No 5th and 6th grade?

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    I am teaching at an inner-city charter school in its second year of existence – last year, grades K-5, this year, K through 6. Students are very poor, 99% African American. Last week, I met with the new administrator and was told that they were cutting music for 5th and 6th grade – now, they are NOT cutting the music budget – my salary is the same, though my teaching load is lighter – they just cannot fit music into these students’ schedules. However, students are taking all of their core academic subjects, PE, art, computers, Spanish, and an Eastern European language (they will have foreign language five days a week, alternating between the two languages). (This doesn’t make sense to me because English language skills are low here – but that’s another story…) I met with an administrator today and told him that I really did not feel good about this – that some students really need music, it’s important for a well-rounded education, etc. (You all know the reasons!) I suggested that the students have art half the year and music the other half and was told that this wouldn’t work because “they only have art one day a week as it is” (but music no days a week…) I asked about having music one of the five foreign language days, and this wouldn’t work because they really wanted students to have foreign language every day. (As an adult, I would have trouble learning two languages at once – and I minored in a foreign language). All I was conceded was having drumming incorporated into after-school drama club – which is sparsely and inconsistently attended due to the demographic of our student population. On top of this, I was told that I am expected to have an instrumental group perform at every parent function this year – and having a performance -based elementary music curriculum is not what I believe in, and older students would fit better in this model anyway.

    Any suggestions? It seems ridiculous that when music budgets are being cut across the country, this school can afford a teacher, has one on staff with room in their schedule, and won’t let them keep the music program going. I really feel terrible about this – it should be offered, some students love the class, I built a good relationship with many of them last year (and believe me – these students do not have much consistency in their lives). I want to fight this, but remain positive – but when it all comes down to it, it’s about the students. I feel like no one is taking me seriously – and no matter what I say, it won’t matter to them.


    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:
    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.

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