Thursday, August 27, 2015

Roxborough State Park 2015

My family recently got back from visiting my sister in Colorado. We had a wonderful time, and one of the things I loved was visiting Roxborough State Park.
We saw deer quite close to the road.
Gorgeous rock formations
My sister and I looking at the beautiful landscape.

All of us, after a short hike. I love family pictures!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Five Common Teaching Mistakes

I've taught music to students of all ages, from preschool music to private violin and viola lessons. I've also taught Language Arts and ESL for 6th-8th grade students. It's often rewarding, but I've had some tough times as well. Teaching is called an art or a gift, but in my experience, it's a skill that takes time and effort to master.

Mistakes are a part of the learning process, and I've made plenty of them. Here are some of my biggest mistakes and how I learned from them:

1. Not Establishing Clear Procedures 

You might not realize it at first, but students of all ages like predictable classroom/studio routines. This was my biggest failure as a middle school English teacher--I didn't get the students on a routine quick enough (though it was particularly hard since I came in during the middle of the year, and they'd already had three different teachers). Later on, I made sure to develop a consistent routine with my preschool children, and that made all the difference.

2. Losing Patience 

This was a big challenge for me at first. I found it easy to get frustrated with students' progress or their behavior. I lost focus on the learning process, which includes mistakes, plateaus, and struggles. But patience is a skill, and I worked on developing it. Once I could deal with my own frustrations, I felt better about my teaching and practicing, and I had more patience.

3. Not Using All My Tools 

It's easy to get stuck in your ways. When I first started teaching, I treated my students the same way my teachers treated me. In some ways that was great--I had some excellent teachers, especially in high school, that taught me to set high standards for myself. But other things I learned weren't so great, and I had some of my own prejudices. For example, I didn't enjoy learning music theory as a student, so I was initially reluctant to teach it to my students.

When I examined my teaching methods and thought them through, I recognized I needed to use all the tools at my disposal, from theory books to iPad apps to new strategies. All students are different, and what works for one child (or what worked for me as a kid), won't necessarily work for another. By embracing a wide selection of tools and strategies, I could reach students more effectively.

4. Taking it Personally

I love playing classical music on violin and viola. Symphonies, string quartets, Beethoven, Mozart--I love them. But it's not for everyone. I used to get frustrated and annoyed when kids didn't seem to enjoy classical music or were reluctant to play violin. Now, I take a step back. It's okay for them to want to learn other styles of music, and if a student doesn't want to play violin, I tell their parents to try a different activity. Maybe someday they'll learn to appreciate classical music or want to play violin, but until that day, there's no need to force them. 

5. Pushing Too Hard (or not hard enough)

I'm a bit of an overacheiver. I like to push myself and take risks. When I first started teaching, I figured most (if not all) of my students were like me--dedicated to performing and always looking for new challenges. Of course, some of my students are like that. But others want different things from music. They may want more "fun" pieces or less intense focus on technique. Now instead of teaching everyone the same way, I ask students what they'd like to work on, and try to figure out what they'd like out of their lessons.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Publishing Tips I Learned at the DFW Writer's Conference

I recently attended my first writer's conference, and I had a fantastic time! In addition to bonding with my fellow writers and meeting editors and agents, I went to some excellent workshops and talks. I got some helpful feedback on my writing, and great advice on writing, editing, and publishing. Here are some of useful things I learned about traditional publishing:

1. Your Query is Too Long

On the last day of the conference, there was a query letter gong show. It was hilarious, but I learned so much about what agents and editors look for in a query. The most consistent problem? Queries that went on too long. Many times the agents were intrigued by the initial premise, but grew frustrated when the query droned on. Keep the description of your novel to one or two concise paragraphs--leave something to the imagination.

2. No Gimmicks

In general, the agents preferred to have relevant information like genre and word count in the query's opening sentences. Cold opens only work if the genre is immediately obvious. Likewise they didn't like gimmicks like too much slang or confusing jargon. Clear explanations that give them a sense of the writer's characters and voice got the best responses.

3. Agents and Editors Get Rejected Too

It's easy for writers to get frustrated. Since we get so much rejection, we often forget that agents and editors get plenty of rejection as well. An agent can find a book they love, do their best to promote it, and get rejected by editors and publishers again and again. That's one reason they advise writers to keep writing more books--if the first one doesn't sell, maybe another one will. Editors may love a book, but find it gets rejected by more senior editors, or the marketing team, or some other higher up. This is one reason agents only rep books they love: they have to be willing to risk rejection and go to bat for it.