Thursday, March 24, 2011

I'm Running Out of Pithy Idol Quips for Titles

I went into last night's Idol with sort of a sigh. I had heard that morning that it was Motown Week and was just sort of annoyed. I mean, way to be cutting edge, Idol. Let's troop the kids out to sing fifty-year-old songs and then tell them how old-fashioned they all seem. I love Motown music. I just wish the producers would give these kids the opportunity to tackle contemporary music and demonstrate what they would bring to the current music scene. As much as I might love "Dancing in the Streets," I can't imagine hearing it on the radio sandwiched between Lady Gaga and Ke$ha. Sure, we have Bruno Mars out there working a great retro soul vibe, but please tell me I'm not the only one who fears that his vibe is going to become passe way too soon and he'll be forgotten despite his mad talent. (PS -- I LOVE Bruno Mars. I do NOT wish him away. Just want to make that clear.)

Despite my frustration with the theme last night, though, I was completely blown away by what I saw. There is some mad talent on that stage, and I'm starting to believe in the hype that calls this the best season of Idol ever. I can't even begin to predict who the top two will be because as soon as I do that, I think of two or three others who have just as great of a shot at the final. Casey vs. Lauren? Jacob vs. James? Scotty vs. Pia? Don't just about any of those seem completely plausible on some level? And you really can't count out, say, Naima or even Stefano. There's no real clear contender like there has been for the past, well, ten years. And that's pretty exciting.

Everyone gave a pretty solid performance last night, and figuring out who is going home tonight is kind of tough. Sure, some performances were stronger than others, but there weren't any train wrecks that sent desperate signs of elimination -- and this is the top 11. Imagine how hard this is going to be when we have it winnowed down to five! It honestly would not shock me to see the judges use their ridiculous save tonight, particularly if the elimination is a huge shocker. A season like this, though, is further proof of why the judges' save is a bad idea. With this much talent, who is to decide whether someone is worth saving or not? If, God forbid, Casey were eliminated tonight, there are plenty of people left to keep the competition interesting.

While I'm complaining about Idol "features", can I also please ask the producers to please stop with the backstage camera? It's just awkward, unpleasant, and if anything, makes the kids seem unlikable as they feign humility or awkwardly talk about how their performance went. I'd rather see more stuff like Scotty's basketball hijinks at the mansion.

Ranking last night's performances is challenging, but's what I do. So here we go.

1. Jacob Lusk ("You're All I Need To Get By") Am I the only one that worries every week that Jacob is going to have some sort of seizure and collapse onstage? He always seems to POSSESSED by the spirit of the music that I honestly expect to see him pass out. The past two weeks, that possession has seemed on the verge of spiraling out of control. His "I Believe (I Could Fly)" was all over the place. Last week's "Alone" seemed almost frantic at times. If this guy does make it to the finale and wins....I'm expecting full throttle collapse, man. I was so glad last night to see Jacob rein things in just a little. I've always loved this song and was dreading the hot mess that Jacob always seems to be just about a bar away from, but his restraint and build last night was breathtaking and earned him the top spot for the night.

2. Casey Abrams ("I Heard It Through the Grapevine") Casey is my pick to click this season, but I worry about him. Outside of his health issues, I worry that he is going to struggle to maintain control, stay interesting, and meet the demands of the theme weeks. His "Grapevine" last night was really good, very cool, but it was the first one of the night and I kind of forgot about it by the time the show was over because the performances were all so incredible. I want that danger back; Casey was a little safe last night for me, and I miss that musical sex quality his voice has. His voice wants to do bad, bad things to you.

3. James Durbin ("Livin' for the City") Damn, this kid is good. There is this purity to his voice that I just love. I thought the end of the song was a little anti-climactic, but overall, a solid way to end the night. James is in this for the long haul and a finale with James would be all right by me.

