New School Year: Challenges Ahead

In about 10 short hours, I will be meeting with students for the first time in the 2008-2009 school year.  I must say that while I am usually enthusiastic about this event, I am not feeling so this year.  Actually, I was doing a pretty good job of having a positive outlook for the year until I got my class rosters  Once again, I was disappointed with the numbers.  Now, I am not naive – I know how many (or how few, in this case) students I have in my program.  But, it is just disheartening to know that you only have 40 students in band from 7-12.  I guess what I found most disappointing about this is that every year, I seem to have fewer kids, instead of more.  I feel like my program is growing in so many ways, yet I can’t seem to get the numbers up.  I am also concerned because this is what most people in the community and administration focus on: numbers.  I really thought that by this, the 5th year, I would start to see an increase in numbers, and it’s just not happening.  Now I guess I have to figure out why this is the case.  And, I think I have some issues that I need to address with my administration and some things I have to admit to myself as well.

Realization – Just being here and being a great teacher will not alone increase the numbers in my program.  I think this was a false belief of mine until today.  It is not just enough to be doing a good job – some fundamental changes within the district need to happen, and I follow with some of those that I believe are necessary (in no particular order).

1. Schedule changes – Every year, I lose more and more of my best students to schedule conflicts.  My first year, I had none.  This year, I have about 3-4.  There simply should not be other classes scheduled during the same periods as band, or any music ensemble for that matter.  I know this is not always possible, but this year, our conflict is with a couple of AP classes.  Now, if what I have been hearing is true, our highest achieving students are usually music students.  Then why schedule an AP class at that time?

2. Change in mentality – We have assemblies and “Tiger Tunnels” at our school for many sports activities: football, basketball, softball, baseball, track, cross country, swimming, tennis, golf, and wrestling.  During these events, we honor those athletes that have achieved great things in their respective sports.  Don’t get me wrong – I am all for that – I love sports.  But, we have never once had any kind of assembly for any of our students going to county festivals, districts, regionals, or states.  Why not?  Aren’t these student musicians representing our school just as equally as the athletes do?  I think doing this kind of thing would change the old “band geek” mentality in our school.

3. Additional Staff – We have added a music position in our district this year and I a very grateful for that.  But, we still need more music staff members.  For three elementary buildings, there is 1 orchestra teacher and 1 band teacher.  This simply does not give us (the orchestra director and myself) enough time with those elementary students, and we lose many of them before they even leave 6th grade.  We are doing pretty good staff-wise at the middle-high school level, but we desperately need more help at the elementary level.

4. Additional schedule changes – If I’m going to be critical here, which I guess I am, I should mention that band and choir should not be scheduled the same period.  This means that we must share students.  The most “full ensemble” rehearsals I will ever have will be 3 per week, 2 every other week.  This is the same for choir.  In other words, if we have students that are in both band and choir, they go to one a few days a week, and the other the rest of the days.

I really think that if my school district is serious about supporting their music programs and making them strong, these are some fundamental changes that need to be made in order to achieve this.  These are the challenges that my program is facing right now.

My new colleague in the choir department would be quick to point out that my situation could be much worse, and I agree.  I am not ungrateful for what I do have.  But, that also doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t want or push for this program to be the absolute best that it can be.