teaching college journalism in the trump era

inside logoFor the past two years, an increasing number of my university students have been asking me whether what they’re seeing transpire between White House officials and members of the national news media is, for lack of a better word, “normal.”

They often refer to the death threats journalists like White House reporter April Ryan has received after being singled out by the president for verbal attacks. They talk about how the commander-in-chief routinely labels news reporters as the “enemy of the people” (a phrase applied by dictators like Stalin, as NPR’s Scott Simon said “to vilify their opponents … who were often murdered.”). They are aghast that the president once joked about killing journalists and routinely calls those who practice journalism as “fake.” During the presidential campaign, a Trump supporter wore a T-shirt to a Trump campaign rally suggesting that journalists be lynched.

I wrote a piece for the Inside Higher Ed website exploring my struggles with teaching students how to be savvy news consumers when things like basic facts are under assault.

You can read the full piece here.

Image credit: Inside Higher Ed.

 

educators’ podcast: ‘mr. clark’s big band’ teaches how to help students with loss

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The “10 Minute Teacher” podcast recently featured Mr. Clark’s Big Band, specifically how Mr. Clark and fellow educators at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass. were willing to try novel and untested means to help their students through the grief of unexpectedly losing a fellow student.

Vicki Davis — aka “Cool Cat Teacher” — conducted the brief interview with me, asking whether teachers reading the book would find strategies to help students cope with the complicated feelings they experience after a peer passes away. My response included something Mr. Clark once told me, “If you give your students what they need, you’re never going to fail.”

You can listen to the podcast by:

Image credit: Cool Cat Teacher.

recent press for ‘mr. clark’s big band’

smartmusic.jpgHere are some pieces I’ve written about Mr. Clark’s Big Band recently, as well as a link to a review:

Music Lessons from Mr. Clark: A column I wrote about the lessons I, a non-musician, learned from watching Jamie Clark teach his students over the course of a school year. An excerpt:

When the Big Band performed an aching rendition of “Kaleidoscope” — the jazz piece composed for them by Erik Morales — at the Eric Green memorial service in June 2013, in front of Eric’s family in a packed auditorium, I, personally, graduated from music school, the school of Mr. Clark. I didn’t learn how to read sheet music. I still couldn’t sing. I couldn’t blow a note on a trumpet, but I learned, firsthand, about the stunning power of music and one teacher to give young people the guidance, safety and comfort they desperately needed in order to move on.

Mr. Clark’s Big Band — A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room: The blog Michigan Mom Living reviewed the book saying,

Not an easy book for O’Brien to write since she was personally touched by this story and then to take the time to spend an entire school year figuring out the WHY of Mr. Clark’s jazz band being possibly therapy for the students’ grief?  In this story, O’Brien writes the daily on-goings in the band room and regarding jazz band performances.  Some stellar, most were not as she was trying to unravel the meaning and tightness of this band and their band leader.  Why was it that everyone loved this class and respected the band leader, Mr. Clark, so much?  Was it because he pushed them, believed in them, made them feel they had something more to share? Join O’Brien as she daily reflects the monotony of practices and performances of achievement failure and closure in this non-fiction [book].  This novel is geared toward adults, but highly recommended for Middle School and up as it will touch some great points for students.

5 Lessons from Mr. Clark: How Risk-Taking Teaching Can Benefit Kids: A blog post I wrote for SmartMusic about how Clark’s unorthodox teaching approaches to his students helped them get through a difficult year. This includes quotes from Clark’s colleagues and former students. A sample:

Tom Griffin, a teacher at Trottier, said students are drawn to Clark’s honesty. “I think they adore him,” he said. “He is so open with them and truthful. They are willing to go to the ends of the earth to do what he wants. … They trust him beyond all belief.”

Former student-teacher [Scott] Morrill said students tolerate Clark’s frankness about their playing because they say he cares deeply about helping them perform their best. “I think, a lot of time, teachers sugarcoat,” he said. “You know something, they needed [the honesty]. A lot of times, you get from teachers, ‘That’s good.’ What is ‘good?’ Sometimes you need colorful, graphic language.”

Image credit: SmartMusic via Twitter.

