Thursday, May 28, 2015

School Owned Instruments

Today was the last day of work for the school year, until next year begins in August. After turning in my final grades and getting the secretary and principal to sign off on everything, I began working on my first summer project: going through the school-owned instruments. When I first came to Dutton, I was amazed at how many school owned instruments there were. There are more clarinets than there are junior high students! I was also saddened to find that many of the instruments were in disrepair. When you teach in a small school and a rural district, you get pretty good at fixing instruments with tape and rubber bands! There are many small repairs that can be done in a moment's notice to get an instrument to work at the beginning of class, during class, and right before a concert begins. It helps a lot to have a toolbox with small flathead screwdrivers, a pair of pliers, a pair of tweezers, and a basic knowledge of how to troubleshoot problems when a student says, "My ______ won't play!"

Today, my father in law (a retired band director) came to work with me, and we spent the better part of six hours going through the 70+ school-owned instruments and checking to see if they worked. Each instrument was assembled, chromatic scales were played to check all keys, and several quick fixes were made, while other instruments got a tag to show that they were not in working condition (and hopefully they will go to the shop this summer). I learned from my father-in-law that there are many more repairs that you can do after you learn how to replace corks and pads, which really aren't very difficult and don't take a lot of time.

When you hear students squawking and... making farting noises with their instruments (for lack of a better description) on a regular basis, consider that there may be something wrong with their instrument, not just the way they are playing it. I have had three students in two years who put up with instruments where not every note worked, and nobody realized it was the instruments' fault, not the students. Therefore, I have learned to listen and watch for signs that an instrument may be malfunctioning so that the students actually have a chance to learn the instrument. I mean, learning the saxophone is hard, and especially hard when one of the main springs has come unhooked. This is a year-long vigil, because instruments can start to fall apart at any time during the year.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Starting To Write About Teaching

The main reason why I want to write about teaching music in Montana is to improve as a teacher. By putting my thoughts down on paper (hyperspace?), I'll be forced to clearly think about what I do each day at my job, and why I do it that way. Aside from wanting to keep a journal about teaching, I'm doing this because Dr. Robert Duke suggests it in his book "Intelligent Music Teaching".

I started teaching in April of 2011 in Circle, Montana, as a long-term substitute band and JH General Music teacher. My experience there was absolutely wonderful because the students and community were glad to have me, and the students thought I knew a whole lot about music (more than their last teacher, anyway). I only worked there for two months - I had already accepted a job in Hinsdale, MT, to start in the August of 2011. Hinsdale was a much different experience for two reasons: (1) the classroom management issues and student behavior/attitude, and (2) the wide range of responsibilities that come with being a K-12 teacher.

If Circle was an experience to ascertain my interest in being a music teacher and build my confidence, then Hinsdale was a chance to feel humbled and get an idea of how much I really needed to know in order to teach K-12 Music. I learned a lot about trying to maintain order in the classroom, and I got a thick skin. Both of these are very important to good teachers. Classroom management is the ability to design rules and procedures, and then think on your feet when problems arise. Being able to remain emotionally detatched in the high seas of high school and junior high drama is also very important.

More importantly, I learned that you have to know a lot to teach Band, Choir, and General Music to students from Kindergarten to seniors in high school. There is a certain large amount of content that is covered in those 13-14 years (preschool adds an extra year). This includes a general idea of music education pedagogy as well as a wide variety of songs to include in your bag of tricks. I spent the first few months trying to figure out what to teach all on my own, and it wasn't until the end of my first year that I discovered the Golden Triangle Curriculum Cooperative - a group that publishes the exact information that I was trying to figure out on my own. Knowing the curriculum would have been a great place to start, rather than finish, my first year! While I tried my best to buckle down and stick with it, I was not rehired for a third year at Hinsdale, and instead I moved to my current position in Dutton, Montana.

As a beginning teacher, it is a lot easier to work at a school where the last music teacher wasn't very good at teaching music. In Circle and Dutton, I was given the benefit of the doubt whenever I made mistakes because the community was just glad to have me there and didn't have great expectations because of the previous teacher. In Hinsdale, the lady who I replaced had a very good handle on being a music teacher - the program was very strong and I was not given any grace for making mistakes that the old teacher surely would not have made. This is just a thought for music teachers who haven't yet found their first job.