Friday, August 19, 2011

An Encounter With a Trumpeter

(or, The Rubber Hits the Road)

You know that idyllic version of your class? The one where your lessons go smoothly, the students interact kindly, and every moment is teachable? Alas, someday. In the mean time, I ran into a future student of mine. He gave me these well-meant words of guidance:

  1. "We suck." Literally his first piece of "advice."
  2. "We're rude."
  3. The equipment is bad. Most of the equipment is old, though they do have a new concert bass drum.
  4. It's a small program; one of the smallest in the area, percentage-wise.
  5. I don't remember quite how he said it, but he was talking about the old teacher was cool because she had a lot of down-time at the end of class.
  6. Student XYZ is going to play teacher's pet.

Keep in mind, these represent his judgement, not mine. For example, number 3: a lot of the older instruments actually play quite well. I've only test-played a selection of brass instruments, but I've sure seen worse. Although, I do feel I shall never know why my predecessor decided to get a second concert bass drum. Oh well.

Anyway, thinking about this more, I realized that these are the same symptoms of my High School French department. The teacher was a really kind, well-meaning lady who certainly knew her stuff, but cut corners in teaching us students, like showing us movies (with the French subtitles... ooOOoohh!) and having us play games and do partner activities that were weak in reinforcing the concepts. Then, when we switched schedules to have longer periods, the lessons stayed the same with the addition of free time at the end. (cf. #5) So when she copied the tests out of our old and tattered (cf. #3) but still-valid books, we performed poorly (cf. #1) and ended up with an attitude that was less than respectful (cf. #2).

Now the good news is that I feel like I don't have to change my style or my goals too drastically to fit the needs of this class; I can mostly be myself. These people obviously need to celebrate some small successes. They likely need to invest more time practicing, too; that one might be a hard one to swallow.

So, I'm mindful of the other French teacher at my school - she taught the upper-level classes and actually treated us like responsible adults, which meant work. After we had gotten used to such low standards, anything else seemed unjust, unfair, and unconstitutional. I'm afraid that if I teach like how I believe I should, I'll alienate most of the already small band. Perhaps my best bet is to not go into it with all guns blazing but instead ease them into higher standards. Something about that feels wrong, though - I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think I don't like the idea of lowering my standards and then randomly springing new ones on them - but it may be my best bet.

The other, backup good news is that even if this epic-fails, the younger kids won't have these stigmas, and I'm confident they'll perform marvelously.

'Til next time,


April said...

Hey! I also, am a newly hired music teacher. I teach two four grade splits. One K-3 and One 4-7. Class sizes are under 19 children per class so not bad numbers wise. I am a little challenged coming up with lesson plan ideas. The kids really want to play instruments, and while I play the flute, it doesnt really help me to teach them to play an instrument. I'd love to email back and forth with you over the year!

The Voice said...

Your situation is incredibly familiar. I have encountered the same at my current position. The band program is about 25 in marching band and maybe 10 more who are involved in a concert band but don't march. I often struggle with wanting to really push them to be better because there is an entrenched attitude of "hard work sucks and band should just be all fun all the time."

Section leaders who were used to the old way aren't always helpful in reigning in the band as they are often instigators of bad behavior. It's slowly coming around and I have more hope as the weeks go by and they seem to take pride in sounding and looking better than they have in years, but it's an uphill battle daily.