music.  I’m glad that I did, because they proved me right!

4. All of “my students” – When we got to about the 4th day of camp, and I was trying to figure out why everyone’s attitudes were so good, I realized something.  My seniors this year were in 8th grade my first year.  My large group of juniors this year were in 7th grade my first year.  None of these students had ever had anyone else as their marching band director.  Consequently, they have been used to the way I run the group, etc. for the last 4-5 years.  They know what my expectations of them are.  They know what to expect from me.  I guess I probably know what to expect from them too, and that has made a huge difference in the students’ attitudes this year.

I think really, really exciting things are going to happen for this group this year.  I don’t think that I’ve ever looked forward to a marching season with so much anticipation and excitement.  And, I think the students are feeling that way too!

When you take over a new job, lots of people in music ed. talk about when the program is going to become “your program.”  Usually people say 3 years, but for me, I think it is going to be this 5th year.  I am walking away from this camp saying, “Finally, this is my program.”  I hope that the students are walking away saying the very same thing, because they are what make this program great!  It is very exciting, and I can’t wait to see what happens!!

Band Camp Reflections – Day 1

Today was a good great day!  I am extremely excited for the marching band season this year.  Actually, I am always excited, because fall is my favorite time of year.  I must admit that I was going into this camp feeling anxious for the first time before a camp.  Let me explain:

Back in May, I had a meeting with my superintendent about an unrelated issue.  In passing, he mentioned that people in the community had been commenting about the lack of numbers in the marching band, and that it was “an embarrassment.”  I took great offense to this statement, because I happen to think our group is far from “an embarrassment.”  In fact, I challenge you to find another band in the area that plays as well as our group. Of course, I’m biased though!

I have always been very proud of my students. The group at Sharon has always been small since I have been here.  However, we have always had great quality, and that is something I pride myself on.  If you are not familiar with the program, I should point out that we only have about 25 musicians.  We had about 35 my first two years, but due to large graduating classes, that number has declined slightly.  I have always said that I don’t care if we have 10 musicians…I will take whoever wants to be there! What people need to understand is that this program had 3 different directors in 6 years before me.  This contributed to the decline in numbers before I arrived, and it takes several years to build the program back up through the elementary schools.

Anyway, I think what made me anxious about this years’ camp was the comment about the numbers.  I guess that I was shocked, because that concern had never been articulated to me in 4 years of working in the district.  And, for the first time, I found myself trying to come up with ways to increase the numbers….This was dumb.  I have invited some 7th graders into the marching band this year, and they are doing a nice job.  However, some of the students that originally were going to play have now backed out on me at the last minute.  You see, worrying about the numbers had shifted my focus and attention away from what it really should be on – teaching the music!

Anyway, the other thing that I realized today is that 100% of the students in the marching band this year have never had another director for marching band.  That is, they truly are “my students.”  I must say that I definitely noticed a difference right away today.  It is very exciting!  I do not get the rolling eyes and the poor attitudes that I have been getting the last 4 years.  Every student knows what I expect of them, and what to expect from my rehearsals.  I think we are on pace for a great year!

Finally, the last thing that I realized today is how much I missed my students over the summer, and just how much I really do enjoy working with them!  It was a lot of fun for me to catch up with them on breaks, and to work together toward a common goal.

So, in short, an outstanding first day, setting the stage for a great camp and a great marching season!  Here’s hoping that your school year goes well.  Have fun!

First Ever Podcast!

I have finally bought a new iMac and have discovered the joys of Garage Band.  Yes – I have been messing around with it, instead of writing my drill, like I should be!  Anyway, with some fairly modest audio equipment at home, I have finally produced my first podcast!  I am very excited to use this tool for personal and professional podcasts.  I have a lot of ideas for different shows, and am looking forward to it…it kind of takes me back to my radio days at WYSU! This first podcast is essentially me interviewing good friend Lee Caldwell, and it is a bit crude, but I wanted to get something “out there” just to make sure I had some idea of what I was doing.  We discuss his band and the upcoming marching season, as well as a recap of the Mercer Community Band season.  There are also a few random things in there!  This is an enhanced podcast, so you should be seeing some images along the way.  Please let me know if the podcast works okay for you!  Any comments are certainly welcome!

You can also find the RSS feed on the right sidebar!

Enjoy!