There are some stereotypes about music teachers in this country and for some reason, they've been getting to me lately. Generally, I avoid discussing my career on here because honestly, I have a great job. I get to play games, teach kids how to create music, and I get most of the summers off. You won't hear me complaining about the pay (except in jest) and frankly, there aren't many music jobs out there. My district has brand new, state of the art buildings with SMART boards in every room. I am NOT intending to write this post about my specific job, just the general problems that any music teacher can appreciate. Now, with that being said, here I go.
1. We get really tired of people thinking that our job is nothing but fun and games.
PHOTO SIDEBAR: Nope. No work was required to get to this point. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was once asked, "Are you a real teacher or just a music teacher?" Questions like that make my blood boil. Obviously, I can't get the entire world to see it my way, but as far as I'm concerned, I'm a teacher. My subject happens to be music. I say that in the same way that someone would say they teach high school biology. Music is defined as a core academic subject in No Child Left Behind. Music has National and State Academic Content Standards, just as any other subject. It is my job to make sure that my students master the material. I just have about 22 hours of instruction time per school year to make that happen.
2. The general public thinks that they know everything about what I do, and that anyone can do it.
PHOTO SIDEBAR: I played guitar in a band in high school! What do you mean I can't teach band better than you?
Every nincompoop who has ever touched a drum tells me they can "play" the drums. Now, some of these people actually can. I am totally not a music snob and I understand there's a huge difference between being a talented amateur musician and someone who just beats on things. However, unless you have a music degree, don't pretend like you could do my job. It's not common knowledge and there's way more to it than you think. Unless you have had to be tested on everything from music history, educational psychology, your performance of a concerto for an audience of highly trained professionals, memorization of fingerings for the bassoon (and every other instrument), etc., don't tell me you could do my job.
3. We have to constantly remind people why what we do is important, for fear of losing our programs.
PHOTO SIDEBAR: This is what happened to the last guy who threatened to cut music.
I'd say most music teachers live in constant fear that we're going to lose our jobs. We fear it not just for ourselves, but for our students. After all, who do you think inspired us to teach music? That's right - our music teachers. Without music programs in schools, we risk losing part of our culture for the future. When we examine past cultures, what do we use to judge how civilized they were? Paintings, musical compositions, architecture, tools, language, and clothing. In other words - ART. In fact, we use the fine arts of past cultures to judge how much they knew about our current so-called "core subjects."
Do you think people in the future are going to look at our standardized test scores to see how well we lived? Of course not. They're going to study our ability to create ART.
And along the same lines.
4. We really hate using other subject areas to justify our subject.
PHOTO SIDEBAR: If one more person mentions the "Mozart Effect" I'll scream!
Yes, it's totally true that instruction in music helps people to understand math and science better. It raises college entrance test scores. It forms new synapses in the brain, connecting the two hemispheres better than any other subject can. In fact, stroke patients who are no longer able to speak can sometimes still sing songs and use that for speech therapy. So yeah, I guess you should learn music because it makes you smarter.
Music teachers are so tired of using that spiel in order to defend what we do. We didn't go into teaching music because we wanted to get better at math. We want what we do to be valued for its own purpose. We want people to think it's important to have music in schools, well, just because it is! Imagine your life without music.
Silent commercials and movies, with the exception of dialogue. Awkward silences while shopping. Silent car rides. All in all, pretty boring. We teach music because it's like painting for your ears. It expresses emotions. It can even change your emotions.
5. People think that you can't test what we teach, and that every student should be given an A.
PHOTO SIDEBAR: Brian was devastated that his daughter didn't pass choir. After all, she sang during at least half of the days she was there.
Music teachers are data-driven teachers who use research and self-reflection to constantly assess the effectiveness of their instruction and to improve their teaching methods, just as any other teacher does. Yes, you can give a test on how well little Johnny plays the trumpet. The notes are either right or wrong, in tune or not, played for the correct duration or not, and so on. Using a rubric, it is possible to assign fair grades to students based upon performances and written tests that are based upon facts taught during class. No, your child should not be given an automatic A in a performance-based class. Grades are earned based on your child's demonstration that he or she has mastered the skills taught in class, which are based upon the academic content standards in music.
6. We really do love our jobs - and our students!
PHOTO SIDEBAR: We love our jobs and our students - thumbs up.
We mean it. We are some of the only teachers who literally get to watch our students grow up. Music teachers usually have their students for multiple consecutive years and form great bonds with them. Our jobs are super fun and best of all, we get to do what we love every day - make music.
****************************************** -- Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University 625 Wham Drive Mail Code 4610 Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O] (618) 457-8903 [H] Fax: (618) 453-4244 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org