Once we’re past the introductions, information, and I’m past the insecurity, the first downbeat is given to my new high school band. And it was phenomenal; the ensemble played in perfect balance, starting from a glorious low brass sound to an upper woodwind sound that provided the perfect icing on this tonic cake. The students responded flawlessly to the release, looking up in awe, and coming to the realization that this was the best sound they have ever made, and it was all thanks to me.
In reality, one person played, and he played a wrong note.
“What did I do wrong?” I’m asking myself. I checked the baton – yep, fresh batteries, and it’s in the right key. Therefore, I come to the conclusion that it is THEIR fault.
“uh, Mr. Simpson?” “It’s ‘Stinson’” “Whatever. Our old director did it differently.” This was not the last time I would hear this phrase.
This first day was one of many moments that would destroy my assumptions. I called myself a teacher, but I was shocked at how much I had to actually “teach”. The following are assumptions that were broken during my first two years.
The students will automatically_________.
Fill in the blank: practice, sit up, respond to a new conducting gesture, etc. You might come in to a situation where the students already have proper rehearsal etiquette. Or, you might not. And it will not automatically fix itself. Put a car on cruise control, don’t touch the steering wheel, and tell me if you get to your destination. You have to be prepared to drive your students to success, and realize that yes, some students need to be taught how to and why we need to practice.
The band/choir/orchestra never meets my expectations.
One of my friends, also a first year teacher at this time, came to me with a dilemma. “The band never does what I want it to. They would rather talk the entire time than rehearse, and it’s stressing me out.” I asked a simple question: what do you expect from the band at rehearsal? “Well, I expect that they’ll take forever to get ready, they’ll play out of tune, the whole rehearsal will be full of talking, and I’ll have to get after them the whole time.” “What if you expect the opposite?” The next day, he let his band know exactly what he expected of them. Was it a perfect rehearsal? No, but over time, he told me of the remarkable improvement. We’ve heard it before, but here’s the bottom line: people will meet your expectations over time, regardless of how high or low you set them.
Everyone loves what you do and you will be appreciated immediately.
Another harsh reality: not all of the teachers, staff, administration, parents, and even students love the band/choir/orchestra as much as you do. Even harsher: not everyone will like you.
It’s tough to deal with. What do you do? First off, you realize that your class or ensemble is a part of a larger picture: the school. People have other priorities and obligations. Everyone in the school has worth; why not let them know? Basically, if you want respect, make sure that you’re dishing it out.
There are some people, however, that will never come over to your side. Take the seasoned 30-year teacher that has decided that he just doesn’t like new teachers. What you do then? The only thing you can do – tell yourself that they are missing out on a great person, and just keep being you for the sake of your students.
Every student will behave because I told them to.
There’s a reason that most evaluations for new teachers deal with classroom management. Now I’m not saying classroom management is difficult; it just requires clearly defined expectations, a quick response time, a cool head, and pepper spray. (I’m kidding about that last one. Kind of.) I spoke of my troubles to my high school band director. His advice? If it is good music, and it has the power to grasp the students and take them over for that rehearsal and you’re teaching it well, most of my problems would be gone. Along with clear classroom guidelines, this piece of advice helped me greatly. Remember: you can’t always control what the students do, but you have complete control over your response and consequence.
You will still get some of “those” students, however. Let’s call this particular student John. Not to protect his identity, but to deny him the pride that this story would bring him. You see, John was easy to get along with, and could usually play his part, but had a reputation for being a bit of a clown. One snowy day, things were going particularly well in rehearsal. I looked to cue the timpani, but found no response. “Where’s John?” Blank and confused looks. “We don’t know. He was just here.” I continued on with rehearsal as my co-director searched for him. After rehearsal, John came back in. “Mr. Stinson, come see what I did!” The hallway door to the band room now had a three foot tall snowman (complete with a carrot stick nose) was greeting anyone that happened to be walking past. It was then that I had the answer to my question: yes, I did get a BME and thousands in debt so I could write a detention for the band room’s version of Frosty the Snowman.
Teachers Are Underpaid and Unappreciated
I’d love to completely disagree with this, but this is true for some. But what if we look at the other side of the coin? My friend is a math teacher. He is paid a full time salary for teaching three math classes at a high school using the block schedule. To supplement his income, he coaches soccer, and he is a member of one of the school committees. Each of these extra jobs provides a stipend for his outside of school work.
I am a music teacher. I am paid a full time salary for teaching three music classes in the same setting. I have many after school commitments, but I am paid a stipend for them. I am also a member of the curriculum committee to help rewrite the fine arts standards – a chance to not only make money, but make a difference in what is expected of our students. In the evenings, I work as a staff member for two marching bands, and on the weekends, I have a private trumpet studio and I play the occasional gig. As music teachers, we are blessed with opportunities such as these that the math or English teacher might not have. There’s money out there; just ask yourself how much time you want to put in to it. I do caution, however, about spreading yourself too thin. We would rather have A+ work in one area, than taking on many things and doing C work across the board. You need to also have time to for “recess.” The healthiest individual realizes the importance of focusing on work when working and focusing on playing during recreational time. Make time to play.
And now, for the second part – teachers are unappreciated. Do this: treat your students as the respectable young adults that you expect them to be, allow them to create and perform at their highest level, make your class worth their time, and let them know that you appreciate them. Then, let me know if you feel unappreciated at the end of the year. I sure don’t.
- New Years Project 2011
- Benefits of Drum Corps for a Music Education Major (Part 1/2)
- Hire Me! Tips for Finding Your First Music Teaching Job After Graduation