I had absolutely no intentions of leaving last week on such a melancholy note, but it was certainly not my best. I found myself stuck in a personal/emotional slump that I just couldn’t shake, and I’m trying desperately to hang on to a positive attitude this week. Whether or not I will be successful is yet to be seen…
I spent Saturday at the middle school participating in a Kagan workshop. For those who have never heard of Kagan, it is a sort of classroom structure/management/cooperative learning philosophy that emphasizes student learning through peer interaction. While many people agree that students need to be active participants in their own education, the Kagan principles provide specific structures that ensure individual student accountability and success in an environment where peers work together to solve problems, coach each other, build teamwork, etc. In theory, I think it is one of the best classroom tools/structures that I’ve ever heard of; and if I had to spend 8 hours at work on a Saturday, the Kagan workshop was at least engaging and insightful (it also helped that I got paid too =P ).
By the time the workshop came to a close, the gears in my head were at full speed. How can I adapt these ideas for my classroom? Especially my choir class? How can I get the students to engage each other in content-reinforcing interaction when they barely understand the content as a whole? I decided to give it a try today with a “Mix-Pair-Share.” The students are given a question, mix randomly around the room while music plays, and then stop in place and high-five the nearest person when the music stops. Those two are now partners. The partners then take turns sharing their answer to the question, which in this particular case was, “What was something awesome you did over the weekend?” The students loved this part even more than I expected. I received a chorus (no pun intended?) of “Can we do this again?!” I said absolutely and then attempted to introduce them to the next part of the process. Here’s where it started to go flat (definite pun intended). It literally took 5 minutes just to get the classroom quiet enough to deliver the next set of instructions. “Look in your sight-reading book on page three, example sixteen. You and your partner are going to take turns discussing the example and pointing out important things to recognize. For example, I would point out that the very first note is a half note, so it needs to be held out for two beats. Or, I could point out that the lowest note is Do and the highest note is La.” By the time I made it through the rest of the instructions and told them to start, the room was already bursting into another fit of chatter. I started circulating from group to group to monitor their progress, and half the groups didn’t even have their books open!!!!!! (This is the part where I officially want to strangle kids.) After all that time trying to get the class quiet, how many students actually listened?
As much as I want a system that is effective and engaging for students, how can I afford activities like that when they have no concept of when to put the socializing on hold? One beautifully effective technique for quieting students is simply standing next to those who are talking. The student(s) get(s) uncomfortable with the teacher standing so closely and will usually get the idea that they need to pay attention. Not so with middle schoolers! I will stand in front of a pair of students, stare them down, and they will still continue their conversation right in front of my face. How does that work?!?!
I won’t throw the cooperative learning ideas out yet. They really can be useful tools, and who knows, maybe I still have yet to make the procedures really clear. However, I find the struggle to maintain the choirs’ attention incredibly draining. It’s getting to the point that I dread my choir classes– and that’s what I’m trained to do! I’m doing this job because I love working with choirs and young voices, but it’s the worst part of my day? If anyone can figure out that riddle let me know.
Oh, and I have my first evaluation, in choir, on Friday.
What a horrible title is that? It kind of sums everything up nicely though. It’s been a tiring week, and it’s only Tuesday.
Actually, today went really well, especially considering I don’t even have a planning period on Tuesdays. Yet here it is, 10:30 at night, I’ve only finished the work I absolutely have to have finished by tomorrow, my to do list is still out the door, I’m tired, and I’m completely lacking any form of motivation. Why does teaching have to be so tiring? Will this really be what the rest of my career is like?
I have no intention of turning this into my personal whining platform, but I do struggle with separating the everyday issues of managing a classroom with my own personal success as a teacher. I absolutely know that I have what it takes to be a good teacher, but the constant fight to keep students in line leaves me wondering whether or not this is something I want to put up with long-term. I have so many outside interests and ambitions, but the continuous life-sucking drain of dealing with
obnoxious charming middle schoolers leaves me absolutely ambition-less.
I suppose it will get better. Despite my current pessimism, today really was a good day. My students were engaged, they progressed, and participated well, even if it to the extreme of being extremely chatty.
