Reply To: Other Band Director Putting Me Down

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Sometimes there are people who are just negative and contrary all the time–who, no matter WHAT you do they will find something negative to say about it, or whatever you say they will find some way to contradict it. I’ve had administrators who have criticized how I’ve done things, but when I’ve asked them for ideas on how to improve or what I should be doing differently, they offer no advice. I have a relative through marriage to whom you could say “the sky is blue” or “nice weather we’re having today” and he’d find some way disagree with you or to show how his opinion is better than yours. Some people just like to complain about stuff–they go through life criticizing everybody else for the way they’re doing what they’re doing, even if they don’t know all the details–and really, that’s their problem. This type of person seems to get off from making other people feel bad, and sometimes they’re not even aware that they’re doing this. It’s a shame that you’re actually going to your other band director for advice–showing him that you respect his opinion–and he’s putting you down instead. I can see how hard this could be and how it can affect the way you feel about your abilities. You just gotta tell yourself that you know you’re putting in tons of effort, focus on the things you know you’re successful with, and stop letting his negativity get you down. If there is an area where you feel you’re lacking or having trouble–like how to help the kids who are really struggling–maybe do some research or take workshops on techniques for remediating kids with lower aptitudes or those who are developmentally delayed in music and helping them find success. (IMHO, I don’t think that there are necessarily kids who “just don’t make progress”–they just make progress at a much, much slower rate than the average student, but it is hard for us to see that because we’re expecting them at their age to be at level X when for whatever reason they’re still at level A, and we’re giving them activities, material, and objectives that are too much above their level for them to be able to experience success. When you have kids who are below grade level in reading, for example, giving them material to read that is above their current level will frustrate them and they will not progress. Give them material on their own level, and they will have success at that level and then begin to make progress little by little. We need to differentiate instruction in music just as other teachers need to do in other subjects. Some students need more rote/listening experiences with a particular skill in order to have more later success, or just more repetitions of something to “get it” than the average kid. Research on practice–not just music practice, but learning in general–says that for the average student, 24 repetitions of a skill are needed in order to achieve 80% success… so, students with below average aptitude or inadequate preparation for learning may need even MORE repetitions than the average student. Unfortunately, since not every college music ed curriculum covers childhood musical development–the process children go through in developing musicality and what we teachers should look for so we know what stage each student is in so we can help them progress–there are a lot of teachers who don’t have the skills to help the students who fall through the cracks, or to figure out WHY this child isn’t getting something as quickly as the other students–does he/she have a poor sense of steady beat that needs to be developed? Low tonal aptitude? Underdeveloped motor skills? Trouble with visual perception which can affect reading notation? What can you do to support them or modify instruction in the areas(s) where they are struggling? I think that if we learn more about how to help them and not just write them off as kids who aren’t meant to improve or be part of our ensembles, it improves our teaching overall. Yes, maybe not every kid is meant to be one of our top musicians, but as long as they are our students we need to do what we can to give them the best success they can have at their current level. The purpose of an ensemble isn’t to make the director look good :-), it’s to provide children with positive experiences making music and the skills to find success at whatever level of learning they are currently at. Ok, rant over…. Anyway, It seems like you really want to do the right thing by your students, but going to this other teacher for advice is not going to do you anything except make you feel discouraged–it sounds like he’d find something wrong with what you’re doing regardless of the level of success you’re having, just because that’s who he is: a Negative Nelly. So, look beyond him and try to find other resources, workshops, or mentors that might help you–band director at another school, another teacher in your building who’s easy to talk to, maybe even one of the vocal or general music teachers (we general music teachers do actually know stuff about teaching, haha). And find something outside of your job that makes you feel good to help you develop a more positive outlook about yourself, or try to surround yourself with people who are more positive, so that you will feel strong enough about yourself in general not to let this guy drag you down.