Motivation? Dedication?

This just may be a problem in my area, but I wanted to put this thought out there and get other impressions.  It has only been 11 years since I graduated from high school, and already it seems to me that students are not as motivated as they once were.  Or maybe dedicated is a better word.  I don’t know.  Here’s what I mean:

I feel like when I was in high school, we had students in our group that were totally dedicated to the program.  They would never consider missing a rehearsal, or God-forbid, a performance, for anything.  I can remember hanging out before and after school in the band area with a group of quite a few other students.  I took private lessons, and so did many other students.  Band was my favorite class of the day, and I just couldn’t wait to get there.  There more band activities that I could be involved in, the better.  All of my friends were in band.  If I was in the band, why would I go to a basketball game and not play in the Pep Band?  That’s where all of my friends were.  I would never dream of not preparing my music for a lesson, or a rehearsal, or a performance.  I could go on, but I think you probably get the idea.  It just seems that I am over-run with students who are not motivated to be better musicians, students, and humans, and who are not dedicated to the program.

Now, I know there are a number of factors that are unique to my situation that could have an impact on this.  The program has had 3 different directors in the last 10 years.  The band is a small group, and almost every student is involved in several other activities (that of course conflict with band in every way imaginable).  Perhaps that blame here should be placed on me and the way I run the program.  I know that my directors were very influential in shaping my attitude about the band.  On the other hand, maybe I just haven’t been here long enough to make that much of a difference yet.  Don’t get me wrong, I do have students that are very dedicated and somewhat(!) motivated.  It is just a very, very small group of students – like 5 or so!

Any thoughts on the matter would be appreciated!


5 thoughts on “Motivation? Dedication?

  1. Doug,
    I could not agree with you more. I just had a conversation with an older/wiser instructor about this very topic. I am extremely frustrated with the apathy at my school and most of all in the bandroom. I guess my memory “glorifies” my involvement in music as well as my friends and former students at a previous school. I believe it comes down to students don’t prioritize very well. They (at least at my school) are involved in everything and then try to have a job that fits into their schedule. They do a lot of things at an ok level but don’t take anything to the next level.
    I know that I haven’t been here long enough to call these students MY students or MY program. I am excited that I get to work with 5-12th grades and I see the future in the younger students. I hope that in a few years these younger students will be the foundation for my high school ensembles that LOVE and APPRECIATE music and the dedication it takes to MAKE MUSIC!.

  2. WOW! Are you guys in my classes? I am right there with you. The apathy and lack of effort is staggering. I had a talk with my high school band last week about how they are comparing themselves to the “bad students,” and are better than them, but still not good. My students are in every sport and work and youth group. They think they are entitled to everything just for showing up. They do have dreams, but they want to achieve them without any work. Good to hear I am not alone.

  3. Doug,

    …and back in my day a cup of coffee cost a dime…! (Not really). While it is true that as we get older we get a different perspective to be sure, I don’t think what you are experiencing with the students would be uncommon among anyone teaching today.

    There are literally dozens, hundreds, thousands?, of reasons the experience we are having as a teachers is different then those of 10, 20, 30+ years ago. Ethics, Morality, Religious preference, Sexual preference, Political Correctness, Cultural diversities, Academic Pressures, Social Pressures, and Erosion of the mid-1900’s family unit, are just a few of the big issues that have changed for us and are a challenge for us as teachers today.

    At one time the teacher was considered one of the pillars of the community… now some would argue that the teachers have less clout in their community then their students.

    At the end of the analysis, a couple things most not change, our love of teaching and our expectations of success for all of our students. Through all of this, as teachers, we must find a way to the “light” the fire of self-motivated interest in our students. Students will retain, and in fact, learn very little if they don’t see the value of what they are doing and being taught… I wrote a post, not so long, ago discussing the illusion of “resume enhancing” activities. That is, our students seem to be becoming so immersed in adequacy, in many cases due to them being involved in too much, that very few of them are really good at anything. Is this a product of a teaching/learning environment/institution or that of a larger culture…maybe both and more?

