07-08: What To Change Next Year

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As we begin the summer vacation, I am looking back on what went really well this year, what didn’t work so well, and what needs to change for next year. Below are some of the changes that I intend to implement next year:

  • Change the focus – Winning is not the only thing that matters. In fact, winning is absolutely fun, but so is doing something well. One of my college professors was a big proponent of the concept that you teach music for the sake of teaching music. He said that when you do it right, the results will follow. I never earned a sweepstakes trophy in all my years of band, even though I was in a really good middle school band program. I didn’t believe him. Then this year happened. He’s right. I went to an outstanding clinic last summer taught by Paula Crider entitled “To Heck With The Judges…Let’s Talk About the MUSIC!” Awesome clinic. Truly awesome. Any time she is teaching something within 200 miles of you…GO HEAR HER.
  • Teach a love of music – It’s easy to teach kids to love performing. Heck, I love performing. It’s awesome being able to present a completed product to the audience and amaze them. That has been the entire story of what I have done to get my kids to love band. But there’s more to it… I want them to love to process of getting there. I want them to begin to see the value in stopping and working one section of music over and over. We played Amazing Grace at our spring concert. With a majority of the band comprised of second year players, we played it at 60 beats a minute. With rubato… Many of the kids absolutely hated it until the performance. We sounded good. I played it because I knew it would challenge them and be good for them. I want to do more of that — but I’m scared to!
  • Fix band sound from day 1 – I have begun to understand the secret. The secret to a great band is having a great band sound. The secret to winning in sight-reading contest is not as much about right notes and rhythms. Those are great things, but they’re not going to win the contest. The secret to winning in sight-reading (and any other contest) is great band sound. The secret to having a great Christmas concert is not hard music. The secret is band sound. I plan to write a lot more about this as we approach the next school year.
  • Inspire more practice time – Teaching the second band, a lot of the kids don’t take their instruments home to practice or come before or after school. At times, it seems they don’t take their homework home either! I am going to seek ways to inspire them to practice more. Both on band music as well as with the rest of their classes.
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What strikes me the most this year is that everything I see that I wanted to change last year was related to planning and maintaining a great classroom environment. This year, every are of growth is focused on MUSIC. How cool is that?

About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

2 Comments on 07-08: What To Change Next Year

  1. Teach a love of music:

    I’m sorry if I’m telling a story I’ve already told in a response somewhere, but this issue is near and dear to my heart. I think (hopefully without being too preachy) that every music teacher has to sit down and ask themselves why they teach music. That question directly relates to the reasons why students make music. We can teach them that the best thing about band is winning trophies (or high festival marks.) We can teach them that the best thing about band is entertaining the audience. We can teach them that the best thing about band is the opportunity to show your superiority by clawing your way into the principal chair. Some people teach them that the best thing about band is having a no-pressure, no-homework class.

    But why do we… as a people… NEED music in our lives. What is it’s function as an art? My answer is: It is an advanced form of communication. It is a refined version of the primordial scream. Through it we say something important… about ourselves and about the world as we perceive it.

    The turning point for me was my first time playing Grainger’s “Irish Tune” under a VERY good conductor. It was during a summer music program… so there were no festivals, no judges, no grades. Just the music. The conductor stopped at one point and said “You guys know this song… it’s ‘Danny Boy’ right? What is that song about? It’s a father and son saying goodbye… maybe their last goodbye. And they’re trying to sum up their love for each other in one moment. Now I want you guys to play this as if you were saying goodbye to someone that important.”

    The next thing I knew I couldn’t see the music because I was welling up so much, and I was finding it hard to draw breath. From a performer’s standpoint it was bad… because I was failing technically. From a human standpoint it was monumental. Here I am… a snot-nosed fifteen year-old kid and it felt like the world just got opened up to me.

    So yeah, we need to teach more than how to drive the car, we need to teach them where to go.

    Again, sorry if that got preachy… it’s just that this issue defines me as a teacher more than any other.

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