4. Naima Adedapo ("Dancing in the Street") I thought Naima was screwed when Ryan mentioned right before her performance last night that Randy hadn't uttered the word "pitchy" once. I mean, Naima, after all, is the one who has probably struggled the most with pitch all season long. And then she tells us she's adding African dancing to her song. Seriously, I thought my eyes had become slot machines they were rolling so hard and fast. I wish she had gone all in and pursued that sort of funky African vibe throughout the whole song. The combination of the horns and tribal drums was kind of odd, but Naima proved herself, again, to be a potential spoiler for this season. I look at her and see the most marketable in terms of current pop music. She's like this brilliant cross between Rhianna and India.Arie with maybe just a hint of Jill Scott thrown in for good measure. I'm rooting for her.

5. Scotty McCrery ("For Once In My Life") I worried for Scotty. I've said all season that I didn't know how Scotty would be able to meet the demands of the theme weeks considering the limitations of his vocal style. Scotty is never going to sound right singing straight pop or rock. He has a country voice, and it's a country voice that could serve him very well and make him a very successful singer when this competition is over. Motown is a far cry from Nashville, but Scotty found a way to bridge that gap last night with a lovely country take on one of my all-time favorite songs. I did find that sort of twitchy thing he kept doing sort of off-putting, but otherwise, it was a fine performance from the country heartthrob.
6. Lauren Alaina ("You Keep Me Hangin' On") I thought her dress was icky. I have to say that. After that, though, I thought her performance was fine. I really loved the way she opened the song, and I wish she hadn't then fallen back on the more traditional instrumentation after that opening lick. Lauren is working that country lilt in her voice, and that's great. She shouldn't be afraid to go all in for the country thing. A country-fied version of this song would rock and would be much better than this sort of hybrid she gave us last night.

7. Paul McDonald ("Tracks of My Tears") I love this guy. Take one look at my iPod and you'll see how well Paul would fit right in. I know he's quirky and probably not as strong a singer as the others above him (and even below him) on this list, but seriously, I love this guy and I hope he gets some kind of a career out of this.
8. Pia Toscano ("All in Love Is Fair") I don't get Pia. Yes, she's pretty. Yes, she has a lovely voice. But she just feels so dated and pageant-y. There's a lack of any real fire to her, and watching her is just really boring for me. Look at her last night. It was like something out of Mahogany -- right down to her dress. If she could step it up and break out of the ballad prison, sure, she could be a contender, but right now, I think she's in jeopardy of fading into oblivion and being overshadowed by the more daring performers above her on this list.

9. Haley Reinhart ("You've Really Got a Hold On Me") If I don't look at Haley, I kind of like her. But when she's doing that growly-faced, full-body twitch thing she does, she's frankly unpleasant to watch. Plus, I have to say that she really does seem like she's a bit of a biz-nitch. Just watch her in her sessions with Jimmy Iovine. This guy is a freakin' legend, and Haley looks like she's bored and barely masking her contempt for anything he says to her. Add to that the fact that Haley has yet to show any consistency in terms of her style -- country one week, R&B diva the next, bluesy growler the next -- and I have a hard time mustering up much enthusiasm for her. The fact that she's been in the bottom three every week tells me that America feels the same way. Unfortunately, the judges adore her, and she could very well be the recipient of the save. (Have I mentioned how much I hate the save?)

10. Thia Megia ("Heatwave") Yes, Thia finally changed things up by going uptempo and ditching the ballad, for this week. But I found her performance of "Heatwave" to be really vanilla -- like something you'd see on Glee or Star Search. Thia is technically proficient, but there is something TOO proficient about her. I struggle to picture her going much further in this competition because she doesn't seem to have that creative spark that the people at the top of this list have, that creative spark that makes us look forward to their performances and wonder what will happen. With Thia, you know what you're going to get. Sometimes, that's not enough.

