When the Senate Gives You Lemons

Last time, we left off with the cliffhanger of the Senate’s vote on House Bill 203. Well, folks—results are in. As of March 12 the Senate voted to pass it. fresh lemons

My music teacher bias is going to be obvious, but I want to submit a public disclaimer: I hold STEM teachers in high regard. Math and science done well are as beautiful to me as art done well. After all, according to Einstein, “After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.” I’ve had a handful of really wonderful math and science teachers and I’ll be forever grateful to them for expanding the conceptual boundaries of my artsy world, even if I still feel like “imaginary numbers” are a sly cop out.

Here’s the gist of the bill: increase salaries for “eligible” (read STEM) teachers to try and keep more STEM professionals in education rather than other more potentially lucrative careers in the private sector. Part of the bill’s definition of “eligible teachers” are those who “[have] an assignment to teach: a secondary school level mathematics course; integrated science in grade seven or eight; chemistry; physics; or computer science” (link to the full text of the bill—http://le.utah.gov/~2015/bills/static/HB0203.html). Those teachers are up for a raise of about $10,000 in the next six years—which will cost the state $13.4 million in 2016 and $42.4 million by the time the raise is in full swing.

This statue in the Utah State Capitol bears the inscription "Arts & Education"

This statue in the Utah State Capitol bears the inscription “Arts & Education”

The mentality, as I understand it, is that since STEM teachers have many other opportunities to make a career in non-educational venues, the government is opting to raise their salaries to incentivize more highly qualified professionals to stay in the schools and educate our future. Completely reasonable. So why not up the salary of the high school choir director with doctorate degrees in choral conducting?  The difference is that for a musician, a career in the performing arts is less stable than a career in education. Essentially, teaching is the lowest priority option for STEM professionals and generally the most viable career option for music professionals. So, since it’s the artists’ best option and the scientists’ worst option, scientists will get paid $10,000 more than artists for doing the same job and having (arguably) the same impact on the rising generation.

Now, lest you think that I’m bitter about others’ good fortune—I’m a huge advocate of increasing teacher salaries in general. Our cultural priorities (as reflected in where we put our money) are most often quite misaligned in my opinion and I’m glad to see society choosing to more adequately compensate its educators for the invaluable (and occasionally thankless) service they provide. I’m delighted that math, science, technology, and engineering teachers will be paid better. The sticky part of this whole thing is asking at what cost to the rest of the teachers? What does it do to a culture or society to overtly value certain trades and subjects above others? (Cue every dystopian book or movie ever.)

David Fullmer, western division president of the National Association for Music Education, expressed it this way: “We are concerned as music educators that there may be some unintended consequences by the passage of this bill. . . . We worry about the message it’s sending to the other really fine educators in fine arts, language arts, [and] world languages . . . [an] unintended message that these subjects are somehow secondary and less important.” Additionally, the Utah Music Educators Association President Samuel Tsugawa cautioned against the bill’s potential to “affect teacher recruiting and retention, student enrollment and participation, force districts to re-allocate time and money away from non-STEM courses, and create an unhealthy competitive environment between teachers.” The idealist in me hopes that none of those negative side effects will play out, but the idealist in me has been wrong before.

So, there you have it folks—Utah’s House Bill 203 will go in effect this July. Can’t say I’m particularly thrilled about it overall, but when life gives you potentially style-cramping legislation, you keep voting anyway and make lemonade.glass-lemonade-white

As always, your comments and questions are more than welcome. Thanks for reading!

Hugging our students

In a previous post I discussed my second grade teacher, Mrs. Hayes. Because of her kind nature and positive attitude I learned to love school. Her example has changed my life and I owe a great deal of my success and joy to the lessons she taught me. A few months ago on a short trip to my home town I ran into Mrs. Hayes. I was not surprised to see that she met me with a tight bear hug and a few tears as we discussed the role she has played in my life. As we continued to talk I was heartbroken to hear that after 30+ years of teaching she chose to retire. When I asked what prompted this vocational change, she shared with me news that taught me an invaluable lesson.  She said the school district decided that it was against the rules for teachers to hug their students. She simply could not sit and watch a brokenhearted seven-year-old and not lean down and give them one of her famous bear hugs, so she retired.

