I realize we music educators can occasionally carry a chip on our shoulders about being marginalized in education. You would, too, if you had to endure any comments from colleagues enumerating the differences between electives teachers and “real” teachers. I assure you, I am as real as they come. I’m not a unicorn. I went to college to become a teacher, just like the rest of my colleagues. I earned a degree in education. Actually, I earned two.
I’ve had the pleasure of working in several districts among numerous colleagues in all subject areas who acknowledged and respected my place in their school and the lives of students. Unfortunately, I’ve run into my fair share of educators, even administrators, who just don’t “get it”. I think in most cases they don’t mean to be condescending or to imply that I matter less than other teachers. They just don’t understand the implications of their comments.
So what follows is a guide. I know most of you “get it”, but for those who think I’m a unicorn: what NOT to say to your music teacher. (Note: It’s a double transgression if you’ve said any of these things to a music teacher in December…when everybody is suddenly and miraculously a classical music fan and demands a performance at every venue imaginable. Namely the Hallejuah Chorus. Which is actually an Easter anthem. Just sayin’.)
“You’re so lucky. You don’t have to worry about OCCT/EOI/High-Stakes Testing.”
No. Instead, I have to display my students’ progress in a public setting in front of hundreds of people multiple times a year. And you’re only partially correct. I do have to worry about high-stakes testing. The rehearsal time lost to the constant interruptions while my students take multiple exams and I monitor them is a detriment to our preparedness for contests and performances.
“You’re so lucky. You don’t have all this grading.”
No. What I have is hours upon hours of the paperwork it takes to administrate a fine arts programs. Contest registrations. All-State Chorus entries. And don’t even get me started on finances. Fundraiser requests, receipts, deposits, equipment bids, purchase orders, invoices, account reconciliations, etc…for MULTIPLE financial obligations each year. Essentially, my students and their parents have to raise the money to fund our program. Contest fees, audition registrations, honor choir participations, hundreds if not thousands of pieces of music, uniforms, accompanist fees, transportation costs…even the costs of substitute teachers…are just some of the things we must pay for every year. Not to mention (but I will), we do have to worry about grading; specifically, how to quantify something that is subjective and differentiated for multiple students.
“You’re so lucky. You get to choose your own curriculum.”
This is true. We get to choose our own curriculum. For multiple classes, levels of ability, and purposes…several times a year. Do you know how difficult it is to find appropriate and interesting literature for a choir with 2 boys and 11 girls, 9 of whom are freshmen? We can’t teach the same 175 days each year. Our students have us for multiple years. That means, once we burn through an emergency sub plan, we can’t use it again for four years. Once we perform a piece of music, it goes away for several years before we pull it out again, if ever. My sister teaches geometry. She is given a textbook and a curriculum map. At any given time of the year, she knows approximately where she should be and where the other geometry teachers are in the curriculum. No such amenities are afforded to music teachers. Sure, some districts have an adopted music curriculum, but it’s rarely appropriate for all levels at all sites, and there is rarely anybody in place to train and monitor the teachers using it.
“You’re so lucky. Your students choose to be in your class.”
You’re right. We have to recruit and retain our students. Our jobs depend upon it. We have to walk the fine line of holding them accountable to a high standard of excellence, while making the course enjoyable enough they choose to continue enrolling in it. We have to worry from year-to-year what changes administration is going to make to scheduling and requirements that limits student electives. In some places, we even have to worry about students being removed from our courses on a regular basis for remediation. Because apparently, the way to help a kid who hates math get better at math is to make him do more math.
“You’re so lucky. You’re not a core teacher/your class isn’t academic.”
Fine Arts are listed as a core academic subject under No Child Left Behind. Districts are required to hire Highly Qualified teachers to instruct students in music and art. Students are required to obtain at least one Fine Arts credit for graduation, and music can satisfy that requirement. Music is academic. My students are assessed and evaluated. They receive a grade which is included in their GPA and on their transcripts.
If you are guilty of any of these transgressions, have no fear. Forgiveness is attainable. Show up to a performance. Include your music teacher at your table in the lounge. Even easier: be kind. Assume that you can’t possibly know the intricacies of each person’s role at your school, but you CAN respect each person’s role. And the person in it. Or the next time we’re selling “World’s Finest Chocolate”, I’ll put you down for a few dozen…boxes.