11. Stefano Langone ("Hello") First of all, wrong song choice, dude. I love "Hello", but it such a song of the 80s (and has become such a campy song of the 80s at that when the video is factored into it) that finding a contemporary hook for it is really just not possible. I found Stefano's take really kind of overwrought and theatrical and yet still lacking in any genuine emotion. I love that J.Lo is pushing these kids to find that emotional angle to their music, to give the music more than just technical perfection. I just don't know if Stefano has that in him. He's my pick to go home, but a judges' save wouldn't surprise me nor would it shock me to see him be safe since he's quite a cutie and we know the tweens are voting with their hormones and not their ears. (PS -- Ryan, that was a dick move giving Mama Langone's pasta to Gordon Ramsey. That woman made that food for those kids out of love -- maternal instincts in full mama mode -- and you turned it into a joke and basically let Ramsey humiliate her in front of America by saying it was "fine." Not cool, dude!)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Where Have All the Musicals Gone?

Despite the fact that the production of Grease I directed just finished its final performance just about 24 hours ago, I have already begun the search for next spring's musical. My music director and I have thrown some titles around, and I have developed a sort of "short list" of shows I want to listen to and read before nailing down something solid. I like aiming for a decision in early fall so that I can announce the "season" to students when they start school and spend time generating excitement for the musical (even while we're working on a fall play).

One of the shows on the "short list" was The Wedding Singer. I love the movie, it has strong name recognition with the kids because they love the movie, too, and I really loved the idea of doing a show in total 80's camp. (I was the same age my students are now in the 80's, and it would be fun to relive those times.) I got my hands on a copy of the cast album (okay, I ordered it used through amazon -- I don't want it to sound like I'm out there boosting CD's or anything) and popped it into the car stereo on my way home from work today (which, amazingly, occurred before dark on a GORGEOUS day). Within minutes, I knew this was NOT the show for us.

It's not the quality of the show that made me instantly cross it off the list. I actually really liked the music -- it was cute and catchy and had a great sense of humor. The problem is that it also is filled with the kind of stuff that could easily get me removed from my position as Drama Club director -- sex, drugs, profanity, et cetera. Even though I know my kids wouldhave fun with the show, that my music director and I would have fun with the show, there's just no way we could get away with it. It's not particularly family friendly and would likely leave a lot of parents and administrators unhappy if we were to ask a high school girl to stand up onstage and sing, "My body's an amusement park; the first ride's on me."

And it got me to thinking about the state of the American musical. I think of the new musicals I've seen in the past ten years or so. I've seen some pretty great stuff -- Spamalot, Wicked, Rock of Ages, Legally Blonde, et cetera -- but I don't know that I've seen anything that could be done on my high school stage. The shows are either too risque or far too technically ambitious for us to pull off with our limited space, resources, and staff. Instead, we keep dipping back into the classics. The rest of our short list features songs that debuted way before I was born. They're great shows, enduring shows, but there's something sort of sad in knowing that Grease may be the most contemporary show I ever get to direct. When you also factor in that most kids don't walk through the doors of our high school with a tremendous knowledge about musicals, and it makes it harder to get kids pumped about, say, Damn Yankees or Anything Goes. With Grease, I had a huge built-in name recognition. I mean, I was CHEERED when I announced that show last fall. Will the kids be even remotely jazzed if I stand in front of them the first week of September and say we're doing Damn Yankees? Or Brigadoon? The shows they DO know are shows that just aren't feasible due to casting limitations (the kids would love to do Hairspray, but our school doesn't have the, um, diversity that show requires), inappropriate content (the biggest request I get is for Rent, and the kids never seem to understand why it might be a challenge for me to put a kid onstage in drag...or ask a teenage girl to play an HIV-positive stripper) or those pesky technical limitations (the other show they request like crazy is Phantom of the Opera). Before this year, we did two pretty obscure shows (She Loves Me and Wonderful Town), and it was a little challenging to drum up interest in the kids and in audience. We had huge houses for Grease, but unfortunately, we can't do Grease every year.

