Catching Up

I have not posted much in a while, and I’m going to make an effort to post more regularly, even if they are just short posts, in order to avoid marathon posts, like this one could turn out to be.  Anyway, here are some of the things that have been on my mind and going on as of the start of the year (in no particular order):

– If you have been reading past posts, you know that I have been struggling with getting numbers up in my elementary program.  Things have gone remarkably well here at the beginning of the year.  I started on the first day with about 60 kids signed up, and now I have about 78.  These extra 18 students simply have been showing up and saying that they want to play, so that has been really good.  But, lately, I have been thinking about how to get the elementary students motivated to practice.  Now, I do have a rewards system with “band bucks” where students who practice an hour get 1 “dollar” from me.  They can then use that dollar to buy things like music pencils, erasers, etc.  This works well for some students but not many for some reason.  Maybe I just don’t make a big enough deal about it.  But, I have been thinking this week that maybe I would institute “quizzes” for the students.  What I have thought about is telling them that they will have a quiz on an assigned excercise for next week, and simply grading them out of 10 points.  My thinking here is that this will help to make the students accountable for practice time.  I just feel like I have far too many students who do nothing all week, and then we wonder why they can’t get passed number 15 in the book the whole year.  Any feedback/thoughts on this matter would be appreciated.

– Also somewhat related, I have been considering the possibility that I rely too heavily on the “method book” to teach elementary lessons, rather than just using it as a tool.  Maybe my approach to teaching elementary has been all wrong from the beginning.  Perhaps it is better to teach these students what I think is best, and simply use the method book as a resource, and not necessarily the curriculum.  Thoughts?

– Please hear me out on this next one.  Sometimes I feel like I need to remind myself that this is “just a job.”  Now, before you jump down my throat for saying such a thing, let me explain myself.  I know that all great teachers think of this as much for than “just a job.”  I do as well.  But, I think having a child has changed my perspective quite a bit.  I have to admit that my family is now the most important thing in my life to me.  There are many days that I find myself at school thinking about getting home and seeing my family.  But, what I find is that I still am very motivated to do the absolute best that I can when I step in front of my students.  So, here is what I think I mean when I say that I have to remind myself that this is “just a job.”  Sometimes, I let the BS that I have to deal with really get to me.  We (those of us in education) all know what I mean….all of the stuff not related to teaching music.  When I start getting bogged down with the administrative directrives that I don’t necessarily agree with, high school drama (“she’s being mean to me!”), etc., I find that I just have to tell myself that this really is “just a job.”  This helps me to let all of that unnecessary baggage go, so that when I am home, it does not weigh on my mind and have me pre-occupied when I’m with my family.  (I think that is also partially why I haven’t blogged in a while…I simply do not want to think about school when I’m at home.)

-Finally, it looks as if we will be extending our football season once again this year.  The team is 7-1, and has been looking good.  I predict we play at least 3 weeks into November.  I have to admit that for the first time since I’ve been in this position, I’m not really looking forward to it.  I don’t know if it’s because I’d rather be home with my family, or because we have been in the playoffs just about every year since I’ve been here, but I’m ready for the season to be over.  It probably has something to do with the afore-mentioned “high school drama” too!  But, I really do wish the team good luck….deep down, I probably do want them to succeed.

-PS – Don’t remember where I heard or read this recently, but a good thought nonetheless.  Someone said something to the effect of “We do not teach subjects, we teach people.”  I like that – sometimes it changes my perspective on handling certain situations.

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4 thoughts on “Catching Up

  1. Stop reading my mind!

    I can certainly identify with your feelings – especially about the “just a job” concept. I feel that I have been very fortunate in my life to have had good music teachers as a child and good professors and mentors as an adult. Therefore, I feel a tremendous responsibility to do well at what I do. Then life happens, music classes get interrupted, my lesson plans get pulled out from under me, and frustration sets in. Then I have to remind myself, as you say, that this is just a job.

    Regarding the Band Bucks concept – I have known a few teachers who implemented systems like that which were really effective. Actually, those were teachers who had assistants or student teachers or colleagues working alongside them. My opinion, however, is that it creates a whole lot more work for you and can be a distraction from actually teaching. I prefer a more accomplishment-based rewards system, like earning stickers or little prizes for playing certain exercises in the method book. (I’m actually planning a blog post on this subject in the near future, so I’ll save my verbosity until then!) But for now, let me just encourage you not to implement any type of complex reward system which would be complex to manage.

    Good thoughts, Doug. And I hope your football team loses. 🙂

  2. Just a thought (since I’m closer in age to elementary students than you are)… I’m not sure what kind of parents you have to deal with, but keep in mind that when some kids are spoiled/are being taught they’re better than everyone else, trying to get them to work for pencils and erasers isn’t going to work. Unless they’re really cool erasers, which they may be. Different things motivate different people, and it’s the same for kids. I see it every day.
    As to the “method book,” I’m not sure what kind of exercises you are working with, but maybe they just aren’t that exciting for kids. It would require some more work, but is there a way you can figure how to teach the same concepts through something cooler (given the age of the kids…) I’m just thinking that by even 5th grade, Hot Cross Buns is pretty lame.
    Can you motivate them to practice by giving them something that would sound interesting to them when they finally achieve it? I’m thinking like an easy version of the Mario Brothers’ theme song, or an easy version of something they may hear on the radio (within reason of course)…
    As a kid, I think I’d be excited to learn to play something I would want to listen to in the first place.

    Just more brainstorming! Keep up the good work, brother!

  3. Welcome back, Doug!

    Recruiting is good, but retention sounds like it is more of the issue for you. I, too, find recruiting the young ones easy but retaining them through the “football” and “discovering girls” and “I can’t wait to get a car” years to be much more challenging. I might suggest that you have several motivations in place all at once through the middle years. You’re absolutely right that the Band Bucks work great for some kids and not at all for many; same with grades, weekly chair auditions, stickers, etc. So put several of these strategies in place at once, and while kids participate/are eligible for all of the above, they can think about the one that turns them on individually…and you can ask them, too. In any case, don’t be afraid of changing strategies in the midstream.

    I also agree with you about the method book: we all need to write out our curricular goals for each segment of time, and then pick literature that addresses the goals. I love to supplement the method book with extra ditties, preferably stuff the kids are interested in such as pop music, holiday music, movie themes, etc. Get cozy with Sibelius or Finale, and your kids will get cozy with you.

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