 

 

southborough’s middle school celebrates ‘mr. clark’s big band’

book launch band.jpgParents, educators, students and friends converged on the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass. on Sunday to celebrate the publication of Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

Trottier School Principal Keith Lavoie emceed the event, introducing me before I read several excerpts from the book–specifically a segment about members of the 2012-2013 Big Band debating, during a January 2013 rehearsal, which would curdle one’s stomach more: eating boneless chicken-in-a-can or “gas station sushi.” I also read excerpts including one which describes a student triumphing over her fears in order to play a solo, knowing that Mr. Clark had her back, and another about the pre-performance jitters that occur when band members learn that their lead trumpet player is heading to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy an hour before showtime.

book launch jamie meredithAfter thanking the nearly 150 people who crowded the cafeteria decorated with sunflowers, sheet music and enlarged copies of the book cover, Trottier music teacher Jamie Clark (THE Mr. Clark, see pictured on the left) led the current members of the Big Band in several pieces including Paul Clark’s swinging “A Band’s Gotta Do What a Band’s Gotta Do” and Doug Beach’s sassy “Late Night Diner.”

Big Band alumni, including many students who were profiled in Mr. Clark’s Big Band and are now in high school–therefore they towered over their middle school counterparts, joined the group for the hard-charging final number, “Groovin’ Hard,” the chart made famous by drummer Buddy Rich.

Suzy Green–Eric Green’s mother–was on hand, as were the Northborough-Southborough School Superintendent Christine Johnson, former Northborough-Southborough School Superintendent Charles Gobron and Mass. State Rep. Carolyn Dykema.

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Trottier Principal Keith Lavoie looks on as I read from Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

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Jamie Clark speaks in front of his current Big Band

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Clark surprises me by pulling me up in front of the band after they finish “Groovin’ Hard.”

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Clark, Suzy Green and me celebrate the joyousness that is the Big Band.

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Clark is a world-class bear-hugger.

Image credits: Sharon Shoemaker

telegram & gazette spotlights southborough big band book

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette published a long piece in advance of the book launch party at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough.telegram and gazette

The article, “Book charts Southboro school band, leader’s coping with member’s death,” began this way:

Today, parents, teachers and music students in Southboro will meet to honor a rather special story. It’s told in a book about kids who lose their fellow band member and experience the harshness of grief at a vulnerable age — poised on the brink of adolescence and not really equipped to figure out their feelings.

Writer Ann Connery Frantz continued:

Subtitled: “A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room,” the book contains a virtual text for grief management, made human by the kids’ stories (anonymously) and their difficulty in setting aside fear and grief over a buddy’s death to move forward as Clark melds individuals into a team, rocking their approach to life and music.

springfield newspaper covers ‘mr. clark’s big band’

the-republican-springfield-ma_largeThe newspaper for which I used to be a reporter, The Republican (in Springfield, MA), was kind enough to run a large piece about Mr. Clark’s Big Band.

Here are the first two paragraphs:

When Meredith O’Brien’s son, Jonah, was a seventh-grade drummer in the Trottier Middle School jazz band in Southborough, 12-year-old trumpet player Eric Green died in his sleep from an undiagnosed heart ailment. The members of the jazz band were shaken to their core.

From the throes of his own grief, the Trottier Big Band’s director, Jamison Clark, became the children’s guide, their catalyst for healing. With a face resembling Santa’s, coupled with eyebrow-raising antics ranging from bathroom jokes to poking fun at his own girth, Clark coaxed the children to pour their grief into their music through a challenging year of mourning.

bloggers publish essay about mr. clark’s risk-taking, big-hearted teaching style

A number of blogs have published an essay I wrote about the advantages of having your child in a classroom taught by someone who takes risks, who puts his or her emotions out in the open, who is willing to give the students what they really need.

updated-header-november-2016Bernetta Style: This blog ran the article under the title, “Your Child’s Teacher May be Doing Right by Giving Students What They Want.”

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TwinMom: This site featured the piece which also highlights how school officials at a Southborough, Massachusetts middle school ditched their concerns about precedent in order to provide students the support they craved.

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Books By T. Smith:  This blog also published the essay whose main point can be summarized by these two lines:

To the children at Trottier Middle School, breaking down the emotional barriers between student and teacher–which many faculty doggedly maintain as a badge of professionalism, not worrying about precedent-setting in order to tend to the emotional needs of its students was just what these children needed to emerge on the other side of grief. What I learned by watching this school for a year: sometimes you need to set the rules aside and give the students what they need.

frugalmom.jpgReading with Frugal Mom: The Frugal Mom published this piece on its Reading with Frugal Mom website and promoted it on its Adventures with Frugal Mom Twitter account. Thank you!!

Image credits: BernettaStyle website, TwinMom website, Books By T. Smith, and Reading with Frugal Mom