Confessions of a Failed Teacher, Part 2

It’s easy to dismiss Neil Rutland’s attitude toward his band students as arrogance and sheer, clueless naiveté. After all, he was 22 years old at the time, and reality eventually asserted itself. Haven’t we seen this before? Isn’t this why inexperienced teachers need careful mentoring? Rutland sums up the experience by saying that “I was temperamentally unsuited for public school teaching.” After 32 years of reflection, he concludes that his problems went beyond temperament. 

He had all the basic skills:

  • Well-equipped to impart the basics of sound production and technique on the band instruments. 
  • A good musician, completely capable of proper demonstration of melody and rhythm.
  • A good conductor. 
  • Good at error detection.
  • A good grasp of literature for the band.

Given all of these things, why would he have such a negative opinion of his work as a band director in public schools?

Rutland sums it up by saying, “I am grateful for my training. My undergrad college experience laid the foundation for much future development and achievement, yet I was unprepared to do the most important job I would be asked to do: I was unprepared to teach music to all of my students. I was interested in using the students to produce music. The job I should have been doing was using the music to teach students. The difference is profound. In one case, the students are assets used in the cause of musical performance; in the other, musical performance is a means toward an education that includes the art and discipline of music.”

No one is going to argue against the need for technical proficiency or musical maturity for future teachers. Every music undergraduate program will have high standards in performance and in the core subjects of music theory and history. Every music educator preparation program has many courses in music pedagogy and in the specifics of teaching strings, winds, percussion, and choral groups. Where and when do future educators learn the values that guide their teaching? There are courses that include that, too; but values are best learned by example. Examples must be set by those in the profession and learned through contact with colleagues and mentors. We are living in a time when the validity of arts education is being called into question. Our organization must work together to make a profound and positive difference in the development of music educators.

Neil Rutland is the Collegiate Vice-President for the New Mexico Music Educators Association and Director, Digital Film Making/Instructor of Music at Eastern New Mexico University.

–Becky Spray, Nov. 9, 2011, © National Association for Music Education