The Honest Teacher

Well, guess what this week was? Teacher Appreciation week! Kinda lame that we only get a week, but hey, I’ll take it! I got some really great treats and surprises from my students but that’s not what it’s about for me. No, I enjoy their notes and their giddiness while delivering my gift. After all, I don’t care how far we’ve come as a society; kids say the darnest things and they always will!

I recently gave my students a survey regarding the last academic quarter and asked for their thoughts, etc., basically giving them a chance to “grade” me. If you’re a teacher and you don’t have a teachable spirit/attitude, then I’m sorry to tell you: you’re in the wrong field. While reading through some of these precious, honest answers, I was deeply affirmed AND greatly entertained. Some of the things these kids write…well, I’ll share them with you because you’d have to see it to believe it. I will also share what I’d love to say in response if I could. Ha!

Questions (from me): How can I improve as an instructor? Is there anything I can do to help you be more successful in this class?

Answers (from students):

1. “You’re already a good teacher—I have an A.”  So…I’m a good teacher only because you have a passing grade? Wow; good to know.

2. “Have mercy and let me turn things in to get my grade up…but now it’s too late.” Yeah, you missed the boat on that one dear. It’s called life; you don’t get ten years to do something you’re supposed to do on a weekly basis.

3. “Not really sure.” Hmm…I’m not really sure about you, either.

4. “Nothing at all! I think you are a wonderful teacher, but you should rap more—you’re FANTASTIC!” Cute. And yes, one of my hidden talents is making up raps for my students to memorize things.

5. “You’re such an amazing teacher, you can’t improve.” A.K.A. you didn’t want to really think about giving me a substantial answer. Ha! This child also drew me an alien ship abducting a stick figure, right in the “additional comments” section.

6.  “Gimme the answers.” The answers to what? Life? The quizzes? Your homework? Sketchy…

7. “You are good enough.” Oh really? Because that sounds mediocre and I don’t strive for mediocrity. This child put a large smiley face in the “additional comments”.

8. “You are cool!” Umm…thanks? THIS child wrote, “I want pickles!” in the comments section. I don’t know if I will acquiesce to this request.

9. “Give me a hug.” Uhh…maybe.

10. “Meh.” Well, meh to you too.

Those are my top 10. Pretty funny, right? I can’t even begin to comprehend what goes on in their brains. I was a strange junior higher myself, but I don’t know that I thought the way kids do today—at least, in the case of my students. However, I absolutely adore them all and wouldn’t trade any of them for the world. Here’s to all my silly students and fellow teachers out there. Keep plowing through and find the humor and blessings in every day.

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Guest Interview: Chris Ely, Rising Musician

As promised, here is the interview of the week with a very special guest musician: Chris Ely, who released his debut album, Can’t Stay for Long last summer. Chris is mega-talented, down-to-earth, and just plain nice all around. Did I mention he’s pretty cute too? It is such a pleasure to have him as a guest on my blog this week, introducing him not only as an up-and-coming musical star, but also as my friend. By the end of this interview, you will admire him just as much as I.

1. When and why did you start playing?

Growing up, all I wanted to do was play baseball. However, when I was young, I was in a car accident that wrecked my knees. I soon came to the realization that my dreams of playing baseball in the future would never happen.

Ironically, accepting that was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. My sister’s boyfriend at the time was a musician. I used to sit and watch him play guitar as long as he would allow me. He told me that if I wanted to be in a band I should play bass. “Bands are always looking for a decent bass player and chicks really dig bass players,” he would say. So, I picked up a bass and within six months, I was in a band.

2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in music?

I love challenges and what challenges me the most is trying to carve out a melody that sticks in your head. Seeing a song take shape from nothing gives me a great sense of fulfillment– especially if it sounds good. And um…there are many that don’t. A few years ago I thought to myself: What if I could do this all the time? It was soon after that I began to work on an album.

3. Which instruments do you play?

I am a jack-of-all-trades and a master on none! I play a bit of everything, finding that playing different instruments inspires my creativity. My primary instruments are guitar and bass, but I have picked up piano and drums over the last few years.

4. What was the first song you ever sang? How did it make you feel?

The first song I ever sang was a tune I wrote for a girl in high school. It was pretty terrible but she seemed to like it…or at least, she acted like she enjoyed it. It was terrifying to be honest, especially since I was really shy back then. I was so nervous I could have exploded. All I can remember was being so happy when it was over.

5. Who are your favorite musicians? Groups? Albums?

Ahh…where do I start? The first band that really inspired me was Nirvana. When “Nevermind” came out, it didn’t leave my CD player for months. I also really love most Brit Rock. Radiohead is one of my favorite bands of all time. I saw them in a small club in Palo Alto the first time I heard them live. They totally blew me away. Seeing them give absolutely everything they had was inspiring. Their intricate parts and layered melodies hooked me big time.

