I get so tired of hearing teachers complaining about No Child Left Behind. I get so tired of hearing teachers complain about administration. I get so tired of hearing teachers complain about parents.
Shut up and teach!
It’s a simple concept, but some teachers seem to derive greater joy from feeling victimized than they do from feeling victorious. After all, it’s much simpler to complain than it is to create solutions. I am convinced that if I took the skills that I use in teaching beginning band, that my students would excel.
I want to share a few things that really seem to help my students learn the material well. Keep in mind that as they enter 6th grade, many of them essentially know nothing about music or playing an instrument. Our district has music class one day a week for 45 minutes from the time they are in kindergarten until they finish 5th grade. Talk about a retention nightmare! So they get to us as fresh beginners. What do we do?
Begin with the end in mind
Stephen Covey would be proud. This is habit 2. You are in this thing to bring the students a taste of success. There is a fine line between teaching to the test and teaching for success. As much as we deride competition in many educational circles, most of the students I have met see competition in a positive light. Success that is philosophical is not as important to kids as success that is tangible. For that reason, and since there is a test at the end of the year, it is important to teach the students those skills that are necessary for passing the test at the end of the year.
Lay a foundation of success
If there is no foundation, a building will have major problems throughout its life. Similarly, a successful school year must begin with a solid classroom management foundation. Additionally, you need to establish a solid knowledge foundation. This may be difficult because of varied backgrounds for the students, but success is vital on starting where you are, establishing some common grounds, and building from there.
The tortoise beats the hare
This is no race. Your goal is to win the race (ie. have a higher percentage of students passing the test than the other teachers). Do not rush through fundamentals. Just as I don’t try to get my trumpet players to play too high too fast, you don’t need to rush progress. Having the goal before you, take one day at a time. Realize that progress happens much faster in the second semester than it does in the first semester. Slow and steady wins. Every time.
Eliminate every error
Practicing something with mistakes is simply reinforcing bad habits. I listen to students individually. Not enough, but more than I used to. I am getting better. As I hear individuals, I am able to hear problems, point them out to the class (not in a critical way), and we are able as a class to make corrections to eliminate that problem.
Repetition is the key to consistency
If I want my students to learn to play scales, we do them over and over in class. If we are learning a line in the book, we do it over and over in class. Once we have eliminated bad habits, we reinforce good habits. We do that by repetition. Do the same thing over and over again. Why do you think that math books have so math problems? But how many math teachers are there who skip this unnecessary problems and complain about their students not passing the class or the test? Go through a page of math problems in class. You don’t have to assign it as homework. Homework just gives you extra paperwork and headaches, anyway. Call one by one and have them solve the problem. Then come back to those who miss them. Similar techniques could be done for social studies or language arts.
Don’t expect practice outside of class time
Do I assign daily practice? You bet I do. But I don’t expect the students to practice daily. I am realistic. I expect that any progress they make will be the things that they do while sitting in my class. I made this mistake in my first couple of years of teaching. I figured they would all practice, and so I just got upset when they didn’t. That wasn’t productive. I now get more work done because I assume they don’t practice, and push them hard. When they practice, they get better faster. When they don’t, they get bored of doing the repetition. Similarly, I had English teachers who expected me to read books outside of class. I don’t think I completed a SINGLE assigned reading after 7th grade, and yet I was still in honors and AP English classes. I just knew how to work the system well enough to pass.
The less you talk, the more they have to work. The more they are working, the more they are learning.
Make success rewarding
We took the beginning band to a competition this spring. They were looking forward to it. Make learning fun, and make testing fun. It’s the performance. It’s all a game. Learn the rules, learn which rules you can break, play the game, and shut up and teach.
As an aside, this will probably be my last article of the week. I would love to read your comments. I’m going to the Texas Bandmaster Association convention in San Antonio this weekend and will attend some really good clinics. I’ll pass more information along when I return.