The thing is that the high school musical is a tradition. How many actors got their starts in productions of Grease or Oklahoma or, yes, Damn Yankees? It's a chance for kids to get involved in the arts and gives schools a chance to highlight the artistic talents of their students. For some kids, this may be the only time they step foot on a stage. It's disconcerting, then, that the musical theatre world seems to have forgotten that and has moved increasingly toward shows that are impossible to pull off at that basic grass roots level. The things that work on the New York stage won't work in a Midwestern high school, and some of us directors get tired of running through the same list of shows. It would be terrific to get the kids into something new, something modern. It would be a great way to pull in audiences and to engage new kids in the fine arts. The problem is that the new and modern shows just aren't there for us the way they were years ago, and so we're stuck with the classics that don't feel as fresh and relevant to kids the way they did decades ago.

My challenge to the theatre world? Step up! Stop putting spectacle over substance and give us shows that we can actually do realistically. Look at what is currently playing on Broadway. Is there a single show that you could picture happening on a typical high school stage? If Julie Taymor can't make the tech in Spider-Man work, how can Illinois high school drama director? What high school teacher is going to be able to keep a job after launching a production of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert? What high school kid will be able to tackle the rigors of Next to Normal? How can a largely white, smalltown high school ever hope to pull off In the Heights or Memphis? We can't, and we also can't attract audiences by doing the same old stuff...and if we can't attract audiences, we can't fund future shows. It's kind of a nasty little cycle there. Please remember that there are a lot of us out here who are not New Albany High School who can launch a $165,ooo production and still make a profit. Help us help you. Our kids will eventually be the ones gracing your professional stages. Help us get them there by giving us shows that will ignite that passion and send them out to find you. Remember that you need us just as much as we need you.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Grease is the Word (aka Why I Haven't Been Blogging)

I've been engrossed in tech week for our spring musical this week, so engrossed that I've not seen Idol (I do know who's been eliminated) or pretty much anything else outside of Glee (which I forced myself to stay up and watch after rehearsal earlier this week). Directing this show has really been a dream come true for me, a dream that is a good thirty years old. As much as I'm looking forward to a return to normalcy, I'm also sad to see what has been a really great six weeks come to an end. I have to say good-bye to a group of wonderful seniors -- the first freshmen I had when I took over Drama Club four years ago. I guarantee there will be a lot of tears this weekend. A lot.

Below is an excerpt of the director's notes from tonight's program.

A little over thirty years ago, a precocious seven-year-old girl, obsessed with musical theatre, donned her favorite Shaun Cassidy sweatshirt and drug her grandmother to see Grease. While Grandma dozed off about ten seconds into the opening credits, the little girl sat completely enraptured by the joyous music and dance on the screen. She went home and hounded her parents until they broke down and bought her the double-album soundtrack that allowed her to re-live all her favorite moments with help from a plucky cast of stuffed animals.

If you haven’t already figured out that little girl grew up to direct tonight’s production...well….surprise!

Like many members of the audience, Grease has been a significant part of my cultural landscape since its stage debut in 1972. The original stage production was part of a wave of 1950’s nostalgia that swept America in the 1970’s. Along with American Graffiti and Happy Days, Grease looked back with wry affection at that pivotal moment in modern history when youth became king and innocence had its last gasp before Beatles invaded, bombs hit Vietnam, and Watergate destroyed a presidency.

What I find particularly ironic is that no one involved in tonight’s production was even alive to witness this iconic moment in American history. We are, instead, the children and grandchildren of Danny, Sandy, and the gang. Despite the half century that separates us, though, we can still identify with these ragtag greasers and the girls who (sometimes) love them. Their joys, fears, and insecurities are ours, too. Only now, we post them all on Facebook rather than breaking into song.

For tonight, though, let’s silence our cell phones, put our laptops to sleep, and transport ourselves back to a time when “Grease” was more than a word — it was a way of life.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

13 Conversations about Idols

First off, friends, I apologize. I had meant to write all sorts of wonderful and pithy things about last week's semi-final performances on Idol. I had my own top 12 picked (If you're interested, after the performances, I picked Casey, Jacob, Scotty, James, Clint, Paul, Pia, Lauren A., Thia, Lauren T., Karen, and Ashton). I was disappointed that Lauren Turner didn't make it through, didn't even get a wild card slot. I liked Rachel Zavita more than any other person in America, I'm sure, but I really dug what she was trying to do. I was sort of secretly thrilled that Jordan chose to wanly perform Usher and that he did NOT get a wild card shot even though he kept promising to do a better song "next time." (See, douchebaggery DOES come back to haunt you!) When the judges picked their wild card contenders, I thought Robbie had a better shot of moving on than Stefano, although, as my sis reminded me, "Every season needs a Stefano."