After Radiohead, I went “backwards” and got into the Beatles and Pink Floyd. U2 became my addiction after that. Yeah…huge man crush on Bono. Pete Yorn is a big favorite of mine too. He has a simplistic, yet soulful way in his music. I never get tired of his stuff. I think Trent Reznor is an absolute genius. I love his stuff too. Lately I would have to say Arcade Fire is a favorite. They have such an authentic rawness to their music.

6. Do you get nervous before a performance?

Every time I play I get nervous. This thought runs through my mind: Don’t make a fool of yourself. However, after a song or two, I start to loosen up and enjoy the set.

7. What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?

Be well-rehearsed before you get on stage. Live in the moment and have fun on stage. An audience tends to get into your music easier when you look like you are enjoying yourself.

8. How did you become involved in the type of music you play/sing now?

When I set out to make my latest record, I made a decision to write music that I would want to play. Something I would want to buy when it was all said and done. Most importantly, I wanted it to be honest and authentic, not just something I wanted to sell. After completing Can’t Stay for Long, I think I did just that.

9. What does your songwriting process look like?

My writing process can start from several places. I generally write the music first, and not to sound corny, listen to what the music is saying before any vocals and melodies are put down. Then I start to build the melodies and words around a theme I feel the music is saying. Sometimes I hear a melody or a line in my head and build a song around that. “Lost Souls” is a song where the chorus was dancing around in my head. After about a week of it at the front of my mind, I decided to finally get it out.

10. What are your songs about?

I write about everything. If I try to write about something specific, I tend to get writer’s block really fast. My songs are mostly centered around relationships, faith, stories from people, my inward journey, and my distaste for politics. Ha…that about covers everything imaginable except for math equations. Hmm…

Can’t Stay for Long is a bit different though. I was living in Africa for almost nine years. I went through a tremendous amount of culture shock when I moved back to the States a few years ago. Writing those songs were, in a way, therapeutic for me as I readjusted to life here. It was almost like a diary of what I was thinking about and experiencing through that period.

I wrote most of the album in the summer of 2010. My first studio session was in the beginning of 2011. I would fly up to Portland to work with my producer Jordan Richter every chance I had. We finished the record in the summer of 2011 and I released it shortly after.

11. What’s your favorite song off your latest album?

Ooh that is tough. They all have meaning to me. Each song is about something that reminds me of a certain event or experience. The title track “Can’t Stay for Long” sums it all up I suppose. That’s why I chose that song as the title track. The last two songs I wrote on the record were “Love Remains” and “Palace”. Sonically, that is the direction I’m going with my music. I really like them for that reason. I have a deep personal connection to “Lost Souls”; that song is about a friend of mine. “Can’t Stay for Long” was about the difficulty of leaving a country and some of the best people I’ve ever known. Yeah…it’s really tough to choose just one favorite.

12. What has been your biggest challenge thus far?

I would say working full-time as a high school teacher and trying to push my music work against each other often. I love to teach though; teenagers are amazing. My alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. everyday. Getting out there and doing gigs become a challenge with that schedule. But I suppose that every artist in the beginning has similar challenges.

13. What do you attribute to your drive as an artist?

It’s a double-edged sword for me. If I don’t express myself through art in some way, something inside of me starts to die. If I stop writing, I will never get close to where I want to be.

14. What makes your sound unique from other artists?

This is a really difficult question…sigh (deep thinking)…most sounds and chord progressions out there have already been done over and over. So, I like music that takes you on twists and turns that you don’t expect, without sounding irritating. I have a gentle singing voice that is mixed with these musical twists and turns. I hope people find my music not only easy on the ear, but find themselves taken somewhere different with each song’s unique sonic quality.

15. Any current (new) projects you’re working on? What’s next?

I’ve already been laying the foundation for a new album. My scenery has changed so you can expect the music to change too. I’ve also been talking to a DJ friend of mine about working on a dance music side project. That one is still up in the air though.

16. What have you been listening to lately?

Friendly Fires and M83…absolutely in love with them.

17. What do you do when you’re not working your day job or playing music?

There is not much time beyond that. Hmm…Drinking good coffee, watching Sci-Fi, and going to church. Yeah, I’m dorky and boring….and I like it!

18. Any hidden talents or hobbies?

In a rare, very rare, moment of free time, I love to paint and read biographies.

19. Finally, what are your social media sites? Where can we find you and (most importantly) where can we buy your album?

Buy Can’t Stay for Long (album)

iTunes: Can’t Stay for Long

Amazon: Can’t Stay for Long

Social Media



Jango: Chris Ely

Soundcloud: Chris Ely

I want to thank Chris for sharing on my blog. For further information, you can contact I would like to encourage everyone to take a listen to his tunes and buy his album. Chris has easily become one of my favorite musicians and I’ll just bet he’ll become one of yours too. My favorite song on his album is “Love Remains”. By the way, Chris and I have been working on some stuff together as well, so stay on the lookout for some cool things coming your way soon. Until then, I hope everyone enjoys listening to Can’t Stay for Long.