    Our students, speaking in general terms, seem, to have an entitled attitude toward life. That is they are owed something for simply existing, translating this toward education, they should receive good grades simply for attending (and in many cases even they don’t attend!).

    I see this “Everybody’s Amazing and Equal” attitude even invading our adjudication programs at festivals… I’m beginning to think that many ensemble directors have never even exposed their student’s to what “true excellence” is with regard to ensembles. The expectation is that even despite a truly dismal performance, the judges are going to constructively criticize them to a decent rating…

    Music and Art teacher’s in many cases, seem to have been regulated to the “fluff” category in many schools and because of this -administrators view them as expendable and dumpable… that is expendable in the sense that they can remove them from the curriculum and dumpable in the sense of well “Suzie” needs an extra credit…let’s put her in an art or music class, or ensemble…

    Isn’t it interesting that many a school administrator will tell you how important your program is and then, throughout the year, will take student’s out of your classes, lessons, ensembles for various reasons with no thought of having the student’s make up the time they’ve missed? -not really give the time of day to how changing the class schedule will affect the “music program” or make some of us push a cart around entering other people’s classrooms because they’ve taken your classroom from you for other, more important teachers? What is the lesson really be transmitted to the students, parents, and other teachers with all of this…?

    Unfortunately, there are no cookie-cutter solutions, for any of this…a successful music teacher (or any really) is one that succeeds DESPITE the various obstacles placed in front of them (fortunately, some schools have very few of the problems found in others). The other thing to realize here is I/we are talking about education in the U.S. -you will find attitudes toward learning, teachers, music, and students vary widely.

    This is getting to be a really long comment, so I’ll end with this thought, there are many things that need to be in place for proper learning to transpire, in this un-perfect learning system, we are never going to have an ideal setting for education to take place (there are simply too many uncontrolled variables), we can however adapt to the scenarios we are presented and constantly improve ourselves to reach and teach the students more effectively. You know that half-full/half-empty glass bunch of psycho babble? When is the last time you’ve heard a “half-full” conversation about education and/or our students in the teacher’s lounge?

    Our students are not as lazy as we think they are…they simply need better guidance and motivation and we have to rise to the challenge and figure out how to really have an impact on them. TEACHING certainly is not easy, but certainly IS a noble profession and one that will TRULY have an effect beyond our lifespans and what we do is LIFE-CHANGING for many of our students. We need to remind ourselves, from time to time, why we choose to teach in the first place…

    J. Pisano

  4. Hi Joe,

    Thanks so much for stopping by and adding your thoughts. I think one thing is clear here, and that is that I am not alone. That is somewhat comforting, for sure. I agree with you that our students engage in far too many “resume builders”, and I think much of this comes from the community/school, but I think MUCH of it comes from their parents.

    Joe, you are spot-on with one of your comments. “…a successful music teacher (or any really) is one that succeeds DESPITE the various obstacles placed in front of them.” I absolutely agree with you!
    It is our job to teach these students a subject about which we are passionate. We must strive to teach our students to the best of our ability, no matter what the circumstance. If we do, we have the opportunity to touch so many lives!

    And, if we’re lucky, our passion for music will “rub off” on a few of our students along the way.

  5. The word “apathy” keeps coming up. I agree, kids have changed as has the environment in the past years. I am feeling it too (I teach elementary vocal music and private piano lessons).

    After MANY years of teaching, what I am trying to do is take a different approach; my goal is to simply love the children I am with. Really look in their eyes and see that they are beautiful in some way. My hope is, that with this attitude, music and learning will happen. If I build the child’s self esteem and create a respectful bond, the apathy will diminish.

    I write mostly on music. I will add you to my blog roll and hope that you will find my posts interesting enough to reciprocate.

    Enjoy the kids!

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