So what has been keeping me from you? Well, as many of you know, in addition to teaching, I am also in rehearsals directing our school musical. To work around the schedules of student athletes who wanted to be in the show, we've had to bump rehearsals back to evenings, meaning that I have spent the past month or so not getting home until 8:00 or later every night. This week, it's been closer to 10:00 as we stand just days away from tech week. While I've managed to squeeze in viewings of Idol, it hasn't necessarily left me a lot of time to write. Give me another week or so, and I promise you'll be drowning in blog posts from me.

So last night, I walked in the door at 10:00 (more like 10:07) and sat down to watch just the performances. I skipped the mentoring sessions and most of the judging comments. My sis had already watched, so she was able to summarize things for me nicely and point out the miracle that is Randy Jackson and his newly upped game.

I don't have a lot of time today to really comment much on last night outside of the rankings I have below. I didn't take notes last night and probably a lot of the witty comments my sis and I had while we watched are lost in a haze of exhaustion and stress. For the most part, it seemed like there were some expected super performances, some surprising disappointments, and some middle of the road adequacy. In other words, it was a pretty typical first night of finals.

Here are my rankings from last night and some very brief commentary.

1. Casey Abrams-- Okay, clearly this guy is my "pick to click", as my roommate would say. This guy is what the show is all about -- mad talented but not someone that the recording industry would necessarily find on its own. He is vocal, musical seduction personified.
2. James Durbin -- This was a very close race between James and Casey. I loved James's take on "Maybe I'm Amazed" that was powerful and yet controlled at the same time. My sis last night pointed out that James is the product if Constantine Maroulis and Adam Lambert "made sweet, sweet love" and this may finally be the time when a contestant like that, with that rocker sensibility, can finally win the whole shebang.
3. Naima Adepapo -- It is only within the past month or so that I have started to "get" Rhianna. I loved the vibe Naima was working here and the energy and innovation she brought to the stage. This chick could be a spoiler.
4. Jacob Lusk -- I love me some Jacob. I do. And I think the only reason I put him a little lower this week is because I'm not a huge fan of "I Believe (I Can Fly)" and there's no denying he hit some really wonky notes in the middle there. Yes, the end was enough to overcome them, but when Casey, James, and Naima had much tighter and less flawed performances, I have to knock Jacob down a spot or two to acknowledge that wonk.
5. Scotty McCrery -- Oh, wow. What a shocker! Scotty picked Garth Brooks. Look, there's no denying the kid has an amazing voice and is a country music producer's dream. He could be their country Jonas Brother. But man, I am getting really tired of the country.
6. Stefano Langone -- Stefano's choice to turn a Stevie Wonder ballad ("Lately") into a disco tune was interesting, and I give the guy credit for trying something so bold. He's an interesting little guy. I can't wait to see him at the nearby Civic Center in a touring company of In the Heights or Jersey Boys.
7. Thia Megia -- Entertainment Weekly poses the supposition that Thia Megia is a robot and not, in fact, a real girl. I'm not sure they're that far off. Last week, Randy compared Thia to Michael Jackson, and so, of course, Thia decided to do "Smile" which had previously been covered by Jackson. It's like this little computer in her head processes input and spits out music. She's going to make the top 10, but does anyone really think Thia can win?
8. Haley Reinhart -- Haley found a hater in my house last night with my sis. Here's the thing. Last week, Haley clawed her way into the top 13 with a sultry, bluesy rendition of Alicia Keys's "Fallin'". Clearly, she was setting herself up as a snarling R&B diva. Last night, she instead chose LeAnn Rimes's "Blue." So apparently, girlfriend is a country singer? My sis's theory is that Haley is playing the game. She didn't get a tremendous response from the judges with "Fallin'", she saw that Lauren Alaina potentially was vulnerable, and boom, suddenly Haley is a country singer.
9. Paul McDonald -- I love that Paul's sort of quirky sensibility has found a place on the Idol stage this year. I kind of doubt he would have made it in other years, but that Ryan Adams gets to be performed on the show...awesome. I figure he'll squeak his way into the Top 10, but probably get lost shortly after that.
10. Pia Toscano -- Pia is kind of like a pageant constestant. She's pretty, she's competent, but there's just a fire missing there. It doesn't help that Pia performed "All By Myself" which has been knocked out of the park on more than one occasion on the Idol stage. Kelly Clarkson and LaToya London both reduced me to years with their powerhouse performances of this song. Pia's was merely (and maybe barely if you ask the sis) adequate. I feel like Idol has moved beyond this sort of girl.
11. Lauren Alaina -- Lauren has been super hyped this season and named as a likely contender for the finale. Last night's Shania Twain cover, though, did her no favors as it didn't really have a lot of spark or anything even remotely interesting. She'll recover from it, but it certainly wasn't the way to kick things off.
12. Ashton Jones -- I'm not going to lie. I am not a fan of Ashton. I thought she had a shot at the top 13 based on her performance of "Love All Over Me" And then her Wild Card performance of "And I Am Telling You" completely turned me off. I thought it was really off pitch and not good enough to get her into the top 13, especially when Kendra Chantelle and Robbie Rosen give stronger performances when push came to shove. And of course after J.Lo told Ashton to channel a little Diana Ross, what did Ashton do? She did Diana. And she styled herself in classic Diana style. But Ashton, you, girlfriend, are no Diana. I can't imagine Ashton sticking around much longer if she doesn't do more to stand out.
13. Karen Rodriguez -- Wow. Talk about a 180. Karen seemed so promising last week, even though I wasn't a huge fan of her bilingual "Hero" if only because it just seemed yet blah at the same time. Last night's performance was so crazy in terms of lack of pitch. I think Karen's in big trouble unless the Latino vote comes out in huge numbers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An Open Letter to Fox News, Scott Walker, and Others Who Think They Know What Teachers Do

