(What I hope for my next 20 years in the music classroom.)

I cannot believe that I’ve been teaching general music for 20 years! Given the average enrollment at each of the 3 schools where I have spent the last twenty years, and the annual addition of a new crew of kindergarten students, I estimate that I have “officially” served as music teacher of record for approximately 3,285 students. Because I’ve had the honor of teaching along side other music teachers at each campus, I figure that through collaboration, shared planning and regular team teaching I have helped teach music to approximately 5,400 students!

In the last 20 years I have prepared grade level groups and choirs for at least 78 full length performances, most of which were performed at least twice, and innumerable mini performances. No wonder I can’t remember them all!

While looking back on the past is entertaining, as I look toward my future work with students I have decided to create short list of things I hope will be true for my NEXT twenty years in the music classroom.

1. I hope I never stop learning to be a better teacher

While I can certainly look back to areas of my teaching that have improved with time, training, and practice, I feel that my need to learn more about how to teach music well far outweighs what I have mastered. The children I teach are complex, entirely individual, and ever changing. Music as a field of study and as an aesthetic experience is immense. Methods of how best to support the well-being and development of children through musically worthy experiences are deep, and worthy of long term study.

2. I hope I continue to be playful

I have been taught by some dear mentors at ETM that “play” is what drives students to learn. This truth is born out each day in my class when my students ask, “What game will we play today?” The effectiveness of truly playful (not chaotic, or rough) musical experience is that when students are ushered into play state, the class time passes in a blink with students actively engaged at every step of the process.

Having had the opportunity to develop my play facilitation skills I can honestly say that it IS my most effective teaching strategy with all other musical experiences coming in at a distant second. Nothing is as beautiful to a child that a well played song experience where lots of turns are possible and hope is alive that the next turn might be me!

My challenge for the next twenty years is to stay the course and continue every day to plan musically playful experiences for my students that motivate them to continue to learn.

3. I hope that my understanding of children will deepen

As a very new teacher I often found myself guilty of exasperating my students. As I attempted to manage my class and address or redirect negative student behavior, more often than a I like admit, my uninformed responses would act like an accelerant to poor behaviors that might have been successfully redirected or tamped down by a more sensitive, we’ll seasoned response.

The only solution to the inadvertent “flame throwing” that sometimes happened in my class was time…. Time for me, the teacher to grow. I had to grow:

  • Patience
  • follow through
  • an observational knowledge of child development
  • understanding of stress response in children
  • an ability to anticipate possible outcomes (i.e. if a chair unstaffed in the corner, Joe will sit in it…. so stack all the chairs and turn them to face the walls)
  • a love for my students

As I look to the next twenty years I must acknowledge each day that the work of good classroom management and fostering a safe learning environment is an ever moving, evolving process that must be based on the students who come to my classroom today, not the students I taught years ago. Diligence is the key.

4. I hope that I never get TRULY burnt out

In the last twenty years I have faced my share of REALLY difficult days as a teacher…. days that have made me weep with frustration, days that have made me question my purpose. I have had years in which my existence on campus was minimized and demeaned and in which I had to prove the value of my work as a music specialist by turning myself into and instructional pretzel. I have taught students whose personal situations made me sick to my stomach with worry, and at one of my schools I regularly provided food and often clothes for my students who were in need.

All of these experiences would put any caring teacher at risk of burn out. However, as I have gotten older I have realized that in the face of these legitimate hardships there are very active ways to combat true burn out. Learning how to take care of oneself so that we can give richly to our students is one of the most important disciplines we can have as a teacher. To read more about ways you can avoid burn out, read here.

5. I hope that schools will respond to current research regarding the benefits of music education with policy.

In the last twenty years we have seen student access to music education diminish. Students most affected by the culturally accepted erosion of music education are those in low-performing schools that serve students who due to their economic needs have the least amount of access to music instruction outside of school. Often the dismissal of qualified music specialists and/or of music instructional minutes occurs in the name of increasing overall academic achievement even though research demonstrates again and again that music instruction increases student achievement.

I have been blessed to teach in districts that honor music education with the best of existing policies that protect music instructional time, provide qualified music specialists and often support music programs with funding.

However, since this post is all about what I HOPE will happen in my next twenty years of teaching, please understand that this little “dream” is not so much a criticism of what currently is, but rather what I hope will one day become true if everything turns out the way I think it ought to… 🙂

  • Based on the benefits students receive from music education, it is my belief that students should receive music instruction at least every other day (if not daily). In order to accomplish this, there needs to be 1 music specialist for ever 300 students. At a school the size that I currently teach at that would mean making room for 2 more music teachers. Before we worry about space, I think there could be a work around where two of the teachers push into the regular ed classrooms and two of the music teachers provide more traditional instruction.
  • Music specialists (preferably a qualified music therapist) should be part of the Special Education / Counseling team. Every day research into the applications of music therapy are providing new insights into just how effective music can be as a therapeutic tool. The most recent studies I have read include therapies where music is used to teach micro-preemies how to nurse and to regulate the movements of elderly people with Parkinson’s disease. If music therapy is a viable tool for our youngest and oldest humans, why not use music therapy as an instructional tool and therapy within the special education arsenal.
  • I hope that even if nothing else changes I can help change the elitist perception about singing. Everyone CAN Sing! Everyone Should Sing… EVERYDAY!

6. I hope to inspire my students to sing every day

I wonder if I could influence the people in my school, my community to sing EVERY DAY?

I know that when people, no matter who they are or how we meet find out that I teach music, they ALWAYS have one of two responses. They either say:

  1. I LOVE my music teacher, she was the best! We always got to sing and play in her class, it was awesome.
  2. My music teacher told me not to sing when I was in the third grade and I’ve never sung another note!

Well, I think it’s shameful that along the way a child might feel shamed out of singing. We know that Singing is for everyone, but in the USA people think of singers as those who try out for American Idol. As I think about all the children I have taught over the years my prayer is that they feel empowered to sing! I also hope that because I get to teach for another twenty years a that I might be able to influence even more children and families to sing.

7. I hope that my students feel empowered to compose

Though I received an excellent music education, I somehow did not come away from my extensive music education with the invitation to compose music for myself. Furthermore, I know VERY few musicians of my generation who actively compose music.

Given my understanding of general literacy, the lack of active and regular composition among today’s “trained” musicians is a tragedy. One cannot be fully literate in a language without using the language to generate new ideas. Music is no different. How well does a student understand the function of a quarter note if he or she cannot then use it to create something new?

Therefore, I hope that in the next twenty years I will continue to invite my students into the process of creating, improvising and composing music.

8. I hope I can be an encouragement to other music teachers

The hope I have of encouraging other music teachers is the reason why I love to blog. I hope that in the days and years to come I can once again be disciplined enough to write for my blog regularly rather than sporadically. You can help me accomplish this goal by sharing ideas for future posts in the comment section. What sort of blog posts would be most encouraging to you? What would you like to read? What would be most helpful?