Here’s hoping that some day it actually feels like I’m educating students, not just playing at teacher.
It’s about time I finally started saying something on here! I’ve been putting off writing this introduction for while, but with the day off for Labor Day, it’s about time I got a move on….
The past several months have been quite the whirlwind. Last May I completed my first year of teaching chorus and music appreciation at a middle school in central Florida, and it left me wondering how badly I was really interested in teaching. I know better than to judge my whole experience off my first year, especially with so many things about to change, and quickly. Within six weeks of school letting out, I finished up my church job, got married, packed my bags, and moved across the country to Arizona. (Oh wait- I just moved AGAIN last weekend!) And throughout that whole process, I was applying for jobs and praying someone would hire me. Music jobs weren’t necessarily scarce, but the majority of schools need band/orchestra directors, not choir teachers. As it worked out, I was hired, a week before the wedding, over the phone for a middle school chorus position that also included an exploratory music class and elementary general music.
Is it sad that when I left Florida I was hoping the education system would be “worse” in Arizona? As I watched the decisions of Florida politicians in regard to education, and as I listened to the voices of experienced teachers around me, the future of education in Florida grew increasingly depressing. I fervently hoped that somewhere with a less developed “system” would actually function better. Of course, statistically speaking, Arizona has one of the worst educational system in the entire country- so I’m in luck! However, when I look at the teachers I work with, particularly at the middle school, and see their enthusiasm and the corroboration that takes place within and between disciplines, I know those numbers are just that, numbers. The quality of instruction I have witnessed within the first month of working here is invigorating and inspiring to be a part of. Yes, there are issues, as there will be in every single school anywhere in the world, but so many things here are being done right.
My day starts out at the elementary school where I teach general music to 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. In an attempt to go easy on myself, I’m sticking pretty closely to the curriculum we have, which is “Spotlight on Music” published by McGraw-Hill. Oh, the joy of actually having a curriculum to work with! I say that without sarcasm because it really is making my life so much easier. Last year I developed a music appreciation class completely from scratch, and I feel it was only moderately successful at best; but having clear direction and all of the ready-made resources is such a stress relief this year.
After the elementary, I have about 40 minutes to drive to the middle school, eat lunch, and make sure I am prepared for my afternoon classes. I teach two periods of an exploratory music class that I’ve decided to call Music & Technology and one period of Chorus (which is actually two different choirs that meet on different days- I’ll explain more on that some other time). All that talk of the ease of a clearly defined curriculum? Yeah, that doesn’t apply here. The music tech class is my own creation, and it’s definitely still a crude one. We have a computer lab on campus that runs the software Sibelius 4 and Audacity, and it seemed a waste not to put it to good use. My lessons and assignments for this course are certainly a little rough around the edges, but I have to remind myself that it’s a work in progress, otherwise I’ll stress about it way more than it’s worth. Also, music tech only meets for one trimester, so come November I will be able to start fresh and will have a much better idea of how to more effectively run the class.
Then comes choir. [insert dramatic music here] Working with choirs is what I love to do, what I am specifically trained to do; yet some days it feels like I struggle the most with these classes. Now in this particular scenario I am not running a choir program. I am teaching a class called choir. Catch the difference? Because of the lack of an established choral program at the middle school, and also because of a new scheduling software, students have randomly been assigned to participate in choir. Most of these kids have never dreamed of participating in a performing ensemble and know absolutely nothing about music. Everyday is a battle to get the students to work together, participate, pay attention, and- probably the most important part -to trust themselves and each other enough to risk letting their voices be heard. That’s a seriously tall order for a middle schooler. On the bright side of all of this, I am excited to share with these kids a completely new experience; I am excited to expose them to skills they never would have suspected they possessed; and I am excited to watch how it all grows.
I have a heaping pile of challenges on my plate this year, but I am much more optimistic about how it will all play out. I still have some days where I question my sanity in becoming a teacher, but I think this will be the year where I really find out what I’m made of, what kind of teacher I can become. My point in all of this is to find an outlet to reflect on my experiences, vent some of my frustrations, and hopefully find some encouraging, or at least helpful, feedback. Thank you, in advance, to those who patiently follow along.