I know I said no more "shop talk" but...

I've been a little lax in following the news lately. Outside of the 15 minutes or so of CNN I watch in the morning while getting ready for work, I've not been great about getting information in. My morning perusal of the New York Times online has been replaced by making photocopies and meeting with students. My drive-time NPR listening has been replaced by music, the better to keep me a little more alert on those late drives home after dark. Last night, though, I decided to forgo by usual Seinfeld before bed and instead turned on an hour of Anderson Cooper followed by The Daily Show. The first ten minutes or so of The Daily Show left me hurt, bewildered, and frankly, pretty darn angry.

The segment featured here is
the cause of my emotional tempest. So this is my response to the people featured here who basically accuse teachers of bilking the system, slacking off, and generally making more money than they rightfully earn.

Screw you.

I invite any of you people to step foot into a classroom. I invite you to spend one day living the life of a teacher.

If you lived the life of THIS teacher, this is what you would experience:

The alarm goes off at 5:45am. Following a quick shower and breakfast, you are in the car and on the road by about 7:00am. Note that for much of the year, the sun isn't quite up at this point. As soon as you walk in the door, there is a pile of stuff to attend to -- making copies, entering grades, quickly flipping through the day's lessons just to get them freshly into your memory. As students come into the building, you may find yourself running around to talk students through homework questions or make sure they get makeup work. You may find yourself visiting with students who just like to check in during the morning.

