Teaching or Educating the Educator

Most recently, I taught a combination Troubadour/Journalism class to a six-week summer Kids Arts program in Middletown, CT, for the Middletown Commission on the Arts and NEAR, Inc.  Happily, it was a great fit for all of us, as I'm a career songwriter, journalist, and educator.  With help from Executive Director Anne-Marie Cannata and the worthy counselors (Mark, Chrissy, Faccara, Paul), the kids and I wrote and assembled six songs (including two raps, two blues numbers, and two others) and a 12-page broadsheet newspaper, The Inside Scoop.

Here is the YouTube video I put together of that experience, as we did the final "KIDS ARTS REVEAL" for parents & kids on August 4, 2010, at the Buttonwood Tree:

YouTube Video

The kids age groups were 6 - 9 and 10 -14.  I was bigger than most of them, and had a sense of humor but also a sense of purpose, and total confidence that my subjects were interesting, important, and fun.  The camp director, Anne-Marie, believed in me and the kids and kept a positive attitude.  She made it fun. . .

Most of all, the kids made it fun, and they were appreciative.  I think it was because, overall, they wanted to be there, and liked being in an air conditioned room (the computer room, of course -- how else can you write a paper?!) when the heat wave outdoors raged.

Anyway, I work well as an artist in residence. . . I had a lot of great pointers for the kids when they performed, and when they set out to write for the paper.  Give me more, give me more!  That's what I like about teaching. . . 


In 2004, I graduated with a Masters of Science, Education, with a concentration in Secondary English from the University of Bridgeport.  I have a current teaching certificate (English 7 - 12, exp. July 2013).  I was a teaching intern for one year (2003), in the Milford School system (Jonathan Law H.S.).  After student teaching at Joseph A. Foran H.S. -- also in Milford -- I moved to the middle of the state, acquired my certificate, and applied for jobs.

I was sure that my performing experience would be very useful, a transferable skill that is hard to learn and must be practiced. Because I'm onstage frequently, I have (and had) plentiful background in engaging and presenting to crowds -- from late night bars and drunks to sophisticated dinner crowds to small theaters (like the Kate) to stadiums (a Beach Boys tour).  

At any rate, by late July of '04, I didn't yet have a teaching job, so I took off for the Southampton Writer's Conference, where I observed a great teacher while taking a memoir class with Frank McCourt.  It was a great time -- writing, talking, dreaming on.  While there, I got a call about a job interview in Southbury.  All right, it was for a .6 position, but the school was good and the interviewer seemed wonderful.  

Well, things didn't go as planned there (the new English Dept. head generally regarded me dismissively, or as a two-headed hydra or some kind of idiot -- I think it was a personality clash on her part.  As for me, I like everybody and want to get along. . .).  Somehow, as a struggling first year teacher, I didn't fit in to the Dept. Head's plan to make "The Greatest H.S. English Department in Connecticut."  I think she is very good at what she does, but wonder why she didn't stay in Westport as the Principal of an Elementary School.  Surely that's a better gig -- esp. for somebody with her "black & white, always right" personality.  My philosophy is all about the grey area: Between the right and wrong, there are shades of wrong and right. . . and I don't know everything and won't say so because, to my mind, we really don't know everything and I'd feel foolish acting as if I'm a universal expert. 

To learn how to think, one must question and keep asking -- then sift through the answers and analyze for the right answer (at the moment). So philosophically we were off to a bad footing: the black and white versus the shades of grey.  Meanwhile, I can give presentations that are engaging and interesting -- and am a great tutor.

So, I resigned, in order to find a full time teaching job closer to where I was planning to move, Chester, CT.  All summer 2005, while closing on a house and moving in, I applied to jobs all over the state.  Finally, in late August, the state dept. of ed. needed an English teacher in a local technical H.S., Vinal.  In a possibly misguided move, I took the job and spent a grueling 70+ hour week at the school, planning lessons, assembling materials, making everything great on paper but once the classes started, the "troubled 2%" made classroom teaching miserable.  My friend's son, who attended Vinal in that time, shook his head.  "They ate Ms. Agnelli alive.  Oh, they were Baaaaaad kids. . ."  

I toughed it out, but during CAPT week, I was assaulted by students who knocked me over in a stampede out the door and was lucky I didn't break anything -- maybe. After careful consideration, I resigned from that job in April. It was tough because I still wanted to help the kids finish senior year and graduate with the ability to write a persuasive letter and a decent resume and cover letter.  Oh well.

I am still kind of in shock.  But I know all kids aren't like that, and let's face it, mandatory English class is the enemy of many: it's especially hard for those in technical school, and for dyslexics (of which there were just a few).  I wish them well and thank them for getting me out of that negative environment. TEENAGERS?  Definitely a challenge, but generally a fascinating bunch.  And I do admist, when I establish rapport, it all works wonderfully.