Feeling a Bit Overwhelmed?
By NAfME Member Audrey Carballo
Ah! The last vestiges of summer have waned, and school is starting. With it brings the promise of hopeful beginnings and plenty of stress and frustration! Wait—stress and frustration? Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Where are all the lofty, dreamy expectations for our amazing little musicians? Oh, those feelings are still there, but when the reality of beginning a new school year hits, many other emotions and premature burnout can occur.
I’m speaking primarily to elementary teachers now but if you think this shoe fits, keep on reading.
Music teachers are given so much to do in such a short amount of time, it is almost impossible to get everything done and “ready” in time for our students when they walk in the door. That is a fact. Typically, special area schedules are the last ones to be addressed and aren’t given much consideration. To this, I say: know your contract and the requirements of your teaching position. If you are an elementary music teacher, some counties lay the responsibility of teaching music to the kindergarten and first grade teacher. Don’t just take on those classes because your principal wants to give those teachers extra planning. You are not a baby-sitting service. Even if you are not in a union, there are job requirements and responsibilities that are attached to every position. Don’t allow your administrator to abuse them—or you! Know how much planning time you are supposed to have per day. Don’t take on any extra job responsibilities you think you can’t handle. It’s okay to say “no” to your administrator. If you don’t stand up for yourself, who will?
If you are lucky enough to have a classroom, be very clear to the teachers who are bringing their classes to you. They need to hand them off to you at your door—not wave them on from half a hallway away or as they are on their way to the parking lot to pick up lunch. This is a safety issue for the students and a responsibility duty for the classroom teacher. Heaven forbid you need to run to the restroom in-between classes!! The students would be unsupervised! Student supervision and safety should be the priority of every administrator.
If you travel to the classroom, speak to the teacher beforehand to make sure you have room on the board to write directions. I’ve seen teachers go off the deep end when I had to erase two sentences because they took up the entire white board with work for their students. (Well, I’m a teacher as well. Don’t ever forget that!) Don’t allow the teacher to “borrow” students during your music class. Johnny can make up his test during some other time. You have a lesson to teach. Don’t allow teachers to gather and talk to each other during your class time. It’s rude, disrespectful to you and the students, and it disrupts the learning environment. Be diplomatic but get your point across. When you walk into a class for music, that is YOUR classroom, not theirs.
When you have your own classroom, you can be the king of your castle. I have eliminated about 95% of all behavior issues by simply sitting my students in boy/girl/boy/girl order. It doesn’t even have to be alphabetical, just a random boy/girl/boy/girl. Over the years, I’ve found they are less likely to talk with each other if they are separated. Even “friends” are separated by at least one body. I do have one separate student desk right in front of mine. That’s the desk no one wants to sit in because that’s the place I reserve for someone who just can’t handle sitting with the group. That chair gets very little use. In someone else’s class, it’s a little harder to negotiate, but students can still be moved to other seats when they are off task.
Especially during the first few weeks of school, make it a point of going over your rules and expectations with your students. The rules might be almost exactly what their classroom teacher has, but you are another instructor, and it’s important they see you as an equal to their homeroom teacher. During the first two weeks of school, I ask my students to copy my rules and get them signed by their parents. This is for an extra credit grade. This does two things: one, the parent has seen and is aware of the rules of your classroom, and two, you have made the parent accountable by their signed acknowledgement.
Keep discipline logs. It’s so easy to blow off behavior instances by saying, “Oh, I don’t have time to write all that down.” If you don’t keep at least some semblance of any hardcore behavior instances, how are you going to justify the child having serious consequences? I’m not talking about a whisper here and there, but egregious behavior instances. Talk to the classroom teacher—you’ll often find the behaviors the child is displaying for you are the same ones displayed in their class as well. Nip behaviors in the bud before the behavior grows out of control!
In my school, we have adopted a school-wide discipline plan. If your school has one, use it. It obviously works (hopefully!). If not, try getting together as a Fine Arts Department (there’s strength in numbers) and developing a discipline plan with the Art and PE teachers. If that isn’t a viable solution, create one on your own, but make your administration aware of it, so they aren’t blind-sided when a parent calls to complain about you.
Address parent complaints in a calm and professional manner. Stick to your guns. If you can justify why Jane got an “F” for a test, then tell the parent exactly why. Also, give the parents options as to how the child can bring up the grade—not change the grade but bring up the average overall. Some suggestions can be to practice more at home, come in early or stay after school (if you’re willing) for extra help on a very limited basis. If the parent still doesn’t “believe” the child deserved the grade (especially if it was a playing test), ask the parent and the child to come in for a conference. Let the child play the passage again for the parent. Mark off the mistakes and show them where the child didn’t achieve the success they thought. I found this strategy to be an eye opener for the parent. Often, the child goes home and practices whatever they want, making mistakes all over the place. The parent doesn’t know any better because they think since the child is “practicing,” they are being successful. What a shock when they see/hear the reality! Go easy—parents who don’t read music are clueless as to what we do.
There is no hocus pocus solution that works for every situation. Keep a bag of tricks up your sleeve and delve into it whenever you need some help.
At the end of the day, communication is key. Communication with the parents includes providing them the rules and information about what is happening in your class and by communicating the importance of music in their child’s education. Communicating with your administration is extremely important because you want their assistance and support. Communicating with your fellow Fine Arts, classroom, and other music teachers is vital because we’re all in this together.
Make this a magical year!
About the author:
This fall, Audrey Carballo, a 35-year NAfME member, will begin her 35th year as a music educator for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system, the fourth largest school system in the country. Her teaching experiences include general music, exploratory music, and chorus to regular and exceptional students in elementary, middle school, high school, and exceptional student settings.
She has been an Assessor for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and currently serves on the National Education Association Member Advisory Board Panel and as the Union Steward and Chairperson of the Educational Excellence School Advisory Board Council at her school. Recently, Audrey was the Children’s Choir Director for the Miami Music Project, which is an El Sistema program spearheaded by the world renowned conductor, James Judd.
One of her most rewarding experiences has been with the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. In addition to teaching Broadcast Journalism classes, and giving private lessons in voice, composition, theory and piano, her duties included being the Vocal and Advanced Theory instructor for their Better Chance Music Production Program. Audrey was one of the co-authors of an article published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness titled, “A New Synthesis of Sound and Tactile Music Code Instruction: Implementation Issues of a Pilot Online Braille Music Curriculum.”
Audrey collaborated with Jin Ho Choi (another instructor at the Lighthouse) for nine months, creating their Braille Music Distance Learning course.
Follow Audrey on Twitter @scarlettfeenix.
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.