My Elementary Numbers Epiphany!

If you read this blog or my twitter very often, then you know that I have been recently stuggling with my elementary numbers.  If not, you can read about it here.  Anyway, to make a long story short, my elementary numbers have been declining since hitting a high point of 137 students in 2006-2007.  After looking at the list of those students from 06-07, I realized that only 10% of those 137 are still playing.  So, for about 2 weeks, I have been searching for an answer to this predicament.

Last week, I had an epiphany. You know those moments when the clouds part, and the sun breaks through, and you hear Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus?  This was one of those moments.  During a break in my classes, I thought I would stop by and observe a little of our new choir director’s 8th grade rehearsal.  I made my way to the back of the class and had a seat.  At the time, the students were singing some silly nursery-rhyme-type song.  When they knew the words, the director taught the students another verse with different lyrics and a different melody line.  Then, they sang that a few times until they knew it.  Finally, the director split the group into two, and they sang the two different parts together.

As I was looking at the students throughout the room, I had two startling revelations: 1. The students were smiling and laughing, and having fun.  2. They were learning an introductory lesson about harmony.  They were learning important concepts, and they didn’t even know it!!  Then and there, I knew that this was the solution to my elementary woes!

I have never considered myself to have the right personality for elementary students.  Don’t get me wrong, I like those students a whole lot, and I really enjoy working with them.  But, I just don’t have the energetic-type personality that works best with this age group.  So, I realized that the reason that students were not staying in the program was that band was not FUN!  Students (especially at the elementary level) need to enjoy being in band.  Unlike older students, they do not yet play in band simply for the aesthetic experience of playing music.  They want to play because their friends are there, and they get out of class, etc.  So, I realized that I needed to make band an activity that they really wanted to participate in.

So, my new mantra is “What will keep the kids coming back?”  My elementary band students should be looking forward to their band time each week.  I want them to not be able to wait until that time.  It should be better than recess for them.  They should want to be there as much as possible.  I think if I approach elementary band this way, it will keep them coming back.  Then, the students will “talk it up.”  I can hear it now – “Oh man, we had so much fun in band today.”, etc.  That’s what will build the program.  I also think I need to promote things like our band trips in high school and how much fun the students have at the football games.  This gets the elementary students thinking long-term.

So, veteran elementary teachers, I am looking for input.  I need ideas.  What fun things do you do in your classes that gets them coming back for more?  For those of you that remember Short Circuit, in the words of Number 5, “Input, more input!”

Numbers…Ugh!

Today was a good day until I started doing some number-crunching.  Actually, this all really started near the first day of school.  As I was looking over my rosters, I realized that I only had 40 students in band in grades 7-12.  This was disappointing – I’ve already talked about this here.  But today, as my colleague in the orchestra department and I were discussing our elementary schedules, it occured to me that I may not have as many elementary students as I once did.  I had remembered that a few years ago that I had done some number-crunching to prepare for a meeting I was going to have.  I remember that I was proud of the increase in the number of students that were in the band program.  So, I dug out that old paperwork.  What I found was, to say the least, depressing.

My first year at my current school was 2004-2005, and that year, I had approximately 40 students in elementary band, grades 4-6.  In the 2005-2006 school year, I had about 68 students.  And, in 2006-2007, I had 137 students.  Sounds great, right?  Well, last year, I started with about 80 students, and really probably ended the year with about 65-70.  And, based on what I’ve seen for this coming year, I think I’ll be lucky if I have 60 all together.  What is going on here?  I don’t think that I have been doing anything differently.  I know that I haven’t lost that many kids up to the middle school, because I consistently have small groups of 10-12 kids in 7th grade every year.  So, why is this happening?  And why does this problem not seem to affect the orchestra program? This year, the elementary orchestra will include over 100 students.  What’s different?  We recruit the same time and do instrument sign ups the same way, so why does she have so many kids, and I do not?  I have to admit that now I am beginning to point the finger at myself.  My confidence level is low!

Here’s the scary part: What are most administrators, teachers, and parents concerned about?  Not the quality of music or even the quality of instruction in the band.  They are only concerned with numbers.  And, what am I losing for some inexplicable reason?  Numbers.  I found a list of the 137 students that I had in 2006-2007, and I decided that I would see how many of those students were still playing their instrument.  Out of 137 students, only 14 are still playing in the band program! Help!  I am looking for answers.  I am completely dumbfounded.  I think I am a good teacher.  Are my expectations too high?  Do I make the band students work too hard?  Do they not like it?  Am I not enough fun?  Does it have to do with the fact that I can only see these students once a week because of the scheduling? I’ll admit that I want to re-vamp my recruiting process heavily.  But, these numbers have fallen without any change in the recruiting program at all.

I have no idea what to do, but something has to be done quick!  I think that I should meet with my elementary principals and see if they have any insight as to what may be going on here.  Any suggestions are very much appreciated.  I am really at a loss right now!