Before I discuss my stance on this decision, I would like to take a quick moment and say that I support school district policies and understand that they are in place to protect both students and teachers. I simply wanted to use this example to explain an important point about teaching that I hold near to my heart. Mrs. Hayes loved teaching because she genuinely loved the students and wanted to share her deep respect for learning with them. On multiple occasions, whether it was a scraped knee or just a hard day, I remember Mrs. Hayes giving me one of her hugs. Her bear hugs and kind words all my pain was taken away. I knew Mrs. Hayes cared about me, wanted me to succeed, and believed I could.

Students remember the way you make them feel. The method does not matter, but be sure to make your students feel loved. I had one teacher take a chance on me as a seven-year-old and my life has been different because I felt loved and cared for. Thank you, Mrs. Hayes!

—Annie Day

A teacher offers one of her students a hug.  Courtesy of: corbisimages.com

A teacher offers one of her students a hug.
Courtesy of: corbisimages.com

Love Those You Teach

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “If [students] are unresponsive, maybe you can’t teach them yet, but you can love them. And if you love them today, maybe you can teach them tomorrow. . . . I think that is totally within our power. None of that is dependent upon them. We can love them from start to finish, and miracles will happen.”

The following video is about a special excerpt from Sister Ann Madsen, a member of the Sunday School General Board:


What a beautiful example! This teacher made such a difference in the lives of those teenagers that ten years later one of them remembered feeling loved by her.

My favorite part was when one of the boys, now a grown man, said, “I wasn’t sure anyone liked me, let alone loved me, and when you said that to me week after week after week, I [looked] forward to class because it was so predictable. It didn’t matter if anybody else in the world liked me that week, I knew that you loved me because you looked me in the face and told me”. If I could teach in a way that students could feel my love and, some years later still remember that, I would be happy.

Have you had a teacher who was especially good at showing his or her love? How will you love those you teach?

Count Basie at the Capitol

capitolI find that once I start learning about something it’s suddenly everywhere. As soon as I learn a new word I hear it a dozen times in the next few days in conversations, on the radio, in movies, etc. Lately, I’ve had a growing interest in how legislation affects schools. As an up-and-coming music teacher, my future is very interconnected with how things play out at the Capitol in terms of legislature regarding arts education. I suddenly care more about the political process than I ever have before. It’s a complicated, fascinating—I might even say beautiful—process.

In my Foundations of Education class here at BYU, we had a guest speaker come talk with us about school governance. We looked at the hierarchy of power and decision making. Teachers were at the bottom. I started to wonder if that’s really where I want to be—if I have no political clout I will not be able to ensure teaching jobs for other arts educators like myself. On the other hand, if I’m wrapped up in the political machine trying to change the world, I won’t get to be in the classroom with the kids which is where I really want to be. See the dilemma? The lecture made me ponder anew the question of where I would be happiest and have the greatest positive influence. During our break in the class I talked with my professor for a few minutes and he suggested lobbying. You probably know what lobbying is, but I didn’t. Lobbying is when you—as a teacher, citizen, or anyone who wants to see things improve—find a senator or member of your state’s house of representatives to team up with. The music teacher who wants to stay in the classroom yet still wants political influence; the politician (an avid music lover, of course) who wants a worthy cause to champion and maintain public favor—it’s a win-win situation.

Two days after the discussion there was a music education rally at the Capitol in Salt Lake City. Enthused curiosity wonanthem out and I went. The acoustics in that building are incredible!  I mean, of course they are—the whole thing is made of marble and there’s a huge dome for a ceiling. The speakers had excellent points (details next time) and the groups that performed were top notch. Hearing a high school band play the national anthem inside the Capitol was one of the more moving patriotic moments of my life. The jazz band’s jam under the chandelier was the perfect, iconic American juxtaposition of stately and swing. And, I saw a handful of people walking around with name tags that read: “Lobbyist.” Like I said, as soon as I learn something, it’s everywhere!

Tune in next time for a more detailed chat about the legislation surrounding arts education here in Utah.