Reply To: No 5th and 6th grade?
Ugh, that sounds just awful. I can sympathize in some aspects of your situation, as I work in an inner-city district and used to work in a very poor school. The focus of the educational universe is testing – specifically Math and English / Writing. What you CAN do is appeal to the admin with stats about how Music can help kids improve these skills and give examples of activities in which you would do this. (Ex. note values math: qtr note + half note = ___ beats. Yes, that is basic Math, but it gets their brains thinking critically and associating Math with other concepts.) As per a language connection to Music, you could have students – either verbal or written – describe recorded music. This is critical thinking, the same idea which the state Mastery tests ask them to do. In this exercise you could ask students to say in what setting / situation given music could be used. (“If you heard this music out in public, where would it be? In a movie, as background music in the mall, etc.)
I’m surprised that the admins are advocating for foreign language every day!! I guess first of all know that there are plenty of other Music teachers in this situation and that all you can do is believe in yourself and your department and fight for your program!! Here is one of the best resources I have ever found for advocacy: http://www.levellandband.com/blog/11-04-05/Music_Education_The_Cornerstone_to_Developing_a_Well-Rounded_Individual.aspx
One of my college profs gave us the original article with instructions to present it at BOE meetings if ever our program were in danger. I am happy that your program is not entirely in danger, but for advocating for Music classes for Grades 5 and 6.
Inasmuch as it is disturbing, it is not uncommon for principals to expect you to pull a program out of thin air. They want the performance and they don’t care how you get there. Your job is to talk up your program to all of your classes, get kids involved and find a way to sneak rehearsals into the school day. It’s a thankless job, but you can do it!!!! Another way to get people excited about your program is to get parents involved. I know that in a low-income area, parent involvement is difficult. But do what you can: find one or two parents who are willing to help you at rehearsals (if before or after school) – they can help with crowd control, parent sign-out if necessary, furniture rearranging, music distribution etc. Even in the smallest capacity, getting parents — and older siblings if you can — is a huge plus. Parents are one of your MOST valuable advocates! When parents speak up and tell the principal that they want something, principals usually jump.
Once more: Kids –> Parents –> = great program!
Last thing: repertoire selection and your attitude. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this, but be endlessly positive. To quote some Broadway show, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative and don’t mess with Mister In Between!!” 😛 Re: repertoire, try to get (borrow) fun arrangements of known songs or melodies. Don’t be afraid to make your own arrangements of existing songs. (So long as you don’t publish your arrangement, I’m 99% sure you’re fine.) I’ve done this with my choir pieces. Some examples: repeat given sections with minor changes – in your case it might mean eliminating a section the second time around. Add a section of body percussion to the rhythm of the theme; have the kids chant a section instead of playing. Have percussionists play their part using body percussion (tap, clap, stomp, snap) instead of the specified instruments. My students adored body percussion, as it is a big part of rap and hip-hop music and some popular music (we will rock you). If they latch onto this, make them perform body percussion or chanting soft as well as loud. It gets obnoxious (which they like and easily accept) very fast. If kids can’t handle performing softer, tell them you’ll cut that section.
Last one (I lied): reward kids for doing the right thing. This may mean during the last 5 minutes of the rehearsal you let them listen to their iPods or talk or dance (with restrictions). On a whim I purchased Radio Disney’s Move It CD (dance music). I let my after-school choir dance after rehearsals and I used it for the end of the school year. My choir (gr. 2-6) danced to that one disk literally all year!! good luck.