By the time actual classes start, you have most likely come into contact with a good half dozen students and solved a good half dozen crises, both tiny and large. As you teach throughout the day, you have to monitor to make sure struggling students are keeping up while making sure more advanced students are still engaged. You may face hostility. You may face apathy. You may be called horrible names -- to your face, behind your back, or even on Facebook for all the world to see. If you have my schedule, you have three different classes right in a row with only a four-minute passing period to shift gears from Fahrenheit 451 to informative speeches to Hamlet -- and that is a four minutes that is often filled with students asking questions, wanting to stick around and talk about something that came up in class, or seeking advice. You will be grateful for the roughly 25-minute lunch period, if only for the chance to eat a quick bite -- microwaveable meals work best because they cook quickly and tend to be a little more filling -- and recharge your batteries after a long morning of lecture, discussion, assessment, and more.

After lunch, you have more classes. In my case, I also have a prep period thrown in there -- a period that is free of students, which gives me time grade to papers that have come in throughout the day, get ready for classes left to teach (or get a jump start on later days), and handle other business that needs to be attended to. To do any of this, I actually have to pack up whatever I need to work on and take to another room so that another teacher can teach in my classroom. I suggest getting yourself a basket to carry papers and lesson plan books and texts in.

Our school day ends a little after 3:00pm. For me and the many other teachers I know, that is not the end of the work day, though. Within seconds of the bell ringing to signal the end of the day, I usually have students in my room. Some use it as a meeting point. Some come in to check on things or visit. Sometimes, there are kids in to make up homework or a test. And then it's on to practices, rehearsals, lesson planning, et cetera. It is rare for me to leave the building before 5:00. For the past month, it's been more like 8:00 thanks to rehearsal for the spring musical, meaning the only sun I see is the little glimpse I see outside of my classroom window. Weekends are often spent lesson planning, grading, prepping, or generally getting some kind of work done. And those magical summers off you guys keep referring to as evidence that we are merely "part-time employees"? That time is often spent reading, researching, developing units, taking classes, attending workshops, et cetera. It's not a three-month vacation. It's a three-month period to recharge and refocus and to finally have the time to sit down and get some intense work done that can't always be done in the few hours we have in the evening.

Yes, I realize that a lot of the reason that I put in extremely long days is because I coach and direct and that I am compensated for that extra work load in some fashion. But I also wonder whether these pundits who so cavalierly dismiss what I do could turn around and walk that same walk for just a day. Come into a classroom and face what we teachers face every day. Bask in our victories and wallow in our failures. Spend one day being not just a teacher but a mentor, counselor, coach, surrogate parent, drill sergeant, friend. Try to dig deep enough to counsel a student through personal grief or coax a kid through academic struggles. And then you come and tell me whether or not the paycheck I receive for that is too much.

I don't want this to be misinterpreted. I love my job. I LOVE it. Nor do I want this to be seen as a complaint about my salary. I make a living. I am able to afford a nice home, a decent car, all my utilities, and put food on the table for my family. Is there a lot leftover after that? No, not really, but I'm not complaining about that because I know that I am lucky to have found a job that I love and that someone is actually willing to pay me to do. I love my students. Not a day goes by that I don't marvel that these kids actually trust me and seem to look up to me enough to come to me for advice, whether it's help in finding the right college, advice on how to survive a broken heart, or comfort in times of tremendous grief and turmoil. I love getting the chance to work with these kids every day and help them discover new passions and interests. I am moved by the Facebook posts I get thanking me years after the fact. I am touched when students past and present come to me for advice. I get excited when I have a student come to me and say, "I couldn't stop thinking about Hamlet all day!" I keep every little note that students leave for me -- even if it's just a Post-It telling me I'm awesome. I would not trade my job for anything.

But please, please, please do not go on national television and call me and my colleagues across the nation lazy, unmotivated, overcompensated, disconnected, or whatever other insult you want to throw our way just because we would like a certain guarantee that we actually will be able to continue to make a living or that we won't be fired without just cause or have unreasonable extra duties and responsibilities thrown at us. For every lousy teacher you may know or see in a documentary, there are countless teachers who are working as hard as they can to help shepherd the next generation to an educated adulthood. It's a little thing called respect, and I think the teachers of America, as a whole, have earned it.