I'm Mad As Heck And I'm Not Gonna Take It Any More…

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    I am writing this post to seek clarity on some of the obstacles I am facing with growing my band program. Perhaps you can help me.

    Some Background:
    I teach High School Band and General Music in a “failing” urban district in the NYC Metro area. Though it is my 11th year teaching it is only my 6th year in this school district. I have had some success in re-establishing the program and my students have really bought into what I am trying to build at their school. However, I cannot seem to get the program to grow in numbers and with appropriate instrumentation. I have a Middle School and 6 k-5 Elementary Schools that feed into the High School. My Elementary colleagues are doing a fantastic job. The “person” at the Middle School is collecting a paycheck. Here are some of the issues that are causing grey hairs to multiply like weeds on my scalp:

    1. We recently switched to a Block Schedule. 4 Periods with A and B days. Which is great for the rehearsal time but VERY limiting on scheduling.
    2. I have approximately 30 students who participate in band but less than half are enrolled in the band classes. One class has about a dozen and the other six students. Instrumentation is all over the place as is ability.
    3. I do NOT have small group lessons for my students AT ALL.
    4. I have tried to address these issues for 6 years and it’s the same problems with scheduling EVERY year. I have brought this up to the administration who, though supportive of my efforts, haven’t helped to make a dent in this problem.

    Feeder program:
    1. My feeder school director is not sending me A) Students in sufficient quantities and B) Students who know and can play their instrument at an appropriate grade level for high school
    2. Does nothing to encourage balanced instrumentation. I get a billion flutes and clarinets and little else.
    3. The students who do enter the program play like they’ve been whipped. I hear a lot about how much this person yells at the students. This person also asked me what could we “do about these kids with IEP’s” . The solution seems to be making the students want to quit. This person has about 100 students in his MS Band. Looks impressive but you see a funny trend 60% are 6th Graders, 35% are 7th Graders and 5% are 8th Graders. That’s a huge attrition rate.
    4. This person is very unwilling to do anything collaborative. I work very well with the elementary directors (we have 2 between 6 buildings) and we are constantly trying to collaborate to get the kids excited about our program. It seems that those efforts go to the Middle School to die.
    5. Perhaps just a pet peeve….but The MS Director uses pretty much the same music every year and most of it is Pop Music (I’m not against pop music but an all McDonald’s diet has been proven unhealthy….I’m just sayin’) There is no playing of “core” repertoire.
    6. Though this person has a relatively brand new band room, auditorium and building, this person routinely complains about what they do not have. Though our budgets are virtually nonexistent, it hasn’t stopped me from bringing in over $10k worth of donated materials for my program…

    1. No sequential k-12 music curriculum
    2. No sequential 4-12 Band Curriculum. Each level (Elementary, Middle, HS) has a separate but unequal curriculum.
    3. I have no evidence that a curriculum has been followed between grades 6-12. Especially if I go by what the students know and can do.

    SO…here are my questions

    1. How can you suggest I utilize my block periods to address the lack of student ability?
    2. How can I change the problems with student enrollment in my program? I just don’t know who to go to at this point to fix this problem
    3. What can I do about this problematic colleague of mine? I complain to my administrators and get no action out of that. Are there any ways I can work around this person? What suggestions do you have?

    I am very frustrated about the state of things in my program. I just want a “normal” experience for my students and a “normal” program for myself to work in. Do I have a right to be frustrated with what I am dealing with? Am I not doing something right? I am looking to those of you who are “older and wiser” than I am for guidance.



    Just a couple of thoughts…

    1.) you say your administration is “supportive of your efforts” but hasn’t done anything to help. Being polite and empathetic is not the same as being supportive, that is paying lip service. If they are truly supportive, ask them to put their money where there mouth is. If they want a successful program for their school, things will change – or they will give you a valid reason why they can’t and you can try to come up with another idea that can be implemented. You need to fight for lessons with students.

    2.) block scheduling – I’ve never taught in a block, so my advice might not be worth anything. do you need to rehearse as a full group for the entire time? I would bet probably not. Use some time for group sectionals, maybe some individual work, peer tutoring, individual practice on the fundamentals that you say they are lacking.

    3.) enrollment and retention – if possible, you need to show your face at the middle school as much as you can. offer to work with students, guest conduct a piece or a rehearsal here and there. Let the kids know who you are, even those younger ones who might quit before 8th grade could be convinced to give it another shot in high school (It’s not ideal, but you are playing a numbers game at this point).

    4.) Curriculum – Some logical curriculum is important. Look into developing (or borrowing from someone else) an instrumental scope and sequence or benchmarks that you want to see kids at during a given point in each year. What skills, terms, rhythms, scales, etc… will they be expected to know and when? Common assessments can be valuable when evaluating a curriculum to see where skills are being left out or missed, or simply not reinforced enough to be retained.

    5.) colleague – develop a relationship with them. Find out what their vision for the program is, what do they see as the strengths and weaknesses? If you can get on the same page here, you can move together for a common goal. I think often times we run into the situation where we just want to blame the middle school program or our feeders. This happens in every department of every school – I hear it from math, reading, science, everyone. “What are those [insert grade and subject] teachers doing!? my kids don’t know anything when they get to me. Perhaps they are running into some of the same scheduling problems with their 8th graders that you are seeing. Without communication, you don’t know what’s really going on. You have to accept the situation for what it is, and just work every day to make it better. If there is truly a personnel issue, then administration does need to know and get involved – that can be very touchy, though.

    Hope something in here helps you…

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