T-E-A-C-H: The ABCs of Our Chosen Profession, Teaching
By NAfME Member Audrey Carballo
In education, there’s an acronym for everything: NCLB, ELL, SAT, ESE, FTE—you name it, they’ll make an acronym out of it. If you’ve been around as long as I have, you’ll see different acronyms for the exact same thing. It’s like a new paint job on the same old car. As I was thinking about what to write this month, I thought a great deal about the word we live by each and every day: TEACH.
Here’s my take on our profession!
T = Trial and Error
The person who tells you the secret to teaching is planning is either delusional or lying through their teeth. No matter how well you plan a lesson, when it comes to actualize it in front of a classroom of students—it might come out very different from what you put on paper.
Let’s face it: Everything looks wonderful on paper but in front of your students—well, that’s a horse of another color. You figure out what works and what doesn’t. You learn to rely on back-up plans and have many different versions of your original plans ready to go.
Remember when your teacher tried to get you to improvise? Whether it be an instrument or voice? Here’s where the real improvisation takes place. Close your eyes and picture this scenario.
You have this amazing lesson on Beethoven planned out on your Promethean/Smart Board with every graphic and sound clip known to man. You almost strut into class because you know just how awesome the lesson will be, and your students will practically fall at your feet chanting your name after it is over. Why, they might even carry you on their shoulders through the hallways in gratitude. The lights are dimmed. The presentation begins, and after seeing your PowerPoint presentation try to load up for what seems like an eternity, you realize the Internet connection in your room has failed. You have no Internet connection at all! Your students are becoming restless. You glance at the clock and notice you have 53 more minutes of class left!!!
This is where your trial and error instincts should kick in. So what?! The presentation didn’t work. It will work another day. It didn’t vanish. The kids lived without it up until now; they’ll live without it until you can present it in its entirety. Always have something in your bag of tricks to do when you have a lesson planned that relies heavily on technology. Do a clapping call-and-response lesson. Have students echo pitches. Perhaps students aren’t understanding what you are teaching and only a few are really getting the gist of your explanation. Ask one of them to come up and describe it. Sometimes kids will use explanations we didn’t think of that mean the same thing. And, it works! Don’t be afraid to let someone else drive the proverbial bus—for a few moments—as long as you’re still in the passenger seat up front.
E = Education
When I speak of education, I’m talking about ongoing education—not only for yourself, but also in the sense of resources. If you’re a beginning teacher right out of college, the best advice I can give you is to get your Master’s Degree as soon as you can. Don’t wait. If you have your Master’s Degree already and have any aspirations at all of teaching at the college level, go and get your Doctorate degree. Many districts will pay additional monies to those who have advanced degrees in their fields. If you are one of those people who have their degree in Music or the Arts and want to go into Ed Leadership, some districts won’t pay for it because it is considered “out of field.” Check with your District and see what the policies are.
Get those degrees now. The longer you wait to get those degrees, the harder it is. You put off going back to school. Your own children, gigs, additional income—you can name a million excuses why you shouldn’t go back to school, but I can name the most important one—YOU! No one can take that degree away from you. And, you can use those college credits to renew your teaching certificate while you’re studying. It’s a win-win. Some districts will pay for six credits per year if they are in field. Again—check with your district.
As for ongoing educational resources—I firmly believe that sharing is caring. If you happened upon just the coolest book of composers, don’t keep that information to yourself. Share it with your fellow music teacher friends. Share your resources with your district peeps. No one knows everything. The Internet is too vast for one person to be able to have a handle on every resource. Give a little—get a lot!
A = Attitude
Attitude can mean the difference between having a great day and having a miserable day. You can make yourself feel better simply by having a better attitude. We all have those students whose attitude is less than desirable. Don’t be that teacher who has that same fault. If you come into the classroom angry, grumpy, and in a bad mood—your students are a mirror. They will reflect that right back to you. And, you wonder where they get it from?!?! If you are positive, cheerful, and optimistic from the onset, your students will be more likely to work toward achieving what you want them to. They might not achieve everything but let’s face it— did you always achieve everything the teacher asked you to do? A little encouragement goes a long way for some students who might not get any praise. Yours might be the only “atta boy!” they get all day!
C = Children
There are three things to keep in mind. No matter what grade level you teach, they are children. They are someone’s child. Don’t forget about the child in you!
I say they are children because music is a complex language unlike any other they’ve encountered. Music teachers are at a disadvantage. Most elementary students get exposure once or twice a week for an hour or so. Middle and high school students a few more hours. The most privileged receive private lessons and have opportunities to go on to major in music in college or study at the university level. Some are good enough to perform or become teachers themselves.
Children are exposed to their native language right out of the womb. Most often, we don’t get to expose them to reading or writing music until elementary school, usually 2nd-3rd grade. That puts us 6, 7, even 8 years behind the eight ball. And, if the child needs other accommodations or services, they are most often taken out of music or other special area classes in order to fit these services into their school schedules.
They are someone else’s child. Parents should be their child’s greatest advocates. Sometimes, they are not. Just like with our students, a vast majority of our parents are not musicians and they cannot help their child with their studies. They believe that “she sings all the time at home” equals an “A” in music, or “he plays trumpet every night” should mean he was practicing his piece (which he wasn’t), but the parent doesn’t know the difference. We need to educate the parent as well as the child. A heaping dose of patience is the recipe in this case.
Never lose touch with the child in you. Do you recall your excitement when you first got to bang that gong in the band room? Remember how it felt to play the drum buckets? Music is wonderful—emphasis on the wonder part. Keep that sense of wonder in music. That is a beautiful gift you can give your students–and yourself!
H = Health
Mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand. If you don’t take care of yourself mentally, stress will surely manifest itself into some other physical form, and then you have to deal with that as well. We are not worker bees that shut off when we clock out. Most of us are “on” all the time. I find myself listening to the radio and thinking, “Oh, that would be a good song for my kids to sing. I’ve got to remember the name of that song.” Or, I’ll get an idea at dinner and jump up to write it down. I know I’m not alone.
Answering emails from students about projects, questions from parents, organizing field trips, planning shows, preparing for evaluations—the list goes on and on. There isn’t enough time in the school day to get these things accomplished, so we take work home with us. Some of us recruit our spouses, parents or children to help us. In my 35 years as an educator, I’ve never seen a successful educator be able to do all those things during the school day by themselves. It just isn’t possible.
Give yourself credit for what you do. Take time to breathe! Step back during the weekend and say, “Hey! This hour is all mine.” Turn off your phone. Don’t read your school email. Sit down at the dinner table. Go jogging. Do a yoga class. Dance around your kitchen. Sing out loud. Feed your soul!
About the author:
Audrey Carballo, a 35-year NAfME member, is in 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.
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